Meanderings

Quick Turkish reconnaissance

Trip to Turkey

May 2013.

 

It went something like this….

 

We flew into Dalaman Airport on a direct flight from Munich shortly before sunset.

At a ticket window in the terminal we bought 3 visas as easy as buying 3 ice creams. “Three visas please”.

“Certainly, that’ll be fifteen Euros each please”.

 

Outside the main doors, armed security guards with a beach ball were playing football with some kids.

Welcome to Asia.

 

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Our rental car was waiting. It looked like a bread van but was very fuel efficient and had 4 wheel drive. It was a sturdy little guy, and was, we discovered, going to have to be.

One odd thing about the car was that the petrol tank was almost empty. I guess it means the renter need only put in as much fuel as necessary. We weren’t obliged to fill it either when we dropped it off.

The rental man told us there was a gas station “just up the road”. Here now a quick word about interpreting Turkish directions. Allow for flexibility in all estimates of distances and times given. I believe people are genuinely helpful but their sense of space and travel seems vague.

 

So after filling out some paperwork on the car bonnet, off we went, heading South towards Fethiye. The sun was setting. The sky was a hazy crimson. Mosques were calling the people to prayer through metallic loudspeakers. Palm trees abounded. It was a beautiful evening.

The gas station “just up the road” was about 10 kilometres away.

But we made it.

 

The main highway South was an excellent road: smooth, empty and relaxing. Ahead, out of the warm haze, a long snow capped mountain ridge filled the windshield. Looked like a giant jelly mold.

After about 2 hours we had by-passed Fethiye and were approaching our destination: Karaagac.

 

Karaagac (Black Tree) Organic Farm was seriously up in the mountains. The air was definitely cooler but still pleasant.

The Turkish owner, known as Bob, greeted us amicably at the gate and showed us to our cottage.

It was a semi detached, hasienda styled, cottage. No one was currently occupying the other half. In fact we had the whole farm practically to ourselves for most of the week.

The cottage had a loft bedroom. The ground floor had an open plan living room with a fire place, kitchen, dining area. The toilet was a normal “western” toilet and also had a shower. Outside, we had a shady deck. The whole thing was rustic but clean and homely. Perfect.

In the morning the local rooster chorus roused us bright and early. We got our first real look at the grounds. I guess there were about 9 guest cottages. There was also a restaurant with a large dining terrace to hang out and enjoy a meal or simply take in the fine view of Erendag (?) the Holy Mountain. Tucked away under the terrace was a pottery room and a little shop that sold some basic food stuff.

There was a swimming pool and an outdoor pool table. They had some bikes too, tennis courts and a library.

Karaagac also had pony riding but only on an unofficial capacity as they hadn’t the proper license. Thus the riding was casual and only cost the price of a tip for the person who saddled the horse.

So as you see Karaagac had plenty to offer.

 

As I said we had the whole place to ourselves. There were a few workers getting the place ready for the Summer season and an Englishman named Ian who was about to start work for the summer. We also met Bob’s wife Anthea. She was English and they’d been married for about 40 years. They were very helpful with maps and tips for enjoying the region. They filled us in on local customs and ettiquette. We learned that Western women weren’t expected to wear head scarves in this area as it was so touristy but scarves should be worn maybe if visiting a mosque. Legs should be covered too in that instance.

On drinking water, she told us their tap water was okay for teeth brushing but not recommended for drinking. They had their own well. Mountain water is generally cleaner than valley water.

At first we purchased bottled water till we had the idea to boil the tap water in the kettle every night and in the morning when it had cooled, fill up some plastic bottles. This saved hassle and money. Maybe the water was fine but we just wanted to be safe. No point in being sick.

 

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Acquainted now with our immediate surroundings, we set off for some further exploring.

This region of Turkey is known as Lycia. I was totally taken aback by its unexpected beauty. I hadn’t anticipated seeing pine forests and cliffs and mountains. One lane roads wove defiantly up and up into hazy blue heights. It was stunning and so quiet and rural, almost like we’d stepped back in time. Goat herders sat under shady trees watching over scattered flocks. Large dark tortoises ambled around like walking rocks. We’d pass crumbling farms and be unsure if they were ruins or occupied. Turned out they were both. We’d notice a lady cooking over an open fire and see children and chickens running around.

I recall seeing an old woman dressed in traditional scarfed head, cutting dry roadside grass with a small hand scythe. She tied her crop in a rolled up bundle across her shoulders and carried it along the empty country lane. She looked at us as we passed by and I couldn’t help notice that her wrinkled smile was warm and her dark eyes still had a youthful sparkle of curiousity. It made me wonder if to her, this was not work; this was just the way things were.

Life here seemed to have a rhythm and a perceptively slower pace than Europe. Asia wasn’t so much a culture shock but a reminder that Europe, though still steeped in rural traditions, only heeds them via festivals a couple of times a year.

Culture: Turkey lives it.

Europe celebrates and embraces it.

USA dilutes it, tolerates it, or watches it on TV.

It seems the twigs furthest from the root wither most.

But that’s for another tale.

 

Of course this old crone with the scythe probably had a cell phone, computer, satellite TV and a Limo back at her mansion. The grass was probably for her racehorse.

 

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But the real culture shock came later on our first day when we descended the mountain and arrived in the coastal resort town of Oludeniz. This place was my worst nightmare. I felt we’d taken a disastrous wrong turn and ended up in Blackpool, England.

Where or what is Blackpool you may ask?

Well Blackpool is an English working class seaside resort. It has everything the “Brits” would need to satisfy their holiday needs: Fish n chips, pubs, souvenier shops, slot machines, ice cream, stalks of rock, tacky lights, amusements and donkey rides. It’s where bad comedians go to die. The only thing missing is warm weather.

So it appears that someone had the bright idea to replicate Blackpool in Turkey.

We drove into “Brit Town” only looking for a supermarket. Parking was chaotic. There seemed to be a system that involved paying a guy on the street. If he was there you paid him a fee, if he wasn’t then you didn’t. (He wasn’t and we didn’t.)

Every establishment we passed had an employee stationed outside, programmed to pester us to buy their product. It was like walking through a town of talking billboards. At first it was funny but it quickly got annoying. Everywhere we turned we heard English accents. Everything was written in English too. The bars served English beer and advertised English Premier League football. Pubs had names like The Hound and Hare or the Pea and Ham. I didn’t see any Turkish people.

I guess these places are great for English people who want to go abroad but don’t want the whole native experience. In fact they just want the weather. I couldn’t get out fast enough but Hil wanted to make a day of it. She insisted on a meal on a terrace and a walk on the beach.

I guess the meal was okay. The beach wasn’t too busy either except for hang (para?)gliders who kept landing all around us on the promenade. Loads of them. Could have been a war movie. I almost got one in my salad. A constant spiral of them kept coming out of the mountain peaks like a descending mosquito cloud being blown out a bubble ring. Maybe they bred up there. I was walking down the beach swatting them.

 

By the time we’d done our tourist bit and done the shopping it was getting dark. We’d been there for hours. The hardest part then was running the gauntlet of stares and jeers from the bar staff and stall keepers as they saw my grocery bags. All the way up the street they kept up a constant barrage like farm yard dogs. “Look at the cheap bastard” they’d point. “There goes Grocery Boy?” And so on, till I was out of sight.

I was relieved to get in the car and escape back to the mountain but I couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated of an entire day.

 

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So next day in search of some peace, we drove to Patara Beach which was some distance South of Karaagac. The last stretch of this trip involved driving through kilometres of greenhouse tomato plantations. The beach wasn’t very well sign-posted but finally we emerged at its Northern tip. There was a camp ground and a bar/shop and a reedy river flowing slowly into the bay.

Patara Beach was 18 km long. The North end is apparently far less touristy than the South. On this fine day, we were practically alone as far as the eye could see. We had a pleasant undisturbed picnic. Nothing could have been more opposite than our experience at Oludeniz. I couldn’t help thinking that Oludeniz must once have been like this. Bob and Anthea had told us they had honeymooned in Oludeniz about 40 something years ago. It had been little more than a fishing village back then.

Patara beach was a flat sandy beach with shallow water. Ronan had a great time playing in the waves. I think it was his first time swimming in the ocean.

About a kilometer down the beach there was a small hump of an island almost connected to the mainland. I took a stroll down to check it out while Hil and Ronan stayed put. There wasn’t much to see but the solitude was nice.

Apparently the original Santa Claus was born around the Patara Beach area. There’s some useless info for you.

Patara Beach is also a protected area where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. That’s useful info if you’re a turtle.

 

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The Ghost town of Kayakoy was an interesting place. It’s sort of West of Oludeniz. Apparently it was once a Greek settlement but somehow a land swap was arranged so that the Turks living in Greece would move to Kayakoy while the Greeks would move back to Greece.

It seemed a good idea at the time except that the Turks decided not to live in Kayakoy. So since then the town has lain empty.

The houses now are simple shells that stare out from the hillside. Their roofs are gone, their empty windows dark. The weedy cobbled streets dwindle into the woods like fading footsteps. A few aimless tourists wander idly, trying to grasp the elusive significance of the past. They contemplate the poppies and whether the entrance fee was worth it and couldn’t they just have sneaked in round the back for free?

 

At the foot of the town there are some tourist shops and a restaurant with a swimming pool. We had pancakes but didn’t swim. Saw some camels.

All in all we enjoyed our slow ruminating visit to Kayakoy.

On the way home to Karaagac, we stopped in at a suburb of Oludeniz. (Or was it Oludeniz proper?) If anything this place was even worse than the Oludeniz beach section of the previous day. This was way off the Blackpool Disaster zone Richter Scale. Fortunately we were only looking for a bank and a quick getaway. On the street I saw a man selling bouzouki-ish instruments. I gave one a go. It sounded pretty good. It was reasonably priced and I was sorely tempted to buy it but I was worried about the airport customs control. I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. But it was a near thing.

We escaped and only bought a take-away giros which we ate at sunset in a reasonably quiet corner of the beach.

 

Next day we went to the town of Kinik. It was in the direction South towards Patara. We’d heard it had a weekly market which was big but not touristy. I’d hoped to find a bouzouki bargain there but saw nothing I’d dare customs for.

Kinik definitely wasn’t touristy at all. It looked like an ordinary working class town. The market stalls sold everyday stuff like tools, stoves, car parts, kitchenware and clothes. But there were plenty of fresh bread, fruit and veg and livestock. We saw 3 guys wrestling a huge black goat into a car boot. It was actually a little squeamish to watch. A bit too real. I got the feeling that story wouldn’t end happy for the goat.

We went to a restaurant terrace across from a mosque and ordered a pizza dough thing. We heard the midday call to prayer as we were waiting. It’s funny how that tinny tanoy sound begins to become part of the atmosphere of the calling. I don’t know why but it grows on you. I found myself enthralled by the ancient melody.

Contrary to how I’d always pictured the Muslim call to prayer, the streets did not suddenly become full of people on their knees and bowing up and down. The town did not grind to a halt. Life went on though it did seem that some people did head towards the mosque.

 

The restaurant waiter who also seemed to be the boss, spoke no English. So we pointed at things on the menu and hoped for the best. The food when it came was delicious. As we paid up we practiced one of our few Turkish phrases: tesekuur ederim (thank you). I swear his face lit up like a candle. He clutched his hands to his heart and I thought he was going to get down and start bowing to us. Seemed we’d just made his day. It kind of made ours too even though our food order had been completely wrong.

There-after we noticed that just saying hello (merhaba) and thank you (tesekuur ederem) really opened people up to us. Sadly our conversational Turkish tailed off there and degenerated into pointing, gesturing and “Me big man. Big bird in sky” and “do you speak English?”

 

Straight after our lunch we crossed the main highway at the edge of town and visited the nearby Xanthos ruins. These were much older than the Kayakoy town: probably thousands of years old. Maybe built by the same guy who did all the best Greek and Roman stuff. The main attraction I guess was the amphitheatre: an oval shaped pit ringed by tiered stone seating. As they say, “It’ll be nice when it’s finished”.

I had the impression though that there was another part that was temporarily closed to the public: a separate more complete amphitheatre hidden away somewhere. I overheard some French tourists asking about it. They seemed as if they’d arrived specifically to see it. They were very disappointed.

Entry fee to the ruins was minimal; a couple of Turkish Liras. There was a little kiosk with a few shady tables and very welcome cold drinks.

I wonder how much a ticket had cost to an event in the intact amphitheatre back in the day? I imagine parasols were a big sales item. Come to think on it, I imagine it would have made more sense to stage events in the early evening when the day had cooled down a bit. Why fry as you die?

 

Somehow the Layman’s Mediterranean history tends to focus on the Greeks and the Romans. Turkey’s participation gets a bit overlooked. Yet everywhere we went we saw ancient ruins hinting at Turkey’s involvement in the shaping of Europe, Asia and Africa.

Yes Turkey built some fine architecture but it’s a pity they didn’t put the same commitment into their roads.

 

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There are two ways down the mountain from Karaagac to Oludeniz. Both routes take about 40 minutes. (20 minutes in Turkish reckoning.) First there is the “Bumpy Road”. This one turns left at the farm gates and takes you on a jolty ride round switchbacks that you can see snaking around the mountain side far below like a slalom. This dirt road is a 2 lane (well one wide lane) affair, strewn with rubble rocks the size of coconuts, watermelons and potatoes. You’d swear you were driving with square wheels. This road eventually turns into a one lane paved road that winds down to sea level without any safety barriers at all.

The first time we drove this road we came to a fork and were unsure which way to go. I got out and asked a man there if the left hand turn went to Oludeniz. All I said was “Oludeniz?” and pointed left.

“Yes”, he answered.

I didn’t think on it at the time, but later I realized he’d answered me in English. I had made no real indication that I spoke English. How did he know? Duuuh! Well of course he knew. Because I don’t look Turkish. Suddenly I knew what it felt like to be the odd one out: a coloured man in a white society: a minority. I’ve been a foreigner most of my life but I’d always blended in with the general populace till then.

It was quite an enlightening experience. Fortunately we never met an unfriendly or discriminating soul on this whole trip.

 

The other way down the mountain is the “Less Bumpy Road”. Turn right at the farm gates and down you go. A few Kms before Oludeniz this road has a left hand turn that follows the coast to a dead end. Here there is parking lot beside a nice little restaurant high on the cliff. We sat outside and had cheese pancakes and tea. I liked this terrace. We sat at a large low table on a raised platform on floor cushions. Curtain veils hung loosely and a breeze blew in from the sea. We were the only customers. It was a nice moment.

From there we followed a rough path down to the shore. The walk took us about half an hour and ended at a pebble beach where back-packer style accommodation was more the rage. It was quite a hippy settlement of rather makeshift design. Apparently not all enterprises here are ligit but everyone scratches each others’ back and life goes on. I think this cove was called Kabak Beach. Unlike Oludeniz, this resort felt more like Jamaica than Blackpool.

I hadn’t realized it but we had almost booked a room here while planning our trip. But we thought maybe it wouldn’t be kid friendly which turned out to be fairly true. Not the establishments fault, more the environment. The shore dropped off quite suddenly just a few feet into the water. The waves were a bit too rough and the stones made it hard on the feet. Ronan was much happier up at Karaagac where he had his own pool.

Kabak certainly had a laid back feel to it. I imagine that being a backpackers destination, it’s more tolerant of beach bbqs, fire pits and drunken guitars in the wee hours than Oludeniz. What we enjoyed best of all on our wee visit, was we weren’t pestered by wait staff and salesmen every ten seconds. In fact we sat in a gazebo for an hour and no one even came near us.

The walk back up the hill took a bit longer but at least we knew cool drinks awaited at the top. Seems there’s a land rover taxi service up and down to the beach for those of a lazy disposition. We just took our time and rested a moment in every piece of shade.

 

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So that was pretty much our trip to Turkey. I’d say our first timid foray into Asia was a great success. I’d do it again. My one criticism was that our time was too short.

I wouldn’t have minded a little peek further inland.

Maybe next time.

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Post Script

 

We did a few other little things too. Hil went cycling using one of the camp bikes. She also rode one of the ponies.

I did some pottery and made a clay pot. (Well a pencil holder.)

We ate a couple of times at the camp restaurant. The food was tasty and on cool nights the log fire was appreciated.

We all swam every day.

We played pool on the outdoor table.

Me and Hil went for a couple of walks up the mountain (The Bumpy Road) behind our cottage. Ronan would stay behind with a book or his DS game. The views up the mountain were great. I was so caught up in the scenery one time that I almost tripped over a passing tortoise. Those guys are a fair size. They’re quite common.

One day, while driving along the “Bumpy Road”, we stopped at a trail head that was a section of the Lycian Way. Well we had to get out and walk it for a few minutes just for posterity. The Lycian way is a walking path about 500 kms long. I think it follows the Turkish coast. Not sure where to exactly but it does go past Fethiye and Oludeniz and passes within 2km of Karaagac. It seems very popular with hikers and campers.

 

On our last night we watched the Champions League final between Bayern and Dortmund. It was an exciting game. Bayern won in case you didn’t know.

 

All in all we had a great positive trip to Turkey. We didn’t want to go home. I have to thank Bob and Anthea of Karaagac for being such great hosts to us and such fine embassadors for Turkey. Our maiden voyage into Asia may not have gone so smoothly without their advice and local knowledge.

 

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 On our return to the airport, we found that the first round of security checks took place before we even entered the terminal. Inconvenient perhaps, but in reality in this age of terrorism, not such a bad idea.

Our whole trip to Turkey had been blessed with perfect weather but as we flew back North to Germany, the weather changed for the worst. By the time we arrived in Munich it was cold and rainy. In fact it had rained all week. It would continue to rain for another week. All over Europe, rivers would burst their banks and devastate the surrounding countryside.

 

All I could think was, “I want to go back to Turkey.”

Fortunately we didn’t, because a week later Turkey was up in arms and the people were rioting.

Strange world we live in.