Turkey. It had been in the news a fair bit around the time we went (September 2015, apologies again for being so behind on the blog), not for the best of reasons, and to be honest we were both slightly apprehensive about living on a boat off the coast for a week. We needn’t have worried, though. This trip ended up being one of the best we’ve ever had.
We actually felt somewhat in need of a holiday. It had only been three weeks since we’d returned from the USA, but in addition to spending all of that time at work (I’m informed grown-ups do need to do this every once in a while) we had also moved out of one flat, spent a week living out of a hotel, and then moved into our current awesome little London apartment (the timing difference being due to the difficulties of signing property contracts while on another continent). So when we found ourselves at the airport on Friday evening once again, we were very much looking forward to it.
We landed at Dalaman airport at around 1:30am on Saturday morning, and taxied to Gocek for a quick nap at a fairly rough hotel. The hotel, situated on the side of a dirt road, appeared a lot nicer in the morning sun, but we left Gocek not thinking it to be much more than a dusty little village (man were we wrong – we’d be back later).
Our departure point was the marina in Fethiye, and it was here we arrived now. We’d booked a yacht for the week through a company called Medsailors (can’t recommend these guys highly enough) with seven of our friends from London, though all originally from New Zealand. We had a couple of hours before we set sail though, so we popped into town for a quick bite and a look around.
After lunch, we met our captain for the week, the man who would be in charge of both our lives and a boat worth the better part of NZ$1million: also just 21 years old. He may have only just been starting high school while we were all finishing university, but with several years of experience working on super yachts around the world he seemed up the the task, and so off we went with the rest of the fleet.
Just by the way – we usually use a DLSR for all our photos, but from this point on in the trip everything is shot with a GoPro.
Karacaoren (apparently not the main one) was only a short sail away, but the afternoon was already beginning to get late as we anchored in the bay where we’d be spending our first night. We could see something floating in the water not far from the boat, but just as we were about to start lamenting the fact that you could come across rubbish even out here in the middle of nowhere, it moved – it was a turtle! Once we started looking we saw them all over the place, and our captain informed us that the bay was also known locally as ‘Turtle Bay’. We popped in for a quick swim, but unfortunately as this was my first underwater outing with the GoPro, the photos mostly kind of sucked. After the light had completely gone, a man in a dingy came and picked us up and took us ashore, where he and his family entertained everyone for the night at their tavern. The food was amazing, which was lucky because the tavern was the only building in the whole bay.
Despite sampling a little more Efes (the local beer) than we perhaps needed to over dinner the night before, we all woke just after dawn and got straight back in the water to play with the turtles. This time, with some better light, we managed to get a few good snaps.
After breakfast we set sail for the next port. I think it was probably the roughest day we had on the water (which wasn’t at all rough, it needs to be noted, just in comparison. Every other day was dead calm), and a few of our group spent a fair amount of time experiencing regret as the night before caught up with them. I felt great and therefore had very little sympathy on this occasion, and passed my time sunbathing and watching the ocean go by under the boat.
Aside from a few swimming stops and a bit of lunch, so we spent most of the day. The leg from Karacaoren down to Kas (pronounced ‘cash’) was the longest we’d have on the trip, and so obviously required the most time travelling. Our captain taught us a little about which ropes did what, and also some fundamentals on how to use the boat’s super advanced navigation system – although we got a bit distracted on the latter looking at how close we were to some rather more dangerous parts of the world.
Kas turned out to be awesome. We arrived late afternoon, took advantage of the very nice showers at the marina, then wandered along the road into town. Everyone went off to do their own thing, some to see the old part of town. some to the shops and some just to explore – the middle of Kas is great for a wander, all pretty cobbled streets and interesting shops – before reconvening on a rooftop for a drink just before dusk. So far it hadn’t really felt too much like we were even in a different country, what with flying in late then jumping pretty much straight on a boat, but up here I felt it properly for the first time. Picture this, if you will:
In front of you is the ocean, and the town’s mixture of rooftop and minarets turning into silhouettes, and behind you the mountains are glowing golden with the light. You’re sitting tight around a tiny blue table, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with your friends, and even though it’s getting late the temperature is still pushing 30 degrees. The air is sweet and heavy from incense burning in all the colourful lamps hanging nearby, mixed with the smell of the sugary tea on the table, and a slight breeze is bringing up the noise from the hustle of dinner starting on the streets below. Then, just as the sun drops – the Salatu-I-Maghrib, the sunset call to prayer, starts to play loud from every direction.
Magic. I know words won’t do it justice, but it stands out for me as a special moment amongst all we’ve seen in the world so far.
Feeling more than a little in love with Turkey at that point, we left the roof and found a place for dinner. We all ended up seated at a long table out in the street, ate delicious (ludicrously cheap, coming from London) fresh food served up by a man who spoke as much English as we did Turkish (none), then made our way back to the boat and went to bed happy.
On the third day we arrived in Kalkan, and we had an-action packed afternoon of adventures waiting for us when we got there. We jumped on a bus and headed up into the hills towards Saklikent Canyon. Once arrived, we all donned some sweet rubber booties, grabbed a tyre and jumped in the river coming out of the canyon for a spot of rafting. It wasn’t much by New Zealand standards, but still pretty fun. The water was ice cold though.
Back at the mouth of Saklikent again, we lined up for the main attraction – the river-bed walk up the canyon. During the summer months, the water levels drop low enough to allow people to walk 3 or 4 kilometres upstream, and if you happen to be in the area next summer – I’d recommend you do this. The canyon starts off wide, but after fording the water it slowly narrows until it is little more than a rock water slide connected by a series of pools. The boys went up as far as possible before hitting a sheer rock face, which we decided marked our limits.
Back at the buses, we piled on and took off with a bit of haste. The final stop for the day was at a nearby beach, and the attraction – a spectacular sunset, which we were running slightly late for. This particular view is so good because, due to haze or dust or something, as the sun gets low in the sky you can look straight at it and watch it drop into the sea.
Back in Kalkan, I tried a local specialty after dinner – the Turkish spirit called raki. It’s clear in the bottle but turns milky opaque when you add water and ice, and tastes like aniseed. Quite nice actually, especially fun when you’re actually in Turkey. I’m only bringing it up now though because at the end of the trip, I bought an entire litre of the stuff (and appropriate glasses) in a moment of silliness at the airport, which I realise now have no hope of ever getting through – so, if you come visit us in London and would like a taste, please do help me out.
Our fourth day in Turkey was all about relaxing. We sailed from Kalkan to a nice little spot named Cold Water Bay, with the usual swimming and lunch stops along the way. The weather was beautiful and the water was warm, and it was all very nice.
That doesn’t make for good reading however, so I shall share an observation I made that day:
The Mediterranean is an incredibly barren place, nearly devoid of ocean life. After our lunch stop I went for a dive, in a nice little spot in a sheltered bay with no signs of people anywhere other than us. In New Zealand or any of the nearby Pacific Islands, which are my only comparison points, this place would have been swarming with fish of all sizes, but here – absolutely nothing. Our captain told us that it was a huge problem all throughout the region, caused by decades of chronic overfishing (here’s a little article from Nat Geo discussing the issue). It’s a bit of a sad issue, and one for which I hope a solution is found soon.
Anyway. Cold Water Bay is just that, a bay fed by a nearby spring so the water is very cold. We arrived kind of late, and after the mandatory swim to check out the area it was time for dinner. Tonight, the only choice (but definitely not a bad thing) was a taverna a few hundred meters up some steep rock stairs, where we found a bunch of long bench tables set out in a beautiful little courtyard above the sea. I had goat, doing my bit to protect the fish (actually I just wasn’t sure what I was ordering at the time), which was very nice.
Very early the next day, all of us who could face it got up early for a hike over the hill. We massively underestimated how long it would take and how much effort it would be, but it was worth it – we got to see a ghost town. Kayakoy, as it used to be called, was abandoned after various conflicts in the opening years of last century, but the town still stands. I think it is actually quite a popular tourist destination nowadays, but we got there early enough to have the place pretty much just to ourselves – quite an eerie experience.
Breakfast that morning was a bit of a treat, if a little dangerous for someone as impatient as I am. In some of the bays, little boats with what I assume were always a husband & wife manning them would pull up and sell crepes – you’d toss down some money, and they’d toss back up a little made-on-the-spot crepe filled with your choice of a small variety of options. My favourite was a simple lemon and sugar, but a word of warning should you ever find yourself in this situation: hot sugar remains hot for quite some time. I burnt my tongue on the molten pool of the stuff at the bottom, quite badly. They were otherwise delicious.
Later that day we docked in Gocek marina. Gocek, far from being the dusty little town we’d misjudged it to be earlier, is in fact a super-yacht mecca. I’m not sure how we missed it, but our hotel from the first night turned out to be only a street away from the waterfront. I’ll put it down to tiredness. Anyway, Gocek has a fun little dining and nightlife district along the waterfront, which is where we spent the evening.
After a lazy breakfast, we hopped on another bus. It took us to the nearby town of Oludeniz, where we swapped into smaller vans by the beach and set off again. Our driver was a bit of a lunatic, a fact made far worse by the fact he was driving us up a hugely steep, skinny one-lane road on the side of a mountain, with no safety barriers. We ascending two kilometres up and stepped out onto the summit of Babadag mountain, where we were each strapped to a small Turkish man and then stepped off into space.
I’m taking about paragliding, which was an amazing experience. Do give it a go if you ever get the chance. Bridge got to drive her parachute (I wasn’t trustworthy enough, I guess), and we both let our pilots do some quick descents – tipping into a tight spin, which flings you out onto a horizontal plane as you drop at up to 20 meters every second. Quite the rush, although we were told afterwards that makes a lot of people either faint or throw up, so perhaps avoid that if you’ve got a weak stomach.
Feet firmly back on the ground, we went back to the boat for lunch then set sail. At one of our stops that afternoon, we found something to add a little interest to the swim – a semi-submerged ruin at the edge of the water. I don’t have any facts about it this time, but it was pretty fun to be able to swim down a corridor and dive through an underwater hole in the wall. The water also appeared incredibly blue here, for some reason.
Our last night on the boat was spent in a little bay called Skopea Limani. We moored against a tiny dock and had dinner at an awesome little family-run place on the rocks right next to the sea – not much more than some tables and a couple of wood-fire ovens, but just fantastic food.
In some disbelief that the trip had passed by so fast, we left Skopea Limani on Friday morning and set off back to Fethiye, where we’d be leaving the boat. I spent the last morning sitting on the front of the boat just watching the coast go by, and thinking of very little. After an easy trip, and a pretty long wait for our turn to be escorted into the marina, we docked up the boat for the last time.
We packed up and took the obligatory group photos, had a light lunch, and all headed our separate ways – some back to the UK, some to just hang around Fethiye for few days, and us to jump on a plane to Istanbul, where we’ll be seeing you all next.
Until then, B & A.
PS – we had such a great time we’ve actually just booked another trip with the same company: bring on Greece, 2016!