Along the Turkish Coast - 1987
Updated: Jan 20
Turkey became popular amongst Asian overlanders in the sixties, Istanbul the psychological beginning/end of the old "Hippie Trail." By 1987, Turkey was a popular destination for Euros and Russians, a trendy destination.
We boarded our boat from Rhodes to Turkey, a tiny craft. Greek officials had insisted on holding our passport overnight for stamping. When we queued to board, they had yet to stamp them! Obviously, the Greeks worked everything in their power to discourage travellers from heading to Turkey. The cost of the ticket: over $30 for a two and a half hour trip, as opposed to $19 for a 20 hour journey from Santorini to Rhodes.
Such are the vagaries of travel.
Along The Turquoise Coast
Turkey's image had been suffering from bad public relations. Two factors: first, movies such as The Turkish Express and Galipolli, which were not happy stories. And the perception as part of the Middle East, and therefore, a dangerous destination due to terrorism and Arabs.
Nothing was further from the truth.
On my first trip to Turkey two years earlier, I’d discovered one of the most fascinating places I’d visited. Straddling Europe and Asia, the country had one foot in the first world and the other in the third. The people were extremely friendly, the food was second to none.
Few countries rival Turkey for archeological splendour, home of at least a dozen great cultures, including the Hittites, whose empire rivalled the Egyptians, Hellenism, Romans, the true birthplace of the Christian movement, the Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. The oldest city ever uncovered is reputed to be at Catal Hoyuk, dating to 7,500 BC.
We sat on wooden benches as our tiny vessel crossed the strait between Rhodes and Marmaris on very calm seas; we were joined by US expats living in Turkey. We discussed our world tour with them, and they we very surprised to hear some of the places we’d visited (it was exotic to reminisce about riding elephants in Asia).
They seemed to be worried about us, as we were pretty thin from six weeks in India and Nepal, despite our efforts to devour massive quantities of food since arriving in Europe. They offered us a bags of western goodies: M&M’s candies, Oreo cookies, peanut butter and other treats.
As we entered a wide sheltered bay, passing condos, and beyond, Marmaris. Development was occurring at a rapid pace, as Germans and Brits “discovered” Turkey, the new secret outpost in the Mediterranean. Marmaris appeared bright and cheerful in the afternoon soon, its shops and restaurants lining the port, as wooded ships swayed in the harbour.
Customs was a breeze, and we were delighted with the exchange rate for our measly Canadian dollars, converted into a massive wad of Turkish lira. Inflation was rampant in Turkey, very inexpensive for westerners with strong currencies.
We decided to move along the Turquoise Coast to Fethiye. A two-hour wait for our bus afforded the opportunity to sit at a cafe overlooking the bay watching throngs of westerners, while munching on gargantuan donar kebap sandwiches: lamb meat and grilled peppers stuffed into half a loaf of bread, washed down with Tuborg beers.
Taya, our travelling companion piped up: “My passport is missing!”
Her boyfriend Ken: “When was the last time you had it; it must have been at customs, for sure.”
“I think it was when I exchanged some traveller’s checks,” she replied, got up and bolted to the Change Bureau.
By chance, they’d found her passport lying at the exchange window; miraculously, she retrieved it. I hadn’t been so fortunate two years earlier when my passport had fallen out of my pocket while in out a taxi in Greece. Nightmare
Losing one’s passport is one of the most dreadful things can happen when offshore (along with getting mugged, robbed or scammed). One’s identity has been stripped away, a stranger in a strange land. The hassle of obtaining a new passport makes the whole affair debilitating. To all prospective travellers, hold on to that passport when you travel: it is your lifeline.
The bus ride to Fethiye took us through cedar and pine-scented hills, and newly planted fields. We passed below the snow-covered High Atlas mountains dominating the late spring sky. It was good to back in the land of the Turks, with its friendly people and spectacular scenery.
One of the more tolerant Muslim countries, Turkey's great leader Mustafa Kamel, the “Ataturk or father of the Turks” ruled during the 1920’s and 30’s. Ataturk, charismatic and enigmatic, is largely unknown abroad., yet is revered throughout his homeland. He abolished Sultans and their harems, banned the wearing of the Fez, encouraged women to forsake veils and dissolved all religious orders, including the whirling Dervish sect, lately revived for the tourist trade.
Under his tutelage, the country abandoned the Islamic calendar and adopted the western Gregorian; the day of rest was changed from Friday to Sunday. And, the Latin alphabet replaced Arabic script, allowing tourists to read signs and understand out the currency. The Turks continued to cherish their progressive leader long after his death; his picture hangs in virtually every shop, restaurant and transportation station in the country, peering out from bills and coins.
On the bus, we met a pair of British women who had recently completed a two week tour of the region.
“I can’t believe how beautiful and cheap Turkey is,” they exclaimed in unison.
“I used to think it was an awful place, but we’ve heard so much about it in the press, and the agents are giving it heavy promotion, so we thought we’d have a go."
“Yes, we were tired of Spain, I mean it’s like being in bloody Manchester, with the fish and chip shops on every corner. Greece is getting to be the same way. Everywhere you go, tourists on every corner.”
“The people here are so friendly, and the food, well it’s bloody good, isn’t it?”
At Fethiye, we ended up in a flea bag, paying too much money, next to a mosque, including free loud broadcasts from muezzin calling worshippers to pray, in this, the final days of the Muslim Ramadan. A good rule of thumb in Muslim countries: never book a room near the mosque, as the amplified Muezzin intonations six times a day can fray the nerves.
Next day, we strolled Fethiye, a delightful port situated within an inlet, free of tourists. At a small cafe, we were served the ubiquitous Turkish tea in small tulip-shaped glasses. Turkish coffee may be famous around the world, but was conspicuous by its absence within the country. Our jovial waiter bought us a round of teas in the Muslim tradition which deems guests as sacred.
After walking around Fethiye’s cobbled lanes, jiving with the shopkeepers who tried to sell us carpets and Turkish souvenirs (“special for you today: student prices, guaranteed quality, come in for look”), we headed to the beach at Olu Deniz, the fabled blue lagoon of the Mediterranean. The short ride on a Dolmus, a small bus (literally meaning “stuffed” in Turkish), passed through scented pine ridges.
Over a crest, we gazed upon Fethiye Bay and beach below, quite breathtaking.
Accommodation was double the going rate for the rest of Turkey; t was a very popular destination. Ken and Taya suggested we split a small cabana, so we stored our gear and hit the beach. We paid a tiny small fee to enter the lagoon area, a national park.
The setting was stunning, many shades of blue, sin the shape of a perfect bowl. Toward the ocean, a small mouth formed, where boats could enter and set anchor. At the other end, condominiums housed rich Euro’s vacationing on packaged deals; they also seemed to be occupying a lot of space on the park as if bright pink beached whales, frying their overweight bodies in the blistering sun: “I paid for this holiday, I’m here for two weeks, and I’m going to lie in the sun even if it kills me.”
The sand was of fine pebbles, very hot to lie on. But we'd perfected the art of beaching, with our straw mats from Thailand and sulus from India. The water was a perfect counterpoint to the hot day, and we enjoyed many cool dips. The afternoon drifted away as we drank cheap ice cold Efes beers from the nearby concession stand, munching on donar kebaps.
In the evening, we dined on delicious Turkish cuisine in a small cafe by the sea. Most Turkish restaurants invite you into the kitchen to see what’s cooking: cold and hot salads makes one's taste buds salivate. Stuffed aubergines, mussels in tomato sauce, squid in oil, fish kebap. We ate as if to feed a tapeworm, coupled with a bottle or two of surprisingly good Turkish wine. We'd finally seem to have purged our bodies of nasty viruses plaguing us since we contracted Gardia in Nepal
We spent the next day on the beach, relaxing and unwinding. It was a scorcher, and long swims were de rigour. As we found this region a bit touristy and expensive, we thought we’d move down to coast to Kas, a sleepy up-and-coming port.
The ride along the coast to Kas on an ultra-modern Turkish bus (Mercedes Benz) was thrilling, reminiscent of California’s Big Sur Coast, steep cliffs plunging dramatically into the thrashing Mediterranean. Turkish buses are light years ahead of anything the unfortunate Nepal and India relatives: we were provided with free bottles of cold water, a conductor regularly made the rounds spraying perfume into one’s hands, cool and invigorating.
What we hadn’t left behind was the Third World maniac bus driver; currently, our driver imagined he was making a dash for the finish line on z Grand Prix Circuit. If we would have had wings, I’m sure we were would’ve flown down the road!
Kas, a quaint seaside villages was set in a idyllic bay overlooking the easternmost Greek island Kastellorizo, a long way from Athens, seemingly out of place so far from the Greek Isles. Kastellorizo was assigned to Greece with the Paris Peace Treaties, 1947.
Kas slopped along steep hills to the port, where handcrafted wooden sailing ships in the harbor.
As budget travellers, we were becoming a bit frustrated with the price of accommodation along the Turkish Coast. It didn’t help that our arrival in Kas coincided with the end of the Ramadan fast, a time for Turks to head to their favourite resorts, catch up on eating (technically, Muslims weren't allowed to imbibe in alcohol; Turkey’s tolerant attitude meant Turks could party without fear of retribution (unlike Malaysia). Most hotels had jacked up their prices.
“Well, it looks like our budget is going to be shot to hell if this keeps up,” I said to Elaine.
“You thought Turkey was cheaper than Greece,” she jibed. “The last two places we’ve been, rooms cost more than in the Greek Isles. I guess the tourists are driving up the prices.”
We were sitting on an old stone wall, a bit discouraged after enquiring at a few hotels, contemplating our next move. A young Turk pulled up in a pop truck laden with bottle of omnipresent Coke, in broken English: "Are you looking for room?”
“Oh my," we thought, “now we’re getting hustled by the pop guy.”
“How much you want to pay for room,” he asked.
“We hoped to spend no more than 3,000 lira, but everything here is double that price,” I said.
“Come with me to my house, we have room for 3,000, very private with bath.”
An envoy from Allah! We clambered aboard the truck up the hill to his family’s stately new residence. Our room included a huge balcony overlooking the town and harbour. It turned out to be an excellent arrangement, so we stayed for four days and took our rest before deciding our next move.
The Sultan’s Feast
That evening, we strolled down to the harbour for dinner, the place was alive with cafes, bars and restaurants, mostly frequented by Turks celebrating the end of fasting days.
We entered a darkened laneway, wooed by two restaurants vying for our business. A long buffet table was set up, with animated Turkish waiters steering us to our seats. Cold drinks were served, and we decided to indulge ourselves in the Turkish smorgasbord, hot/cold salad bar "mezes:" all-you-could-eat for $2!
What an earthly delight of foods for weary and hungry travellers. We gazed upon a cornucopia of carefully prepared offerings: stuffed grape leaves; tarama, fish roe salad; hummous and flat bread; garlic yogurt with mint and cucumber; my personal favourite, Imam Biyaldi (Turkish for the “Iman swooned,: which I almost did when I ate it) an eggplant stuffed with tomato and onion in oil and topped with cheese; stuffed and marinated mussels; shrimps in lemon, oil and garlic; pickled vegetable of many varieties; several salads, some with beans, others with finely chopped tomatoes, onions, and sweet peppers in a light vinaigrette; green beans in tomato sauce.
We were in hog heaven, and spent the next four nights pigging out at this splendid trough!
The area around Kas is famous for its archeological sites. Perfectly preserved amphitheatres and Greco-Roman columns, untold archeological treasures, especially off the coast, where an entire sunken Roman city could be viewed by charter boat from one of the hustlers in the harbour area.
The empty gravesite of St. Nicholas was found at nearby Patara,, (yes, our Santa Claus) patron saint of shopping centres and malls. We explored a local Roman amphitheatre on the outskirts of town. Then, a swim in the translucent waters.
Kas doesn’t have any beaches, but does sport rock ledges for diving into the sea. We found a secluded, sheltered bay, where we could bathe without hordes of young Turkish males ogling the women. The waters were very refreshing, still cool in late May, and very clean for swimming.
We enjoyed the pace of life in Kas, and settled into a routine of stuffing ourselves silly for very little money. In the morning, we’d walk down to the port for fresh squeezed OJ from local oranges, smooth custards and sweet pastries, typical Turkish breakfast of boiled eggs, piles of homemade bread, pats of butter and jam, and feta and olives. We’d drown this with gallons of tea, all the while enjoying the pristine sunlight dancing off the boats and water in the harbour next to our table at water’s edge. Lunch was a massive Donar Kepab, thin slices of lamb stuffed into half a loaf of bread with garlic yogurt, roasted peppers and a house salad, washed down with cold beers, in a small out-of-the-way cafe frequented by locals.
A Close Shave
After one of these enormous meals, we were walking down a quiet lane, when a young lad walked up and said:“Mister, you come with me, you need shave, massage and haircut.”
He practically pulled my arm out of its socket as he led me into a small barber shop. After a brief negotiation, I sat down, expecting the older gent to perform a needed trim of locks and beard. To my amazement, the young boy, who we discovered was 11 years old, was today’s surgeon.
I was apprehensive, especially when he started sharpening a straight-razor on a leather strap.
“Well, when in Rome...” I said to Elaine, who was laughing at the spectacle, despite my obvious discomfort.But I had nothing to fear, for the kid was expert at shaving and cutting hair. And his massage, a favourite form of relaxation amongst the already laid-back Turks, was superb.
Another time, we were strolling through the back lanes of Kas, smelling fresh bread baking in earth ovens, when we were approached by a young shopkeeper. When we entered his store, we noticed traditional Turkish musical instruments on the walls.
“Can you play these?”
“Sure, no problem,” said the handsome young Turk, who proceeded to strum several traditional, then modern tunes on the exotic-looking acoustic guitar. Soon, he was joined by two friends, and while we sipped tea sitting cross-legged on Turkish carpets, we were entertained in an impromptu afternoon jam session. The shopkeeper gave Elaine a copy of old Roman coins as a souvenir of Kas.
Another night, after a huge repast, we sat at a small cafe enjoying a glass of Armagnac by the sea. We were joined by a Mexican-American and a Turk, who insisted on buying several litres of wine. Soon, another Turk and his girlfriend, down from Istanbul for the week-end celebration, "forced us" to join them the Rock Bar on the outskirts of town. This pleasant pub featured western music, with the seats and tables bored from rock outcroppings, living up to its name in more ways than one.
The Rock Bar afforded a wondrous view of the harbour below, and we drank the night away under a bright moon and glittering stars.
Next Stop: Cappadocia and Pamukkale