Didim, TR to Athens, GR
November 2, 1999 to December 1, 1999
28,671 miles (46,244 km) cumulative
Nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey. Nothing shakes the heart so much as meeting - far, far away - what you last met at home.
In Turkey everyone we pass seemed to be so curious about us. People working out in the fields, far away from the road, stood up, shouted, and waved as we pass. Dolmuses passing on the road often had a hand or two waving out the window. Lots of cars tooted their horns, sometimes to make sure we knew they're there and other times just to say hello. Most kids yelled "hello" and those that knew a bit more continued with "What is your name?" They always giggled when we responded as if it surprised them that their strange sounds actually elicited a response. Teenagers came over to start a longer conversation if they could. There was no feeling of resentment or envy such as we've experienced in other cultures. It's as if people here seem to actually like Americans. Such a friendly bunch of people we haven't seen for most of the summer and we sure have missed it. We just wish they'd stop honking the horns.
A howling wind greeted us the morning we worked our way out of Didim back to the main road. The road surface was a rough, chip seal type of pavement which is reasonably smooth to ride but definitely not as smooth as real good asphalt. The rocks used by the Turks seem too big, about 1 inch in diameter, which makes a good road for cars but a sandpapery feel on a bike. The terrain became hilly the further we got from the shore and the wind velocity seemed to grow with each passing minute. Of course, we were headed directly into it. It proved to be a long, tiring struggle just to get back to the main road. Having ridden close to 90 km the day before, we were not anxious to go too much farther this day. We headed only as far as the town of Camici and then up to the farming town of Latmos. Latmos, having been discovered by the adventurous travelers, has sprouted several small pensions and restaurants. When we pulled up to the first and learned that the price for a double room with breakfast included was a mere 3 million lire, about $6 US, we just said, "sold" and settled in for the evening.
Latmos is one of those towns that is just beginning to get ruined by the influx of tourism. It combines an odd mixture of rural farm life with the modern accoutrements of a mini tourist destination. It's main attraction seems to be location and the fact that it is a quintessential Turkish farm town. It huddles against the beautiful shore of Lake Bafa and has a wonderful view overlooking a small island bearing ruins of a monastery. Sunsets overlooking the lake are wonderful. A few small ancient ruins dot the hillside; the crumbling walls of a temple, town wall, theater, water reservoir, as well as 5 much newer monasteries. Far more interesting is a wander around the "modern" houses still used by the residents as living quarters and farms. Stone walls crisscross the hillsides and any tour around will always take you over a few. Good walking shoes are essential. White stuccoed houses hug the narrow streets and pathways. You're sure to find some cow manure on the bottoms of your shoes after wandering along the paths. Chubby and short women all wear the traditional shavlar, baggy pantaloons made from brightly colored cotton cloths, white blouses, and the required head scarf. This is the very same costume the women of the Ottoman era wore both in the elegant harems as well as in the countryside. Although I suspect it looks much better on thin women than the fat. They all carry trays covered with handmade crocheted items, more scarves, and cheap jewelry. The goods they carry are all exactly alike and they all come over insisting upon badgering you to buy. They're particularly excited to show you the crocheted fish exclaiming "fish" whenever they hold one up. It's perhaps the one feature of Latmos that spoils its otherwise idyllic charm. After a while the women can become quite annoying, friendly but annoying.
We found a brief respite from the badgering women by entering into the men's domain for a while. Being a foreigner I was admitted to a place where no Turkish woman would dare to tread. In every town there is a tea parlor where the men of the town gather throughout the day. They're not fancy, bare floors and walls. Plain tables that appear to be no more than slabs of wood nailed to four legs are surrounded by equally plain wood chairs. There are usually four men at each table and they are always playing some sort of game. Sometimes it's cards, sometimes backgammon, but most often it's an unusual game we've never seen before called Okey. As we walked past the Latmos card parlor we noted the usual four men around the plain table out on the patio playing that odd game. Stopping to see what the heck the game was, we soon found ourselves invited to sit down to watch. They were four characters who could have easily been cast for the make of a "Four Grumpy Old Men" movie. Next to me sat the kindly gent, the one who first proffered the invitation. He tried his best to explain some of the rules of the game with hand signals. Next to Brian was the serious George. He was the one who carefully pondered each move, hesitantly placing one chip down, changing his mind, and then going for another. Beside him sat Tom Foolery. A fat man whose urging and pushing made serious George a bit red around the collar. He bellowed a laugh as he pounded his fist on the table trying to get ole George to make up his mind. The fourth was mister silent. He made his moves, laughed at Serious George a bit, but did not make much of an impact or impression on the game. It was as much fun to watch the four men as it was to watch the game.
What an unusual game it was. Something like a card game called Crazy Eights. The playing pieces look like white dominos. On each is painted a number from 1 to 13 in either red, green, yellow, or black. On some is a target rather than a number. Each player has a triangular shaped wooden stand on which they place the dominos so that the other players can't see their numbers. The dominos are first separated into piles of 5 each, face down. One man rolls a dice, we think it determines the number the target, or wild, domino gets assigned. Each man grabs 3 piles of dominos and then proceeds to arrange them on his stand. As the first man takes his turn he takes the first face down domino from the stack remaining in the middle. He then either keeps it or rejects it by placing it on a pile to his right. If he keeps it, he has to discard one of his other dominos to that discard pile on the right. The next player either takes the domino from the previous player's discard pile or takes one from the center pile. The objective of the game is to get either the same number in all 4 colors or get a series of three consecutive numbers in the same color. The first person getting all dominos into these groups wins and gets zero points. The points given to the other players is determined by what ungrouped dominos he has left. Exactly how that score is determined we have no idea. Interestingly the women don't even touch the game.
After watching until we seemed to get the gist of the game, we decided to wander off again. A bit of a mistake as we soon found ourselves being nagged by those pesky women once again. However, this time with a twist. A woman named Doodu, or something like that, spoke just enough English to get our attention. No matter how we tried we couldn't get her to leave us be. She insisted upon taking us on a very basic, broken English tour. She had us climbing up over rock walls as she pointed out donkeys and cows as well as the unusual rock graves strewn all over. These are rectangular shaped holes cut into the very rocks for burying bodies. Each one had been covered with a rectangular rock cover. But now each and every one was open. Clearly grave robbers had been at work long ago. After following her around for a while she insisted upon taking us to her house where she served up some cookies and told us a little about her family. We were quite surprised to find this rural farmer's house equipped with satellite color TV, VCR, and a boom box. Apparently farmers are doing quite well these days. Unfortunately things got dicey after this. She insisted upon spreading out the same crochet, scarf, and cheap jewelry wares that every other woman had and pushed hard to get us to buy. We knew this would happen and no matter how we tried to explain we have no use for these things we couldn't get her to desist. We finally convinced her to take a little something for the tour, but it left a bit of a sour experience in what should have been a much happier parting.
It was also in Latmos that we met Suzy, an Austrian born woman who seems to pack up and resettle in various countries throughout the world. She told us she doesn't travel she tends to live places. She must have been in her early 60s and was one spry lady. She's lived in Taiwan, owned a vineyard in Napa Valley California, was living in Cyprus when the Turks invaded in 1974, lived in the former Yugoslavia up until the war finally drove her away, and, traveled in Mexico and South America. Her latest exploit was to have a charter yacht in Marmaris, Turkey for 8 years running. She just sold the boat and then took the money to build a house on some property in Sedona, Arizona she'd bought many years earlier. She doesn't plan to move into the house, at least not now. She'll just rent it out. She mentioned her next country to live in might be Mexico. She was one fascinating woman to encounter out in a small Turkish farming village. Whereas we were headed down the road the next morning, she was determined to take a three hour hike into the hills to visit some caves containing wall paintings, all by herself despite the hotel owner's protests. No self respecting farm village Turkish woman would tackle such a hike all alone.
The cycling continued taking us along some easily ridden rolling terrain with scrub covered hills on either side. We stopped for a night in the mostly uninteresting town of Milas. There are few, if any, sights worth visiting in the town with the possible exception of an ancient tomb supposedly modeled after the more famous Mausoleum. We'd arrived early and within a very short time had visited everything and wandered everywhere. Locals mostly ignored us with the exception of the kids who often came by to practice their English. With so few tourists visiting this town it's hard to imagine there being much call for English. But I suppose the kids have dreams for better careers. They did have what has to be the cheapest internet cafe we'd found so far. At a mere 500,000 tl, that's $1 US, per hour, we couldn't resist spending a few hours trying to catch up on email.
Beyond Milas we took a right in the road, rode up and then down a hill to descend into a wide fertile valley filled with farms and the brand new regional airport accompanied by its brand new, smooth asphalt road making for a nice break from the sandpaper chip seal. Up and down a couple more hills and we found ourselves on a road bordering one of the prettiest bays we'd seen so far. There were small, sugar cube buildings scattered along the shore. The water was a crystal clear blue and here and there floating hexagonal docks indicated locations of fishing nets. Picturesque white fishing boats tended some of the nets. The shore is lined with a few hotels and many campgrounds, most of which were closed for the winter season. It's still an unspoiled bay, but the tourist vacation villages so prevalent in the nearby town of Bodrum are quickly encroaching.
Up one more hill and we were treated to a view of the very picturesque and somewhat touristy town of Bodrum. A large fortress graces the small peninsula that sticks out between the two natural harbors. In summer the bays would be filled with yachts heading in and out for day or week long cruises. In winter the yachts dock in the more western bay. They sit side-by-side one, two, and sometimes even three deep. Really cool boats they are. They're all at least 40 ft in length, covered in impeccably maintained teak wood, and usually have 2 masts minimum. They all look a bit top heavy, almost like old fashion pirate ships, and all seem very luxurious. In summer they can be chartered for groups of 16 or more for something like $1400 USD per day. In winter the owners live on them, sitting tied to the dock with their neighbor an arm's length away. I guess if I had one of those boats I'd want to spend the quiet winter months exploring the far seas, not sitting practically on top of dozens of look alike boats.
Bodrum is a wealthy town. Its well maintained beach walk is lined with expensive hotels that cater to the package tours. It has the usual maze of small streets in the bazaar area that are filled with shops geared to the upscale market. Expensive jewelry, clothes, and the usual Turkish carpets can be had at highly inflated rates. Bus tours and cruise ships stop regularly in summer months. In winter, it's quiet. Perhaps only a couple cruise ships each week most of which are only partially full. It's great for independent travelers like us. Pension prices become amazingly cheap, about $10 for a double at most. Restaurants drop prices to affordable levels and even the carpet and boat cruise touts leave you alone. It's the locals and yachters time to rule the town. For us it was an opportunity to enjoy a relaxing few days.
There are a few things to visit in Bodrum. The fortress that is so prominent on the peninsula was originally built by the Knights of St. John, or Knights Hospitaller, based on Rhodes in the 1400s. It's been mostly rebuilt, which means it's in excellent condition, and now houses the largest marine archeological museum in Turkey. It is a bit expensive to visit, however it's well worth it. Of particular interest is a display about the amphora. Amphora are those round bottomed, usually 2 handled clay jars used in ancient times for transporting goods throughout the Mediterranean region. They first started to appear well before Christ and were used up through the 1800s when wooden barrels began to become more common. Different cities specialized in amphora production and each had their own unique shape. But, they all looked essentially similar. Why the rounded bottom? For stacking purposes. They could fit more amphora into the rounded hull of a boat if they had rounded bottoms. Also, they could be stacked standing up by placing mats of hay between the layers. Early on it seems everything was transported in amphora, from grain and fish to oil and wine. Later they seemed to be used primarily for oil and wine. Today whenever a new ancient shipwreck is discovered it seems it is always filled with thousands upon thousands of amphora. There are more than enough to make up lots of displays in many, many museums worldwide.
Another more famous feature of Bodrum is what used to be there. In ancient times Bodrum was known as Halicarnasus and was the home for a Satrap (govener) named Mausolus (376-353 B.C.). His tomb, built by his wife Artamisia after his death, is known as one of the seven ancient wonders of the world and also gave us the word mausoleum. The site of the tomb has been excavated and is open for public viewing. But the majority of the tomb marble is long gone. It was destroyed by those very Knights of St. John who were responsible for the fortress. In 1581 when they were under attack by Sullyman the Magnificent, an Ottoman Turk, they were given the assignment of rebuilding and fortifying the old fortress. Needing replacement stones they looked around at what was available locally. They found the remains of the mausoleum under a pile of dirt. The enormous top portion of the monument had fallen apart due to neglect and earthquakes. Thus from a distance it probably looked like not much more than a big pile of dirt. Looking closer, however, they soon discovered it was a good source of ready made blocks. They started digging and found a series of marble steps. Continuing to dig down they came across the inner chamber where the king's sarcophagus was located. There they found fabulous carved reliefs, columns, and statues. No treasure as the tomb had been looted much earlier. They admired the work for a while and then returned the very next day to tear the whole thing apart. Some of the stones were ground up for use as mortar and others were inserted directly into the fortress wall. So an ancient wonder that had survived for more than 1900 years came to an ignominious end simply to support a lost cause of the crusaders. Wouldn't you like to have been able to stand on top of the monument with a machine gun pointed directly at the knights and just say, "Get your stone elsewhere. This one's mine."
Bodrum lies 50 km down a road that goes no further than the tip of the peninsula. It's at the border between two great seas, the Aegean and Mediterranean. To continue further along the coast by land requires a return to the town of Milas. We could have ridden, but saw no purpose in repeating that section of road. A better idea was to take a bus. Like Mexico, Turkey has a fantastic network of routes covered by giant first rate buses. Putting a bike on some of these buses is incredibly easy. Roll up, open the door, and simply roll the bike standing up into the cargo hold. Bus rides are also cheap, super cheap. The cost for the 2 of us and the bikes to retrace the 50 km to Milas was a mere $3, similar to Mexico bus prices or maybe even cheaper. There are interesting traditions on Turkey buses. First the conductor comes round with a bottle of spring water and cups. Have some if you trust the water is truly clean bottled water. Next he comes round with a bottle of some yellow liquid. Each passenger holds out their cupped hands and he sprinkles some of the yellow liquid into each. The passengers then rub the liquid all over their hands, neck, face, hair, whatever. It's some sort of lemon juice perfume. It seems a bit odd at first, but the nice lemony smell gets to be quite a pleasure after a while. Turkish luxury buses are definitely a comfortable way to travel long distances.
We dismounted at the Milas otogar, bus station, with everything on the bikes ready to go. A quick stop for a loaf of bread and we were ready to tackle the upcoming hill. Inland we rode, making a sharp 90 degree turn and almost immediately starting what would be a 2500 ft climb. Within less than a kilometer we encountered a row of cars sitting still. All were held up by a policeman. Ever since entering Turkey we'd seen many traffic control points where the cops will pull over random cars and make spot checks for driver's licenses, registration and insurance papers, as well as do brief safety checks. But this looked a bit more serious. The cops weren't checking anything and the drivers looked as though they'd been waiting for quite a while. As usual we rode up to the front of the line and just continued on by while the cop gave us a teasing salute. We continued on up the hill thoroughly enjoying the totally vacant road until about half way up we encountered another row of cars. This time it appeared that we'd found the crux of the problem. At the front of the line of cars we found two cranes working to remove the crunched shell of a semi tractor and trailer from the middle of the road. From the looks of the tractor, it would seem unlikely that the driver escaped without serious injury, if he escaped at all. We'd heard time and again that Turkey has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in Europe, so I suppose it was only matter of time before we'd witness the aftermath of one of their accidents.
This didn't spoil the ride, despite its somber reminder of how exposed we are on bikes. As the road wound higher and higher into the mountains we found ourselves among a very surprising environment. One tends to imagine Turkey as a country of vast deserts, dry climate, lots of sand dunes. Yet it is actually quite green. In the mountains surrounding the Mediterranean coast there are large forests of evergreen trees reminding us so much of the pine forests in the mountains around San Diego. Much of the forests are new plantings, the Turkish government having undertaken several reforestation projects recently. It's now quite pleasantly lush. There are even some spotlessly clean picnic rest areas along the way. Rest areas that even have picnic tables that are whole, not in bits and pieces as we find in so many roadside rest areas. It was not what we'd been expecting from a country where the roadside often gets used as a litter barrel. I must say, Turkey continues to surprise us at each turn.
A 74 km ride into the town of Mugla, capital of the region bearing the same name, felt more like a ride of 150 km. We'd climbed up and down several hills making for probably a 3000 ft overall climb day, and had battled a headwind for a good 30 km. We were bushed by the time we pulled into town. As with most Turkish towns, finding one's way around always proves to be the most difficult part, at first at least. The main key seems to be to locate the center square containing the ever present statue of Ataturk. Everything else seems to surround this landmark. Mugla, being a prosperous town, has a very nice place for their Ataturk statue, in the middle of a large circle surrounded by a fancy white fence and nice gardens. The maze of old town streets emanated to the north and east from there. Once the statue is located things become trickier. Streets are almost never, ever labeled leaving much room for error. Also, even the skinniest alley is considered a street and will appear on the map as a street with as much ink as the largest thoroughfare. Walk along a street in any direction and you'll soon discover that the three walkways passing between buildings that you just passed were actually three caddessi, streets, on your map. Now to make matters even worse, for Mugla we had no map only a few written directions. This made finding the hotel we were looking for extremely difficult. Even asking Turks for directions elicits only some vague hand wave showing the general direction to head. We wandered around for quite a while before finding the hotel.
Mugla is about as far from the tourist track as you can get. I would be willing to bet the number of tourists they get each year can be counted in the hundreds at most. Our hotel was a plain Turkish style hotel frequented by mainly Turkish businessmen. It lacked western accoutrements, such as a sit down toilet. Out in the hall were two tiny closets each housing one of those squat toilets that we westerners find so difficult to negotiate. It isn't so much the squatting that's the problem. It's managing to squat, get correct aim, and still miss hitting one's own pants that are carefully bunched to the front. Theoretically it's a better position for a bowel movement, but this does little to dispel my feeling of awkwardness. Rubber flip-flops are provided in each room for you to use to go to the bathroom at night. Of course, they are sized to fit your average Turkish businessman. I could hardly keep the large things on. Mugla also proved to be one of the cheapest cities in which to find food. At one Lokanta, you might say the Turkish version of a fast food shop, we bought 2 dishes of rice, 3 casseroles, 2 salads, 2 bowls of pudding, 2 cups of tea, and all the bread we could eat for just about $3. And it was really good food as well. I don't recall ever finding eats so cheap in either Guate or Mexico and certainly not in the Baltics or central Europe. Mugla would be a great place to stay except for the fact there's nothing there to see. It's a plain working town where the majority of the people hold some sort of government position. That's about it.
It did give us a place from which we could check out the town of Marmaris. A short 1 hour bus ride, either by a minibus or luxury liner, took us from the high valley holding Mugla back to the warm almost tropical coast. What a descent. For a full 7 km the road snaked back and forth down a mountainside that was nearly vertical. Knowing that the next day we'd be riding the bikes down that very same road gave us reason to be extremely interested in both road condition and traffic. Hitting one of those fertile flat spots that obviously is the silted up mouth of a river, the road crosses over to another mountain range and begins a steep climb back up. Our route would take us to the left at the bottom so we were much relieved to see we wouldn't have to reclimb, at least not right away. The bus took us up over 2 passes and then one final descent having panoramic views of the white towers of the city of Marmaris, one of the largest summertime tourist destinations along the Turkish coastline.
What a difference there is between Marmaris and Mugla. Mugla is very much a Turkish city. It still clings to the traditional market place and small shops for all sorts of goods. We walked quite a bit and never did locate a large western style supermarket. In addition things were a little more disorganized, a bit more chaotic, not quite as well constructed. Marmaris, on the other hand, sports everything one expects from a typical western style small city. It's got the usual very fancy and very large supermarkets, a Migros and Tansas, as well as more modern fancy buildings. It has modern gas stations, wide roads, super clean and modern high-rise hotels, and, of course, McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. There is somewhat of an old town and a small fortress, but most of that has been superceded by the more modern constructions. It lacks the charm of Bodrum and the fascinating nearby ruins of Kusadasi. It's just a place that package tourists, of which there were virtually none this time of year, come to sit on the beach in a hotel they couldn't afford if it were elsewhere.
For us Marmaris was simply a place we hoped to find ferries to Rhodes in Greece so we could return to Athens for our Dec. 1 flight back to the US. Getting ferry information in Greece and Turkey has proven to be more difficult than we anticipated. You simply cannot walk into any tourist office or travel agent anywhere in the country to get schedules or prices. You quite literally have to go to the exact location from where the ferry departs and only then you might be able to get your information. I mean might. If you want to leave right away or within that week you can get what you need. But try to get information for 3 weeks later, forget it. Especially in November when the number of ferries running each week has been drastically reduced. We asked, "What days will you be running ferries around November 27?" The answer, "Call us the Monday before and we'll know." They run the ferry if and only if there enough passengers and if the weather cooperates. A rather iffy situation for us. We left Marmaris later that afternoon with little more information than when we arrived. We did get a phone number. So the Monday before we want to leave we will call to find out when the ferries run. If they don't, we'll try Bodrum where the ferry supposedly runs to Kos every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday regularly.
Mustafa Kemel Ataturk died on November 10, 1938 a true hero of the country. Today, every year, his death day is reserved for many memorial services dedicated to the man. Crowds gather around his statue to hear the town officials give the usual speeches of praise for the dead man. Organizations place interesting round metal placards resting on easels around the statue. Each placard looks like an oversized medallion bearing the insignia of such groups as the police, firefighters, banks, teachers, city hall, etc. Children dress in their school uniforms and carry Turkey and individual school flags. They're march up to the statue to hear the speeches. But one of the most unusual characteristics of this particular holiday is the moment of silence. At exactly 9:05 AM, the moment of his death, sirens wail throughout every town in Turkey. Everything, absolutely everything, comes to a dead halt. People walking down the street stop in their tracks and stand at attention, keeping absolutely silent. Cars, trolleys, buses, everything comes to a halt for about 5 minutes. We knew it was coming, had been anticipating it for days. Yet when it occurred it still took us by surprise. We'd been loading up the bikes, working to get everything balanced. This siren went off and we just thought it was a fire alarm or some such thing. Ready to go we wheeled the bikes around the corner to see people standing like statues all around. "Oh, that's right" I said as we came to a stop to join in the memorial. Not that Ataturk means a whole heck of a lot to us. It's just best to pay respects to a national hero when in that hero's country. A few minutes passed, the sirens stopped, and everything returned to normal just as if it had never happened.
The next few days just took us along good wide roads past gorgeous scenery and small but beautiful bays. There were rugged mountains on our left, mountains that looked so much like the coastal California mountains that we felt right at home. Each time the road climbed over a hill we'd found ourselves among lush evergreen forests, more of that reforestation project. When we descended we'd pass groves of citrus, olive, and palm trees. It's hard to believe that this far north, around the same latitude as Virginia, it can be so tropical. Venturing into each of the small bayside villages usually greeted us with vistas of yacht filled marinas and park lined harbors. The town of Dalyan included not only views of a boat filled river, but views of some interesting cliff side Lycian tombs. These tombs were literally carved into the vertical escarpment located just above the ancient town. You can hire a boat to take you across the river to visit them. But we knew that there would be more Lycian type tombs further down the road so why pay the extra cost. Interestingly, the entire town of Dalyan now lies on what would have been the Mediterranean sea back in Lycian times. Once again, river silting has added land to where there once was only water.
Fethiye is a rather uninteresting and quite large town of 50,000 inhabitants that has sprawled out across a wide flat plain along the shoreline. There isn't much to do there,. The one small museum contains some artifacts dug up from the region following the 1958 earthquake that flattened most of the city. There are more Lycian rock tombs among the cliffs that can be visited and the few remains of an old crusader fortress. There are also several old stone sarcophagus scattered around town in some odd places, in front of city hall, in the middle of a street. That's about it. But, we wound up spending an entire day there. So what better opportunity for Brian to have his first experience with a Turkish barber. It seems Turkey is quite famous for the special treatment Turkish barbers give their clients. For just a few million lira ($2) you can have the best haircut, shave, and massage you've ever had. We noticed that Turkish men will often go into a barber to get just a shave, a luxury far too expensive in any western town. Barbers open early and seem to be the last shops to close at night. At almost any time of day or night you can get that shave and haircut.
After negotiating the price of 1 million, $2 US, which was probably still twice what Turks pay, Brian took his seat. Out came the pink plastic bib cover. The barber was a pleasant looking man with a head of thick gray hair that made him look much older than his smooth skin face would seem. He had slight crows feet around his eyes which gave his smile a particular sparkle. He pulled out a set of long scissors and a comb. Click, click, click went the scissors, and he hadn't even cut one hair. He was one of those barbers who had the habit of clicking the scissors together at least ten times for each time he actually cut. Quickly Brian's curls came off, falling to the ground, while the barber expertly and neatly cut and trimmed. He was a perfectionist. Lines were perfectly straight, every hair the proper length. He then shaved Brian's back, first with an odd pair of scissors, then an electric razor, then a straight razor making it baby bottom smooth. Next the ears. Carefully he trimmed the rogue hairs Brian has in his ears. Then taking a stick with a piece of cotton on the end, he stuck it into a glass bottle containing some sort of brownish liquid. He extracted the stick and lit it on fire. Holding his hand against Brian's head, he whisked the fire at Brian's ears, singing off the hair stubble. As the fire drew near Brian's head you could see the worried look on his face as he tried to tilt his head as far away from the flame as he could get. I was beginning to wonder if we'd be seeking a hospital after this haircut. Fortunately, this barber was not only a perfectionist he was also an expert. Brian came away with only a slightly hot ear, not even a single burn. The barber was so anxious to cut Brian's beard next, but I could tell Brian was not anxious to see what he'd do for that.
From Fethiye the road climbed up just a bit and then down through a long narrow valley that follows a river to the sea. As we descended we entered one of the most fertile valleys we've seen in Turkey so far. The entire valley was so covered with glass and plastic green houses that it looked like a silver lake reflecting in the sunshine. Peeking inside we could see large tomato plants covered with delicious looking red and not yet ripe round orbs. It looks like extremely efficient farming. Turkey is known as being one of only seven countries in the world that produces more food than it can use. We've been trying to guess the other six. The US, Canada, China, New Zealand, Australia? At the end of the valley the brand new, wide road ended and the old road climbed up over a 500 ft super steep climb. It was a short, twisting climb with well over 10% grades especially in the corners. The knees and thighs shook as I struggled against the hill. We have definitely concluded that we need to make some drastic gearing changes as even with this light load the steep hills are still too tough. Once at the top, WOW! A most beautiful blue bay surrounded by steep mountains greeted us. At the water's edge and climbing up the steep slope was the incredibly picturesque town of Kalkan. A bustling tourist town in the summer, it was practically a ghost town in November. We picked a room with a fantastic view of the water and bay, a whole $10 US for a million dollar view.
On the way to Kas we traveled along a narrow road cut into the side of the mountains. About 7 km from Kalkan sitting out on a rocky outcrop sits the lonely looking Ada restaurant. We stopped to take in the view, but were quickly engulfed in conversation with the restaurant owner. A young man with the usual dark Turkish hair and moustache came over to try to entice us into a fish lunch or at least a cup of tea. Not being quite ready to eat or drink as yet we had to turn him down. This didn't stop him from wanting to talk, however. He told us he could talk all day and night if people let him. He must be one lonely fellow. He told us it's been rough having that restaurant. He lives out there all alone, no wife or kids, and business can create a lot of stress. "There's stress in summer. But there's real stress in winter." he told us. Business must be awfully slow much of the time. His primary problem, as far as we could see, was that he was on a route that didn't seem to have enough traffic all year long. In addition, he's got a lot of competition from more conveniently placed restaurants in the towns. I suspect he was talked into buying the restaurant and now has discovered it wasn't such a good investment after all. He asked what our bikes cost. When we said around $700 each he exclaimed, "That's ten years work." He wanted to know what costs were like in the US. When we described hotel and restaurant prices he found them rather shocking. "I'd do all right if I was in America. Things not so good in Turkey now." Seeing how their lira devalues so fast, we'd have to agree with his assessment. The next day when we returned via this route on the bus we looked to see him stand out by his restaurant tables all alone again. What a lonely life indeed.
Take the spectacular sections of the California coastal RT 1, remove the large cities, add small fishing and tourist villages tucked into the mountainside, and get rid of all the traffic and you've got the road between Kalkan and Kas. We enjoyed this section of the road so much we road it on the bikes once and then in a bus twice. Actually we took a day off in Kas and decided to return to the ruins of Xanthos back a few km. Xanthos is an interesting group of ancient Lycian ruins. It's not in great condition having been destroyed not only by the Turks but by their own people as well. When under attack by a foe too strong to beat the warriors killed all the women and children and then committed suicide to keep from being taken as slaves. They also destroyed the town in the process. The best remains is the theater, of course. There are also several buildings with interesting mosaic floors remaining as well as some unusual Lycian tower tombs. In many Lycian cities they carved tombs into the sides of nearby cliffs. In others they made a large rectangular stone pedestal and mounted a large stone sarcophagus on top. Often the pillar had inscriptions describing the dead person and their relatives. Much of the inscriptions from Xanthos were carted off to the British Museum in 1842 and they still reside there. It may seem a shame that so many of Turkey's ancient treasures are now found in foreign museums, but one can only wonder what would have happened to them had they been left where they stood. They'd probably be completely destroyed by now. It's only been recently that Turkey has become interested in it's Greek and Roman past and that's mostly due to the tourist draw the ruins create.
A rustle of the bushes in the hills above the site of the Xanthos ruins caught out attention. Cautiously we watched, wondering what on earth could be causing such a sound. They came trotting around the corner, three in a row, moving far faster than I've ever seen. Turtles. Brian exclaims, "It's a herd of turtles!" As we watched one of the ones bringing up the rear tucked it's head inside its shell and bumped the front turtle. The other soon followed suit. Each time the front turtle stopped the rear ones would start bumping the front. It didn't take us too long to figure out that this was turtle mating season and the two in the rear were the males trying to get the attention of the female. Round and round the bushes they went, the males continuing their bumping and the female trying to get away. She made her mistake by heading into some bushes where the males finally managed to corner her. So as one male had his way, the female made a pathetic noise and the other male continued bumping trying to displace the first male. Soon there'll be the pitter, patter of little turtles filling the air over the ruins of Xanthos. Turtles are good.
From Kas we rode a short 50 km but very hilly ride to the prosperous agricultural town of Kale, also known as Demre. It's a city of some 20,000 people. High-rise concrete apartment buildings and the older central shopping district are surrounded by a sea of glass and plastic green houses filled with tobacco, beans, and tomatoes. But for the tourist Kale is known for just two important sites. There's Myra, the ancient Lycian and Roman city. Only the ancient theater and some of the most interesting Lycian cliff tombs remains. The tombs literally honeycomb the cliff and most are carved to look like houses complete with wood beams. Archeologists believe these were Lycian houses. The other site is the church where Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was originally buried. Unfortunately in the 1000s some Italian seamen dropped into Demre, grabbed all but a few bones of ole St. Nick's skeleton, and made off for Bari. So while most of St. Nick's bones are now housed in a cathedral bearing his name in Bari, Italy there are a few bones now sitting in the Antalya museum. Demre does its very best to capitalize on the Santa pilgrimage. The remains of the church are surrounded by a carefully manicured garden and an expensive looking fence. In the garden is a statue of St. Nick with the flags of many counties where he is well known embedded in the statue's metal. The church itself is hardly worth the whopping $3 admission as you can see just about all there is to see from the outside. We just walked the exterior and skipped entering.
"Your Bill Clinton is coming here." the hotel manager said proudly. "Here? To Kale?" we replied. "Yes. This weekend. There's a street now named Clinton Cadessi." he responded. "Will you change the name back after he goes?" we asked. We'd learned about a week earlier that Bill Clinton would be visiting Turkey for the OSCE meeting in Ankara. Turks seem to like the man and all were quick to point out that he was going to be there soon. "He's our number one guest." one man said. We really didn't care whether Clinton visited Turkey or not. Our primary concern was that his visit didn't cause us any problems. Since the Turks seemed quite proud to be hosting the meeting and the president we didn't expect any difficulties. We did think it would be a wise idea to stay well away from the American embassy in Athens when we returned. The Greeks weren't quite so excited about his visit. As it happened, we showed up in the city of Antalya the very same day Clinton was supposed to arrive for the weekend. No, our paths didn't cross.
"A gentle climb." That's exactly how our Cycling the Mediterranean book described the 15 km long over 3000 ft climb east of Kumluca. That was also what we were expecting to encounter. So rather than riding just 50 km to spend the night in Kumluca we decided to ride on to Olympos. "A long gradual climb." was also how the book described the ride from the top of that 3000 ft climb down to the ruins of Olympos. Turns out that gradual climb was more like a series of steep switch backs extending for over 8 km down a rough road. So we decided to head on. We wound up riding a full 109 km when we had expected only a 70 km ride with just some gradual climbs. Sometimes we wonder whether having these cycling books really is all that worth while. We have as yet to find a really good one for Europe. They give some basic route information, but that's it. Directions are usually given for only one way. For instance, directions indicating you ride to the T intersection and then turn left have meaning in only one direction. If you're going the other way, forget it. Distance and altitude information is never given. Detailed maps of difficult towns to negotiate are nonexistent. Also, much of the route description is subjective. To describe a climb as "moderate" depends upon how you are feeling that particular day, what your load is, what your previous hill experience is, and so many other factors. A hill that one day seems excruciatingly long and difficult may feel not so bad the next. We'd love to see some descent European bike touring books in English. But for now, we put up with what we can find.
Kemer is another tourist resort town that is unlike any normal place in Turkey. Plop yourself down in the middle of the main street/shopping area and you'd have a hard time telling whether you were in Cancun, Miami beach, or Turkey. There are the usual touts trying to drag you into their particular shop by crying out "Hello, Where are you from? What's your name?" and all that every time you walk by. In Kemer, there was one twist. They usually cried out in German. We got a kick out of just passing them by because we can't speak German. I did try responding in Spanish to one tout and much to my amazement he did manage to dig out a "Donde vive en Espana?" They'll try anything. I wonder if I tried Swahili what would happen, if only I knew Swahili.
Our last stop along the Mediterranean coast was also its largest city, Antalya. With a population of over 1/2 million it was also the largest Turkish city we visited on this trip. Normally we'd approach such a city with trepidation. Riding through the streets of such a large city is not exactly a picnic. There are traffic jams, diesel fumes, honking horns, crowded sidewalks, yuk. But, we'd taken advantage of the proximity of Kemer to catch a bus into town to check things out. Much to our delight we discovered that much of the coastal road is wide, smooth, flat, and bordered by a long park which meant far less traffic. Also, the city is concentrated to the north of the coast rather than along its length. So the we only really had about 3 or 4 blocks of real heavy traffic, not the several km we'd been expecting. We whipped into town, slid past the old clock tower, past the carpet salesmen before they could get out a single "Hello, Where are you from?", down the quiet ally, and right up to the door of our hotel. No muss, no fuss. Ah, if only all towns could be this easy.
Antalya is a city with a split personality. The old town surrounds a circular shaped and very tiny Roman harbor located at the bottom of 30 ft cliffs. Only a few of the Turkish gullet ships, for hire of course, can fit at its limited dock space. An old wall surrounds the harbor at one time and parts of the wall plus gates remain. Behind the wall are the maze like narrow streets of old town. Graceful old Ottoman buildings line the streets creating the feeling of narrow canyons and corridors. Some buildings have been renovated and are absolutely beautiful. Others would make for a great sample renovation for "This Old House" on PBS TV. Others are in such bad shape they probably need to be raised. Stores occupy some of the renovated houses. They sport scores of Turkish carpets either in rolls or hanging out in the street making it all that much more narrow. Or they carry miscellaneous tourist stuff, bead necklaces, post cards, ceramic statues. Several have boards covered with the blue, white, black bull's eye patterned Turkish evil eye protector beads. They come in a variety of sizes ranging from 6 inches to 1/4 inch in diameter and may be hung by a simple string or some decorative macramé hanger that has several evil eye beads attached. In summer I am sure the streets of old town are jammed with crowds making them just barely passable. But, in winter it's quiet. One gets the feeling of being in the middle of a small coastal fishing village rather than in the center of a large city.
Beyond the old town, on the other side of the old town wall cock tower and gates, lies an entirely different world. It's a modern Turkish city complete with buses, taxis, cars, modern shop, lots of people, 5 or 6 story concrete buildings, noise, and commotion. To walk into the city feels a bit like walking from the year 1900 into the year 1999, a bit of a chaotic and not quite well done 1999, but 1999 nevertheless. The transition was so remarkably abrupt we never quite got accustomed to it even after being there for 3 days. We did discover the best routes into the old town. There are two wrong ways to get past the old wall. One takes you past the old hexagonal shaped clock tower right into the arms of at least 2 or 3 carpet and pension touts just waiting to pounce. The second goes under the magnificent Roman era Hadrian gate, also into the arms of more carpet and pension touts. The sneakiest way to avoid the touts is to walk into the front door of McDonalds and then right out the back. Now talk about an abrupt transition between centuries. You'll find yourself in one of the old town back alleys, not a tout in site.
Hadrian's gate is worth a visit even if you do have to endure a couple of those carpet touts. It's a beautiful triple arched gate bearing engravings on both sides. It's called Hadrian's gate because it was built to commemorate Emperor Hadrian's visit to the city. The center gate is wider allowing for the passage of carts. Looking at the marble paving stones there are deep grooves worn by centuries of carts passing through these gates on their way to and from the harbor below. No carts will pass through now because there are 5 steps approaching the gate and 5 leaving. I guess the height of city streets in both the new and old parts has risen over time.
Our hotel had the most splendid view overlooking the entire bay around Antalya. Sunsets were always remarkable and when the clouds parted we had great views of the surrounding mountains. We shared evening drinks and morning breakfast with one friendly Turk who currently has a job at the hotel. As a recovering alcoholic and gambler it seems rather odd for him to have the job of a bartender, but here he was. He kept saying he'd give up smoking as well, tomorrow that is. Somehow I doubt it. Early in our visit we learned that Turkish breakfast consist of bread, jelly, feta type cheese, honey, olives, a soft boiled egg, and tea. Brian quickly grew to long for eggs, hashbrowns, and toast. I longed for fruit and yogurt. But to have breakfast thrown into the cost of a room was quite a deal.
Tea. Of all the unusual customs we'd seen all summer the Turkish tea ritual, or culture, is one of the most remarkable. The English have their tea times and their tea houses, but the Turks have taken the concept of tea drinking to a whole new level. Tea is drunk from a delicate looking tulip shaped glasses. No handle. They carefully hold the top of the glass with the tips of their fingers, keeping them from scalding, while sipping. These tulip shaped glasses are delivered from tea houses by a tea server carrying a silver tray supported as a hanging tripod. One, two, three, or many tulip shaped glasses of tea sitting upon little plates are balanced on the tray hanging from the fingers of the tea person. Tea is delivered everywhere at anytime. Scouts from the different tea houses scour the stores, offices, restaurants, fast food joints, street venders, even the shoe shine man on the corner. Tea orders are taken and a few minutes a steamy tulip shaped glass is delivered. All day long men, women, and even children hurry to and fro bearing their silver tripods. Occasionally a crash into a pedestrian means the loss of a glass and the need to return for another order. Tea glasses are left behind on walls, ledges, floors, counters, to be collected by the tea person at a later time. Tea often takes the place of alcohol. In every town there are tea houses and small restaurants, called lokantas, that serve up a basic fare. The clientele are men, men only, with the exception of the foreign tourist woman who is permitted to enter only because she is a foreigner. Each establishment usually has a TV in the corner and, as in all cultures, men usually prefer to watch sports in this case football (soccer). We happened into one of these establishments when the Turkish team was in a heated competition with the Irish team. Now, imagine all the male fans sitting in the lokanta watching the game and drinking tea. What would all the Irish fans be drinking? Guinness stout in some local boisterous pub no doubt. It's a different world in Turkey.
We stayed in Antalya long enough to visit two important sites. The first was the well done Antalya Archeological Museum. It's a very well organized museum covering human occupation in Turkey from prehistoric Neanderthal, through the very first settlements some 7500 BC, and on through the Ottoman empire. They even have a small ethnographic section where they include a complete nomad's encampment complete with dummies displayed in traditional costume. They have tons of fabulous Hellenistic and Roman sculptures wonderfully displayed in their room of the gods. There are also many burial mound finds, pottery, jewelry, and the usual museum pieces. They even have a small Christian exhibit containing mostly icons taken from the churches left behind after the Ottomans tossed out the Christians. Of particular interest are the few, and I do mean very few, bones of St. Nicholas that were left behind after the hurried Italian sailors took the rest.
The next site of interest was Perge located about 15 km further along the coast from Antalya. Perge was an important city for many centuries but seemed to reach its peak during the Roman times from which most of the remains date. It has a fabulous theater that is in remarkable condition, a stadium that is also in a very well preserved state, an agora, a wonderful paved street lined by still standing colonnades and having a central channel that used to carry water across the town, two impressive round towers that used to hold the town gate, and a very well preserved water fountain called nympheum. What we found most remarkable were the preserved Roman baths. It seems most baths look little like any bath structure you would recognize. But here you can distinctly see the pits of no less than 3 pools complete with steps just like a modern pool. You can also see the marble benches people sat on while taking a steam bath and the marble lined hot tubs as well. There were bath rooms in three temperature levels, cold, tepid, and hot steam bath. There also seemed to be a much smaller and we think more exclusive pool located a bit away from the others. The floor around this bath was marble rather than stone mosaic which leads us to believe it was for the rich folks. We had debated whether the $3 per person entrance fee was worthwhile and came away quite glad we had paid.
Brian returned from the bus station ticket counter shaking his head in disgust. "It's a small bus." he proclaimed. Days earlier we'd made the round about dolmus journey to the new, and very nice, Antalya bus terminal to determine what bus and what time we could leave for Marmaris. We were assured by Pamukkale bus lines that everyday at 10:30 AM a "big bus" would leave for Marmaris. To our dismay we now learned that this was not the case, at least not now. It would be a small dolmus style bus. Well, not only would our bikes be unlikely to fit, we simply did not wish to sit on this small, uncomfortable bus for a full 7 hours. Even the bus touts, who are always anxious to put you on a bus going somewhere, anywhere, as quickly as possible even if you don't want to go anywhere were not optimistic about getting the bikes on. Our only option, wait another 2 hours for the "big bus" to Mugla and then take another "big bus" from Mugla to Marmaris, a journey that would still take 7 hours total bus time but would cost more and require a bus change. We weren't excited, but could see no other option. So, 2 hours later we pushed our bikes into the lower cargo hold of the "big bus", climbed aboard, and were on our way.
From Antalya the bus headed inland up into the mountains which we'd been watching from below as we road along the coast. We quickly left the green, tropical like vegetation behind as the route climbed higher and higher. Once over the high mountain pass the road dropped into a huge fertile valley. At least judging by the number and size of plowed fields it would be fertile in the summer. This was late, late fall and the first cold winter storm was marching across the valley. Trees were leafless, fields had only the brown stubble remains of the summer's crops, and all the tiny villages appeared to be completely deserted. Houses were boarded up. There were no animals in sight. No cars, no people moved about. Do they all leave for warmer climates in winter? Only the larger towns, at least 10,000 or more seemed alive. The one exception was a small enclave of nomadic tents made of the same coarse black material as we saw in the Antalya museum. Interesting that they're still used by some folks.
Brian had come down with a cold while in Antalya. His little rhino viruses promptly found their way into my head and by the time we arrived in Marmaris I had little desire to do much more than lay in bed. Brian, on the other hand, was well on his way to recovery and was anxious to walk around, see the town, do errands. We did manage to get our tickets for the hydrofoil to Rhodes and get the laundry washed. But, other than that we just walked around a bit and took a rest. It had been an interesting 3 1/2 weeks in Turkey, an interesting 6 months in Europe. Now it was time to return to Greece and then the US.
Rhodes. How to describe the most medieval city we've ever seen. Rhodes was the headquarters for the Knights of St. John and their influence resulted in a huge fortified bastion located on the eastern most tip of the island. Upon entering the small harbor aboard the Greek hydrofoil we are immediately impressed by the large wall surrounding the bay, completely surrounding the bay except for its water entrance. Upon entering one of the eight gates we proceeded to get lost among the hundreds of narrow cobble stone pathways. The sun had set and reproduction antique lights shown with a yellow hue at large intervals along the paths. There was no one around, no cars, no lights from the windows, just us pushing the bikes along the cobblestone paths. Cats kept us company as we made our way along the eerie roads. For a moment we felt we had slipped back into another age, back to the 1300s. The only thing missing was the clatter of horses or the chink of knights metal footwear on the stones. During the next 2 days we often wound up lost among the old city streets finding hidden treasures and fantastic alleys at every turn. We'd seen a lot of old medieval cities during the past summer, but it seems we'd saved the best for last.
Just outside the walls we found a new, modern city that stretched for miles along the point of the island. Taking a day ride, we had to ride a full 20 km away from town center to actually get out of the congested area. But, we did manage to discover that there is still quiet getaway locations on the island. Riding down the west side, we rode well past the airport. A left turn took us up over the backbone of the island. Here were pine forests, olive groves, and pretty hillside towns. This is the real Rhodes. The Rhodes that looks more like a Greek community than an expensive, posh city for expatriates and tourists. We wished we had more time to explore. But our return ferry for Athens left the next day and we couldn't afford to miss it.
At our hotel in Rhodes we met Mike and Nancy, a couple from the state of Mississippi. Both artists, Mike a musician, and without kids they came to the same decision we did. They sold everything; house, cars, furniture, and took to the road. Mike says, "We've left the US for good." Well, probably not. They just started their journey 3 months earlier and were learning the ins and outs of being full time budget travelers. It was fun to see, reminding us much of when we first started 4 1/2 years ago. People often ask us if we'd go back to being settled or if we're tired of travel. No. We do find living in hotels for a long period of time, a few weeks or so, to be quite tiring. But in the summer when we live in the tent it feels like home. In winter we're just as comfortable in a camper. Home is where we feel comfortable, where things have a defined place, where day after day we know which side of the tent or bed we each sleep on. We're not tired of travel, yet. But we have learned, never say never to any possibility. We plan to keep in touch with Mike and Nancy as it will be interesting to see how their journey evolves and changes over time.
What a summer. Our first experience living and traveling through non-English speaking countries for a period longer than a few months. There were trials; Brian's run in with the Ford door, and tribulations, great rides in the Peloponnese. We'd seen the modern, perfect world of Germany and Austria, the recovering world of former Soviet block countries, the chaos and different world of Turkey, and the ancient remains of the Hellenistic, Mycenaean, and Roman worlds. It all seems so strange at first, but quickly becomes familiar as one adjusts. It's time to return to wet, cold Portland. Our camper and truck await. But, next year is another opportunity to explore more and to cross more boundaries. To be continued next summer.
Appendix A - Route
Nov 2, (55.70 km) Back north on main road to Yenihisar then right. Back roads to main highway, south through Pinaruck and Camici then north to Latmos. Quiet road with rolling hills to main road. Downhill then rollers along Lake Bafa.
Appendix B - Campsites or hotels
Nov 1, Oracle Pension in Didim
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.