Friday, 26 July 2013

Down South (Part Two)

After two days of hippy life in Kabak, it was time to leave. The same taxi that had dropped us off came to pick us up, and we started to climb the hill in the rickety old minibus. Other people were waiting along the road, and we ended up with more people than seats, plus luggage. When we got to a steep part of the track, the bus simply couldn't manage it, and the driver had to ask two of the newcomers to get out and walk to the corner. The bus was dangerously overloaded, and I couldn't help wondering what would happen if we had a similar problem coming out of one of the many steep hairpin bends. Added to this, the driver spent most of the journey on the phone with one hand on the wheel, which did not exactly fill me with confidence.

Luckily, we made it to the top without further incident, loaded our car, and set off back down the cliff road. Our destination for the evening was Kekova, a protected area of coastline where a sunken city can be found. However, our route took us very close to the Saklıkent Canyon, so we thought we might as well drop by.

Upon arriving we realised we were hopelessly under-prepared, and that rather than the series of walkways I had imagined (similar to Plitvice Lakes), it would be more of a scramble and involve getting wet. Fortunately we had all our things with us, so managed to find a place to change. As we approached the gate, a man running a shoe hire shop stopped us and advised us that our flip-flops would be dangerous. I thought it was probably a sales technique, but as shoe hire was only 3tl thought we might as well. This turned out to be the right choice – navigating the canyon in flip-flops would have been very difficult and likely to end in injury.

The canyon is only accessible in the summer months, and getting to it involves crossing another river, which is still incredibly fast flowing. Ropes are set into the rocks on each side to help people cross, which was definitely necessary as the water came up to my waist. Once this barrier is crossed, it is possible to begin the walk up the gradually narrowing canyon. The walls rise steeply on both sides, shading the ground from the sun. A sign before the river crossing had warned us not to proceed without a guide, but as there was no evidence of anyone around to fill that role we proceeded alone.


As we proceeded further, the route became more difficult. The water flowing through the canyon is grey with sediment, making it impossible to see where to put your feet. The river bed is rocky and the depth variable, and there were sections where we had to scramble up and down boulders through fast flowing water in order to continue. After about an hour, we came to a very difficult section where the water was chest height. I decided to let the boys go on whilst I held the camera, and ended up chatting to another English lady who had also sent her family onward. The boys returned after half an hour to say that it would have been impossible alone, and that they had needed to push and pull each other over the high and slippery boulders to make progress.

The way back was trickier to traverse, as I think it is always easier to climb up than down. However, by this stage I was getting the hang of it, and we actually took less time to get back than it had taken us to go. The canyon was definitely not what I had imagined. I had thought it would be platform walkways, with the odd token wading section, hard hats and guides. Turns out in reality you just pay your entrance fee and go nuts, which was far, far more fun.


Tired and happy, we clambered back into the car and continued the drive to Kekova. Oli bargained down the price for two rooms plus breakfast, and the owner said he would sort us out with a boat tour to the sunken city in the morning. We ate surprisingly excellent food on the harbour front, and retired to our rooms to get a good nights sleep.


Despite being eaten alive by mosquitoes, we had all slept quite well. Breakfast was delicious, and we headed down to the harbour to begin our boat tour. We set out on a tiny fishing boat, and were the only passengers. Due to its protected status, the Kekova bay area is immaculate and mostly undeveloped. The boat took us past the village of Kale where we could see the old castle perched on the hill, and continued on to the main area of the ruins.

From a distance, the remains of the ancient Lycian/Byzantine city simply looked like rocks on the hillside, but as we got closer, the remains of buildings and doorways became apparent.  Stairways descended  into the water, and the ghostly remnants of the walls and foundations of buildings were visible below the surface. It was an incredibly beautiful and interesting sight. Swimming and diving are banned in  the main area of the ruins, but are permitted in the site of the old shipyard. We moored the boat here and went for a dip in the clear water. I wished we had a snorkel; I could see old walls lying tantalisingly below the surface and was dying to get a closer look.


All too soon, we were back on the boat and heading back to the village. We had a long drive ahead of us to get to Denizli, but the scenery was stunning. The road took us through rocky, forested mountains. It was an incredibly wild landscape and seemed to stretch for miles. We arrived in Denizli in the early evening, and spent a quiet evening in.


The next day we headed to the Pammukale (literally translates as Cotton Castle) to see the travertines. It is a huge natural structure, set on a hill and formed by carbonate materials and flowing water. They are snow white, but a few years ago were in danger of losing their colour due to local hotels using the water. Fortunately this has been halted, and they are still beautiful.

It is forbidden to wear shoes on the travertines, so we proceeded up the hill barefoot. It was surprisingly easy to negotiate, and the surface is actually very grippy. We were all grateful that we had decided to visit in the late afternoon, as with the more intense sun the white surface would have been blinding. At some points the mineral surface almost looks  like snow, and the blue sky set it off beautifully.


At the top of the travertines sits the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, covering a huge expanse. The city has the most incredible views over the valley and to the mountains beyond. Many of the ruins are still fairly intact, looking regal in the early evening sun. Large lizards skittered over the rocks, and were so well camouflaged that they were almost impossible to spot when not moving.

As we began to descend the travertines the sun was starting to set, giving them a wholly different character. The white rock glowed in the sun, and the lower light cast shadows to show off the textured surface. It was so beautiful I almost didn't want to leave it behind, but sadly we had to.


Today we leave Denizli and head to Akbük for the weekend, where hopefully we will be joined by Oli's parents. We have just under four weeks until we leave İzmir, and a lot to do in that time!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Down South

We set off on Tuesday with Can and Tuncer to see some of the south of Turkey, and as there are four of us, we are travelling by car. Our first destination was Akyaka in the Gökova valley, a small and beautiful town built in the Ottoman style. Despite the heat we decided to camp, as the setting is beautiful and it would keep costs down. Sadly, whilst the campsite we had researched didn't disappoint in terms of location, it has definitely gone to seed in recent years, and as if the lack of showers wasn't enough, the toilets were the most hideous we have encountered on the trip so far (including Albanian garage toilets).

Despite the toilets almost reducing me to tears, we decided to give it a go, and set up camp on the cliff overlooking the bay. Oli and I went for a walk and discovered a beautiful little swimming point down some steep, rocky steps. Our arrival caused several small crabs to scuttle from the rock and jump back into the sea in panic. We returned to the tent and sat looking out to sea as the sun went down, and were even lucky enough to see a couple of dolphins slowly cruising in the water below.


The next morning none of us had slept too well, and all felt in desperate need of a shower after a very warm night under the canvas. Oli and I were up earlier for than the boys, so went for another wander and discovered further beautiful swimming points tucked into the cliffs. Once Can and Tuncer were awake, we headed for breakfast in Akyaka centre,and asked the owners if they could recommend a cheap apartment. They did, and we gave them a call. Somewhat luckily / depressingly, it would cost us only about £6 more overall than the campsite, which is a small price to pay to not feel like you need a shower after every toilet trip. 


We spent the afternoon chilling out by the sea and swimming in the cool, deep water. There are a lot of natural springs in the mountains which must run into the sea, as it alternated between warm and icy cold jets. Shoals of little fish crowd around the rocks, which was awesome but also kind of freaked me out when I was swimming amongst them. We brought the Go-Pro camera with us, and Can had a lot of fun playing with it.


Later in the evening, we headed back into Akyaka and ended up enjoying a few beers in a little bar with a great atmosphere. We rounded off the evening with a walk along the river and a çiğ köfte (pronounced chee). We have become a little obsessed with this snack since being in Turkey, which is made by rubbing very fine bulgur wheat with spices, oil , tomato and pepper paste in a ridged tray, and is served in a durum wrap with salad and lashings of pomegranate sauce. Delicious!

The next day started much as the first, with Oli and I going for a walk in the morning. Even at 10 a.m. the heat was almost too much to be out in, and we stopped for frequent breaks in the shade. The river was beautiful in the daylight; a deep, cool, turquoise flowing out to sea. We picked up some fresh bread and cheese börek for breakfast on our way back, and ate ourselves silly. Sufficiently strengthened, we went back to our swimming spot in the late afternoon, watching storm clouds brew over the bay.


The weather held out until we got to the car, and then broke spectacularly. The rain pelted down and was deliciously cool, although Oli and I can't help but think we are going to manage to bring bad weather wherever we go! The rain didn't last too long, and by the time we had eaten and headed back to town, everything was pretty much dry and the air was fresh and humid. Tuncer had gone to meet some friends, so Oli, Can and I drank glasses of tea at a little cafe on the beach, watching the moon reflect on the calm sea.

We destroyed the serenity somewhat as on the way home we decided to get Tuncer a card for his birthday the next day. The best we could do with so little forward planning was a postcard, and we deliberately picked the most ridiculous one. Here it is below:


The next day we headed to Dalyan, the countryside becoming noticeably more lush and humid as we went further south. We arrived in the outskirts and managed to find an apartment for five of us (Tuncer's girlfriend was to join us later that evening) for 75tl a night, which was most definitely a bargain. We spent the afternoon chilling out on the terrace, chatting to the owner, and playing with their seven month old golden retriever. The dog is hilarious,  has a free rein of the street, and is the best of friends with two dogs from other houses, who also popped in from time to time.

The outskirts of Dalyan are lovely and quiet, but we had a shock when we went into the centre for some dinner to celebrate Tuncer's birthday. It is most definitely a tourist town, specialising in European package holidays – for the first time on holiday in Turkey we saw almost no internal tourists. Lots of bars were blaring out loud music and there were more English voices than Turkish, which felt really odd after being away from the UK for over two months!


We had decided to go on a boat trip the next day, but overslept somewhat and thought we would probably be too late. We got to the dock 10 minutes after departure time, and happily ended up on a really quiet boat with just five other Turks.

The first stop on the river tour is the mud baths. People used to believe they had healing qualities, but it is now known that they have nothing of the sort. We all stripped down to our swim-wear, but when I smelled the mud and saw the grey water, the absolute last thing I felt like doing was smearing it all over me! The others went in, and I assigned myself to the role of photographer.


Later in the day, the boat took us past the graves of the kings, huge monuments carved into the rocks around 400 B.C. Sadly you can't get close to them, so we continued chugging down the river delta towards the sea. The river ends at a huge stretch of sandy beach, which also is a nesting spot for sea turtles, and we were lucky enough to see some from the boat.

The tour rounded off with a trip to the ancient city of Kaunos, much of which was remarkably intact. We headed back to our apartment and had a quick splash in the pool, managing to have more of a play with the Go Pro.


Sunday brought us further south, to Sultan Camp at Kabak beach. The drive here was one of the most beautiful and hair raising yet, lush mountains gave way to a rocky coastal road – single track, with no crash barriers and massive cliff drops to the blue sea below. The road took us past the Butterfly Valley, and ends at a small village. It is not permitted to drive down to the beach, so we left the car at the top and took a taxi down. Once we saw the route, I was very glad to be in a car with somebody who does the drive every day. The road is just compacted earth and rock, single track with hairpin bends. There were no seat belts, so as it trundled over the rocks we were thrown about, with me hitting my head painfully at one point. Luckily no real damage was done, but it is bloody tender!

The camp here is basic but the setting and the beautiful bar area more than make up for this, and after pitching our tents, we wandered down to the beach for a swim. Although I am used to Brighton and Lewes, this is easily the most hippy place I have ever been. Painted signs on the beach advertise daily yoga sessions and handmade unisex clothes and jewellery. This is a protected area and undeveloped save for a few other camps like this one. The beach is beautiful, and surrounded by mountains. The sea gets deep very quickly, which makes getting out difficult with the waves!


We had heard there were some beautiful waterfalls that could be accessed by walking along the Lycian Way, which runs past our camp. We rose early (by our standards) so that we could set off in time to avoid the main heat of the day. The hike there was beautiful, and after climbing most of a rocky mountain through pine forested paths, we turned off to reach the waterfalls. This involved a rocky scramble down some very steep slopes, but was more than worth it. At the second fall, the plunge pool is easily deep enough to swim. Oli was the first into the icy water, closely followed by Tuncer. Can decided after about a minute that it was far too cold, so I stuck with just having a paddle.

As the day was getting hotter and hotter, we decided to head back down the mountain. It had been a brilliant way to spend the morning and was well worth the effort put in to getting there. We are now relaxing in the shade, and planning where to go tomorrow. The South of Turkey has been brilliant so far, but is insanely hot. We are all looking forward to the next stop!