Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Lycian Way

The pension was nice and crowded last night - there were plenty of folks to talk to. This morning everyone but two of them left on a four day boat cruise along the coast to Olympos. If I'm back in the summer I'd love to do one. Now, it's just too cold for a tropical boy to survive. It's warmer here than in Selçuk, but not hot enough to be on a sailboat for that long.

I decided to hike to Karaköy, a Greek village that was abandonned in the 1920's. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed the League of Nations had supervised a population exchange between the newly independent republic and Greece. Ottoman Greeks were sent to Athens, Greek Muslims were sent to Turkey. It wasn't as bad as the Partition in India, but the excahnge still left its own scars.

I talked to two Aussies who hiked there yesterday, and their directions were incredible: climb through the neighborhoods behind the city until you come to the Crusader's Castle. Turn left up the mountain, and look for a marked path through the forest. The path eventually becomes a cobbled road - the ancient Lycian Way that used to connect the villages in the first millenium b.c. The Lycians were allies of the Hittites against Egypt, and allies of Troy during the Trojan War. I loved the idea of walking this ancient trail through the mountains. Lonely Planet - which I will burn when I return to the States - said the whole walk would take 90 minutes.

Cool enough. Off to the castle and through the woods I went. And over the mountain ... and this was a serious mountain. I thought I was tough for hiking in the Ko`olaus. I was wrong. That would be a morning stroll between villages for these folks. It was hard work, but the scenery was stunning. It felt good to be back in the woods, and there was a fairy-tale feel to the whole thing. I passed families collecting lumber, bee keepers harvesting their honey, young lovers sitting on remote cliffs far from the eyes of the townspeople, and alongside all that Lycian tombs carved into the cliffside and other, unidentifiable ruins.

I came to a well in a clearing, and turned left, just like the Aussies told me. After a half hour I came to the summit of a mountain, with stunning views of the surrounding valleys and the town, far below. Too bad I wasn't supposed to be on any mountain summit. I turned tail, and headed back to the well to look for the path. I wasn't worried; I wasn't lost - just mispalced. But it was lunchtime, and I was getting hungry.

At 1pm I was back on the main road. Ten minutes later the Lycian Way reappeared. On the right. Frikkin' Aussies, I thought, heading off the road and back into the Forest. My legs were pretty sore at this point, and I was mostly thinking about what I'd have for my very late lunch. İskender Kebab, I thought - grilled lamb in a thick tomato sauce, served on a pita-like bread. Lentil soup. Maybe a cucumber/yogurt salad. And I'd wash it down with Turkish Coffee, a brew so thick you could eat it with a fork. Yeah. That is exactly what I wanted.

I was half way down the mountain before I realized that, while the Lycian Way definitely led somewhere, it didn't necessarily lead to Kayaköy. It was too late to turn back - I couldn't do another four hours back up and over that mountain - so I pressed on. A huge valley opened up below me. It was all farmed, but I couldn't make out any main town or city there.

Eventually the path flattened out, and I found myself in a medieval village. There were crumbling stone houses, small gardens, and some scraggly looking goats and chickens. There was no evidence that the past five hundred years had ever happened. I saw a few old women in their fields, but they would pull their shawls tighter over their heads and look away if I glanced at them. It didn't seem the friendliest of places. I'm guessing that they don't get many people just stumbling out of the mountains and into their village.

The stone road eventually turned into a regular dirt road, and passed through more contemporary small farms and plots. The road also began branching off randomly. I had nothing to go on, and no way to figure out which was the proper road. I had abandonned any hopes of reaching Kayaköy. At this point I just wanted to find a main road and a bus back to Fethiye. I snuck a pomegranite off a tree when no one was looking, and managed to pluck a few grapes off a vine. That helped.

After about half an hour of wandering down country roads and trying to tell myself that I was enjoying this glimpse of traditional Turkish Village Life, I had to face up to the facts. I was lost. Completely and utterly lost. I didn't know where I was, where I was going, or how to get back. I called out to a guy working in his yard, asking him where Kaya was - Kaya being a small town I pulled randomly off my map. I was worried that my lips would be stained red by the stolen pomegranite and that I'd be given away. Lucky me, the farmer's daughter spoke English, and no one seemed to notice the tell-tale red stains. Turns out I was doing alright - 100 meters down the road was a cafe, and there was a bus stop in front.

A cafe. Food. I pick up my pace, visions of grilled lamb dancing in my head. But the cafe turned out to be a local joint, full of leathery old men drinking tea and playing backgammon. I knew the scene - it's international, and the same in any farming community. They were the same men who would gather in Galimberti's early mornings back home. And given the number of scarfed women I saw I knew this was serious Muslim country, and that it probably wouldn't be too cool to order lunch during Ramadan. In the city, sure. Here, no. Or maybe it would have been, but the whole scene was a bit intimidating to me. I ducked into a small market, grabbed some peanuts and a coke, and sat down by the side of the road to wait for the bus.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the next part. I got on the bus, and less than 50 meters down the road it turned a corner, and entered into tourist territory. There were garden cafes, restaurants set around pools, grape-covered arbors ... and all full of pasty faced tourists, drinking beer, eating lunch, and enjoying their day in the village. I was so close. So close. Soon the bus was packed with happy campers heading back to Fethiye.

It was all too much of a shock, and it would only get worse. The bus's next stop was Hisorönü. I've never seen anyplace like it - it was a cheap British resort plopped down on a Turkish mountainside. There were endless rows of tacky shops, and hundreds of cookie-cutter poolside condos. All the signs were in English, and all the prices quoted in pounds. There was no sign that there had ever been a Turkish town here. Drunk girls in sarongs wandered down the main street, shirtless men reclined on couches eating sih and chips, and bars advertised drag shows featuring the famous Tiger Lily. It was middle class without the class. It was horrid.

I've heard since that the other coastal towns - Marmaris, Bodrum, and Ölüdeniz - are the same.

By the time we hit the outskirts of Fethiye I couldn't handle the bus anymore. It was non-stop chatter about George just bought a condo in Feet-he-yay and Catherine has been such a pest this trip and Hamed is just the nicest boy and every sentence ended in innit? and I was wishing I was lost back in the mountains. I jumped ship, in the middle of the city, still 3 km from my stop.

I had wandered this way last night - it was where I had my urfa [turns out it was ground lamb, not sure which part]. I finally had my İskender Kebab. After, while wandering back, some of the guys remembered me from yesterday and called me into their shop - not for a sales pitch, but to drink tea with them while the sun went down. And I was dead on my feet, and just wanted to nap, but I sat with them and drank tea and suddenly the world seemed right again.

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