Sailing south: paragliding, ruins and nature’s treasures

After eight months, sadly today is Mike and my very last day aboard finally my darling for 2013. How time flies when you’re having fun! Mum and dad will be in around Marmaris until early November, though the time is near for us to face the truth of reality. But before that time arrives… here are some Turkish treasures from the past few weeks:

Nearing the end of our last guests’ time onboard and with an incredible wealth of natural and historical attractions in an arm’s reach of Fethiye, we left the boat anchored and hired a mini van for an expedition into the countryside. First stop was the mysterious ghost town of Levissi in Kayakoy. Apart from our party of six, there was barely another soul in sight amid the expansive old township of crumblingstone houses. An eerie feeling washed over us as we wandered around; spellbound by a deserted hillside town that was once home to thousands.

In 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne was signed after the Turkish War of Independence. This resulted in a forced period of ethnic transition, where Muslim and Orthodox Greeks were re-settled into each other’s regions and towns in Turkey and Greece. As there were often less Muslim Greeks than Orthodox to be resettled in Turkey – and this particular bunch didn’t care to live so far from the sea nor trek up and down the steep streets – so towns during this time of transition were often deserted.There was also evidence of abandoned and defaced Christian churches amongst the ruins of the newly acquired Muslim dwellings – a solemn reminder in an Islamic country. Later, a catastrophic earthquake in 1957 left most of the remaining homes in ruins. Villagers from the surrounding areas were left to strip the ruins of useful wood and other materials to repair their own damaged homes. The result is a ghostly old settlement that could pass for being multiple centuries older.

Oludeniz was nestled within a dramatic mountainous coast; a destination most iconic for its long beach spit, backed by a protected lagoon. Like many major cities along this part of the coast such as Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye’s Calis district, Hisaronu and Kalkan, tourism development has been rampant over the past decade since Mike and I were last there. One vivid memory we had of Oludeniz back in 2002 – apart from the incredible turquoise-blue water – was being eaten alive by bed bugs in a rustic beachfront cabin. Those waterfront shacks have long since gone and today condos and apartment blocks creep all the way up the narrow valley, with strings of hotels and restaurants selling English breakfasts or showing the latest soccer match.

There was still a Turkish twist and more flavour to be found in the old quarters of these aforementioned towns, though I would hate to see what the next 10 years could bring. And if you want to see what a developing tourist town should strive to NEVER become – take a drive through the ex-pat enclave of Hisaronu just south of Fethiye. Sad story.

That said, the striking beauty of Oludeniz still dominated and was best viewed from the air to fully appreciate the lovely beach spit and lagoon. We first drove to Oludeniz on our day exploring with John and Tess. Perched in an open-air roof top bar, dad was captivated by the sheer number of solo and tandem paragliders in the air at any given time. Easily 50 colourful wings glided in the thermals; spiraling tricks or skimming the rooftops before touching down amongst the tourists walking the beach promenade. We knew exactly what we’d be doing when we returned there on the boat a few days later – and we had that same amount of time to work on mum!

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If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you may have noticed there’s rarely a post that goes by without a pretty kitten or cat or two or three. They breed like rabbits in Greece and Turkey. If there were ever a cat we had thought twice about adopting as our boat cat, this would have been the one. When she sauntered over to say hello, I crouched down for a pat and next thing she had jumped onto my shoulders and camera bag ready to hitch a ride. What a beauty!

The following morning we journeyed one hour inland to Saklikent Gorge – a remote natural wonder that we’d again visited previously and knew was worthy of a return. An 18-kilometre long gorge; runoff had carved a twisting, narrow path through the mountains over millennium, and at times barely the sunlight could creep through to the ravine below. The water level varied depending on the time of year and snowmelt, yet there were icy waters year round. Meander a short boardwalk in, but those wanting to venture much further must be prepared to get wet. First passing across a tricky flowing inlet and then onwards up the gorge. Arriving early and the first car in the car park, we had the entire gorge to ourselves until we’d reached the furthermost accessible point two kilometres in, and had turned around to head back. I had the same feeling 10 years ago as I did today – that walking the gorge unguided would never be allowed in Australia and should there be a rainfall several kilometres upstream, a flash flood would sweep us all away in the blink of an eye. That vulnerable feeling that reminds you that you’re alive!

A string of entrepreneurial farmers on the road into Saklikent had set up simple restaurants in front of their homes, heckling from the roadside to attract passing traffic. Doing our part to patron a sweet old Turkish husband and wife, we watched barefooted and cross-legged from our low-set table as buyukanne Turk prepared from scratch and cooked over a wood fire hot plate, the most authentic meat and cheese gozleme I’ll likely ever eat.

Back in Fethiye, we didn’t need to look far for ancient remnants that are dated Before Christ: a Roman theatre excavation across the road from the marina, a lone sarcophagi in the middle of a busy intersection and more Lycian rock tombs carved into a cliff overlooking a now sprawling city.

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Turkey offers some fun cultural tastes and treats that would be a shame not to partake in while here: squishy Turkish delights in every imaginable flavour, Turkish tea (cay) drank from petite glasses continually through the day, shaved meat doner kabaps, wafting aromas of the shisha water pipe – not to mention a close Turkish shave or ‘hamam’ Turkish bath.

The Turkish bath or ‘hamam’ was a tradition that had evolved since Roman times, with obvious remains of baths and their heating systems evident amongst ancient ruins. Centuries old versions of the baths were today operating in many of the atmospheric old quarters. Dome-roofed steam rooms and at the centre a low round tiled or stone table where one’s body was offered up for a vigorous soapy lather up and scrub down by a middle-aged, loin clothed Turkish gent. Some hamams have plunge baths, but otherwise next you’ll proceed to be soaked with bowls of cold water and the hair roughly lathered before more drenching. Oil massage add-ons are available too – and at the risk of losing the holiday tan via the top few layers of dead skin – I offered myself up at Fethiye’s hamam.

Mike’s manly pampering was next: the closest of close Turkish shaves via cut-throat razor blade – twice over – and a whacking on the ears with an open flame to banish the ear-lobe fuzz. Of course for Mike it all grows back in a few days, but an entertaining activity to do as the locals do! It was obvious Turkish men took great pride and effort in their appearance, as there were barbershops everywhere and these man caves always appeared to be well patronised.

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Wooden gulets (pronounced goo-let) are synonymous with Turkey. These fine masterpieces of marine workmanship have been built here for centuries. Although their design has evolved in recent decades to the current ‘Bodrum gulet’ style specially constructed for tourism – charter or private use cruising. We’ve encountered literally hundreds of gulets touring the southwestern coast, majority being three to seven-day live aboard cruisers, or the smaller variety as people-moving day-tripper boats. A three-day gulet trip between Fethyie and Demre/Olympos was a highlight of Mike and my visit to Turkey in 2002.

It was obvious the popularity of gulet cruising had exploded in the past decade, in conjunction with a burgeoning tourism trade. Close to our anchorage in Fethiye were number of enormous sheds with no less than 12 gulets at different stages of construction. Given our foot wear and safety gear was at the same standard of the workers, they happily let us wander around and admire their handiwork.

Turkey’s remote and plunging coastlines were peppered with heavily indented bays and lush protected anchorages. Apart from cruising on your own boat or charter sailing yacht, should you make your way there one day, joining an extended gulet excursion is undoubtedly one of the best options to explore. And come in September. I would expect you’d melt into a sweaty puddle if you arrived mid-summer.

After saying a final farewell to our dear guests of nine days, John and Tess, it was a short three-hour sail south from Fethiye to Oludeniz. The lagoon was off limits to boats and the beach too deep until very close, or otherwise taken up with wooden day-tripper gulets and a long floating line that restricted any other boats approaching the eastern beach and shallows. Instead we anchored off the western cove with a line ashore. It was an uncomfortable rolly anchorage, especially for the neighbouring monohulls, but a convenient dinghy ride across to board the bus to paragliding.

Paragliding in Oludeniz has been a favoured past time and attraction here for decades. Anyone with an adventurous spirit cannot look up without longing to experience the thrill of gliding like a bird. Dad, still sadly not having flown his trike due to inability to secure training on floats, was desperate to again feel the adrenalin rush of flight. Having skydived before, I’d always wished to try tandem paragliding or hang gliding. Mike hesitated but only for a brief moment, but we were all surprised when at the last hour our 67-year-old mum, whose most daring activity to date was ziplining in Canada, agreed to join us on the once-in-a-lifetime adventure. A full family affair!

The hour-long white-knuckle mini van ride through Babadag National Park and up to the 1,900 metre take off point was an adventure in itself. Within five minutes of arrival Mike’s pilot Yusuf had his chute laid out, and with Mike attached, had run off the mountainside disappearing into the glow of the setting sun. My first attempt was aborted mid-run as the dying wind had failed to fill the chute for a safe take off. A feeling of doubt started to creep in as mum, dad and I were driven to another higher, shorter and rocky take off point in hope of finding sufficient wind for uplift. The elevation at 2,000 metres was magnificent to watch the sun set, along with the resident rooster, but thankfully the pilots decided the lack of wind would not suffice, so back DOWN the sketchy mountain track by van we went.

Bright and early the following morning, we (minus Mike) joined three other van loads of Gravity Paragliding pilots and guests, and numerous other companies jostling for position across the various available take off points. In and out of the van searching for the best vantage point given the wind direction – we eventually launched back where we had started the day before. Fortunately all the anticipation and nerves had mostly dissipated by that stage and we were all just stoked to be in the air. The 45-minute decent overlooking Oludeniz and the lush Turkish coastline was blissful – check out our Go Pro edit for a taste of the scenery. It was an insane experience to share together and I still can’t believe mum joined us, she’s a rock star!

2014 UPDATE: I’m proud to share that my first published travel story showcased our family paragliding adventure that day in Oludeniz. Published in Australia’s Escape travel lift out, nationwide on April 13, 2014. View the online version with travel story and video HERE.

NOTE: Photos below are courtesy of our awesome pilots at Gravity Paragliding: www.flygravity.com

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Meandering south down the coast from Oludeniz, one lunch stop was anchored off famous Butterfly Valley: a deep, laidback valley amongst the mountains that had largely avoided development. Apart from the overcrowded day-tripper gulets that dump boat loads of people there every few hours – there were simple huts to sleep in or free beach camping where the opportunity still existed to stay the night and savour the original tranquility.

The ocean swell was not favourable, so we sailed right past the hippy peace-seeking commune of Kabak. I was disappointed; as it was somewhere I was keen to see before it too, was too late. Camouflaged in the hillside and only accessible on foot or by tractor, Kabak had replaced the now overcrowded and overcooked tree-house village of nearby Olympos. Olympos, at the time, was a unique destination that brought back fond memories of our visit in 2002. So should Turkey be on your list and you seek out-of-the-way gems, I can only recommend via second-hand word of mouth, but head to Kabak.

Lazy nights were spent anchored off modern Kalkan and charming Kas (pronounced Kash). Yet the crown jewel for the entire region had to be Kedova Roads and the unspoiled hillside community of Kalekoy. A few hours’ sail south of Kas, Kedova Roads and its protected islands and natural harbours created a stellar mini cruising ground. This would also be finally my darling’s southern most turnaround point on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Kalekoy was incredibly special and treasured, in that one of the country’s wealthiest families, who also happened to own a discrete mansion overlooking the village, had basically paid the township off to not develop. Accessible only by boat, Kalekoy was built on the ancient city of Simena and overlooked by the ruins of a superb Crusader fortress. There were literally dozens of Lycian sarcophagus (above ground burial tombs) littering the surrounding fields, and the foundations of a sunken village could be viewed along the foreshore of the island directly opposite.

Townships nearby to Kalekoy had boomed, becoming a step-off service point for day-trippers travelling from Kalkan, Kas and Demre. Blasting narration in multiple languages, we watched a steady stream of packed tourist boats trolling the waterway past Kalekoy and its castle. Fortunately only one in 20 day-tripper or gulet boats would actually stop and land. Enjoying quiet sunset beers on the jetty fronting one of four pension accommodations, we must’ve been only a handful of visitors in the town itself. We commented to the pension owner how none of the passing tourist boats stopped in the village. He smiled and replied “we like it that way.”

Witnessing the hasty influx of somewhat demanding package tourists and development in towns to the north, the Kalekoy locals were well aware of their good fortune to retain the solitude and preserve their rare piece of traditional Turkey. As night fell, we felt privileged to be the lone visiting yacht at anchor, with twinkling village lights and where the only sounds were voices of the locals and a few chickens across the bay. And even more so as the most solemn and purely delivered Islamic call to prayer echoed in the evening air. Those are the rare moments and places that will stay with us for life.

The further south we sailed from Marmaris would result in a longer slog back against the northerly prevailing wind. Knowing this, we opted for an overnight road trip to explore a little further around the southwestern coast. Firstly thanks must go to our driver Mike for tackling the hectic roads and traffic. With a population of one million, Antalya was one of the largest cities in southern Turkey; and Kalceici meaning ‘within the castle’ was its enchanting old Ottoman quarter. Surrounded by Antalya’s modern buildings and high rises, this walled hamlet looked out toward the glassy azure Mediterranean and dramatic mountains surrounding the city that were littered with remarkable ancient ruins. Our first night sleeping on land in seven months (wowza) was at the charming Atelya Art Hotel in the historic Kalceici district. With ottoman flavours, antique furniture, dark wooden beams and staircases, a sun drenched courtyard, original artwork by the owner on display and the hotel’s location nestled deep in Antalya’s old quarter – it was a delectable taste of Turkish style.



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Turkey’s ruins are mostly from the Roman or Lycian eras and are intriguing as they often lay as they had fallen. Sometimes excavated though not reconstructed, most ruins were wild and overgrown where we could wander between columns and heavy stone of the once incomprehensibly grandeur structures.

Along the road between Antalya and Kas there were more ruins than we cared to count or had time to visit. We chose to detour to the ancient Lycian seaside cities of Phaselis and Olympos that dated back to the seventh and second centuries BC respectively. Once important trading posts right through until the Middle Ages, ancient Olympos in particular now lay in heavy and haunting undergrowth.

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Thanks to a low-pressure system building north of Rhodes in Greece – pulling with it all the wind and weather – we took advantage of a rare day of solid southerly winds to sail north again towards our final destination of Marmaris. Albeit threatening grey skies and messy steel grey oceans, we sailed a long seven-hour dash north back up the exposed coast. Returning first to Fethiye for a few more nights, where those grey skies inevitably opened up to an amazing display of lightning and thunderstorms (always fun when you are living under a 20-foot mast). And brought with it the first real rain shower we’d witnessed in THREE months. Cue full boat wash down! As I’ve said before, if you want a holiday with guaranteed sunshine, look no further than a summer in the Mediterranean.

A final rendezvous with our old travelling buddy boat Dominos was spent rafted up in a sweet anchorage amongst the Yassica Adalari Islands, just south of Gocek.

There are yet more sweet spots to share from our last week, including a few days where we skipped back across to Greece. But again this post is too long. Mike and I are in the midst of final packing before saying “see you soon” to mum and dad. We cannot thank dad enough for letting us be apart of his dream. But the saddest farewell is saved for our dear floating home finally my darling who has brought an immeasurable wealth of adventure this year. Until we meet again fair lady.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Might be of interest. Google “Algarve Airsports” in Portugal. They offer training on weightshift float planes. Either their own plane or yours. Could be useful as you go East.

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