I’m sitting on a rooftop as the call to prayer echos off the mountainsides around us. We have done a large loop of the Northwestern side of Turkey and I am deeply, and madly in love. I am already plotting my return.
From Sirince, we moved south and spent a night near the city of Fethiye. We entered the city in the pouring rain, our bladders desperate for relief after a 4 hour drive. We saw a restaurant that looked packed; it was full of life and there was a traditional band playing music. I told Derek that this looked like a fantastic place to stop, and it must be good food as it was so busy. We were in for quite the surprise! A man welcomed us in and asked if we wanted to eat. We said yes and found a seat. He said something about a wedding, but I didn’t quite catch it. Soon, instead of a menu, we received a huge selection of dishes to share. He said to us “This is a traditional wedding! I bet you have never eaten like this!” At this point, though I feel like we are intruding, there is nothing to do but eat. We listen to the lively band and Z huddles in her coat, cold from the blowing wind. We leave soon after eating, so not to impose and Derek goes and asks about paying. They say “no no it’s a wedding it’s our gift!” So he asks if he can give the bride a gift and we hand the father of the bride 100 TL.
Fethiye is about halfway between Sirince and our stop in Cirali. We have decided to stay here a night because of the ghost town nearby that was abandoned in the last 100 years. We spend a very wet couple of hours exploring the ruins, T wanting to climb higher and go further, and Z just wanting to go back to the place we are staying. The place we have booked ends up being a massive 2 bedroom apartment, that has to be at least 1000 sq ft… we spent about $20 for the night!
The next morning, we are off to Cirali, but first, I really wanted to stop at the ruins of Tlos. We wind our way up the mountains through tiny villages, with people herding their sheep and dogs that lay in the road in wait. We pass one farm and the dog madly chases the car, yelping wildly. Derek slows down and the people sitting in front of the farm just stare as he tries to figure out where the dog is in relation to his tires. At one point, the dog lets out a howl and I say “Oh shit! you hit the dog!! What do we do???!!” Panic running through me as the owners are obviously watching the whole thing unfold. Then the dog reappears and we breath a sigh of relief as it takes off after its new target, a motorcycle going in the other direction.
Tlos is amazing! It is my favourite ruin so far of the trip. We pay and climb past the tombs to the top where our senses are assaulted by the scent of flowers and the loud buzz of bees at work. The field at the top of the mountain is literally buzzing in a way I have only heard standing right beside our beehive. We descend to look at the other parts of the ruin up the road and I say “Merhaba” (hello) to a man that I pass. He says you speak Turkish?! His name is Nial and he engages me in discourse about the ruins as we walk together for while. He tells me where to look for secret inscriptions and how 5 years ago there were no ruins, just grassy farmland where sheep grazed. Then they excavated and now the ruin has emerged from the earth. We wander a bit without him and then meet up with him again in front of the couple tiny houses that make up the village. His mother is setting out carvings that she has made and is selling. The kids pick out some necklaces and look at all her art. Nial carves the girls names on the back of the necklaces, and gives them both bracelets for protection. He then asks if we want to see a secret tomb that is hidden around the back of the mountainside, and will soon be lost due to the shifting of the land. He leads us down a treacherous path lined with stinging nettle and then helps us climb up to the tombs. Derek tries to pay him when we are done, and he says no, he just wants to help, plus he is studying to become a tour guide at university and loves showing people around!
We leave Tlos, and drive down to a National Park, which has a narrow slot canyon. We think about stopping, but decide against it when we see how commercialized it is. It feels like the little tourist town is paying us back for not stopping, when we run over a broken bottle, avoiding an oncoming car, and get a flat right outside it’s borders. Luckily there is a spare in the back and we are soon on our way. The drive down the coast is reminiscent of driving the California coastal highway; except for the cars that wander over the centre line into your lane, and the insane drivers who pass you on the blind corners. The scenery is delightful, brilliant blue water and volcanic cliffs.
We turn off for what we think is the turn off for Cirali, the sign says Olympos, and I know you can walk to Olympos from Cirali, so it must be it! We descend the mountain, and cross two rivers in our tiny car to arrive at a place I can’t quite describe. It’s like a hedonistic run down hell… apparently young backpackers paradise. I am praying we are not staying here. Everywhere are bars with falling down signs advertising “treehouse accommodations” The treehouses have seen better days, and most look like they will fall at the slightest touch. We end up at the gate for Olympus ruin, and ask how to get to Cirali. Turns out, we turned too soon and it is one more stop on the highway “2km walk, 25 km drive” the security guard says to me. We get back in the car and dodge the cats, dogs, and drunken backpackers on our way back to the highway.
Cirali is night and day different from its neighbour. Sweet smelling orange blossoms great us as we arrive. Guest houses are set in neat gardens full of blossoming flowers. Everything is well signed at we quickly find our guesthouse. We are a short walk from the beach through an orange grove and have a balcony overlooking the ocean. Breakfast here is included, and is the biggest breakfast I’ve ever had in my life. We only need to eat late in the evening after eating our breakfast here. Cats wind around our legs when we eat, both at breakfast and in the village. T wants to feed them all, but they are all fat, and clearly well taken care of, despite the large numbers of them.
Our first night in Cirali, we experience something we have found is typical here in Turkey, things are put together in a bit of a patchwork manner. As I am washing in the under mount kitchen sink I hear a crunching noise, and then CRASH! A sink full of water comes crashing down through the front cupboard doors, spilling water all over the floor. We madly rush to contain the mess, and Derek sheepishly goes to inform the owner. “Oh its ok, she says, that is the third sink this has happened to.” The next morning her husband comes to fix it, and re-enforces it will wood supports. I breath a sigh of relief that it isn’t our fault!
While in Cirali we spend some time swimming at the beach and check out the nearby Olympos, which is a coastal ruin set in the forest. It is beautiful and cool to walk amongst the ruins under the trees. I feel like I am Indiana Jones in a jungle somewhere. We also visit the nearby ruins of Phaselis, which are set in a pine forest, surrounded on three sides by the ocean. From reading about it, it seems that it was somewhat of a pirate port. It has an amazing aqueduct, and T and Derek try to trace it backwards through the trees.
My favourite part of Cirali though, and my favourite part of the trip, and probably one of the most stunning experiences of my life, was climbing up at dusk to the Chimera where the flames come out of the earth. It is stunning to arrive and see flames licking their way up the rocks. We found a quiet place to ourselves and pull out marshmallows to roast. A cat comes up to me, hops on my lap and proceeds to fall asleep. It was amazing; the forest, a cat, fire and dusk… my favourite things all rolled into one!
We are sad to leave Cirali. I wish we could have spent longer there. I loved the people, and the peacefulness, and the friendly cats.
Leaving Cirali we climb higher and higher into the mountains, we climb so high that snow starts to appear on the mountains around us. We go through villages, that I’m sure see no tourism whatsoever. We have to stop for gas and I successfully accomplish my first squat toilet! T managed one several days ago, but Derek and Z haven’t yet had the pleasure! We are headed to Pemukkale, where Mom and Dad went several years ago. We drooled over the pictures of them walking through the warm blue waters of the travertines. We were in for a huge disappointment!
Arriving at Pemukkale, I’m already a bit wary. Tour busses zoom through the town at breakneck speed and half built/ half broken down hotels line the street. We get to our hostel and it is the scummiest place we have stayed. I’m pretty sure when I booked breakfast was included, but now it is suddenly extra. I’m too tired from the drive to fight it, and we settle in. We desperately need to do laundry as it has been almost two weeks, so I paid a ridiculous amount to have it done as there is no where, it seems in Turkey to do laundry yourself.
The next morning we head up the travertines, and they don’t seem at all like the pictures we have seen from Mom, or online. Half the pools on the walk up are dry, a quarter are filled with freezing rain water, and there are maybe two with the warm spring water. A large channel on the side seems to allow all the water that should be flowing over the travertines to bypass. No worries we think, a Z begins to cry because this was the thing she was looking forward to the most, the book we have shows that you can walk in the pools at the top. We arrive at the top and take the long boardwalk all the way to the end of the travertines. They are all dry, there is no brilliant blue water, and signs say “do not enter”. Z is heartbroken, she says this is the only reason she wanted to come. We tell her we will pay to go swim in the Cleopatra pool, but first, we might as well walk through the Heiropolis ruins. The ruins are fabulous and spread out. It appears to be an even bigger site than Ephesus. The theatre is the largest we have seen on the trip. Z cheers up after a swim in Cleopatra’s pool. It was said to have been built for Cleopatra, but she never visited, as an earthquake toppled the structure shortly after it was built. The pool is a hotspring, where you swim over the ruins of the building.
We ditch Pemukkale a day early and decide we don’t have the energy to drive North to Pergammon. We have two nights until we fly to Athens, so decide to go back to Selcuk, the city beside Ephesus. We are taking a couple chill out days to recoup. We went back up to Sirince last night. Went to the small museum today, and wandered the streets. There was a farmers market/bazaar that rivals anything I have seen. The place we are staying has a rooftop common area, and T has discovered checkers, and it’s all she wants to do all day long!
We have had many amazing experiences in Turkey, and have met so many kind, generous, loving people! I’m going to miss it here so so much. I feel like it is a country with heart, and love, and beauty. People come first, not stuff, not houses, not cars. I will miss the human connection… it makes me sad how empty our lives back home are of this, and how little people really connect. We eat from separate plates, we go to our separate homes, we stay detached for fear of connection. That is absent here, there is a togetherness that is woven through the fabric of reality here. A slower pace, communal eating, praying… The rhythm of the day set by the call to prayer. Maybe when coming home we can try to incorporate this, I don’t know. But I do have a deep understanding now of why my parents find it so hard to come back to Canada from their trips.
Will write next from Greece