Wednesday, August 28th
I hoist myself out of the seawater and up the corroded metal ladder. The rungs have completely rusted away just about a foot under the gently lapping waves, so I can only kick my feet in the water until I'm high enough to get a foot on the lowest existent rung. About seven feet above the water I clamber onto the small concrete platform. A metal pole holds a light aloft above me as a warning to shipping. Around me the turquoise waters of the Bay of Fethiye sparkle, surrounded on three sides by the dusty green sunbaked shores of south-eastern Turkey, fading to grey on one side and close enough for me to make out ant-like people on the nearer side. Halfway between my perch and the nearest land the 65 foot sailboat Lucky Mar rides cheerfully at anchor, and I can see my fellow passengers splashing playfully in the water alongside her, no doubt each with a can of Efes pilsner in one hand.
This concrete light platform sticks out of the sea like a little cork, a solid immovable cork that would no doubt break apart if you tried to pry it out.
As I sit there dripping, basking in the sun, I contemplate with regret that our journey is almost over. We've been sailing along the Lycian coast for four days, stopping in beautiful little coves and by delightful little islands. With no electricity for our cell phones, we'd been forced (god forbid!) to spend our evenings lingering over dinner with flowing conversation and learning to play backgammon ... and in the case of certain passengers, really large amounts of Efes pilsner -- though I must admit that I was singlehandedly responsible for the vessel running out of the licorice-flavored liquor raki.
Soon the outside world will close in, I'll have to check my email and my text messages. It's been a nice four days not thinking about the girl who's not talking to me, the girl who set the winds blowing in my sails to come to her in Turkey, only to set me adrift here. Out on the water I couldn't possibly hear from her, so I didn't have to worry about the immutable tides of her feelings.
That morning I'd awoken on the foredeck of the our small gulet, where the morning sun caught us in the little channel between "Santa Claus Island" and the mainland. Heaped on the island were the ruins of a monastery in which, if reindeer didn't play games nor elves labor to make toys, at least St Nicholas surely would have liked some milk and cookies as he contemplated the great theological questions of his day. Maybe if he'd had an adequate supply of milk and cookies he wouldn't have famously punched a priest named Arius in the face over a theological disagreement. Legend has it he did, however, leave presents in the form of coins in the shoes the poor villagers traditionally left outside their dwellings. Because of his island home, he is the patron saint of sailors.
But that morning in the summer sun, St Nick wasn't much on our minds, and we swam in the already-inviting water and had breakfast before continuing around the point to Fethiye Bay.
Presently I began to tire of my stylite perch and I clambered back down the rusty ladder to swim the gauntlet between myself and the Lucky Mar -- the passage of small pleasure boats across my path lent a bit of a frogger-like challenge to it.
Soon we were docked in the busy Fethiye marina, saying our goodbyes and settling up with the crew. They'd been keeping a tally of beers consumed and certain Australians now owed something like 200 euros on their tab (at 4 euros a can I believe). I might be misremembering, an average of 12 beers a day sounds lower than what I recall observing.
I didn't have any plans at this point, but, though the two gorgeous Spanish girls urged me to continue with them to a hostel at nearby Oludeniz beach, I ended up booking in the hostel owned by the same company that had run the boat, as everyone else was headed there.
Initially I booked only one night, planning on moving on to somewhere else (I knew not where) the next day. After learning of such interesting nearby sights as Saklıkent Gorge and the Greek ghost town of Kayaköy, I ended up searching for somewhere to stay the next two nights -- and, as it would turn out, the only space I could find at that time would be the enclosed rooftop "lobby" of another hostel, where I wasn't even the only person sleeping on the couches.
But first lets talk about Fethiye itself. If you'll excuse me for doing so, I'd like to transcribe in whole a segment from the book Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières (you more likely have heard of his book Captain Corelli's Mandolin) that describes the modern town formerly known as Telmessos:
One story is that in 1913 Fethi Bey, an intrepid Ottoman aviator endowed with a Blériot monoplane and memorable moustaches, crashed into the bay of Telmessos and was untimely killed. In 1923 the town of Telmessos changed its name in his honour, and became Fethiye.
On the other hand it might be that in 1923 Fethi Bey, an intrepid Ottoman aviator endowed with a Bleriot monoplane and memorable moustaches, undertook to fly from Istanbul to Cairo and was killed when his plane crashed in Palestine. Louis Blériot, world famous not only for flying the English channel and winning the thousand-pound prize offered by the Daily Mail but also for his own unsurpassable record of spectacular and marvelous crashes, most charmingly and honestly acknowledged that the wires above the wings of his aeroplanes were insufficient to withstand the download caused by turbulence. The French army grounded its Blériot monoplanes, and in 1923 the town of Telmessos changed its name to Fethiye in honour of the first Ottoman pilot to have been killed by a design fault.
Another version is that in 1923 the town of Telmessos changed its name to Fethiye in honour of a pilot named Fethi Bey, who had been killed in action during the Turkish War of Independence.
Since "Fethiye" means "conquest," however, the town might equally have been renamed to celebrate Ataturk's expulsion of the foreigners and the establishment of the modern Turkish state. The identity and manner of death of Fethi Bey, aerial, intrepid and unfortunate, are concealed forever behind the tangled contradictions of multiple and congenial myth, and he lives on solely in the name of a pleasant and modest town that may not indeed be named after him, having existed, it seems, solely for the purpose of demonstrating the impossibility of history.
Every Tuesday there is a market in Fethiye that bestraddles the sides of a shallow and limpid canal that carries the water of the mountains into the sea. It is a market that seems to go on forever, to be crowded by every nationality, and to sell the strangest possible combination of touristic handicrafts and daily necessities.
There are agriculture and carpentry stalls, laden with nails, adzes and sickles, stalls with generous and redolent bags of spice and saffron, stalls with brass tea sets, coffee grinders, kebab skewers, and mortars and pestles, stalls with wondrous aubergines and turgid watermelons, stalls with tapes that alternately blast out the equally lamentable pop songs of both Turkey and America, stalls selling priceless carpets inveigled for a song from naive peasants of Anatolia, stalls selling hand-sewn silks, waistcoats, hats and socks, and stalls selling seductively beautiful musical instruments, geometrically inlaid, which Turks can play by instinct, but which Westerners find impossible, even in theory.
Many of the traders have formerly lived in London; "Cheaper than Tesco," they cry, "cheaper than Asda, better than Harrods. Buy one and get one for nothing. Pay me next year. Who cares about money? Look, look. English? Deutsch? Please, please, very nice, very cheap. Lovely jubbly." They trade con brio, bursting with joy and panache, and each of them has a samovar on a portable gas ring in order to fill themselves and their customers with hospitable and inexhaustible draughts of sweetened apple tea.
All this is quite normal and unremarkable for the town of Fethiye, whose old name was Telmessos, meaning "City of Light," or "Megri," meaning "The Faraway Land." The truly anomalous and remarkable thing about Fethiye, its market and the region of Lycia, is that there are no Greeks."
I wasn't there on a Tuesday, so I can't confirm the existence of such a market, but there was definitely a permanent touristy market area just past the statue of Fethi Bey (intrepid, bemustached). Strangely the hawkers seemed to leave me pretty much alone, when I went through by myself, but when I went through there later with two girls I'd met in my second hostel they all piped up with "Australia, Australia! Special deal for you, I love Australia!"
"How do you know we're Australian??" one of the girls finally inquired.
"It's your hair in a bun, all Australian girls have their hair like that."
And now you know how to spot an Aussie girl, apparently.
But first, that first day, after checking in at the hostel, Nick the Canadian and Sean the Australian (fellow passengers from the boat), and I set off across town to find the Fethiye archaeology museum. It was so hot and dry we found ourselves resting in shade along the way and having to buy second water bottles.
On the way back we found a restaurant called "Pasha Kebab" that Nick had read about in his Lonely Planet book. This place it turns out had the very best food I'd tasted in Turkey other than what Asli and her parents had prepared. I ordered the number 58, whatever that was, and it was memorably delicious, whatever it was.
But this is what it LOOKED like
Later I'd bring the Australian girls there, and the glass of wine I ordered was so huge it must have contained half a bottle.
That night I went out with four of the Australians from our boat (ie all the Aussies save the weird girl from Melbourne), and Nick. One of the streets tucked behind the touristy market was packed with bars (oddly, one of them had a Route 66 theme), and we sat in the outdoor seating area enjoying the warm summer evening and the sweet smell of hookahs wafting on the breeze, and we ordered frou-frou cocktails.
Thursday, August 29th
Thursday morning we boatmates had breakfast together for the last time. Michelle from Brisbane was about to hitch a ride with people she only knew through couchsurfing.org on an epic trip the length of Turkey. Seemed a little questionable, but as I would later find out via facebook, it looks like it was an enviably epic adventure. The lads meanwhile were headed to the beach, and I was in search of a hostel that wasn't booked up for the night.
First though, I had to check my email. There was word from The Girl, but it still seemed to be murky ominous clouds presaging storms, the distant rumble of thunder, tense seas.
I shut down my laptop, turned off the blasting AC in the room, headed out into the warm distracting streets of Fethiye. Found the hostel that would put me up on a couch. Looked up directions to Saklıkent Gorge.
Caught the dolmis ("dol-mish") from the center of town -- dolmises (dolmii?) are small vans that serve as local buses. Don't try to ride a dolma, that's stuffed grapeleaves and won't get you very far. I waited for a dolmis with "Saklıkent" listed on a placard in the window along with its other destinations. Of course everyone else on it was a local Turk and no one, not even the driver, spoke a word of English.
After we'd been driving for about two hours I started to become rather nervous. I knew Saklıkent wasn't particularly close to Fethiye but this was getting a bit concerning. My anxiety had risen to a level nearing panic by the time we finally saw signs proclaiming we'd arrived at Saklıkent. There were parking lots and stalls selling nicknacks, we had arrived!
Many restaurants with traditional low tables and cushions, as well as tree houses (which I suspect they just build to amuse tourists, surely they're not a traditional thing?) clustered along the river, which emerged from a sheer cliff which bordered the whole site on one side. To venture into the gorge, one must pay admission (20 lira ($9) I think is a number that sounds familiar?), and then go along a raised wooden walkway over the raging torrent. A short way in the rush of water lessens, and one can safely wade across the ice cold water, as shown above. From here on out one is walking up the narrow canyon, sometimes on fine white sand, sometimes ankle deep in chalky blue water, and sometimes armpit-deep in the frigid water. I put my wallet and phone in my upper breast pockets, and held my camera above my head. This kept it alive long enough to get the referenced pictures here, obviously, but sliding down a waterfall on the way back I think it got terminally splashed, and after that day it never worked again. My watch also didn't work for several days after and gained a somewhat tarnished appearance.
Splashing through the deep pools and over boulders was fun, though sometimes I wished I had someone to share the adventure with. As I went deeper and deeper into the crevice-like canyon, the number of other people I encountered got thinner and thinner. In places one had to climb up little waterfalls and slippery smooth rockfaces. Eventually I climbed a very difficult one and never saw anyone else after that. Now it was really exciting.
Finally, several kilometers up the narrow canyon, I arrived at the above boulder. On one side the water came splashing down in a waterfall, on the other a slimey foul-smelling rope led up to a narrow crack. I tried climbing it several times, I could get some purchase on some knots tied in it, but as it didn't reach all the way to the ground it was hard to get to a point where I could get my feet on it, and it wasn't near enough the rock to push against anything solid. I managed to drag myself up to where the rope disappeared into the crack but then there was nothing above to hold on to and nothing below to push myself up on.
As a sailor I felt it a point of pride not to be defeated by a rope-climbing obstacle, lord knows I don't need a stair, but after several attempts I concluded I was too likely to somehow injure myself in a place where help was very very far away. It appeared the light was starting to fade anyway, I didn't need to follow in my parents' footsteps and spend the night in a narrow canyon because I couldn't get out in time (Zion Narrows in their case).
Waiting for the dolmis I began to once again develop a very high level of anxiety as it didn't turn up for over two hours, but it finally showed up at around 8:00.
Friday, August 30th
Lying in bed is when it haunts you the most. I remembered the way she lay there gazing at me that first night in Egypt, her smile serene like a favorable breeze, her brown eyes warm like calm inviting waters you wouldn't mind falling overboard into. That unbreaking steadfast gaze ... how I missed that stare.
Ran into the Australian girls during breakfast. Not the same Australians I'd been on the Lucky Mar with, different Aussies. Turkey is rife with Aussies. You run into them on three, four, six month holidays. I don't know how they manage it. No wonder the people I met when I lived in Australia were mostly foreigners!
One of the girls was kind of cute, they were both friendly. It was their first day in town. Their hair was in buns. I showed them around town, and led them to Pasha Kebab for lunch. Afterwards they were going to the beach, the cute one asked me if I was sure I wouldn't join them, looking perhaps even a bit coy, but I shook my head. I had ghosts to pursue.
In 1923 Turkey had expelled all christians and deported them to Greece. Greece was supposed to send Turkey all its Muslims but it appears the order wasn't enforced as mandatory on the Greek side and few Muslims came to replace the expelled "Greeks." I use quotation marks because it was news to many of them, living as deep in Turkey as Cappadocia, that though they'd never been anywhere near the place they were apparently Greek. One of the Greek towns to be depopulated was Kayaköy, just a few kilometers from Fethiye.
It was a quick and straightforward dolmis ride to Kayaköy. I stepped out onto a quiet cobblestone road, where large olive trees created pools of shade and touristy restaurants lethargically waiting for customers like trap-door spiders. On the hillside above, surrounding me in a semi-circle, like amphitheater seating, was the crumbling ruins of Kayaköy. I followed the road up and soon found myself on a narrow cobbled road barely wide enough for a donkey-cart, that hadn't been maintained since Kayaköy had abruptly ceased being a functional village in 1923. I'd seen plenty of ruins in my travels, but never such an expansive and recent site. The whole village was there. Roofs gone, grass growing in living rooms, empty doorways, sometimes opening onto nothing where a wooden stairway had once been. Walking up the steep narrow stone road it was hard not to imagine what it must have been like with villagers carrying goods up and down, dogs lying carelessly in the road, children running around, laundry hung up to dry. It's no wonder it inspired Mr de Bernières to write Birds Without Wings about exactly that, the final days of the village. Next to a former chapel on a hilltop overlooking the village a red Turkish flag proudly flutters in the breeze.
At one end of town there's a big Greek church, which apparently has some pretty Byzantine style mosaics on the floor. It's doors are closed with modern metal gates. Signs tell me it will soon be open as a museum. While the most recent occupation of the village was 1923, some of the buildings, such as at least one of the churches, are as much as 500 years old.
I returned by dolmis to Fethiye. Stopped by a ticket office to buy tickets to visit the Greek island of Rhodes the next day, but was informed there weren't any ferries that day. This flummoxed my plan a bit, and I started walking toward the Lycian tombs hewn into the rock behind Fethiye to watch the sunset, I'd heard it was lovely.
As I walked along the road above the cliff behind the city, with the city stretching off to my left in the warm twilight glow and tall pine trees on my right, I received a text message, my first in several weeks.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
Now I can't fathom why, but this text has been caught in my phone like a ghost. Every time I turn on my phone, after the welcome screen, it displays this text as if it's new. But then it doesn't show up as new after that, because of course it isn't. For all I know it's deleted. Just a ghost, an echo.
"Walking to the tombs overlooking Fethiye," I say, "why?"
The tombs, it turns out, have these huge monolithic facades with columns, and a door in the middle. So of course one is expecting a huge room on the inside, but within the doorway there is actually just a closet-sized room the size of the door -- and it smells like piss because humanity in general can't be trusted not to piss on ancient ruins.
"I'll come to where you are." she says.
The sun is setting over the bay, bathing the cliff-face in soft pink light and the rooftops below me in an orange glow. There's two tortoises slowly trundling along the hillside in front of the tombs.
"Nah I'm done looking at the tombs" I say blithely, as I try to line up a photograph with a tortoise right in front of the tomb. "I was thinking of going to Çanakkale tomorrow, let's meet there." It's about 9 hours by bus south from her in Istanbul, 12 hours north from me.
"Tomorrow?" she asks. I'm walking back now. Lights are starting to come on in the city below.
"Yeah I'll take the overnight bus" I say while looking at the menu of a little restaurant perched precariously above the cliff. They don't have an English version of their menu, which is one of the best auguries I could ask for in endorsing their food -- the less touristy the better I say. The owner comes out and translates his menu for me, and makes a recommendation. It's delicious. He won't accept a tip. "Turkish hospitality!" he insists.
Lights are twinkling all across the city as I continue my walk, a city of lights below me. And she's already purchased her ticket to Çanakkale. As unpredictable and uncontrollable as the sea itself, but maybe the tempest has passed.
To be continued. (:
If you're really curious, the adventure in Turkey of which this is a part begins here.
I aim to write the most concrete solid entry possible, so pour the "concrit" on me! (: