01.08.2013 - 01.08.2013
July 31, 2013
This entry will be kind of a mixed bag since we have gotten behind on our updates. We last left off in Ayas after our surprise Ramadan dinner. We stayed there for two nights, then moved a few kilometers west to the town of Kizkalesi. A few impressions from that time:
- German was vastly more useful than English in communicating with people. I have to thank my father once again for his suggestion that I start German in third grade - good move, dad.
- We seemed to be in an area that was popular with Turkish tourists. They flock to the pretty blue beaches in the summer, and the whole waterfront area seems to consist of little pansiyons. Our room in Kizalesi was about 23 steps from the beach. It was a little dark (I am picky about windows and like lots of natural light) and musty-smelling. But it had a fridge where we kept water and fruit, a laboring but ultimately effective enough air conditioner, and it was about $22/night. It had a little balcony area with a view of colorful umbrellas dotting the beach, families playing in the water, and a little restaurant where you can get "gozleme" (Turkish crepes rolled out right in front of you on order) for a couple dollars. Minarets dot the landscape and prayers ring out from loudspeakers several times a day, making this little Turkish beach town distinct from one in Thailand or Tahiti or whate-have-you.
- There are fewer Turkish tourists at this particular time because it is Ramadan. We learned during our 'surprise dinner' that religious Muslims do not swim during Ramadan because they might accidentally swallow some water, breaking their fast. So, beach holiday, no good. Which means more vacancy and lower rates for us - there are some advantages to traveling at this time.
- This part of the world is literally littered with ruins. One morning we visited the ancient Roman city of Elaiussa-Sebaste, nearly 2000 years old. My favorite part was a marine-themed mosaic on the floor of the agora, though a close second was the amphitheater that held an estimated 2300 people. And just generally, the white stone of the ruins amid the taupe sand and green foliage, set against turquoise waters and bright blue sky, made for a very pretty picture.
- Another morning we got ourselves down to the town of Narlikuyu (through means which shall remain unspecified) and up the hill to some impressive caves and geological formations. The Astim cave, supposedly able to cure people suffering of asthma, was a veritable underground ballroom of stalagmites and stalactites, and vaulted ceilings blossoming where least expected. The side by side Heaven and Hell caves are a few minutes walk away and equally impressive. The Gorge of Hell (note that the Turkish word for hell, Gehennem, closely resembles Hebrew), where Zeus supposedly threw the hundred-headed monster Typhon after defeating him, in battle, is a frightening stab of nothing gouged deeply out of the earth. The Chasm of Heaven is a more graceful but just as deep abyss where you can descend via a couple hundred steps down to a serene 5th century basilica near its base. If you were to venture even further, it supposedly connects to an underground river that leads to the River Styx.
- Our last morning in Kizkalesi we wandered the ruins of the Korykos castle. White stone archways framed baby blue skies and sparkling aquamarine waters, grass and dusty-dark-green foliage grew among fallen stones and columns. Then we swam out to a castle that seems to float on the water just offshore (used to be connected by a land bridge) with a beautiful mosaic in the central courtyard and towers you could climb for sweeping coastline views.
Next we decided to head to Olympos. About Olympos...
Every travel destination has its backpacker-friendly zones:the places where Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians, etc., congregate for a hassle-free fun time. Corresponding services -- cheap lodging, overpriced foreign-themed Western-friendly food, booze, and idiot-proof tour packages -- spring up to satisfy demand. In Asia these are known as "banana pancake" places because of the omnipresent food carts selling the (admittedly delicious-to-the-point-of addiction) banana-filled Asian style crepes to hungry and/or hung over tourists. I was kind of expecting that vibe in Ayas and Kizkalesi, but pleasantly surprsed to find those places quite free of Western tourists (I know, call me a self-hating tourist). Still, it left me wondering -- where ARE they all?
We arrived in Olympos at night. Our car left the main highway on a road curving down into the valley, fragrant pine forest rising deeply on either side, full moon luminescent overhead. After several kilometers of darkness we re-entered civilization in the form of -- as best I could tell at night, though I was pretty sure of what I was seeing -- a full-blown backpacker-ville. In the morning I woke up early (by accident) and was curious to see where we had landed. Bayram's Tree House, our hostel, is a large complex of tightly-sited cabins shaded by leafy green fruit trees. I took a walk down to the entrance of the Olympos ruins. Along the way I saw a proliferation of not-yet-open cafes with English signs offering among other things... banana Gozleme.
Mystery solved: Olympos is where the Westerners hang out. I KNEW they were coming to Turkey, and was puzzled not to find them in our last few stops. I felt some kind of queer and amusing satisfaction at having found the Khao San Road (Bangkok) or Tad Lo (Laos) equivalent in Turkey. Of course my knee-jerk reflex was to get out of the place just as soon as we arrived. But that is a different issue, owing, i guess to my stubborn nature.
We stayed a couple days in Olympos, which is (almost) pretty enough to make up for how touristy it has become. Bluest waters I've ever swam in. Cool old ruins. If it costs $20 to buy sunblock... so it goes.