Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Day 3 - Tekirova to Olympos

Despite the best intentions to rise and depart early, I find that the nature has a wonderfully soporific effect on me, and I am content in the morning to lie in bed and listen to the bird song that filters in from every direction. A late and leisurely breakfast, a stop by the beach to collect driftwood and pebbles, and finally P. and I are underway. The main road runs at an elevation along a mountain ridge. Now and then everything on the left hand side of the road drops away, and there is a dazzling view of lush, green valleys far below, craggy cliffs and sparkling sea. An idyllic landscape, indeed.

We arrive at Kadir’s Tree Houses, a funky backpacker hangout where the plank wood cabins were originally all literally built in trees – until the place burnt to the ground several years ago and was rebuilt, this time primarily on the ground. A hip, welcoming place, every cabin has a name and is adorned with murals and artistic graffiti; many of the former tree houses are now bungalows sporting bathrooms and heating. We, however, have our hearts set on sleeping in a genuine tree house, and so we request one of the three original that remain post-fire. Humorously dubbed ‘The Penthouse’, our accommodation is nothing more than rough planks nailed together, a window on each side, and a bare electric bulb. A tree – not to mention lots of drafts -- runs right through the middle of the place, and when I lie still I can hear the abundant insect life buzzing inside of it. Fascinating and wonderful -- and just a tad creepy -- to be so close to nature. P. suggests tree-hugging as soul therapy, so I try it, but maybe it was the wrong time or the wrong tree, because I mostly just get little pieces of bark down my shirt.

Dropping our things, we set off on the 10 km walk to the Chimaera, the mysterious place where fire inexplicably billows out from vents in the mountain. To get to Chimaera, you must first go to the beach; to get to the beach, you must first walk through the ruins of the ancient city of Olympos, and therefore pay 3 YTL. I gnash my teeth for a while at the fact that they always manage to get you in the pocketbook in the end, but the annoyance quickly dissipates as we began the walk through the secretive stillness of the sight. A river runs down the valley, lined with golden rushes twice my height. I have visions of Moses in the basket. Little rushing streams flow out from the hillsides to join the river, and frequent crossings on wobbling planks are necessary. There is the sound of rushing water, birdsong, and otherwise total stillness. Sunlight filters through enormous, horizontally-inclined pines, touching on the remnants of temples and triumphal arches centuries millenia old. The longer I live in this part of the world, the closer I feel to history, the easier it is to visualize the people who once lived here, and the more fascinated I am. Mysterious paths disappearing off to the side, into the rushes…it is tempting to explore, but I want to get to Chimaera before complete darkness.

The rambling footpath between pines and river rushes that runs through the ancient city of Olympus ends at a long, white pebble beach. This is all part of the Lycian Way, a 500+ kilometer hiking trail along the coast between Fethiye and Antalya. For the most part, the trail is well-marked, but coming out onto the beach, I see nothing that indicates where the trail leads next. Bewildered, I approach the only other soul keeping me company on the beach. He is tall and lanky, bearing a remarkable resemblance to my brother Carl, and is absorbed in the business of photography. John is a young and intensely enthusiastic American, underwater archeologist by training, English teacher in Istanbul, who has no more idea where to go than I do. I learn out that he is staying at Kadir’s Tree Houses as well, so promising that we’ll see each other later, I head off in the most probable direction of the trail.

Arrival at the Chimaera at dusk. The flames are there, bizarrely belching out of the mountain as promised. P. has some sausage in her backpack, and so we improvise a skewer and roast it over the flames. We discover a half loaf of bread that someone has left behind, still relatively fresh, so we made sandwiches. It all feels somehow slightly irreverent (to whom, I wonder briefly??), but is great fun, and we laugh as we sit in the gathering darkness and eat our sausage sandwiches, charred black the flames emitted from the mythical beast Chimaera, buried far beneath the mountain.

That evening in the lodge, we gather near the wood-burning stove. John from the beach is there, as is his delightful Turkish girlfriend Selcen, and a serious-looking grad school dropout named Mike. The tavla (backgammon) board inevitably emerges, there is much conversation varying wildly between the trivial and the profound. P. heads off to bed and I remain with the new friends, the tavla, and the warm sense of being exactly where I want to be.

Selcen and I get into conversation about relationships. Conversation flows effortlessly, for hours...

“Why is it that it is so rare to find a person who is visibly improved when you see them in the company of their significant other?”

She agrees that all too often, people shine less, rather than more, when their partner is around. Do partnerships improve us more than they subtract from us, we both wonder? Do we trade stability for being our fullest, most unique selves?

“And what about the ‘spark’ – that little flip-flop the heart does when you're madly in love with it an essential part of a relationship?”

“Well, I suppose that inevitably fades, doesn't it? Don't all relationships at some point turn into friendship? So even if you have this spark at the beginning, at some point, you are probably not going to have it.”

“So, assuming that you won't have it in the long run, why not just cut to the chase and be with someone with whom you share a lot of common ground? Would it work? Loving and being in love are two different the latter doomed to a butterfly's existence? Can we live with without it? If not, what happens to long relationships? How do we stay in love? How do we nurture the spark?”

“I was raised to believe that the ‘spark’ is synonymous with infatuation and is therefore superficial and ephemeral. Friendship is what counts; friendship and common values. As I get older, I am starting to wonder if the spark part got short shrift…but nobody ever told me about this!! "

“Ever notice how the longer a couple stays together, the more they forget about their individual selves, needs, desires? In a sense they become more like one person, and yet at the same time they drift apart to the point where they hardly know each other any more.”

We talk on into the night. She is mature and insightful, and the conversation does me good, even if it does not bring with it any particular conclusions.

At one o’clock I climb the rickety ladder to our ‘penthouse,’ crawl into my sleeping bag fully clothed, pull my wool hat down over my head, and shiver as the wind finds its way between the slats and the insects hum about their business. Finally sleep comes, and when I awake it is to a chilly but magnificent morning, ready for the next adventure.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Lycian Way - Day 2

Raucous birdsong greets me when I wake. P. has already left, no doubt off creeping through bushes on some ornithographical outing. It is tempting to lie there snuggled between the warm sheets, without moving, but the world is out there, waiting to be greeted. I climb out of bed into the chill air, and I am outdoors, into the forest, beginning the ascent up the pine-covered hill behind our cottage.

The hike is steep but rewarding – I emerge onto a ridge where cliffs drop off below me to the sea. Behind me rises Mt. Olympus, snow-capped and majestic. I can feel the tranquility permeating my skin and filling my being. There is a trail along this ridge, and I follow it as far as I can. At times it is terrifyingly narrow, the drop to the rocks below disconcertingly far and steep, but it is a beautiful feeling to be so close to so much beauty. As if I am on top of the world…

Back at the ranch later, we breakfast, make the rounds of the facilities, greet the horses and their foals with their spindly legs and broom tails, then, feeling drowsy already, though it is only a little past noon, head back to bed for a two-hour nap. Isn’t that what vacation is for?

Awakening later, we begin to plan our next move. Olympus is the proposed destination. We decide on one more night at Sundance, and then Olympus the following day. In the evening, we go for a walk that leads us to the main road, then get the idea of going to Olympus for a quick look-around and reserving a place to stay for the following night. We manage to catch a minibus along the main road as far as the turnoff to Olympus, but we are told that there will be no more busses descending the mountain to Olympus that day. On foot it would be at least an hour and a half walk, and dark is fast approaching, so we decide to hang out at this quaint roadside stop, where headscarved ladies make fantastic otlu gözleme* and the view of the setting sun floating down into the valley below is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Then it’s a bus back to Sundance and another tranquil night in the woods where I am lulled to sleep by the secretive hooting of owls.

* Turkish version of a quesadilla: dough rolled out thinly and grilled on a convex iron griddle (heated from beneath with charcoal), filled with salty cheese, hot pepper and wild greens, then folded and flipped on the other side. And, in this case, brushed with melted butter. Yum.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


The underwear held out, so did the socks, almost; the semi-rainproof gear wasn't really at all, and the knees complained vociferously. The nature, however, was spectacular, the conversations stimulating; it was a much-needed and appreciated break from the urban grind.

Following, my no doubt too long-winded account, and because I am painfully slow and long-winded, I will attempt to conquer this task with day-by-day installments.

The Lycian Way - Day 1

There is a species of city-dweller that professes to feel most at ease amidst the hustle and bustle and urban jangle and concrete. Perhaps they actually do. By this point in my life I have discovered that although I enjoy cities, they have a way of distancing me from myself and sucking out my life force. Perhaps it is sensory overload; perhaps it is simply the lack of connection to the earth. With a carpet of concrete beneath me, I find it difficult to listen to my heart and the murmur of my soul. I need trees and birdsong and the sound of the sea to connect to myself. So when our two-week semester break arrived, I seized the opportunity to jump on a bus to somewhere greener, where I could maybe hear my own heart beat again. What would it sound like? What would it tell me?

Day 1 – Izmir to Kemer
A booze-heavy night of long and philosophical discussions with L. left me scrambling at the last minute to pack the backpack and get to the 1:00 a.m. bus. In the end I made it to the bus station with just one minute to spare, and wouldn’t have made it at all had it not been for the taxi driver who took me seriously when I told him to step on it.

The good thing about bleary booze- and conversation-laden evenings is that they promote sleep. Hardly having settled in seat 1A, I leaned my head against the window and conked out, only awakening at 8:00 a.m. or so as we drew near our destination.

The Mediterranean coast of Turkey near Antalya is lush and lovely, with magnificent turquoise water, tropical palms, white pebble beaches and mountains jutting up majestically in the background. Already, just looking out the window, I felt my soul respond with a quiet leap of joy.

My ultimate destination was Olympus, another good stretch west down the coast, but Kemer was as far as my long-distance bus would take me. Groggily, I shouldered my too-many kilo backpack (didn’t weigh it, but as I had trouble lifting it, it officially qualified as heavy) and headed toward the town center. Might as well see the town as long as I’m here.

Kemer is a resort town about an hour from Antalya. There is a stunning quantity of hotels, even more places to shop, and a serene bicycle path/walkway that wends its way along the waterfront amidst lush foliage. At this time of year the town exudes the forlorn desolation of all tourist towns in the off-season. The shops were closed, steel cages pulled down over display windows; hotels sealed up for the winter, some undergoing major renovations. The only living soul I encountered by the time I made it to the beach was a Kurdish man selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. This region being the orange capital of Turkey, I ordered an enormous frothy glass, sat down on the pebbles of the beach and meditated on the sound of the sea. Even the waves sounded lonely, I thought…were they missing the happy feet of holiday-makers glad to escape their cities and their jobs and the many meaningless and soul-sucking responsibilities that are thrown at us?

Stretched out on the pebbles, I drifted off to sleep, basking in an improbable sun that had only narrowly come out the victor in a battle with a pack of brooding gray clouds.

Awakened by the crunching footsteps of another lone traveler passing by me, I prepared to move on down the coast, where I was to meet up with my friend P., down from Istanbul.

P. is a slightly off-the-wall, fiercely (and sometimes infuriatingly) independent spirit, part hippie, part nun, ornithologist, botanist, photographer and talented musician. She has at some point or another done nearly every interesting job under the sun, and is here in Turkey attempting to collect something for her soul; however, finding herself frustrated in her attempts to locate that elusive ‘something’ in Istanbul, she was happy to travel south to meet me. Two seekers in search of soul food.

We met in Tekirova, a 40-odd minute drive from Olympus. She was staying at the Sundance Nature Park, a sort of granola-ish place that put its guests up in rustic wooden shacks, uses only solar power, grows its own food (all organic) and is friend to all God’s creatures. The place was bursting with horses, cats and dogs. A quiet little stream flowed gently into the sea; on its banks, shy pointy-headed turtles basked, slipping into the water with a quiet plop, plop whenever footsteps approached. A kingfisher, startling in its electric blue, glided effortlessly inches from the surface, scouting for the small fry that teem in those waters. The birdsong was deafening, with a variety of rhythms and tunes that I had never heard all in one place before. Truly a Garden of Eden, and so out of the way that it was a marvel to me that the place ever had any customers at all.

That evening we were served an organic meal in front of a cozy wood stove, while four or five cats and two dogs (one snoring) curled up around our feet. It was a good start to the trip. I drifted off to sleep in our tiny wooden shack by 10:00, pleasantly fatigued, happy to feel part of the natural world again.