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.


At 10:30 AM, Blogger Nomad said...

Hey Kate.. Mike here. Nice to meet you. I wanted to become your "follower" ( don't worry, not you stalker) I am also in Izmir, also American.
Stop by, visit, and comment. There is nothing stunning on the blog at the moment except for a post about the campaigning. There are so fine posts in the archives. Hope to hear from you soon.


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