Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

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

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day 5 - Olympos to Kekova

Morning. My legs are restless: it is time to get walking, and walking in a serious way. No strolling or lollygagging or perambulating, but intense, side-aching, lung-shattering, atone-for-thy-sins mountain ascension.

I am up early and pacing the front courtyard, anxious to be off. My new friends have not yet made an appearance at breakfast, no doubt electing to sleep in late (always more enticing when you have someone to do it with) after our late night around the fire. Like the lone cowboy in the westerns, I decide to leave without saying goodbye. The clock is ticking. I must be off.

The dolmus snakes up, up, up the nauseatingly winding road, along the ridge of the mountain, the valley of Olympos dropping away before me. At the main road, at the wayside stop where cheerful, colorfully headscarved women make delectable gozleme in the most gorgeous of settings, I hop a bus to Finike. I am down to my last 5 lira, and Finike, some half hour's drive away, is the closest option for cash.

The orange capital of Turkey, Finike is otherwise not much to look at. An everyday kind of town, its main distinguishing features are trees heavy with bright orange globes everywhere you look, and a resident sunbathing tortoise that I almost trip over as I am cruising for cash machines.

Later, feeling like a superhero after downing a glass of uncannily orange fresh-squeezed orange juice, armed to the teeth with cash and snacks, I am ready. Bring it on, world. I decide to abandon the bus at the point where a tiny, narrow road intersects with the main road. According to my trail maps, I should be able to access the Lycian way trails some distance down this road.

Not far into my hike, which starts out on asphalt, I spy a rutted dirt road running parallel to the asphalt road, and decide to follow that. For the umpteenth time since I have lived in this country, I am astonished and delighted-- after walking past quiet orchards, a greenhouse or two, and some contentedly clucking chickens, I emerge into an open meadow, in the center of which stands a magnificent Lycian tomb! I am in the middle of nowhere; this is most certainly not a tourist stop. There are no signs, barriers or plaques, just this ancient, stately tomb in the midst of a meadow surrounded by olive trees. This is what it looked like:

(For some good reading on the Lycians, and on all aspects of Turkey, check out this website:

The dirt road turns out to be good only for the discovery of the tomb. A few meters beyond, it begins to disappear under wild grasses and large boulders, and before I realize what's happened, I find myself on an increasingly slippery slope below the asphalt road. I cannot advance, as the place I am walking is rapidly turning into a cliff that drops straight into the blue sea, far below me; I also cannot climb up to the main road, as the ten vertical meters that separates me from it has also become an unclimbable cliff. I backtrack a little, but oh how I loathe backtracking! -- and so I proceed to waste copious quantities of precious time by clawing and scrambling and stumbling my way up the slippery hillside to get to the road. The whole time my rational brain is saying 'this is stupid, admit defeat and go back to where the roads intersect; save time and energy,' but pig-headedness has always been one of my more marked characteristics. And so it is that I finally emerge onto the asphalt road, gasping for breath, knees filthy, hands scratched from the thorns and rocks. A herd of goats witnesses my unexpected emergence from beyond the edge of the road, and after staring at me for a moment, they all trot off down the road in the direction that I will be heading. When looking for paths, I think, trust the goats. They've got it figured out. Thus it is that with only a vague idea of where to find the hiking trail, I set off after these goats in greatest confidence.

My instinct -- or was it the goats? -- turns out to be correct. After ten minutes of walking, my spirits are buoyed when I come upon this road sign:

A mere 11 kilometers to Kapaklı sweat, I think (wrong choice of idioms, I realize now -- certainly sweat was going to be involved, especially if I wanted to get there before dark!). I continue my brisk walk along the road, feeling high as a kite from the breathtaking scenery that surrounds me...I am walking through ancient Lycia! The Meditteranean lies before me, aquamarine and sapphire-blue. There are rugged mountains that plummet to the sea, dense forests, and not a soul to be seen. Now, if I can only get off the asphalt and on to a real hiking trail...

Finally I find it, the trademark yellow signpost that points me off the asphalt road and on to a dirt road that descends toward the coast. After five minutes of walking, my confident strides begin to falter as I realize that I haven't seen any trail markings for a while. I turn and walk back up the hill -- still no marks. There is some type of construction going on -- there are earth movers and backhoes and I fear that the boulders painted with the red and white stripes (indicators that you are, in fact, on the trail) may have been overturned or even carted away. In that case, where do I go? After some hesitation, I decide to follow my gut instinct and continue down the newly widened dirt road that I am already on. In any case, I figure, what is the worst that could happen? I have my maps. I can see the coast. I know that the village I am headed towards is also on the coast...what could possibly go wrong? (Note: whenever you start thinking this way in the wilderness, it is best to check your head for a second opinion.)

Down, down, down into a fertile valley, enclosed on all sides by craggy hillsides blanketed with boulders and thorn bushes. I arrive at a complex of greenhouses, a barking dog, a few shacks. Hoping that someone will emerge from one of them, I slow my stride. Nothing. The dirt of the road is wet and sticky down here, and soon I am slogging through mud, and once again the road is petering out. I find myself suddenly standing in a field behind a greenhouse, forbidding-looking slopes rising up on all sides, and a clearly visible barbed-wire fence amongst all this on the hillside in the direction I need to go. Low curses to myself. Just then, a creak, a scuttle, the sound of a human approaching. From behind an olive tree emerges an old man on crutches, hideously deformed, a face that looks like it has melted, one normal leg and one tiny little one with a ridiulous child's foot dangling at knee-height. I can't help but recoil. It also occurs to me to wonder what chemicals they are putting on those greenhouse vegetables, or were at the time of this old man's birth.

Then a child emerges, a bright-eyed and very serious young boy, perhaps 10 years old. He is articulate, polite and takes over the conversation, where I had been struggling to understand the old man with the melted face. No, I don't know of any Lycian way, the boy says; no, there's no road or path here, but Kapakli is over there, he says, gesturing in the direction of the craggy, thorn-covered, barb-wire-fenced hillside. Ah, says I, but the fence. No problem, he tells me, there's a way over. Come, I'll show you.

He leads me off through the squelching mud, then in amongst the bushes and boulders, and then lo and behold, behind a large bush I see what he was talking about: it is a kind of stile, a ladder that goes up and over and down again, neatly enabling one to bypass the barbed wire. (Somewhat defeats the purpose of the fence, I think...) He tells me that there is a pipleline (gas? water? I never find out) that goes all the way to Kapakli, and all I have to do is follow that. Before I can thank him, the serious young man is gone. I readjust my pack and clamber over the fence, wondering what adventure is in store next. The first few steps are easy. I manage to ascend the hillside to its crest, emerging into a pleasant glade where I sit and eat some almonds and take in the view of the sea. The way down is a different story. Almost immediately the pipeline becomes obscured in thornbushes and low-hanging trees. It descends small cliffs that are too steep for me to descend, and I am soon forced to re-think the idea of following it. Surveying the landscape again, I spy a brilliantly white beach far below me, and as I watch, a flock of goats emerges onto it and crosses. Ahh, the goats! Where there are goats, there is hope. I have a new target now, and decide to abandon the pipeline in favor of the easiest descent I can manage, while holding the beach in my sights.

The going is incredibly difficult. I am scratched and dirty and exhausted. Leaping across gaps and down from high rocks is not easy under any circumstances, but with 30 or so kilos of backpack on your back it is gruelling. The terrain and I are locked in silent combat. Finally, jubilation...the thorn bushes are starting to thin out, there is more soft grass beneath my feat, and even traces of goat paths. And then, yes, it is more than a trace -- I am on a goat path, and now I know that I am okay. Gratefully, I follow the path as it winds gently down to the sea. Twenty minutes later, I emerge onto the beach, just as the last of the goats have passed from it.

It is a gem, utterly deserted, made up of the characteristic golf-ball sized white pebbles of this region. I take off the pack, stretch out, remove my boots and socks from my aching feet. As always, I find myself lost in contemplation of these perfectly white, perfectly smooth stones, all nearly the same size. I can't help seeking symbolism and finding it in these stones. How flawlessly smooth and polished they are! Does this speak to the grinding down effects of time, how it erodes us, takes away our individuality...or is it a more optimistic message; is this about how time makes us wiser and more perfect...somehow there is something old and wise in a perfectly rounded and polished beach pebble. It has witnessed the tides, perhaps of centuries, it has weathered the storms, and all that time has been slowly evolving to perfection.

I notice the sound of the water on these stones, the lovely clatter, rising in pitch as the gentle waves roll in, the descending clickety clack as the waves recede. It is nice to simply sit, eyes closed, and listen to this melody. In a moment of inspiration, I take out my MP3 player and record the sound of the stones, thinking someday it will be a happy sound to listen to from my city apartment.

A brief wade in the water (chilly!) and then it's time to move on. I have just put my socks and shoes back on when I hear a rustle in the brush from the direction in which I am planning to head. A moment later two goats, one black, one white, emerge onto the beach, stopping in their tracks when they see me. They are stragglers, having no doubt gotten too engrossed in some patch of clover along the way and lost track of their herd. Now I am a barrier between them and the herd, and they look at me with desperate eyes. Fear of the stranger trumps desire to be with family, and they retreat into the bushes from whence they came. I shoulder my pack and disappear behind a large boulder in a meadow behind the beach, hoping the goats will feel free to pass now that I am gone. I wait for a good while, feeling a small burst of frustration at the goats and the rapidly sinking sun and the fact that I don't know exactly how far I still have to go (I have been hiking for hours, but the going was so difficult that I may have only covered a kilometer or two). At long last, I hear a tentative hoof on pebbles. Then another. Then slow, creeping, goaty footsteps, gradually gaining in confidence, until finally I see them pass my hiding place, cross the beach, and scamper up into the brush where their shepherd and flock await. Am I weird for showing so much courtesy to a couple of goats? Whatever... At the place where the animals have emerged from the bush I discover a boulder painted with red and white stripes -- my heart does a leap of jubilation -- I have found the official Lycian way!! At long last, I am back on track. The way goes up, up, up and more up. My legs are hamburger. I am in no kind of physical shape for this, and my strength is rapidly deserting me. Still, it is doing my soul much good to be out here. The path eventually flattens out, and I find myself walking through idyllic meadows dotted with olive trees and fluffy grazing sheep. There are signs of human habitation: the abundant stone of the area has been organized into neat, low walls. Still, I encounter no one but the sheep. I can't help thinking once again how Biblical this landscape looks, and I still am unsure why that is the adjective that always springs to mind. Was it an illustration from the children's Bible that I had as a kid that is bringing that adjective to mind so many decades later? Was it some Biblical TV miniseries filmed in this part of the world? Interesting how our specific memories fade, but impressions and links do not. Here is my 'Biblical' landscape:

The sheep are hilarious. A veritable opera cast, they mingle their bleats to perfection, the lambs' high sopranos punctuated by the rams' baritone, while the alto of the ewes keeps the middle line of the music going. At one point it is so comical and I start laughing so hard that I have to stop and sit on one of the stone walls and listen. I make a recording on my MP3 player; it's not bad, but unfortunately I missed the best of it.

It is beginning to get dark, and I am contemplating sleeping options. There aren't many, really. I am in the middle of nowhere; at least I am in a flat and grassy middle of nowhere, so I can imagine stretching out for the night and sleeping. I have never slept out in the open, unprotected by the sheltering walls of a tent, and the prospect is both exciting and nerve-wracking. It is such a vulnerable way to be -- vulnerable to predatory humans and insects and inclement weather -- but also so close to the natural world. I realize that stupidly I have brought my sleeping bag but no waterproof mat to put it on, so I will inevitably get soaked if I have to sleep outdoors. Not a nice thought, but then, I figure, it probably won't kill me, either. And it's only for one night. The bigger concern at this point is that I am down to two swallows of water. And I'm thirsty. For this reason alone, I have to get to Kapakli.

More trudging -- the terraces and sheep and olives seem endless -- and then, finally, a glimpse of some houses up on the hill. I encounter a woman gathering wild greens, and ask her if the buildings I see are indeed Kapakli. She grunts an affirmative, and I begin the climb, legs devastated and nearly unable to make it. I arrive in a tiny village where children are playing football in the streets, drowsy dogs slumber in doorways, and a group of women stand conversing before the gates of the mosque. I approach them and inquire as to the existence of a shop....they laugh and tell me there is no shop in Kapakli. I explain that I am desperate for water, whereupon one women says come to my house, I will give you some.

Her house is only meters away (the whole village is only meters long and wide, come to that). I remove my shoes and enter; she offers me slippers and I pad after her into the living room. She brings me a small glass of water which I down in one gulp, feeling slightly embarrassed, but also desperately thirsty. She brings me another, and I sit, too exhausted to be nervous, while her two young daughters and their two young friends sit on the opposite couch and stare at me, wide-eyed. I soon learn from the woman that the village's water supply was cut off sometime that morning, and the only water they have is in a large bowl in the kitchen. Bad luck! I am reluctant to down great quantities of their very limited drinking water, so I politely refuse another refill and tell myself that I will be able to get my fill when I get to a real town with a shop.

She brings me tea, then small savory pastries, and we make conversation -- about her life in this village, the work she and her husband do (they are greenhouse farmers), and my life in the big city. She has never in her life been farther than Antalya, which is maybe a couple of hours away, and I marvel at the differences between our lives. I am thousands of miles from the place of my birth, and hundreds of kilometers from my adopted city. I live surrounded by concrete and paved streets and bars and shops and cinemas; she lives at the top of a hill, with a spectacular, sweeping view of the sea and nothing more. She finds her life dull; I find her place paradise. The shy little girls, Gizem and Gözde, begin to ask me questions, and we talk for a while. I tell them I am a teacher, and inquire about their lessons, whether they are learning English. Not much, really -- the younger daughter is in Grade 2, and they have no English lessons. The older daughter is in Grade 4, and they have English twice a week. She is astonished to learn that the students I teach have 16 hours of English every week. The woman urges me to spend the night at her house. I consider it, but then politely decline. I am touched by this hospitality; at the same time, I am no innocent. Sadly, I do not have total faith that pure hospitality happens very often. Generally, people want something, and the more you accept from them, the more in their debt you become. I have already accepted water and tea and snacks and a dry t-shirt. I hate thinking that I have a debt, but one never knows, and should it be the case that I am considered a debtor, better to leave before I add a night's accomodation to my tab. I lie, and tell her that my friend P. has reserved a pension in Kekova (a 15 minute drive away) and is expecting me to join her. As a matter of fact, P. did contact me earlier in the day from Kekova and invite me to come join her.

As you wish, the woman responds. My husband will be home soon. We will eat dinner together and then you can decide.

The husband, a ruggedly handsome man who makes his living from greenhouse cucumbers, arrives in the early evening and we sit together on the floor and eat dinner from a large tray. There are five of us, and three bowls of soup are set out. It is not clear whch soup belongs to whom, or how the sharing is supposed to work. I wait and see if anyone eats the soup closest to me. When no one does, I figure it is for me, so I have a few bites. Then the younger daughter takes her spoon and eats some of the soup from the same bowl, and I am perplexed. Is this the way it works, then? Communal soup? Regardless, the food is delicious. I am grateful for the family's generosity, but also concerned that they may be very poor, and perhaps they are depriving themselves of a meal or two down the road in order to feed me.

After we eat, more tea is brought. The children haul out the family photo albums and sit on the sofa with me, one on each side. The younger daughter shows me photo after photo of her and her family and relatives, flashing through them so fast I scarcely have time to look at them. The older daughter is the voice of maturity, telling her sister, slow down! She can't see them when you go so fast.

The pictures finished, the little girl disappears and returns with a box of sweets, which she holds out to me with great dignity. I accept one, then she makes the rounds, offering one to her mother and father and sister, before taking one herself. The older sister then makes the rounds with the ubiquitous lemon cologne, found in every Turkish household and on every bus in Turkey. She sprinkles a few drops in our hands, we rub them together, then over our faces and necks. It has been an unusual evening, and despite my slight discomfort at being around people I do not know, I am happy to be having this experience. Still, I need to move on. The father offers to drive me to Kekova, to my friend, and we all pile in the car. Five of us in a half-broken-down Tofas that seems unlikely to survive the drive. The father drives like a maniac on the pitch black and twisting roads, and I genuinely fear for our lives. As we near Kekova, I start to feel a sense of relief that my fears about being a debtor, about being expected to compensate for the family's generosity, were unfounded. And then the woman asks me, out of the blue, so, they must pay you a lot at that school you work at? Oh, how I loathe this question, so frequently asked. Well, it's enough, I say. How much? she asks. Enough, I say again, firmly. After some more covert attempts to elicit this information from me I say, as politely as I can manage, I'm sorry, but this is a topic I don't really care to's just a cultural thing, I say as an excuse. She drops it then, but then goes on to tell me how little greenhouse farmers really earn. All my previous apprehensions return. Perhaps she is only making conversation, but then, why this topic, why now, at the end of our time together? Clearly, she is hoping for something. In the cramped space of the back seat, I surreptitiously check my wallet. I have a 50 lira bill and a 5. I am not about to give 50, and 5 seems too little. My reasons for not giving the 50 have nothing to do with being frugal. The services rendered to me were, from my point of view, worth that. But this is not hospitality. I would take any lost and dehydrated stranger in, feed and water them, and expect nothing. The world needs this. If we turn it into a place where such services are rendered only when payment is expected, then the world is a sad place indeed. I do not want to contribute to creating such a world. I decide to offer the 5 lira bill to cover the cost of gas, which is a reasonable expectation, I feel. Secretly, I am hoping she will not accept it, because I want this nice evening to have been a pure act of generosity, not a commercial transaction. We get out of the car in Kekova, bid our farewells. I turn to the woman and awkwardly offer her the 5 lira note...I'm sorry, I tell her, I don't have anything else, but I hope this will at least help cover the cost of the gas. You have been wonderfully hospitable, I say. I will not forget this, or you. To my chagrin, she takes the 5, says it's okay, and they are off. I am feeling a bit discouraged at this blow to my ideals, but then I think, perhaps such ideals are a luxury afforded by those in my financial bracket, just as hiking through the wilderness and making myself exhausted are. They are exhausted by a hard life; they do not need to seek out such challenges.

I check into the pension where P. is staying, and discover that she has acquired a companion in her travels. A tall, gangly young Frenchman named Guillaume is seated on one of the two beds when I shuffle into the room, exhausted and ready for sleep. We have a few beers together, regale each other with stories, and then it's lights out, Guillaume on one bed, P. and I sharing the other...I fall into a dreamless sleep moments after my head hits the pillow.


At 10:58 PM, Blogger pisipati said...

Hello Kate;I am Elif from İstanbul.You are a brave girl.I don't think I can do that trip.Maybe If you could have arrived in a proper village,the people wouldn't want any money from you.Capitalism is everywhere,it makes me feel really sad.


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