Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 6 - Kekova to Kabak

guinea fowl Kekova lies at the end of a small tributary road that runs perpendicular to the main one. It's a sizeable hike to get to the main road; alternatively, there is one very-early-morning service bus that goes there, and we manage -- just barely -- to get on it and save ourselves a time-consuming extra bit of hiking.

The plan is to hitchhike. Theoretically the three of us are hitchhiking together, but the thinking is that it's easier for a person alone to catch a ride. Barely have weView from the road we are hiking on agreed on this then P. is off like a shot down the road, out of sight in minutes, Guillaume and I looking after her in bemusement. Then I wave Guillaume off, since my bag needs reorganizing and adjusting, and once he's gone it's just me, too many kilos of pack, and the open road. My only companions for a while are a flock of Guinea fowl idly pecking at the side of the road. A few cars come and go. I quickly discover with hitchhiking that the cars least likely to stop are the nicer ones, but if the vehicle is twenty or years older, preferably packed with tools/vegetables/sweaty bodies, it will most certainly stop. We get our first hit with a beat-up Tofaş, king of Turkish automobiles, with two long-haired guys in front bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Dukes of Hazzard, a la Turka, of course.I say 'we' because in the interim I had somehow caught up to Guillaume, and we were picked up together. Only when we have assured our lifts to the next stopping point (which was really no stopping point at all, just a wide spot in the road -- I'm still not sure why they took us there), do we break the news that somewhere down the road another friend of ours will be joining us.

All three of us finally snugly ensconced, we head off pell-mell down the twisting, precipitous road that leads away from Kekova. We decide not to offer money for the trip, since the ride is short and uncomfortable, but still I can't shake my own unease that we are doing the wrong thing...the guys have decided to go out of their way, beyond their original destination, for us -- shouldn't we offer them something? In the end, we un-wedge ourselves from the back seat of the car, manage with great yanking and cursing to unlodge our packs, and there is a moment as we say goodbye that I reach down to close an open pocket on my pack and I see the one guy's eyes follow my action, and in that moment I am sure that he's looking for a little palm grease. It is the same pocket where my wallet lives, and I the end, I opt for the heartfelt thank you and leave it at that.

The men get back in and peel out, headed back the way they came in a cloud of dust.

It is a tranquil stretch of road, flanked by abundant greenery, but an unlikely place to have been left. P. predictably immediately takes off at full speed, leaving us in her dust in a matter of moments. Guillaume and I amble along at a more leisurely pace, chatting about Turkey and politics and the mysterious workings of God as we go. Guillaume, you see, is a monk-to-be, having decided to abandon his career in French politics. I am rather fascinated by him: how does one go from a career in politics, which to me is synonymous with scheming and wheeling and dealing -- far from anything pure and spiritual -- to a life in a monastery? Did he get disallusioned by his experiences? Is this why he seeks retreat? I question him on this topic and am intrigued by his answer. The only way to do as great a good in the world as one could (potentially) in politics, he feels, is to devote oneself to prayer. Prayer is equal to (or perhaps greater than) politics.

Still, I am unconvinced. Guillaume has traces of cynicism that come out all too frequently, and I can't help but think that anyone who goes into a political life actually is a fairly social being. Would such a person truly want to sequester themselves away from this society for perpetuity? I let the topic rest, knowing that there are many things that I cannot understand, and that perhaps this will become clearer to me with time.

Not many cars pass. Guillaume prefers to proffer the outstretched thumb to those that do. Ever the introvert, I prefer to keep walking, having learned from experience that there are plenty of people who see people walking and stop to help them anyway, thumb or no thumb. Soon a large milk truck rattles to a stop beside us...inside the driver is portly and cheerful; he is headed to the pretty, upscale little town of Kaş, and so are we, and he agrees to take us for the price of gas. We are wedged fairly tightly into the cab, and I'm wondering how we're ever going to fit P. in. Still, despite her concerted efforts to abandon us, I somehow can't bring myself to do the same, so when we spot her chugging along the roadside a ways on, we stop for her. Getting three of us into the cab alongside the broad-beamed driver is a feat of gymnastics. I am sitting approximately on the gearshift. Lanky Guillaume is wedged in beside me, head slightly tilted because he is too tall for the cab. P. is sitting across both of our laps, with her head also crooked to avoid the roof, and much merriment ensues due to the ridiculousness of the situation. And thus the merry band of travellers arrives in Kaş, slips the driver a fiver, and heads to the nearest cafe.

View of KaşKaş is a unique seaside town in Turkey. Unlike many towns, which are either poor and relying on the sale of small local handicrafts (necklaces, bracelets, etc.) to support them, or larger towns which have developed a tourist industry and earn their bread through hotel room sales and tacky trinkets, Kaş is an upscale place. The streets are in impeccable condition, the boutiques filled with high-end merchandise, and a different kind of merchandise than the ubiquitous carpept and kilim one finds everywhere in Turkey. It's got some magnificent Lycian tombs in its cliffs, and a gigantic one -- fit for an emperor -- sitting improbably at the end of one of the mDetail from a Lycian tomb in Kaşain streets. We order coffees and spread out the maps, plotting our next move. P. has her own plans. Guillaume is on the fence about whether to go with her to Fethiye and beyond (the original plan) or whether to hang with me. I warn him that I have in mind a day of serious self-punishing mountain ascension, but he seems unperturbed and in the end decides to go with me. P. steps out to use the restroom, is gone an unusually long time, and finally my phone beeps with a text message: "I'm outta here. P.:" Thus our goodbyes are said.

Ruins at XanthosGuillaume and I get a minibus to the ancient site of Xanthos, and spend an enjoyable hour poking around in millenia old stone structures with wildflowers of riotous colors peeping out is a largely unguarded sight, unfenced, with no admission to be paid. It is clear that excavation is ongoing, and it is with the delight of an archeologist that I accidentally step on a bit of plastic tarp half buried beneath the new grass and blood-red poppies, pMosaic at Xanthosull it up and discover the remnants of a brown and white ivy-leaf pattern mosaic! Wow...this must have been someone's floor centuries ago...who were these people, how did they live? Here I am, possibly standing in their entrance hall... it makes me stop and visualize for a few moments. This land will do that to you.

The town itself is a strange place. The people seem surly; the döner is far pricier than what you'd find in Istanbul, and yet although there are some ancient things to see in this place, it is hardly what I'd call a tourist mecca. Guillaume is outraged at the price of the döner and much to my dismay begins to haggle with the man in that I'm-affronted-that-you're-taking-advantage-of helpless-tourists way that people do. Considering that we're talking about a price difference of 3 YTL -- about $2.00 -- I just don't think it's worth it. I'm tired and hungry and want the damn sandwich. The man looks bemused and finally gives us the food for a lira less than the original price, and we eat it sullenly while he looks on. Living here I have discovered that you encounter tourists of two varieties: the ones bursting with enthusiasm and naivete, who think everything's wonderful and wind up getting burned; and the pessimistic traveller -- these are the ones who've been around the block a few times -- who seem to think the whole world is out to rip them off.

The döner incident behind us, we contemplate how to get to the next point on the map, the point from which we will start our hike. It is tiny village called Alınca, and from the looks of things, it is approximately 40 kilometers from where we presently stand and at a considerably higher elevation. We manage to get a mini-bus to Karaağaç, which knocks 10 km off of the trip, but after that there are no busses. There is only a mini-market and a couple of hovering taxi vultures, offering to take us to Alınca for a mere 30 YTL. Ever the cheapskate and believer anyway in the cleansing effect of the sweat of one's brow, I turn up my nose at the taxi drivers, grab Guillaume, and start trekking down the road. A small boy on a bicycle follows us for a while, curious at these two lanky strangers speaking an unknown language and walking down this obscure road. He smiles at us and does a couple of wheelies on his bicycle, showing off. He sweeps in a graceful ark, disappears down the road, and just when we think it is goodbye, he comes racing back pell-mell, a demonstration of raw power.

Eventually we lose the boy and it's just us and the occasional goat. There's not much traffic on this road, and our hitchhiking prospects are looking slim. Finally a mini-van slows down for us. It is filled with village women in headscarves and baggy flowered şalwar, who hold enormous sacks of freshly harvested vegetables between their knees. One grizzled-looking man cradles a large crate of what looks and smells to be cheese -- fortunately he gets off first. The ladies are charming, and give us lots of furtive smiles as we bump along the road. They do not attempt to communicate with us, probably assuming it is impossible, so we just sit in companionable silence. We discover that at the last place where the road forks, the van will be taking the left fork, whereas we need the right fork. Our luck has run out. It is nearly 10 km to Alınca, steeply uphill, and the day is swiftly wearing on into late afternoon. We need to move.

There follows an exhausting but splendidly panoramic hike Alınca. We spot a grand total of one car, but it is packed to the gills with mothers, fathers, children and probably a few uncles and aunts thrown in, and the occupants just wave (those of them that are not so sardined that they can't move their arms) and the car roars by.

Clouds are gathering. At the point that we estimate to be our destination, or rather, the destination for the start of our 'real' hike, there is nothing but a mass of fog, or low-lying cloud, and I start to feel uneasy. Will be stuck outside overnight, perhaps in a rainstorm, on an exposed tip of mountain? Legs and lungs screaming, we finally summit. The usual village dog greeting ensues, then the usual child-running-out-and-looking-silently-with-big-eyes, then a young girl, perhaps 15, steps out of a small stone house. 'Welcome,' she says, in perfectly accented British English. I am taken aback. Here, of all places?!! Wondering if that is the sum total of her English, I ask her a few questions and she responds easily, fluently, not a grammar mistake to be found. I think I am visibly impressed. Perhaps it is not to be so wondered at, though -- although the village in which I stand seems to be as far from anything as it could possibly be, the greater area we are in is one of the most beautiful, and hence most visited by international tourists, parts of Turkey. No doubt she commutes to a tourist destination somewhere...

We tell her of our plans to hike to Kabak that evening. Although I detect a vague look of skepticism (or am I only projecting my own concerns?), she wishes us a pleasant journey and points us in the direction of the Lycian Way. Sure enough, there are the tell-tale yellow signs pointing us onto a single-track dirt trail. 7 km, it says.

One of the many splendid views from the trailThe trail starts out at a mild descent, winding through boulders and richly-scented pines. I love this kind of trail, where the soil underfoot is soft, your footfalls make no sound, and you are constantly kept wondering what awaits just around the bend....

We walk, mostly in silence, for what feels like a very long time. And then a raindrop, landing squarely on my forehead. A moment later, another one, this time on my nose. And then the floodgates are opened, and in less than a minute I am drenched to the skin. Guillaume, consummate Frenchman, produces from his backpack a plaid umbrella (?!!) and continues behind me down the path pleasantly dry, while I soldier on, soggy and determined to get there. Guillaume's progress is slowed by the umbrella, which catches on rocks and trees as he advances, and indulge myself in an inner sneer at frou-frou Frenchman, zey ah oh so pretty but oh so unmanly...still, ten minutes later I have to concede that I am freezing and would have liked to remain in a similar state of dryness. Guillaume kindly gives me a dry shirt -- and the umbrella -- and all superciliousness put aside, I continue the hike under the auspices of the red and green canopy.

It is growing dark, and the heavy rain is not helping matters. We round a bend and stop short: there has been a landslide, and cutting across our path is a wide river of loose rock. It must be ten meters wide at least, and it has obliterated our path. Perfect! To summarize: Guillaume has the only flashlight worth mentioning (mine is the cheapo given me by The Vulture at Olympos, and barely illuminates the tops of my shoes); it is getting late; we are verging on being lost; the rain shows no signs of letting up; we don't know where we're spending the night. This is shaping up to be an Adventure.

We split up in order to find the trail. He looks high, I look low. We are scrabbling over loose rocks; I am peering around in the gloom for the red and white markings. Aha! I've got it again; we are back legs are getting tired, they are quivering, they start to falter and give out.

Ten minutes later another landslide; the search in the semi-darkness, the eventual finding, the rain, the plugging onward, and again, a landslide, a search. There are four or so landslides in total, and the time and energy it takes to find the trail each time is enormous. Finally, just as total darkness sets in, we reach the bottom of the valley towards which we have been descending. We find ourselves softly treading through olive groves, moving alongside fences of piled stone, hearing the nightbirds come out as the rain stops and skies clear. The trail leads us down into a riverbed, but does not appear to re-emerge on the other side. I am exhausted and frustrated, legs are jello, and I want nothing more than to be somewhere warm and comfortable.

We retrace our steps out of the gully, and suddenly spot a light in the darkness. Throwing the trail to the wind, we simply follow the light, moths to the flame. At last we emerge, all mud and exhaustion, creatures from the Black Lagoon, into a haven of firelight, music and flowers. Two people relax before a brightly crackling fire in a stone hearth. Candles twinkle and music plays softly. As we appear, the two turn to us and register a moment of non-comprehension, and then it is all over...we are helped out of our packs, shown to a dry cabin, fed warming food and propped up before the fire with beer.

We have arrived at Turan's camping, a marvelously secluded little place in the village of Kabak. Turan himself, one-time member of the intelligentsia turned political exile turned nature-hugger, makes us welcome. After we eat and drink and warm ourselves, there is a bit of light conversation, and then it's bedtime. It is only a simple slat cabin we sleep in, with a mattress on the floor and a mosquito net over the bed, but for our aching bodies it is enough. Moments after getting horizontal, I am sleeping the sleep of the dead. It has been a long day.


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