Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On the Lycian Way--Part 1

This picture--and several others--is by Delal
My plan, folks, is this: A photo essay of Delal's and my Spring Break trip hiking the Lycian Way. For once, there will be a minimum of political agitation and what-not and more pretty pictures. Hopefully some of our discoveries will help other hapless hikers to avoid the mistakes we made. So, the Lycian Way (in Turkish the Likya Yolu) is a series of hiking trails marked with red and white blazes (like the Appalachian Trail back home) that stretches from Fethiye to Antalya. It was mapped out by English woman, Kate Clow, whose book is the authority on the series of trails. We could not locate an English copy in Istanbul and so we were making our way with the Turkish copy--badly translated at some points, so much so that we were led astray. A rock wall and a stone wall, for example, completely different things--one being a sheer rock face like a wall and the other being a wall made by humans of stones--are both translated as taş duvarı. So when you go desperately looking for that stone wall and find only sheer rock faces--well you might be in the right place.
Here we are at the starting gate outside of Ovacık-the actual road is on the right and does not go under the stupid gate at all.
Now some background--the Lycians were one of the ancient people of Anatolia. Herodotus--the first Historian of equally ancient Greece--claimed they migrated from Crete. The Egyptians mentioned them as early as 2000 BC. They were also involved in the Trojan war. They originally occupied the mountains of Southwest Anatolia and the trails of the Lycian way wander through the borders and among the ruins of this long-lost country. In later years they were incorporated first into the Greek Empire and then the Roman Empire. I imagine their descendants are still running around these mountains today. 
At the starting point near the Sultan Motel--the mountains behind in the morning mists are where we're headed
We started at the town of Ovacık, just outside of Fethiye (a 3.50TL bus ride from the Fethiye otogar) at a pension that prides itself on being the starting point of the trail--the Sultan Motel (www.sultanmotel.com). Rooms were clean, breakfast good, and the manager very helpful. In summer, they have a pool with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Price for a double, including breakfast, was 60TL--about 30 dollars at today's rate (off season).
Before heading off on the trail itself we decided to take a side trip to a place called Kayaköy in Turkish, Levissi in Greek. It is (was) a Greek village rising up the hillside about a 7 kilometer (4 mile) walk from the Sultan. In 1923, the people of Levissi, like the Greeks all over Turkey were forced to go to Greece, taking with them only what they could carry. Turks in Greece were similarly being kicked out in an agreement between the two countries politely called 'The Population Exchange' in English, or Mübadele in Turkish.

A view of Kayaköy/Levissi from the top of the hill overlooking an old well
When I tried to dig up a few facts to put in this blog entry--I ran into the usual problems digging for information about minorities in Turkey. There are so many partisans, biases, and people unintentionally spreading misinformation that it's hard to know what's right. For example, the English Wikipedia claims that the deserted village has 500 houses. Frommers travel company puts the number at 3500. The Turkish version of Wiki says there were only 40 (just from the picture above, it's clear how wildly inaccurate THAT number is.) The Lonely Planet claims 2000-but who knows where the hell that number comes from. In any case, it's huge. Endless streets of abandoned houses, stores and churches.

The only residents of Levissi these days are the sheep
We walked there down a forest road, though you could take a minibus. The ruins started well before the protected area itself. Little clusters of stone cottages dotted the fields, overgrown with daisies and bright red poppies. I was expecting maybe a similar, if somewhat larger cluster of ruins but was completely overwhelmed by what I saw--a ghost city, the stones of the streets worn smoothe by the feet of so many visitors. You can see the ovens of the residents--Ottoman style, and the silhouettes of vanished stair cases. There is a church still standing and small chapels with slowly shattering mosaics. You find wells and cisterns and long walls winding along avenues paved with marble stones--but no people. It's somehow all the more haunting that it is not ancient like every other set of ruins here--the desolation is not even a hundred years old.

Another view from the top of the hill
The original city here was probably called Karmylassos (Carmylessus), a Lycian city, and was written about by Strabo, another Classical historian. There are Lycian tombs dating back to the 4th century BC nearby. A new Greek settlement called Levissi was built here probably in the 1700s. As with the number of houses, I found a lot of contradicting (let's call it creative) dates but after filtering out all the nonsense--most agree that Livissi was built in the 18th century, destroyed by an earthquake in the 19th and subsequently rebuilt. (Many sources don't know about the original 1700s village it seems.)

You can see some of the original blue and red paint everywhere
When the Greeks left, they rebuilt a city near Athens called Nea Makri--(New Makri, Makri being the former name of Fethiye). In Nea Makri is apparently a neighborhood called Livissi. This is a moving article about the grandson of two of Livissi's residents coming back to get to know the old lost home. 'My grandmother was about 22 or 23 in 1923,' he writes, 'And my grandfather was one year older. When they learnt what was going to happen to them she walked with her mother and sister down to Makri. She had left her two children but when she returned to collect them she couldn’t find them. She had to walk back to Makri alone.' They spend the next years searching for those children. He says his grandparents told him how kind their Turkish neighbors were and how a friend even left their daughter with a Turkish family, afraid of what might happen to them on their journey to Greece.

Through windows into more windows

One of the remaining churches

The fig trees are ripping the buildings apart

The town is filled with gigantic fig trees. Their roots dig into walls and crack them apart, uplift streets and split apart entire houses. They've taken over everything. Not surprisingly the fig is a relative of the banyan tree I saw tearing apart the ruins of Angkor Wat.

The wall of one of the chapels in Livissi--broken mosaics were still inside


A bit frightening is that the Ministry of Culture has plans to develop Livissi--they want to put up a 300 bed 'accomodation facility' and have sold the rights (remember this is a national treasure--one wonders about the word 'sold') for restoration to the same company that wants to build the accomodation facility. One only need look outside my window at the rampant, unchecked and ugly development to get an idea of what the Ministry of Culture has in mind.

The next day, we started our hike proper. We walked out of the Sultan Motel and up the hill toward the Montana Hotel. There we found the absurdly misplaced gate for the start of the Lycian Way--if we had passed under it we would have ended up in a bunch of bushes. The real road starts from the right and follows a dirt road, past some new villas being constructed and then up a narrow rocky path into the mountains, hugging a ledge that overlooks the Ölüdeniz and the deep turquoise blue of the Mediterrannean Sea. Spring flowers were everywhere, white daisies and bright red poppies and little purple and yellow wildflowers. You wind on and on, up and around the cliffs with breathtaking views of the water below.

Once we'd rounded the cliffs, we ran into a chubby woman tending a heard of baby and adolescent goats. The woman's name was Enzel, and she let me hold one of the littlest ones, just five days old. We asked her if she had any goat's milk ayran for sale--she said not for sale, but if we wanted we could follow the path to her village and stop by her house. She'd be happy to pour us a cup. It had never occurred to her, apparently, to sell goat's milk anything to tourists. We started toward her village--our destination anyway--stopping here and there for pictures, while she, after feeding her animals and doing who-knows-what chores, easily caught up with us, passed us, and told us to meet her on the last house to the right as we left the village. Done.

The road leading into the village of Kozağaç (Walnut Tree)

My wife wanted me to make sure that when I wrote this entry, I urged people to talk to the villagers they meet. Most don't speak English (take the time to learn a little small talk in Turkish--how are you, what's your name--it goes a long way) but they are friendly, curious, and as Delal says--it seems a shame to plunge into the heart of this country and not know anything about the people who live there. The last bit of road to Kozağaç winds past some villas that have never left the construction stage--we found a family of sheep occupying one rather choice house. The pine woods have dramatic views of Mt. Baba however and everywhere we looked we seemed to see turtles and butterflies.

Kozağaç Village
Enzel had three daughters and a son all playing on a hammock when we arrived--swinging it dangerously over a ledge that dropped off the back porch. One of her daughters Buşra, abandoned the game as too 'dangerous' and came to listen to us talk to her mother. 'Don't you want to have fun!?' one of her sisters called as she swung her brother spinning and squealing into the sky. Buşra turned up her nose, 'Having fun is stupid.' The little girl explained how they had built sleds out of giant jugs and used them to slide down a hill covered with pine needles. Her mother Enzel brought us out two cold glasses of goat-milk ayran and she told us about the seasons in Kozağaç--how the little spot in front of her house turned into a pond during the rains and about the tourists who started coming fifteen years ago. There are some houses in the village with signs out--serving food, mostly gözleme, and either tea or soda. People have gotten use to all the foreigners hiking through.

Here is me standing in front of Mt. Baba. People paraglide off its peak and the parachutes passed over us as we walked

We bid Enzel good bye--paying her a bit for the ayran and continued walking around the sheer western face of Mt. Baba. The road passed pretty little fields filled with yellow flowers until it finally hit the village of Kirme--a nondescript little place with a fountain swarming with bees. Here is where we made one of our first mistakes.

A field outside of Kirme
A word of advice--if you don't see the red and white blazes after a few minutes--you're going the wrong way! We passsed a small wooden hut, described in the guidebook, and then saw a red and yellow blaze on a tree leading into the forest. This being notoriously inconsistent Turkey, we figured somebody had run out of white paint and started using yellow, and so we followed the red and yellow marks down a dry stream bed and up a steep mountain slope. The terrain was interesting--the pine trees here dripped sap everywhere. The leaves of all the other plants glistened with drops of it. The tree trunks, the ground, the boulders were all pitch black with pine-sap. It looked like the forest had been burnt. The green of the spring leaves positively glowed against the black. Little purple flowers popped up everywhere and there was a tree with a bright orangeish red trunk.
The green against the black sap covered forest
We climbed a series of boulders and then rested by a gigantic outcropping of rock. I fell asleep, utterly exhausted. When I awoke up, the day was cooler. It was starting to get dark, and we realized we'd been sleeping by a rock filled with Lycian tombs. Enchantment? Rip Van Winkle spells? We kept climbing strangely enough, at least another thirty minutes, until something just finally felt wrong. There were caves and more tombs, none of which was mentioned in the book, and the trail was winding in the opposite direction toward the peak of Mt. Baba!
Purple wildflowers with red tree trunk in the background
We retraced our steps--all the way back down to the last red and white blaze we had seen. Despite what I said about being off the path when you don't see one of the signs, this is one place that's not true--not a mark in sight! After the wooden building you continue on the main road. It will curve right then left. There are no markings here at all either--but a smaller road will veer off to the right through a gate and down a shaded little path along a stone wall. You should go through the gate and follow the wall past little gardens and fields. You will finally see a red and white blaze after walking several minutes on this road. Later we found out that the red and yellow blazes are for a completely separate trail that winds over the mountain peaks.

Our hotel room at George's Pension in Faralya
Our final destination for the night was the village of Faralya which sits on the cliff above the famous Butterfly Valley (despite everyone saying how dangerous this climb was, most hikers we met had done it and said it was their favorite part of their trip). The grocery was closed when we arrived around 6. There are no ATMs here--nor anywhere along this trail so make sure you have cash. We stayed at George's Pension for 60 lira a person. (It's only 50 if you're willing to share a bathroom and shower). This included dinner and breakfast.  An old man sitting at a cafe assured us George's was the cheapest but I'm not sure--Gül Pension up the trail and Melisa Pension might have been cheaper. But George's commands a fantastic view over the Med and Butterfly Valley and was clean, so it did us just fine. This days hike with lots of resting took us 8 hours--but that was with our more than one hour detour and nap down the wrong trail.

The forest up from Faralya

The hike the next day took us only four hours and was easily one of the more beautiful parts of the trail. It stayed mostly in the forest, away from the villas and construction of the day before and wound through pretty fields and pastures and around a cliff overlooking the sea. I saw a snake once sunning on a rock--a gigantic greenish brown fellow, but he ran from me.

No marks here--go left! This is about an hour before Kabak
One odd thing about the forest is that it's literally humming with bees--our first two days were spent walking amidst a constant buzzing. The other constant is the bleating of goats--this animals are everwhere, staring blankly at you as you walk through their grazing land. We reached another fork in the road this day where no red and white blazes told us where to go. In the picture above you can see it. You're supposed to go left.
Another strange thing we saw in the pines were these balls of what looked like spider webs filled with pine pollen. But on closer inspection, the pine pollen were dozens of catepillars and the webs were silk-like nests. These are pine processionary catepillars-cleverly adapted ravagers of pine trees. Their hairs will sting and irritate the skin so don't touch!
Pine Processionary Catepillars (thanks Catherine Yiğit!) or çam kese böcekler. They hurt the pines and their hairs cause severe irritation--DONT TOUCH!

At some point, the trail abruptly leaves the main road and plunges into the woods to your left. There are little cairns of rocks to warn you of the entrance and of course, a red and white blaze at ground level. Be careful, it's easy to miss. From here, you wind down into Kabak, which, out of season has no ATMs or credit card machines so BRING GASH. From the main town you have to hike down to the beach and the pensions there. We stayed in the Natural Life Pension--one of the few open in April. It was 50TL a person for breakfast, dinner, and a room in a cabin with a great view of both mountains and sea. The food was amazing--I think they had a real chef preparing everything. The roast chicken was juicy and tender--normally I don't rave about chicken but the cook had a magic touch.

Our cabin at the Natural Life Pension

Kabak is a secluded cove accessible only by the long hike from the top of the cliffs. The water is turquoise blue and was maybe 16 degrees (about 62) when we were there--very swimmable. Behind the cove are stunning, precipitous cliffs of red, maroon and orange rock. The Natural Life had swings and hammocks and lots of sneaky cats. The people running it were unobtrusively helpful--they let us use their internet and gave us some nice tips along the next stage of the trail.

The cove on Kabak's beach

The mountain and sky behind our cabin

The trail normally runs up the beach and then winds straight up the cliff, but the guys at Natural Life recommended a short cut that leads up to a waterfall. We zigzagged up a dry stream bed. We heard the waterfall but never found it--and kept winding back and forth up the 800 meter cliffs. The views were breathtaking. At one point the path passes into a gorge and then continues up and even steeper cliff face.

The entrance to a gorge-Delikkaya

View along the path to Alınca Village

Be warned. This trail is hard--it goes up and up and up and then up some more. We climbed straight up for nearly four hours. The views are utterly out of this world, but once you arrive in Alınca it's time for a break. We stopped at Bayram's house for two plates of menemen, salad, rice and ayran (the woman charged us 25TL). There was a farmer at the entrance to the village who invited us in for tea--we probably should have gone with him instead in terms of price. There are several pensions in Alınca. The Dervish Pension is run by friends of the Natural Life guys. You might want to have them call ahead or at least give you the number because people were out when we arrived, but the Dervish has a fantastic wooden deck that overlooks the dizzing view down to the sea.

We decided to hike to the village of Gey, another four hours away. The owner of Bayram's told us to take the main asphalt road instead of the trail as the main trail might be too dangerous if it rained. The road would connect back up with the Lycian way a mile or so down. On the way out of Alınca I saw a phenomenon I had only ever read about in dry science text books. The moist hot air from the sea was rising hard up the cliff face until it met the cold air in the mountains where it instantly turned into rain clouds. We stood and watched rain clouds form out of thin air for about ten minutes.

The formation of rain clouds outside of Alınca
We had to walk a while before we caught up with the Lycian Way again--we stopped at house and asked a man sitting on the porch if we were on the right path. He didn't answer us right away, but came walking out, introduced himself as Yusuf and asked our names. 'Ah yes,' he said, 'This is the season for the Lycian Way.' The pleasantries seemed important. Then he explained that if we cut across the fields to the ruins of the Ottoman sarnıç, we'd see a sign connecting us to the trail. Which is what we did--crossing fields filled with tall grass and daisies until we hit the main path again, winding up and up and up. My legs were starting to shake from exhaustion and we had at least 3 km to go.

The old Ottoman cistern

On this last, exhausting leg of our journey, we passed through a field of rock and shrubs where a flock of goats were slowly grazing their way down a steep rock wall. The shepherd boy, fifteen, crouched in a makeshift plastic tent from the wind. Badly needing a rest, we stopped and chatted with him. The boy had reddish hair and pale, freckled cheeks and carried a smart phone. He was lonely--all of his friends and anyone near his age had moved or gone to the military service. He was the only young person left. He couldn't wait for tourist season to start--he was going to leave home and go to Antalya to work in one of the big tourist hotels. Life with these goats was hell. Delal told him how we had been talking about the utter freedom of a shepherd--a kind of freedom you could never know in the city. Alone in the mountains, amongst the quiet and the vast open spaces, away from the 9-5 jobs and bills and crowds. 'That sounds wonderful to me!' the shepherd said. Delal was not just idly fantasizing--she's done her share of shepherding in Conag in the summers as a girl. But still what would it be like to be a fifteen year old boy, all alone in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. You would feel like life was what happened everywhere else. Here there was only the ever unchanging cliffs and goats. Strangely his family didn't sell the meat or milk of the goats. 'They only make enough milk for the young,' he said. 'We sell them for bayram, for sacrifices.' 'You raise them all year just to sell at Bayram?' The boy shrugged, 'And we use them for ourselves.'

Dinner at Bayram's in Gey Village
The last leg of our journey took us finally into Gey--a village sitting on the last of a series of seven capes along the Mediterranean coast. In the Kate Clow guide book, it says the village is mostly Alevi, but the young woman who man's Bayram's pension laughs that off. 'Kate made a mistake;' she says. 'She met one crazy old man who told her he is Alevi, so now everyone here is always asking me if I am Alevi!' She rolls her eyes. 'Me and most everyone here were nomads (yörük). And the name of the village is not Gey, it's Yediburun, the Seven Capes. Apparently when she first came here, Kate asked this old man the name of the village. He said 'Ge?' which in our accent basically means 'HUH?' She thought Ge was the name and, knowing standard Turkish, tacked on a 'y' which she just knew just had to be there for it to make sense. But it's all a mistake! Now everyone knows us as 'Gey!'
'Gey' village has a shop to replenish supplies and in addition to Bayram's Pension, several places to camp. Bayram's is a regular little hostel--with several rooms off a main hall complete with bar and kitchen. There are no heaters--just be warned--so the nights in April can get very cold. But there are plenty of blankets and hot common showers. It was 50TL a person per night--including a fantastic dinner of fresh everything and breakfast.
At around 5:00 am, when the ezan sounded from the little mosque just up the road, all the dogs started howling and at least one rooster took up the call as well. One after the other joining the muezzin's call.
Our hostess told us how odd it had been when trekkers first started appearing. Villagers did not know what to make of the foreigners and their backpacks and tents. They figured they were treasure hunters from Europe.
'But now we're used to them!' she says. 'They've helped bring the economy of this village back to life!' 


Catherine Yiğit said...

What a wonderful walk, would love to do it some day. Just on those webs of caterpillars, they're actually called "çam kese böcek" in Turkish and they are damaging to the pines.They're called pine processionary in English.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm planning on hiking a similar section of the Lycian Way soon and this is very helpful. I'm wondering, how did you leave Gey? I was hoping to hike to Gey and then catch a ride to Patara. Do you know if there are any buses from Gey or perhaps someone we could hire to drive us? Thanks again!

Jeff Gibbs said...

The owner of the guest house was also the driver of the village school bus--we caught a ride with him to the nearest town and then took a minivan from there to Patara. Hope that helps.

Shawn@trekopedia said...

Excellent Blog. I love all the details involved (treasure hunters haha, awesome stuff!)