Sunday, April 20, 2014

On the Lycian Way Part 2--Electric Bugaloo

The mosaic at Letoön--Apollo's lyre on one side, Artemis's bow (?) on the other
The roosters at Gey village were not very good hires, I feel, because they never learned that the crowing was to take place at sunrise--not all throughout the night. We boarded the school bus from Gey at 8:00AM sharp and headed into town because we'd run out of cash, there was no ATM, and we needed transport to the nearest Akbank so we could pay Bayram--also the school bus driver. It was a fun ride--us all the way in the back where the cool kids usually sat. Next to me was a very tiny boy who perched himself on the edge of the seat, keeping his eyes straight ahead, not saying a word to anyone, and his yellow backback like a giant camel's hump on his back. The other kids jeered at him, 'That backpack's bigger than you are! I think it's wearing you!'
The ATM was in Kınık, and from there, Bayram drove us the short way to the ruins of Letoön where we could pick up the trail again. (Generally you can do this, drop the trail whenever you're ready for a break and find transport at any point down the line. You may have to borrow a school bus or hitchhike, but it's always an option--at least at this point on the Lycian Way.)

The columns half sunk into a swamp full of turtles and frogs (descendants of enchanted sheperds)

Letoön was one of the cities of Lycia, later assimilated into Ancient Greece, and our first set of ruins. (There's an entrance fee of 5 TL). Even at 9 in the morning on April it was already hot. The surrounding area is full of orange groves and sheep and the woman at the ticket booth was happy to give us a whole bag of fresh oranges when we asked why in the world no one was selling oranges when there were so many trees. A shepherd told us a little about the current state of the site--a team of French archaeologists used to run it, he said, but the Turks took it back three years ago and now it's in the hands of a team in Ankara, who've done absolutely nothing since then. This is happening a lot in Turkey--there's a patriotic drive to seize all the archaeological treasures from the Imperialist, lots of bombast and nationalist pride rhetoric, and then once the Turkish government has it back, the site is neglected, the artifact is stolen. Respect for ancient monuments is not a characteristic of the culture yet. I suspect it's partly from the sheer abundance of ruins (as plentiful as McDonald's in the States) and partly from the intense right-wing nationalism that wants to play down any evidence of anyone non-Turkish ever having lived here. I say, don't let anybody take your stuff back to their museums in the capitals of the empires, no, but let them pay for the teams to research it--you've got too much on your hands to do it yourself.
The famous theater entrance at Letoön
The story of Letoön is this: the nymph Leto came here to give her children (twins from one of Zeus's affairs) a drink of water from the spring. Those kids were the future lords of Olympos, Apollo and Artemis. The local shepherds told Leto no and so she turned them all into frogs. If true, then it must be their descendants that fill the pools here, croaking like mad and filling the water with their tadpoles. There were quite a few turtles as well, sunning on each other's back rather flagrantly. The place is still a wetland and seems to be liquid most of the time. The famous mosaic here, pre-Christian and thus before a lot of the Byzantine ones in more famous mosaic centers, is a colorful symbolization of the twin gods. You have the lyre of Apollo, patron of music, and the bow of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. As a result--Letoön was the religious center of the area and pilgrims would come from nearby Xanthus to worship.
The theater with the only spectators left interested in Letoonian theater apparently
And because it was a religious center, you find a lot of temples and theaters--the theater of course being connected to the rites and worship of Dionysus, god of the grape and patron of the arts. My favorite building (fragment at least) was the grand arch entering the theater--the steps winding upward to the door and the marble floor still preserved. Walking beneath the shade of the archway, you could almost imagine the crowd inside, the actors and music. I found, however, only a flock of sheep and one lone goat grazing in the nosebleed seats. (Animals, despite assurances to the contrary all along the way--do cause damage to these places, a lot, and culturally, are a sign of disrespect--you don't let animals graze in a place you hold any reverence for.) You can see the excavations are only partly done--clearly the stage and part of the seats still lie under ground.
A Lycian style tomb behind the theater where a graveyard is
The book Lycia by Turkish archaeologist Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu says that Leto, Apollo, and Artemis were the national gods of the nation of Lycia. The foundations of the temple ruins we wandered were set as early as the 7th century BC, and the ponds Southwest of the temple--where our frog and turtle friends still splashed--was the fount of holy water pilgrims used to come for.
From Letoön we walked through the village of Kumluova to catch a bus to Kınık, and then onto Patara (this was going to be a day of rest). Kumluova is a village of greenhouses, the whole region is covered with greenhouses mainly dedicated to tomatoes though there were some, we saw, full of zucchini. It was a bright sunny day and as we walked by a house with a beautiful old walnut tree in the yard, we heard a hysterical chirping that made us stop and search the branches for the bird responsible. A woman in a flowered kerchief stepped out the house, looked up at the tree and then at us.
'Can't find it?' she asked
'Nope,' we answered.
'He's a small little guy, up at the top.'
As we continued to search, she clipped two fat roses from her rose bushes and brought them out to us. 'For your travels!'
A little further down we found a farm yard full of chickens and one rather startled looking turkey. It gobbled rather forlornly toward the street and I, who am pretty good at mimicking animal voices, gave it my best gobble back. It immediately spread it's tail feathers and came charging forward, gobbling like a maniac. Apparenly we were going to tussle. I kept gobbling. It kept gobbling back and storming about the yard looking for the unseen rival. We heard an old woman's voice say in a heavy accent.
'Hey, why dont you come on back and sit with me a while?'
Through the gate was a shriveled old lady with her feet kicked up on the divan, drinking tea beneath a shady tree. She told us to have a seat.
'I need someone to talk to sometimes,' she said. 'It's nice to just chat with someone, break the boredom. You guys are both tourists and not tourists. You have the backpacks but you sit down for tea and speak Turkish. Hey, want a tomato?'
Unable to walk herself, she directed us to the greenhouse in her backyard. 'Just open the door and go right in!' The greenhouse was steamy and hot, the whole place smelling of fresh tomato flesh. She shouted directions from her perch outside--her voice muffled by the glass panes. 'Pluck a few of the ripe ones! Get some salt from the kitchen! Wash them over there in the spigot! Now bring it all over to the table!' We did as instructed.
The site of the newer, relatively speaking, Byzantine church overlooking the temple of Apollo
While we snacked, she told us a little bit about herself.  She had three sons, one of them a teacher in Antalya, but they didn't come around as much as they should anymore. 'My life is slipping away,' she said at some point. 'It's mostly done and over with--the soul is fleeing.' Delal told her she should make one of her sons take her on a trip--take advantage of retirement. 'Oh nonsense,' she said. 'I can't walk much now and anyway, the single one has shacked up with some foreign girl for a while. Too busy.'
We sat and chatted for about an hour. Her accent was heavy and I caught only about half of what was said--imagine sitting down with some old crusty resident of rural Mississippi with no teeth and you might get the idea. We caught a minibus from here to the entrance to Kınık, got off at the bridge and then walked the rest of the way to the bus station where we caught a bus to Patara. Well almost--the driver lied. Out of season (April) he didn't go all the way to Patara. Instead, he dropped us off at the turn-off and told us to walk the rest of the way. 'It was only 2 kilometers,' he said grinning. We were exhausted from the day before and so hitchhiked into town instead. For anyone new to Turkey, hitchhiking is a lot safer than it is anywhere else I've been. Of course, use the usual caution--if you are picked up by a shiftly looking single guy who mumbles too himself and has red stains on his shirt, don't get in. But we were picked up, for example, by an old man and his granddaughter. Another time by a young couple from Istanbul. It's not so strange to hitchhike here and ordinary families will give you a ride.
The grand gate and symbol of ancient Patara

The ruins to Patara are protected lands and so there are no pensions there--you stay in the town of Gelemiş on the border. We rented an apartment at the Flower Pension--a place I highly recommend with a very friendly owner whose mother is a fantastic cook (she makes a good apple marmelade) We paid 70TL (35 dollars), total, breakfast included, for an apartment with a kitchnette. They have a newly built pool, a sundeck, laundry service, a small lemon grove and a cozy cafe with a bookshelf jammed full of titles in all languages including a big book on the ruins of Patara that was quite informative.
The sundeck where we had a nice lunch at Flower Pension
Patara has a fantastic beach--a 20km plus stretch of golden dunes very rare in the Mediterranean. Billions of tour busses bring billions of tourists here in season but in April there very few people--and miles and miles of empty sand dunes stretched all the way up the beach back toward the mountains we'd hiked out of. The water was 16 C (about 65 F), not too cold at all, and a pristine blue. On our first attempt to walk to the water (go left at the city center and through the ruins NOT right), we got lost and a shepherd told us to just follow the little trail through the trees and it would take us right there--locals did this to avoid paying entrance fees, he said. (It's 7TL to get into the ruins and beach) Well it did take us right there--after wandering through a pine forest, an oak grove, his home where his wife stared at us in bafflement, and then over endless gigantic sand dunes that got higher and higher and were filled with wild rose and other thorny shrubs. It was a beautiful walk though--smooth rolling sands with views of the sea and hilltops crowned with old temples and gates. In May--these dunes are the nesting grounds of the Caretta Caretta sea turtles, and walking anywhere on them is forbidden and just evil.
The beach at Patara
After a day at the beach--broken up by a thunder storm that swept down from the mountains and turned the whole sky black--we spent some time relaxing at the pool and on the sundeck of the pension and then headed out to the ruins. Patara was an enormous city. Right next to the hotel is a set of tombs overgrown with wild flowers. Apparently, according to the sign, the Lycians would place a coin between the teeth of their dead so that they could pay Charon the boatman for the passage to Hades. An old man stopped as we were reading and asked what it meant-Delal explained what she was reading. It was such a quiet thing--that moment, the sound of cowbells, the bleating of sheep and the wind moving over the grass and fields of daisies. There were lots of old olive trees on the side of the road. I love these trees--like porous old bones whose insides have dissolved away.
An old olive in a field of daisies near the ruins
The city was supposedly founded by Patarus, a son of Apollo and archaeologist place some of its earliest inhabits back in 2000BC. Patara was huge--now, wandering through the woods and among the lagoons here, you'll stumble on pieces of an ancient road, a crumbling column, an old ceramics workshop, a ruined temple overrun by trees, and the ruins of maybe the oldest lighthouse in the world. This was the birth place of the cult of the Oracle of Apollo, and second only in size to the temple at Delphi. Homer mentions Patara in the Iliad, the Lycians here were allies of Troy. The city was also the birthplace of St. Nicolas-yes, Santa Claus was popped out of his mom here-and St Paul, in chapter 21 of Acts, travels through here on his way to Rhodes. So it's got a long and starry pedigree.

Wild flowers

Our third morning in Patara was our last day of hiking--we were heading all the way to Akbel where we would catch a bus back to Fethiye. The hike goes up a paved road from Flower Pension and then starts winding through the fields and wood. We again got lost at this point. We followed the main dirt road up the mountain and missed the tiny little path in the middle of the olive grove that headed off through the woods to the left. This was shortly after the fork in the trail and the first signpost for the Lycian Way that pointed the way either to Kalkan or Akbel. Again, if you don't see the red and white blazes after a few minutes, you're on the wrong path! And don't trust that the bigger road is the one you want to be on--it's often not!

The road from Patara to Akbel

In terms of ascents and terrains--this is a rather easy portion of the trail and there were lots of elderly couples on the path, not all of whom were in good physical condition. If you want to try the Lycian Way but aren't in shape, this might be the segment to do (Patara to Akbel). There were still some majestic views over the mountains to the north and the beach to the South and the woods were scattered with occasional ruins and lots of wildflowers. We wandered through pasture land and pine wood and olive groves--squeezing past a tight thicket of bushes that arched over the path and cast everything in shadow.
Ruins along the path--a view of the valley below

The pipes on top of the aqueduct wall
The trail forks again at the 'Delikkemer'--the ancient aqueducts of Patara, a giant stone wall that skirts the sea with fragments of the pipes that carried the water still running along the top. We missed the path to Akbel here and ended up taking a wrong turn toward Kalkan--a fantastic hike but not one you want to take if you are not in good shape. I am guessing to go to Akbel you want to go up from the aqueducts, we went down.

Delikkemer--the aqueduct of Patara
That being said, this was our favorite part of the whole trail. Behind us the heads of the mountains we'd just hiked out of were lost in rain clouds--but the sun was peaking out from behind them so a veil of gossamer white light made a halo around the peaks. In front of us was the turquoise sea with clouds like galleons sailing across a turquoise sky. The path wound around the cliffs at the edge of the sea. You wind down and down until you are eventually crawling over boulders, then over a field of limestone rocks stabbing from the cliff face, then hopping over narrow rocky steps overlooking a precipice. It's harrowing, thrilling, gorgeous.
The road from the aqueduct to Kalkan


At the end, you find the bus station and if you are hoping to get back to Fethiye, you'd better be there by 7:15PM. There are only a few busses per day to Fethiye off season--two in the morning and two in the evening. We missed the 7:15 and ended up staying in Kalkan for the night at Kelebek Hotel--not a bad place--clean enough even if the manager struck me as little dense. We were so exhausted after the hike that we could have slept in the bathroom at the bus station. Speaking of the bus station, Ayşe's Restaurant, which is connected to the station, had maybe the best food of the whole trip. I don't know why they stuck such a good cook at a restaurant in the otogar, but her homemade Turkish food--dolmas and mucver and mezes--was excellent.

A view of Fethiye from the tombs of the Lycian kings
A view out from inside the tombs
Our plane back to Istanbul was at 6 and so we spent the morning and afternoon wandering around Fethiye itself. Fethiye used to be the Lycian city of Telemessos.The tombs of the Lycian kings are grand--a hike up the cliffs to see them however, will bring a little disappointment as they are covered with graffitti and stink of piss--teens and locals here don't show them a lot of respect, I guess, and they're not well protected. From the tombs, we went to the Ölüdeniz, the Dead Sea, so named for how calm the waters are--out of season it wasn't crowded and easily one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited--a perfect way to end days and days of hiking.

I would like to end with something about the past elections--everybody was so polarized. People who didn't agree with your own point of view were enemies and idiots. This trip was effective in eliminating that perception in us. We met the villager Enzel who tended goats, the lonely shepherd boy pining for tourist season to open, the nomad woman running a pension in the middle of nowhere for foreign trekkers, the old lady green house owner with her eyes on death--all of these people with very different lives than ours in Istanbul or ours in Bingöl. Many have no idea what Twitter or Youtube is--why should they care if it were shut down? One man we met was a fruit dealer--his biggest political concern was the closing of the Russian border to their produce, something that has never crossed our minds but directly affects his life. I would say to anyone wanting to take a true Democratic stance here, who really wants to understand this country and its people and then represent them in a government (if there are any who truly want to do that)--take a walk in all parts of Turkey, depend on the hospitatlity of as many different people as you can, learn what diversity means--it's a reality, not a liberal fantasy or a nationalist philosophy.


The beach at Ölüdeniz--the Dead Sea

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