Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dalyan, Turkey...A bit of a mixed bag

The Lycian tombs in Dalyan
I didn't think much of Dalyan to start with.  The town was overrun with Brits on cheap package tours, the shops were full of terrible tat, there seemed to be a lot of hippy types aimlessly milling around  and our hotel, with broken plumbing and poor service, was nothing to write home about.   My friend,  Hils, and I took a walk around town and after a long awaited cup of coffee started to head back to the hotel.
 It was then that we spotted the  jewel in Dalyan's crown; the elaborate and spectacular Lycian tombs carved into the cliffs on the other side of the river. It was worth everything else just to see them.  Later, in the evening, our whole group ventured up town again for dinner.  We dined at a river's edge restaurant right opposite the tombs which at this stage were softly lit and seemed to float eerily above the river in the darkness.  It was quite a sight.

Opening my clay pot dinner
We dined on chicken, served in sealed clay pots which had to be broken open to eat the contents. In a fun little ceremony the waiter assisted each diner to slice the pot open with a large knife. I warmed to Dalyan as we sat by the river, the odd boat chugging past, the ghostly tombs watching over us and, on the walk home, enjoyed the lively party atmosphere in town.

This is the life!

We were in Dalyan mainly as a base for a couple of leisure activities.  The next day we were booked onto our own chartered boat to take a 12 island cruise around the coast.  What  bliss to cruise the Mediterranean without a care in the world, anchoring now and then near different islands to swim in the clean, clear, aqua green sea, sunbathing, snoozing, chatting, laughing and relaxing.  At lunch we were served a feast on deck, the aubergine and garlic in yogurt was a big hit.

Lunch on deck; 12 island cruise

Ancient ruins and the ice cream boat

The busy boat harbour in Dalyan

At one point we were visited by the ice cream boat, a small speed boat which travels from charter boat to charter boat selling ice creams.  Of course we all bought one for the sheer novelty of it.

The following morning it was another boat trip, this time a serene river cruise past the Lycian tombs, the township, the bustling boat harbour and up to Lake Koycegiz.  Along the way we saw flying fish and turtles, hot mud pools and fishermen quietly contemplating on the river side.

Fisherman on the river
Aboard the river boat

Our boat dropped us off at the ruined city of Caunos.  Although it was an easy hike up to the town, past pomegranate trees dripping with fruit, it was so searingly hot that rivers of sweat ran down our backs.  Dating back to the 4th century Caunos has the usual theatre, baths, shops etc but it also had the best ancient town street I had seen so far.  I was thrilled with it.  It was a long street which ran down the side of the hillside, paved and with short flights of steps at odd intervals.  It didn't take much to visualise life there 1500 years ago. Over the hill and down the other side we re-joined our boat and continued to Turtle Beach where we stopped for another swim in the warm fresh sea.

With Hils on Turtle Beach

Turtle Beach is a very popular spot and  was crowded with people renting deck chairs for the day.  We didn't stay long, had our swim and took the boat back to town.  As we cruised through high reeds with a procession of boats following us I was reminded of the river cruises I had taken in Africa.  It had been another great day.

Cruising back through the reeds

So there you have it.  Dalyan, good and bad but in the final analysis, mainly good.  Just make sure you get out and do things and don't hang around town too long.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Saklikent Gorge - Turkey

 We had just completed a hot, sticky two hour walk down a mountain so were ready for a welcome rest and my idea of the perfect place to rest is beside cool, flowing water.  Luckily for me our next stop was at Saklikent Gorge, a dramatic, awe inspiring and stunningly beautiful spot. At 20kms long it is the second longest gorge in Europe and also the longest and deepest in Turkey. It is no wonder the crops and orchards in this part of Turkey are lush and bountiful, there seem to be springs and rivers everywhere.

Access to the gorge is by way of a suspended walkway above the gushing, sea green water which pushes upwards from the Ulupinar springs at the base of the towering cliffs. It is fair to say I was in heaven!   It is possible to walk for four kilometres along the floor of the gorge once the spring snow thaw has passed through but it is a wet walk. We, however, chose to relax and drink tea at the small tea house inside the gorge while keeping ourselves amused watching intrepid walkers negotiate the swift flowing water.

The walkers clung to each other for support and there was the occasional splash when someone tripped and got drenched.  We were content to just watch.  The gorge is an awesome place and I loved the feeling of peace and coolness there, the only sounds the bubbling water and the occasional bird call breaking the silence. The river flowing from the gorge is popular with adventure tourists and there are operators offering everything from rubber tubing on the river to jeep safaris along the floor of the gorge.  A number of open air restaurants and gift shops circle the entrance and backpacker type accommodation in tree huts is available but I didn't find it unduly "touristy".  It is all pretty low key.
Perfect spot to rest a while
Outside the canyon we found a spot at a restaurant where we relaxed in over water booths, eat lunch, dangled our feet in the deliciously cool water and watched the  adventurers racing past us in rubber tubes. It was an absolutely perfect place to rest and revive and prepare for new adventures ahead.
Delicious cool water to soothe our feet
On leaving the gorge and heading out to the main road again we passed numerous four wheel drive vehicles with groups of young tourists aboard all armed with water pistols and showering everyone in sight.  They were having the time of their lives. We oldies had been perfectly content with our more sedate couple of hours.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Home Stay on a Turkish farm

Kaputas Beach
After a couple of lazy, blissful days in Kas we set off on our journey again around the spectacular Turkish coastline, stopping briefly at the beautiful  Kaputas Beach.  We have glorious beaches in New Zealand but it is the colour of the water in Turkey that is sublime - aqua turquoise near the shore, changing to sea green and then to navy blue further out.  I could have stared at it for hours but we had a schedule to keep and were heading to a farm home stay high in the Taurus mountains. 

Fertile valley in the Taurus Mountains
Our route took us past the town of Kalkan, sadly now over run by ex-patriots, and through the world heritage site of Xanthos, then onto bumpy, twisty, narrow roads which wind through crumbling villages, their lush orchards and vines groaning under enormous crops. Our bus climbed ever upwards until, finally, we turned into the  farm which was to be our overnight stay.  This farming family provides a home stay experience to supplement their income and, like most in the area, is home to three generations of the same family.  Our accommodation was basic, in a dormitory, sleeping on foam mattresses on the floor, but it was a fantastic place to spend a night.

Bergil and Layla prepare our lunch
We settled in and then went to watch grandmother, Layla, and daughter, Bergil, prepare our lunch.  In their small kitchen they made delicious gozleme (Turkish stuffed pancakes) filled with cheese, onion, dill, cumin and parsley and cooked over an open fire,  which we ate at a long table under grapevines dripping with grapes.  Lunch was accompanied by their homemade Ayran, a sour yoghurt drink.
Ursil and his son show us the valley below their farm

After lunch and a relaxing snooze Ursil, the daughter's husband and their small son took us for a walk around the hillside and part way down to the valley.  It is an astonishing place, a veritable garden of Eden fed by natural, gushing spring water. We passed grape vines, figs, persimmons, quince, pears, blackberries, red currants, sunflowers, corn, beans and other crops, all growing in abundance and on every spare piece of land until we arrived at a lookout over the vast, fertile valley floor crammed with crops.

Layla weaving a Kilim rug
At the farmhouse with our hosts
Back at the farm we watched Layla weaving a kilim rug with walnut stained fingers and quick deft hands and then enjoyed a happy hour before another delicious meal under the vines.  We spent the evening chatting with the family, (Bergil spoke good English), buying a few of their handcrafts and drinking sage and mint tea from their garden.  In bed that night we giggled and joked like school kids on camp, even making shadow animals on the ceiling.  In the morning my friend, Hils, complained she hadn't slept because it had been "snorers alley".  The funny thing was that we all said the same thing...well somebody must have been asleep! I know I hadn't slept well because the farm dog was barking, a cock was crowing from about two onwards and I was nearly strangled by my sleeping bag liner, quite apart from being bothered by snorers!

 Everything for breakfast came from the farm; butter, cheese, bread, olives, apricot jam, honey, grape jam and eggs. 

The grape vine beside the farmhouse
Layla is a wonder woman.  As well as caring for the livestock on the farm she weaves rugs, knits jerseys, embroiders scarves, make all the jams, bread, pickles olive oil etc, ably assisted by Bergil, and still manages to look very youthful. 

Heading off down the mountain after our stay
After breakfast we loaded our van and then set off with Bergil and her little dog, Bonjook, for the 2 hour walk down the mountain.  It was quite difficult on the uneven, stony ground and narrow pathways but also very enjoyable.  Along the way we met several farming families harvesting their crops.  They were all so welcoming, friendly and generous pressing luscious peaches and great bunches of grapes into our hands.  Bergil told us that when her grandparents lived on the farm there was no road up and everything had to go up and down the mountain on donkeys.  That must have been tough!
The local farmers harvesting grapes
and, below, proud grandparents handed us peaches

This farmstay was a wonderful and unique experience.  How lucky we were to stay with a local family and gain an insight into  life on a Turkish farm. They were the loveliest of people, charming and obliging hosts and their farm, high in the mountains is a quiet and magical haven.