The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Thursday, 15 May 2014

A glorious trip in ruins.... Kas - part 1.

Other than becoming ‘deaf’ from the ear-popping 4660ft drop on the D350 mountain road, the 13hour night bus from Cappadocia to Fethiye is one of the best bus trips I’ve ever had the pleasure to do – smooth, comfortable and at times, extremely picturesque with an amazing light show from an evening electrical storm across the plains to a glorious sunrise dawning over soaring mountains, some of which glistened with remnants of snow.   The two hour mini-bus from Fethiye to Kas is horrendous. Not the worst bus trip I’ve ever been on (that accolade belongs to a Nepal moment of madness) but a bone shaker in any case. With windows and doors sealed tight, the driver refused to use any form of air ventilation and must have imagined he was driving an Audi sports along the Mediterranean coastline, cutting the corners so tight and hitting the brakes with such familiarity I was kind of wishing I’d just pass out from the stifling airless vacuum we were encased in.
The views of the Turkish Med were just as breathtaking as the driving skills we were experiencing and how I wished we could stop and really take them in at their full glory. We’ve arrived at Kas thoroughly shaken and became extremely stirred up when we see how quaint and laid back it is.
It’s love at first sight with the little guesthouse I’ve booked us into, only eight rooms with the sweetest little front veranda where breakfast is served every morning. A bow of vines covers the veranda, which is then framed by bright pink oleanders and pottered geraniums. Above the vines sits a row of windows with black laced wrought iron fringing contrasting against the stark Mediterranean whitewash. We can’t believe our luck with this place. It’s cosy, internally adorable and extremely cheap at only $30Australian dollars a night. Unfortunately I think they’ve forgotten to put a mattress on the bed. It is cement hard. Trouble is I’m finding all the beds rock hard in Turkey and wonder if perhaps it's my namby-pamby bones that are the problem. When I mentioned this to another Aussie we meet later down the track she agrees with me and imparts that she thinks it’s we Aussies who are too soft and maybe the beds are perfectly fine.

As we only have three full days in Kas the first thing we want to do was organise a kayaking trip over the sunken city of Kekova. In fact this is our whole reason in coming to Kas, so you can imagine our utter disappointment when we discover that none of the tour operators have been issued licences for kayaking tours and it’ll be at least another 10days before they can possibly have them. We just can’t believe we’ve missed ‘the boat’ again in our timing. We jump at the next best thing in touring the site and sign up for a one day boat trip that includes seeing a number of sites and a BBQ lunch. The operator announces with pride there’ll be no music on the boat. I think this a little strange at the time because I’m not adverse to music at all and begin to wonder if we’ve signed up for the ‘aged pensioners’ trip.
Once booked we take up exploring Kas village and I develop a case of the “OMG’s”. I can’t stop gushing over the adorable windows and door fixtures of the cottages, the single enclosed timber balcony rooms that jut out from the middle of the second storeys and the vine shrouded streets hung with lanterns.
Along the walls, fences and verandas sit rows of old olive tins potted with geraniums. Geraniums and pansies also fill old shoes, tea cups and at one place two pairs of jeans with healed boots. Evil eye amulets and colourful beads dot the marble and slate pathways and cobbled roads and lush vibrant kilims cover tables, chairs and cosy daybeds throughout the laneways.
We wander up ‘Slippery Street’ and find tombs carved into the rock mountainside Kas clings to. The view across to the Greek Island – a ‘stones throw away’ – is stunning. The Med is the most amazing blue I’ve ever seen, so incredibly clear and iridescent. M announces “chill time” and we amble down to the Tea Gardens which sit near the village square and face the port, and order Efes beers to cool away the afternoon heat. I notice a wreath being placed near the main squares statue and a small gathering of people holding a ceremony. After a speech, heads are bowed and people who were sitting around us or walking past all stand up and bow their heads for a moment of silence. I don’t know why they are doing this, but out of respect we too stand up and faced the wreath. Then people return to what they’re doing. M and I surmise this day must be some sort of remembrance day, similar to Armistice Day or our Anzac Day. Later in the evening I catch our guesthouse housekeeper crying as she watches the TV in the common area as I walk past. I ask her if she is alright but she speaks almost no English and so I don’t understand her answer. I smile kindly to her, nod and continue on my way. I don’t look at the TV. Because we’re so tired from the lack of sleep on the bus, we grab a Kabap takeaway, eat it on the veranda and retire early to bed.
We’re still getting over our flu sniffles so we’ve booked the cruise for our last day in Kas, thus today we’ll hire a car and drive back towards Fethiye to actually see that part of the coast. There’s a town everyone on TA is raving about, Oludeniz, and I want to see for myself what all the fuss is about. We head up onto the highway and begin driving when we notice that Kas has a peninsular so we double back to take a drive around it. I’m disappointed to see that wide scale development of ugly square block buildings cling with the hillside and cascade down to the beaches, they are all the same, oversized and characterless. Despite this, from the peninsular we have a great view of an incredible gouge that hangs over the coastal road across from the bay – it’s as if the mountain has split in two.
Back on the coast road we drive the switch-backs, dodging other cars, tourist busses that are stoping to let tourists out to take photos and a heard of goats ambling along with no particular place to go. They are taking their time and enjoying the view. The sign for Letoon comes into view and we turn off the highway and drive along dusty roads surrounded by plastic covered hot-houses filled to the brim with plump ripe tomatoes. Well we try to drive, what I really should say is, we played chicken and hop-scotch with the tractors loaded to the hilt with farm workers and packed high with boxes of tomatoes. So many tomatoes, they spilled onto the roadway, splattering the road with great splotches of red.
At the end of patchwork of paddocks and hothouses, we come across a theatre and ruins site which dates back to the 6th century BC.

Though not very big, it’s quite a lovely site, flecked with ancient olive trees with the gnarliest trunks I’ve ever seen.
Across the other side of the river from Letoon and up a hill is another ruin, this time larger. Xanthos. With an amazing Roman theatre and Lycian tomb sitting high on a pillar – definitely the best viewing spot of what ever was going on in theatre. As I sat in the back row of the theatre I tried to imagine this place back in the time of the Lycians for Xanthos was once it’s capital and a very grand city. That is until the Persians came and attacked and defeated the Lycians, and then those Lycians who survived the battle retreated to the city of Xanthos and killed their wives, children, servants and slaves before launching a suicide attack on the Persians. It reminded me of the Puputan of Balinese – so many lives lost.

The site is impressive, but I was disappointed and annoyed to read that many of the original bas reliefs and important artefacts of Xanthos had been taken from the site in the 1840’s by a Sir Charles Fellows and now sat in a British Museum. We went hunting for the large mosaic floor I’d seen a photo of but was unable to find it until M kicked his toe against a lump of gravel and old carpet and discovered it was the covering to the Mosaics and that this had been placed over the enormous floor area to protect the tiles and their colouring.
Further along on a hill was a lone tomb on a pillar, quite a magnificent piece surrounded by scrub and overlooking a sea of plastic polly-tunnels for as far as the eye could see. It was getting late and the sun was scorching, especially when we were walking around the granite rock theatre and acropolis so we jump into the car and continue on to Fethiye. We don’t get too far, as when we arrive back at the highway (after passing rows of rock tombs carved into the hill above Xanthos) we see the sign on the other side of the highway saying Saklikent Gorge. This was a definite must see on my list, but I was sure Saklikent Gorge was near Antayla, not Fethiye. I referred to our Map and saw there were two Saklikents. M decides that since we were near a Saklikent, there’d be no harm in checking it out to see if it’s the one I was thinking of. It’s back to dodging tomato tractors along the road, this time they are stopping to offload onto trucks that are parked under trees and further up the tractors become jeeps filled with adventure tourists zooming along the at full speed. The jeeps all screech to a halt near the river, off load the tourists who then all hold hands, walk into the river (only ankle deep) and proceed to cover themselves in mud, that is after they perform some sort of strange ritual, which I’m sure the tourists think is honouring something ancient, but in reality is probably giving the ‘guides’ and the drivers a good internal giggle – I know we were getting a laugh out of it!
We arrive to the entrance at Saklikent Gorge and find lots of gorgeous little teashops with hammocks and daybeds suspended over a creek. From a distance it looks so tranquil and adorable and as we’ve had no lunch yet, decide to drap ourselves across the beds, indulge in Turkish cuisine and watch the ducks paddle. The platforms the day beds are on are covered in flowers and greenery and when we come closer I discover the flowers are all plastic. It’s so very Kitch! But ever so sweet. The paddling ducks turn out not to be so sweet as they try to mount the platforms and steal our food. Almost as bad as cheeky Balinese monkeys!

Keeping tabs on time in Turkey is hard. In the spring/summer, the sun doesn’t set till late and it’s a super strong sun that belts down giving you the impression it’s only about midday, so imagine our surprise to find that we are lunching at nearly 4pm. Plans of going to Oludeniz and Fethiye disappear as it it becomes a quick gobble and go of lunch as we want to walk the Gorge and last entrance is at 5pm.
Saklikent Gorge is the second largest gorge in Europe and at 20kms long it’s the longest/deepest gorge in Turkey so we should have realised it was going to take a bit more than an hour to walk through it, but of course all sensibility goes off into the never-never when you’re on holidays and ‘you’ think it’ll be right…. a typical aussie mantra if ever there is one!... and we pay our ticket price and make our way into the gorge.
As we walk along the board walk from the entrance to the first crossing point we come across a number of couples walking the opposite direction, one couple stop and tell us they had been followed and ‘helped’ by a chap then at the end hit-up for guide money so be warned, and another couple told us they didn’t get to the waterfall as it was too hard. When we arrive at the end of the boardwalk a young chap offers his assistance to guide us up the gorge and wants 40TL – we don’t have any money with us as we knew we’d be walking through water and other than the camera weren’t carrying anything else. We tell him this and he tells us we’re not allowed in the gorge without a guide. We see another couple heading towards us, no guide in sight and mention this to the chap. He tells us they are locals, been here lots of time. I start to worry about going into the gorge. Another couple comes out, again no guide. Again the chap tells us they’re Turkish and they are allowed, but foreigners aren’t. 
I’m so disappointed and on the verge of turning back when M decides to hell with it and ignores the chap and leads me into the water. THE FREEZING WATER! Water that is so cold, I loose all feelings in my toes and lower regions. It goes to my waist. I no longer have a lower half anymore; it has turned to into an ice sculpture! M comments that in years to come, archaeology teams will have to excavate the gorge to find the lost ‘marbles of manhood’ that many a man will have lost in this river crossing.
We get to the other side and begin the slow slippery walk up the gorge. It is stunning! Pure white marble walls extend up, glowing in the afternoon light, water the color of cream rushes against our legs, we can’t see a thing in the water and so have to feel carefully with our feet. I’m terrified of getting my foot caught in any rocks/boulders. We traverse the gorges river from side to side, looking for safe footholds and not so deep water.
No more people are walking out of the gorge. Other than the rushing water and our breaths the gorge is quiet. It becomes colder and darker as we walk further in. The walls soar above us and the gap of sky becomes smaller and smaller until the walls either side appear to be touching. About an hour or so into the gorge we come to a point where we can no long just walk, but have to climb and scramble over rocks.
We can hear a loud crashing sound. To me it sounds like thunder and because we cannot see above us anymore, I can’t tell if there is a dark cloud above us or it’s the gorge wall touching. M thinks it’s a plane flying above us, but it’s too intermittent in my opinion to be an aircraft noise. “Perhaps it’s the waterfall we can hear” he says to calm me. We find it too hard to climb the rocks and so turn around to head back out. The water rushes around our legs and the rumbling gets louder. It takes less time to walk out of the gorge than in and when we arrive back at the boardwalk there’s not a soul around. At the ticket booth we find the place completely locked up, all gates closed except for a small gate near a bridge. There is no-one in the ‘shopping area’ either. M looks at the time. It’s 7.30pm. It’s also starting to rain. The noise was thunder. I’m horrified at the thought that we were in a gorge as a storm is approaching. I’m horrified that we are the last people to leave the gorge and that no-one of authority is around to do a ‘head count’ or to do a check of gorge to make sure everyone is out safely. I’m horrified to the point of pure exhilaration – as I feel a surge of freedom from the namby-pamby ‘high-vis’ safety conscious life we lead in Australia.

Later, as we walk the lantern lit streets of Kas, we come across a row of hard hats with candles lit beside them. It’s a make shift memorial and I ask the tea-house owner across the road from it what it’s all about. He explains that the nation of Turkey has just suffered a devastating accident and loss of life, a mining disaster that has taken the lives of at least 301men. I’m horrified at this news and it dawns on me now why our guesthouse ‘mum’ was crying last night. This tragedy will touch the lives of so many Turkish people we meet as we continue our travels, nearly everyone knows someone who has been touched. I send prayers to the universe to watch over the souls lost and protect and comfort those who remain. My heart goes out to Turkey and her beautiful people.


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