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

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Santa and the Dragon.


I’m a great believer in Karma. She hides around the corner to surprise you on the actions you have done, and she’s not always subtle in her rewards to you. Give Kizmet a jab and Karma’s return knock can be a mighty great kick that’ll send you sideways and unhinge those plans you'll have made. So why didn’t I heed this line of thought as we continued our journey and rambled across the stones of time.

We left Kas early in the morning aboard a bit of threadbare carpet wrapped in shiny metal we’d got at a bargain price from a real life Ali Baba. This magical zippy little car would whisk us around the tight corners of the Med coastline and squeeze us into the tightest of spots within a breeze, and it tickled M to no end to know he’d rented from a chap whose name was actually Ali Baba. We hadn’t planned for a long-term car hire while in the south-east of Turkey, especially after the duck and doge we’d experienced two days earlier but after an evening of impulse buying we now had two enormous boxes to add to our luggage which was growing each time we left an area. In Capadoccia a carpet bag filled with trinkets, rugs, dolls and woven fabrics joined the ranks of four backpacks. And now I had no longer been able to resist the glitter of Turkish lights (which will probably need a bank loan for the rewiring and installation into our house when we get back) nor could I ignore the vibrant colours of Anatolian ceramics and thus we decided to hire a car instead of trying to lumber all these goodies onto a dolmus (a minibus). The name Dolmus comes from the definition of “apparently stuffed” and one look at these little minibuses with their cramped possies is enough to entice me into renting a car.

In the early morning sunlight the Turkish Mediterranean sea sparkles like a turquoise gem, but we only get a fleeting glance as we drive into the hills and the sea we later  encounter is once again an ocean of plastic poly tunnels filled with tomatoes and other crops.  The tunnels spread out for as far as the eye could see yet it is far from an ugly sight as orange and mulberry groves infuse the shining plastic with flushes of deep green.

Our first stop of the day is the town of Myra, an ancient city of great importance during the Lycian era. I’m not sure if the town is still called Myra today, as I'm a little confused by the the maps we have as they seemingly give it a number of names – Kale, Demre and Myra. Either way, it has a lovely village atmosphere once we turn off the bustling highway and drive down wide cobbled stone streets which in turn lead into dusty narrow lanes to the site of ancient Myra and the Lycian Rock Tombs.

Even before we arrive at the site, the honeycomb of carved rock tombs springs forth from the mountainside. Looking almost like a grand apartment building, they are stacked upon each other encompassing the whole side of the mountain, a jumble of carved ornate rock doors and windows with beautiful reliefs inserted into the gables. In the sunlight the warm caramel and honey tones glow against the ‘steel’ granite cliffs.

These honey toned tombs are called the Sea Necropolis, (because they face the sea) and to the east of them sit the River Necropolis tombs, once colourfully painted in blues, reds and yellows but now faded to almost nothing. A magnificent and very well-preserved theatre  sits below the tombs. It's still used today for festivals, concerts and wrestling matches. In stark contrast to the theatre of Xanthos where I could imagine without any trouble the stoushes of gladiators, this theatre appears to be where you came for comedy and theatrical drama.

Stone blocks of faces in various theatrical poses lay scattered around the perimeter. In it's heyday the theatre held up to 10,000 spectators and  it has a wonderful acoustic vibe that  still resonates today. As M and I walk around the top diazoma (deck) of the cavea we listen to a chap in the orchestra belt out a patter aria that fills the air. We read there is an inscription on the western side of the upper theatre where the peddler, Gelasius staked out his spot for selling nibblies to the masses, but we can't seem to find it and wonder if the carving of man’s physique that we do find might be the 1000+ year old advertising billboard akin to “Kebaps, Kebaps, come and get your hot kebaps here

As well as these stunning Lycian tombs, Myra is also famous for being the home of one of the worlds most famous men, whose day is celebrated with an over exuberance of gift giving …. and I’m not talking about the saviour, Jesus Christ, but of Santa. The one and only, the original Santa Clause…. Saint Nicholas.

It wasn’t until I was in Kas that I discovered the inspiration for the jolly man with the jubbly belly and white beard was born and bred in Turkey. Born in Patara (which we didn’t get to even though it’s 'just up the road' from Xanthos & Letoon), Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra in 4th century A.D and was beatified after his death for his many generous deeds. It was said that he would secretly throw bags of gold into the houses of poor residents who were unable to provide dowries for their daughters, that he worked hard to improve the social welfare of orphans, labourers, sailors and students, and that he once persuaded captains of ships carrying wheat to stop at the port of Andriace and each ‘lend’ 100kilos of wheat to the people of Myra during a time of famine. Apparently this deed became a miracle,  for when upon arriving at their final destination; each of the ships had overflowing holds of wheat, more than they originally started with. Thus the compassionate deeds of St. Nic gave origin to the loveable jolly fellow who generously gives gifts to the kids at Christmas. Upon his death the people of Myra built a monument in honour of the Saint, this monument then became a basilica which unfortunately suffered destruction in 8th century from earthquake and invasions. A smaller dome church was later built to house the saint’s tomb. Then in 1087 merchants from Bari robed the tomb and carried off St. Nicholas’ bones to Italy.
There is no mistaking the intense venerating of Saint Nicholas as the complex where the little church sits is overflowing with pilgrims and tourists. It's shuffling room only as we all squeezed into the small ‘bee hive’ domed building which sits under a massive tent like awning designed to protect the church from the weather and elements. The fervour of the pilgrims stuns me as we are pushed and shoved, stood upon and elbowed as people try to view the site of the tomb and photograph the peeling frescos. There's so much ‘sign of the cross’ waving and kissing of certain areas in the church that I muse to M that I think "we've wandered into the Vatican and not some rural little church".

I'm also amused to watch another ‘glamour tourist shoot’ play out as a young woman in incredibly high black stilettos, little black lace dress and pouty crimson red lips strikes a pose on the beautiful marble mosaic tiles. Her partner clicks away with such zeal he's oblivious to how many others he is bumping into as he ducks and weaves his photographers’ stance. It amazes me even more as to how she manages to totter around on the marble floor without falling over. Polished to a smooth undulating finish by the years of time and the millions of footsteps, the floor is exceedingly slippery.
The naos’ (corridors) of the church are incredibly crowded especially near the ‘sarcophagus' so I wander towards the Atrium, a beautiful room tiled extensively in floor mosaics with intricate brick domed ceiling with contrasting incurvature lines. At the very end of the room is the sanctuary featuring a small semi-circled stone bema and four pillars.

The room is crowded, a large tour group swamps the area making it almost impossible to see it, more people wander back and forward from the arched doorways of the corridors. And then, as if by miracle, the room empties. I grab my camera to capture the room in its completeness and then just as I go to click, a man walks into the centre.

  “Please, one moment, may I take a photo, please” I say to him.
He looks at me, smiles, takes out his smart phone, holds it up, checks his face in the screen and clicks his photo. Then, he smiles back at me. I wait for him to move, but he doesn't. He just looks at me.
 “Please, I take photo, see no one in room, please could you move” I ask, making hand gestures towards the side of the room.
He smiles again. Then to my absolute astonishment turns to his other side, holds up the phone and looks into it. He smooths back his hair and takes another photo. I wait, feeling the frustration growing inside me. He doesn't move.
 “Please, sir, please” I plead. I can see more people approaching the room and I want desperately to get a photo of that room in an empty state. I begin to wave my hands. He smiles; a smarmy smug smile before turning his back on me and proceeded to ‘view’ the bema. The atrium is now filling and the moment is lost. Anger boils up and I growl under my breath.

Now, the reality is with these sites, gaining a photo with no other person in it is near impossible, and with the amount of ‘sights’ we now snap on our digital cameras and phones, if you were to ask me “will you actually look at the photo again once home, or in a years time,… what about in ten years time” the chances are I’ll answer “No”. So, I don’t know why I am being so dogmatic about photographing this room in an empty state and of course I’m not thinking about the absurdity of it all when I do something I would never, normally, do. I stalk up to the chap and snap out “I hope that’s a really ugly photo of you,” to him and end it with “you stupid horrible man.”
He gives me a look of confusion and it doesn't occur to me that he probably can't even understand me. I walk away, but not before being bumped by more devoted pilgrims wanting to get up close and personal to the pillars.
 “Don’t these people realise the contradiction of their actions to the compassion and generosity of the man this place is all about?” I grumble to M as we leave the complex. Of course,  I’m totally oblivious to the irony of my own words and actions but karma however has taken note and later she will give me a  swift little reminder.

From Myra we follow closely the coastline, a sharp hairpin road that hugs an almost flat Mediterranean sea, the rugged white cliffs that rise up from its depths contrasting starkly against the glittering turquoise waters. It’s breathtaking.
We pass through the city of Finike with its colourful wall murals and artistic street installations then drive up into the mountains to the Beydaglari National Park where two incredible sights await. Olympos and the dragon, Chimera. We must wait until nightfall to see the dragon’s breath, so we head to the ancient city of Olympos which straddles the mouth of the Ulupinar Stream which runs through a lush rocky valley to the Mediterranean .
We turn off the highway and drive heart in mouth down an almost non-existent road to a dusty chilled-out backpacker village (also called Olympos) filled with tree-houses sitting amongst flowering trees. Rows of bars and backpacker lodges with more pubs at the front, line the track and river side.
The pubs are filled with cushion laden daybeds and the track is bustling with bikini-clad, board-shorted 20somethings all heading towards the beach, towels in one hand, beers in the other. We find a miniscule patch of free dirt to park the car and join the hoards pilgriming towards the sea.
The track leads to the ancient ruins of Olympos, a once important Lycian city in the 2nd century BC and now a rambling trail of stone walls, patches of tile mosaics, carved tombs and crumbling vine clad structures. It’s like walking through a hidden garden long forgotten but still incredibly beautiful. The colour blue is everywhere in Turkey, whether it be the deep blue of Evil Eye amulets, the swirling hues of the Blue Mosque tiles or the shimmering blue of the sea, and here in the cool greenness of the Olympos valley, an iridescent blue flitters like slips of fire. Dragonflies, the colour of lapis lazuli and rainbow hematite illuminated in the soft dapple sunlight, dance above the trickling steam. They dart across dark granite stones and rest upon the green leaves. There is so many of them, they sprinkle the jungle in a neon glow.

We drag ourselves away from the fairy-like spectacle and cool quietness and find ourselves on the pebbly beach. It is filled with bodies laying upon its stones, soaking up the rays. There's so many sun-baking bodies upon this part of the Turkish Riviera, it reminds me of images of Christmas day at Bondi – packed to the hilt! 

It’s getting late into the afternoon and we’ve still yet to find a place to stay at our final stop – Cirali, home of the Dragon. We drive back up the winding pot-holed, just-a-fleeting-glance-of-tar road to the highway, turn right, drive a couple of hundred meters then turn back down into another twisting, full of holes, guttered track to Cirali, which turns out to be just five minute walk via the beach to Olympos (It takes nearly 40minutes to drive the18km of road up and down).
Cirali is adorable. Like Olympos it’s laid back, but there’s a more quieter vibe to it. Olympos is full of the 20something backpacker who’s looking to catch the essence of yesterday’s hippy trail.

Cirali is more of a ‘flashpacker’ village. Set amongst stands of orange groves, the ‘tree houses’ are little more refined from the rustic huts of Olympos and the cafes play a more mellower tune. We book into a sweet little motel in the middle of an orange orchard, creatively called “The Orange Motel” and quickly change into warm clothing and comfortable walking shoes for the hike up Mt Olympos where we will watch the sun set and watch the spectacle of the Chimera begin. The Chimera is a mythical Lycian fire-breathing creature, with the blended appearance of lion, serpent and goat. It was thought to inhabit the area near ancient Olympos where it roamed and roared its flaming breath. These flames still sprout forth, from the rock of Mount Olympos. Called the Yanartaş, methane gas permeates from the rock and has been burning for over 2500years. Although it’s impossible to extinguish them, they do ‘move’. 

 M and I drive the three km’s to the start of the path to the Yanartas. It's a steep walk up.
Although we don't find it too taxing,  the path is extremely slippery. The marble rock slabs are so worn by time and the thousands who’ve walked it, it’s like being on roller skates... on ice! and any little gravel dust on the marble see us sliding precariously. I’m astounded to see people trekking up in flip-flops and sandals and do my little under-the-breath 'tsk tsk' and shake my head. The path up is only about 1000metres and we reach the flaming rock mound after a half hour or so. It’s spectacular! Behind us the views are stunning and the valley, beach and sea stretch out in the soft sun setting glow. In front a large grey rock mound is peppered with flaming vents.

Small and large flames lap out; groups of people sit around them. Some roast marshmallows and toast bread, others enjoy a drink as if around a camp fire. One family is actually ‘rotissering’ a sausage. Just near the path and below the flaming mound sits the temple ruins of Hephaistos, god of blacksmiths, volcanoes and fire. There’s a party atmosphere on the mount, one group has brought music.

We’ve brought beer and packet of BBQ Shapes and so M and I find an unoccupied flame vent, pop ourselves down and watch the glowing sunset as music and laughter fills the air. Dusk falls and the mountain comes alive with lapping flames. It’s an amazing sight. When we first arrived it looked like there were only a few flames, but as the cold air hits the mountain, flames begin popping up all over the place.
Darkness descends and we begin the walk back down along with a few others. I barely step onto the path when my foot slips on a smattering of dust on marble and I slip to my bottom. “Whoa, that’s slippery” I say.  Next minute another woman just in front of me goes down. M helps me up and we gingerly walk down the pathway, torch in hand, trying hard not to step on the marble slabs – which is quite hard, for between the flat marble blocks sit large round stones poking out. A short way down we hear another person fall on the stones and stop to see if they are ok. They are. I keep telling M to be careful and not to slip – my main concern, if he gets hurt I can’t drive the car. Firstly, I didn’t end up getting my international licence and secondly, I can’t actually drive a manual car. Behind us an elderly lady is being helped down by her not  too much younger friend. M offers to help them and as he assists I continue on.

As I take a step down my foot catches the gravel and a very audible, sickening crack is followed by a searing pain shooting up my leg as I feel my ankle do a 90degree bend under my weight. I go down. We are still at least 700meters up from the bottom. I can barely stand, let alone walk. The pain is excruciating. M reaches me, does the ‘can you move it’ routine for which I nearly knock him out with a reflex action when he touches it, then he offers a solution to the problem – “I’ll piggy-back you.”
"Don't be so ridiculous!" I cry. An image of us both tumbling down the mountain flashes across my mind. I continue trying to hobble down. A guide with group coming up sees me and offers to send someone for a stretcher from the village but warns me it’ll take a while. A cold wind is creeping up the mountain and I'm starting to shake.  I'm not sure if its from the cold or it's shock, but I don’t want to spend another minute on the mountain. I thank him through tears and keep hobbling. It takes us over an hour to hobble and shuffle to the bottom. The drive back to the village is awful as every bump and turn sends more excruciating stabs into me.

It’s well after 11pm when we finally arrive back at the Orange and seeing my distress, the very concerned owners go for the doctor who just happens to live next door. Dr Ali comes and gently feels my ankle and gives a diagnosis – he’s fairly sure it’s a sprain and not a break. It’s as positive as could be hoped for and the relief is palpable, although Dr Ali tells me “It’ll be crutches and a boot for at least two weeks.”

Karma, she’ll change your plans if you step out of line.


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