Trekking the Lycian Way
Trip Start Jan 28, 2012
19Trip End Jan 28, 2013
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I was originally given the bug of walking this area 15 years ago when I was last in Turkey staying in a backpackers hangout called Olympos on a quiet coastal inlet with old ruins. I did a full day walk with two Canadians to a place called the Chimera. It was where fire burns from the ground along a hill slope supposedly from a natural gas. The Greeks and other ancients believed it was the abode of dragons and used it as a sailing beacon. After trekking through the forest to get there and feeding an obligatory bread roll to appease the dragons, I wanted to see more of this place.
The Lycian walk is a relatively new one and pieced together by an English woman called Kate Clow who published a book called ‘The Lycian Way’ which includes a map, sometimes rough directions and approximate times to reach key landmarks and towns. Unfortunately we couldn’t locate the book anywere in Istanbul and were told it was out of print. As luck would have it while we were paying the room bill in Istanbul Mel noticed ‘The Lycian Way’ on a bookcase at reception, the manager who was not a traveller and sniffed "I can’t understand why anyone wants to travel, all places look the same to me", kindly gave us the book and I gave him a key ring I was given from a guesthouse in Nepal (some kind of weird reciprocal connection there).
Given the whole walk would take a month if we didn’t get lost along the way we decided to do a section from Fethiye to Kalkan, one weeks journey. The route would lead us through pine and cedar forests in the shadow of mountain Baba Dag almost 3000m high, through isolated Turkish villages, old olive groves and terraced wheat fields, walking across the old ruins of ancient Lycian cities, along turquoise bays and inlets and ending at an old Greek fishing village called Kalkan.
Having just had the memory of carrying our heavy backpacks in Nepal, we decided to go very light this time and wing it having heard there were wells and cisterns for water and some homestay opportunities along the way. A homestay is basically staying at a persons home and having a meal there. We took ‘the book’, a compass, our very small 10L daypacks, one sleeping bag, one first aid kit, and each carried a silk inner sheet for sleeping, 2 t shirts for walking, one long sleeve for evening, one shorts, 1 trousers, 1 jacket or vest, 3 socks, 3 underwear (washing on the way in case your wondering) a pair of boots, hat and 1 litre of water.
The coast line is quite different here than at home, large mountains and hills plunge directly into the Mediterranean, the first day we walked along the coast line winding higher and higher up the mountain slope walking along sections of an old Lycian path, a rock constructed track perched on the edge of the mountain track and tasted water from old wells along the way. We passed a few people on the way but most we didn’t see again as they were only doing a day or two walk. We said hello to a Turkish man, Tekin 50 something yrs old a little out of shape and huffing up the path under the burden of a carefully prepared backpack with stores and all gear for potential eventualities. He was planning to walk the whole Lycian way but the look on his face betrayed thoughts that he might have bitten off a little more than he could chew. We walked through pine forests and up into cloudbanks that gave the whole area an eerie feel, through the mist the thoughts of wolves and crazed mountain hermits permeated me.
The next day we climbed down the near vertical cliff track down to Butterfly valley, there were ropes attached to the dangerous rock face sections and we were told one person who had had too much to drink had fallen to his death here. We went for a swim in the crisp blue waters of the bay and trekked onto a beautiful bay of the nearby the village of Kabak.
At the beach of Kabak we caught up with Tekin again and a younger Turkish couple Cem and Mine also from Istanbul who we had met the previous day, this was their first big trek. Over the next 3 days we travelled together Mel and I having lighter packs cut the track by reading the maps and finding the trail markers, while our Turkish comrades found the accommodation and meals bargained down prices (at one place $10pp for bed/ breakfast and dinner) and confirmed our location/directions with the locals. We all helped Tekin reduce the weight of his pack, it started out at 16kg and we ate probably around 2.5kg of fantastic roast veal that was in cyrovac packages. It was the best experience we had in Turkey from talking to these guys and their interpretation of the villagers discussions we learned a lot about what it’s like living in Turkey and being Turkish. The Turkish tradition is hospitality to strangers and those in need of lodging, as a guest in their house they are honour bound to look after your welfare and satisfy your requirements, this applies I’m told even to enemies. Tekin, Cem and Mine reflected the modern Turkish way outlook and the villagers presented the more conservative traditional view. Or maybe it was just the family’s view, every place that we went to seemed to be a sister or brother or cousin of the people we stayed with the night before. It was a bit like meeting Scholz’s on the west coast (Eyre Peninsula South Australia).
Over the next few days we scrambled along weathered costal slopes, picnicked and snoozed under ancient olive trees and rested and chatted next to old ottoman cisterns. There were some great moments for me one when during the middle of the day walking across a stone path with the vast shimmering sea below and the olive and turquoise landscape in front, I noticed the breathless stillness of absolute quiet, it was if we had snuck up on the world while it was sleeping, it was a cherished moment.
Along the journey we stumbled across old Lycian towns, at one place Sidyma after an 8 hour walk we came to the edge of the town and were surrounded by tall Lycian tombs made from great slabs of rock, as the sun began to set we realised that the ‘new village’ was built on top of the old city the integration of the two was quite surreal, the new buildings merged with the old. Sheds used Lycian tombs as walls, houses attached to old ruined cathedrals, Lycian or Greek columns were used as mill stones and some reused to construct the fašade of the local Mosque, even the new concrete slab of the bus station rested on top of broken marble columns. Another day we came across the old Lycian capital city of Xanthos on a quiet barren hilltop and saw ruins of the Roman theatre, acropolis and an early Christian cathedral, we also noticed a common site here in Turkey (and also around the world) there was a sign with an etching of the fabulous lintel carvings of the entry to Xanthos. All that remains are a few layers of stone slabs, noting that the rest was carted off in 1842 to the British Museum and has yet to be returned. Toward the end of the trek we came across the most important Lycian port city of Patara. Patara is now just a series of ruins behind a coastline of sand dunes surrounding a small lake which used to be a large harbour, now cut off from the sea by the forces of nature and time. We found a great spot towards sunset on the top row of seats at the amphitheatre with a warm breeze looking over the ruins and reflecting over the history and timelessness of this old landscape.
It was a fabulous trek the best coastal walk I’ve done and made all the easier by hospitable people, a great meal and a warm bed.