Olympos games

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Friday, August 3, 2007

A quick consultation with our calendar confirms our worst fears - our year is rapidly coming to an end. We have less than three months to visit all of Europe, including our new change of plans. The original idea was to catch a ferry from Turkey to Greece, another from Greece to Italy and then tootle up through Italy and Austria to Slovakia. We are now planning to get to Slovakia through the back way. From Istanbul we'll go up through Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary. It might take a little longer but should be considerably cheaper and much more exotic. We still plan to visit Italy - our Italian friend Giulio invited us to his place half way between Rome and Naples - but we'll go there after Slovakia.

All this means that we maybe shouldn't spend too long in Goreme, as there is still plenty of Turkey to go. Our next stop is an overnight bus ride away, the ancient port town-turned-backpacker beach party village of Olympos. The bus drops us on the side of the road eleven kilometres out of Olympos, to our annoyance. Even more to our annoyance, the minibus that takes us down the steep gravely track to the village charges another three lira to do so. Olympos is an odd village in that there are absolutely no houses, just hotels, hostels, restaurants and other tourist-related establishments. The road runs through a narrow gorge lined with budget accommodation on both sides. The local specialty in terms of lodging is, of all things, tree houses, basically cabins perched in large sturdy trees. As novel as they are, they don't seem very comfortable, with no electricity or bathroom facilities. They also all look to be full so we opt for more conventional accommodation.

This place reminds me a lot of Byron Bay or Airlie Beach in Australia, unashamedly targeted at backpackers and other young party-goers. Technically we do fall into the category of 'backpackers' but I don't know how much we associate with most of the ones we see here lounging around on the cushions, smoking and looking cool. They either seem to be Generation Y hippies or lager louts just here for the beer. Perhaps we have become a little snobbish but we like to think of ourselves as a different category of travellers. We are not here to find spiritual enlightenment and we're not here to get wasted every night and we're not here on our two week summer vacation. Having gone so long without interacting with many western travellers, it feels strange to be suddenly surrounded by them.

The Olympos Beach is a twenty minute walk from the main road, through the now indiscernible Roman ruins alongside a cool-water river. And it is worth all the hype. The beach curls around the coast, beautifully warm and calm water gently jiggles the few tourist boats that drop anchor 100 metres out to sea. And what makes it most spectacular is the enormous mountains cliffs that overlook the sea. You can imagine why the Romans gave this place a second look all those years ago. The sea water is warm and the air is hot. It's a little too hot for a long period of lying around though. Fortunately the river that leads right to the beach is hair-raisingly cool. Stretching out on the hot sand with our feet dangling into the crisp chilly water is very therapeutic and relaxing. We spend the evening with more lounging, this time on the cushions of the hostel's great big patio with the trendy Europeans.

Olympos doesn't offer much apart from the social life and the beach and we decide to push on to somewhere a little less touristy. Travelling in Turkey is a bit difficult because of the expense of bus travel. A bus ride that might cost two or three dollars in Egypt or Syria will set you back twenty or twenty-five in Turkey. Admittedly the quality of the buses is exceptional and they all have a little man in a bow tie who walks up and down serving complimentary water and occasionally even a small muffin or punnet of ice cream. And they are all big on this perfumed hand cleaner over here. I swear they come by every half an hour to dish out a handful of smelly drops. On the other hand (so to speak) the speakers above every seat are fully utilised to pump out whiny, twangy Turkish pop music at all hours of the night. We've been doing most of our long distance travel overnight to save on accommodation costs and we are getting much better at sleeping on the bus.

Devoted readers will recall our complaints about the overnight buses in Australia but we are getting much more used to them and an Australian Greyhound would feel like absolute luxury now. Our sleeping abilities are sorely tested here on Turkish night buses, particularly by the loud action movies that begin at 1 AM and the frequent one-hour rest stops that occur throughout the night. It is also becoming apparent that overnight buses are the preferred method for transporting children across the country, perhaps with the misguided belief that they will sleep silently through the night. Clearly this is not the case and it is also apparent that the seats allocated for mothers with noisy young children are always right next to those allocated to foreigners.

Continuing along the scenic Mediterranean coast, we arrive at Patara, the highly-rated but un-hyped and relatively unpatronised beach town. It is another one of those drop-you-on-the-side-of-the-road-and-fend-for-yourself situations but without the regular minibus service connecting the main road with the beach, six kilometres away. A wild-eyed and straggly-haired young guy leaps out of nowhere and starts talking frantically about his hotel. When he says "You come and look, I drive you, no charge, you don't like, no problem," our ears prick up. Free lift, sounds good. Kazim, the guy, spends the entire next fifteen minutes talking like an auctioneer all about his hotel, how it is recommended in Lonely Planet (who isn't, these days?), the rooms, the air-conditioning, the peach tree out the back, his wife's cooking, and so on. The place turns out to be quite nice and we check in for a couple of nights.

Patara Beach was named by the Sunday Times a few years back as the world's best beach, quite a billing to live up to. Twenty kilometres of golden sand, Roman ruins right next door, warm Mediterranean water, relaxed atmosphere with no high rise resorts to spoil the view. All those things are true but the best beach in the world it is not. In fact, I'm not sure if it is even the best beach in Turkey, or even the best beach we've been to in the last two days. The sand is nicer at Patara and the beach is longer but Olympos' dramatic setting and cool river option gives it the edge in our opinion.

Our other complaint about Patara is how expensive it is. The 'town centre' is one small street lined with restaurants and none of them will fire up a one dollar doner kebap like you can find in most other Turkish towns. Our meals end up being quite tasty but way out of our price range. Turkey has surprised us with its expensiveness. When I was planning this leg of the trip (the 'Turkey leg' if you like) I had liberally budgeted $70 a day for the two of us. Despite our best frugal intentions we have ended up spending nearly $100 a day. This is a crazy amount considering we have been staying in the cheapest hotels possible, eating the cheapest street food we can find and begging for student discounts every time we travel. We would have loved to spend another couple of weeks in Turkey but finances are forcing our early exit.
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