Trip Start Sep 29, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Sunday, July 8--Istanbul to Antalya

The easiest way to get to Olympos, which was the first destination on the itinerary, was to take a bus from Istanbul to Antalya. Ece and I scoured the Besiktas bus companies looking for a good ticket price. The ride from Istanbul to Antalya takes twelve hours, and the ticket prices can change dramatically depending on the name of the company (big name companies with expensive buses obviously cost more). One company quoted us 67 lira, another 65, Metro Turizm asked 60, but we went with a small company that charged only 45 YTL.

We got on the Besiktas service bus at 7 p.m. It was supposed to take us to the Otogar, Istanbul's main bus depot, but instead it dropped us in a miscellaneous Istanbul suburb. We stood for an hour (until 8:30) next to a little mosque on the interstate waiting for the bus to arrive.

"This is what you get for 45 YTL I guess," joked Ece (not that my experience with other companies has been any more encouraging).

The bus stopped several times along the way, including two thirty minute food and bathroom breaks in Adapazari and Afyon (famous for its spicy sausages). At 8:15 in the morning we arrived in the bustling beach town of Antalya.

Monday July 9: Antalya to Olympos

We stepped bleary-eyed from the big bus and got directly onto a mini-bus headed towards Olympos. Since Olympos is a small sea-side affair up in the mountainous countryside of Southern Turkey, it takes two service buses to make the journey from Antalya (or, similarly, from any destination). We rode west of Antalya for another 100 km, which took another three hours after numerous stops and waits (I'll never get used to this efficient but slow system of independently operated transportation management. It's very good for local small business owners, as every driver owns or operates his own mini-bus and has a vested interest in the financial outcome of every journey, which, unfortunately, means that he will wait until until the bus is full before he departs, which can take a very long time).
But one more service connection later and we had arrived.

12 p.m.: Olympos

Located about a kilometer from the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and nestled amidst the ancient ruins of a Hellenistic, Roman, and Lycian city of the same name, Olympos is a wonderful little cove of rural relaxation. Numerous small, private hotels and pensions dot the area, offering luxury accommodation options for a reasonable price (40-50 YTL), nice rooms for a good price (35-40 YTL), and tree house bungalows for next to nothing (15-20 YTL). If you stay at Kadir's, or particularly at Turkmen, two of the areas largest pensions, the price includes a nice Turkish breakfast, a spectacular dinner buffet, and free coffee and tea all day long. There was even a Foster's beer special going on when I arrived. $1 for a bottle (you can't even beat that in the States!)!

Since we had missed breakfast by one hour, Ece and I ate some crackers and headed down to the water. She had come to Olympos four years earlier, and as we walked down the dirt road toward the sea she marveled at how much everything had changed. Little restaurants, cafes, and markets dotted the road where before there had been none. Food and drinks were plentiful and cheap, where before they had been scarce and expensive ("Olympos used to be very expensive," Ece explained. "You could pay 9 YTL for a carton of juice.")
As of late, Olympos has begun to compete with the other very popular beach resorts of Southern Turkey and is making a bid to attract local and international bargain hunters. Which it has, especially since it has the natural and historical equipment to do so.

We paid 2 YTL each to access the beach (an all day pass). Up on the hill I could see the remains of a ancient Acropolis. On my right were what was left of a grand riverside palace. The aqueducts were still standing, the supporting walls of which created a funnel-like pathway that fed you down toward the sea, and further back in the forest and up on the hill above were the well-preserved remains of an amazing mausoleum, an old Byzantine church, and another Acropolis. Since I love old things, I wanted to go up and see everything now. "Let's go tomorrow," said Ece, who was aching to swim. I wiped my brow and agreed. The one o'clock heat was already stifling, and it was only going to get hotter.

Olympos' beach is mostly rocks, although sand can be found. The water bottom is also rocky, and I recommend bringing sandals or shoes you can get wet. I brought shoes that I didn't want to get wet, and I took them off and burnt the bottoms of my feet on the scalding rocks in my first hour on the beach, a mistake for which my blistered tootsies paid for two days.

We spent the rest of the afternoon swimming around the rocky coves near the beach. In the late afternoon we bought a cold fruit plate from a local market for lunch. Dinner at 8 p.m. proved to be to filling, and after very little sleep the night before, a day in the sun, and a big meal, we passed out at 10:30 p.m. for 11 hours.
Tuesday, July 10

When I awoke at 9:30 I didn't want to get up, but I knew that it was better to go hiking early in the day than during the 1-4 p.m. heat wave.

After a plate of the traditional Turkish breakfast (white salty unsalted cheeses, two kinds of olives, jam, honey, yogurt, and bread) and a not-so-traditional Nescafe coffee, I took my camera and headed for the hills. For the next two hours Ece and I trekked through the dense, rocky forest that covers what is left of Lycian, Roman, and Byzantine Olympos: Four Acropoli, a wrecked theatre, numerous foundations of houses, shops, palaces, and fortresses, and the remains of a sixteenth century cathedral. We walked both sides of the shallow river that separates the old city in two. The walking, however, was not easy. Ascending the two hilltop Acropoli (which I believed were, in fact fortresses, due to their strategic proximity to the sea, and which wikipedia tells me may in fact be Venetian, Genoese, or Rhodian) overlooking the sea is difficult, and we didn't see any other tourists do it the whole time we were in Olympos.

After the sweaty undertaking, we had quick dip in the ice-cold river and then jumped from the rocks, which are jumbled around an inlet that once served as a docking point for small ships, into the sea. Then we walked back down the road to get a lunch of Kavun Dondurma, which means honey-dew melon with ice-cream piled inside (at 7 YTL it's a delicious deal on a hot day).

The rest of the day was spent kicking around on the beach, consuming another nice dinner, and finally a rousing round of Fosters. Then it was off to find the Olympos night life!

There are a variety of options around Olympos to this effect. Live music plays every night at a bar near Turkmen. Two pensions play nighttime movie selections and anyone from any pension is welcome to attend. We walked down to Kadir's, which has a killer night club that plays all of Turkey and Europe's dance favorites, with some eclectic American sound bytes thrown in. The young people all flock here to dance around the bonfire and sit around the Old West, rodeo-style dance pavilion.

We called in an early night at 2, maybe 3 or 4 a.m. (I don't really know for sure).

Wednesday, July 11

We arose late today. At 10:15 we were out the door for breakfast. Usually I hate beaches and find them very boring, but the beauty, activity, and calm of Olympos combine to make the time pass quickly. I didn't even notice it was lunch time until 5:00.

Walking back to the hotel, I caught sight of a phenonomen I had only heard about, but never seen: the Burqini (a juxtaposition of burka and bikini, get it? ha...ha), or the conservative female Islamic full body bathing suit.
"Silly," scoffed Ece under breath.
"Interesting," I agreed. The bathing suit was formfitting, but showed no skin except for around the eyes.
"I think it's just silly," Ece repeated. "These women. They want to be Islamic but they also want to be modern. They think they can live for God, by the Koran, and do modern things like go swimming, too."
"And what do you think of that?" I asked.
"Only in Turkey," she commented ruefully, "Can you find modern Islamists." (Sarcasm dually noted).
(Ece is of a secularist mindset believing that Islam, if it is followed as set forth in the Koran, cannot coexist with modern or liberal values, and is dangerous to democracy. She, as well as a number of modern secularist Turks, see conservative Islam as the single biggest threat to the Turkish Republic, and to their personal freedoms as individuals, especially as women. "If AK comes to power again," she told me, referring to the leading political party in Turkey, which many people accuse of having an Islamic agenda, "we will see Turkey as another Iran." Though I disagree with this doomsday hypothesis, I definitely sympathize with the gravity of the threat it implies.)

The rest of the night followed lazily. We went to bed early, having booked a day full of river rafting starting at 8:45 the following morning. At only 45 YTL a piece, breakfast and lunch included, we figured it was money well spent since neither of us had ever whitewater rafted before.

Thursday, July 12

We woke up at 8, had a hurried breakfast at 8:30, and went to wait for the service bus. It didn't come until 9:10.

Enter: Turkish mini-bus hell. The projected length and time of travel was 2 hours for a 200 km trip.

First we stopped at several other pensions to pick up travelers, who I assumed were other rafters. Then we drove to Antalya, about 90 km east of Olympos, where we stopped at the bus station, the airport, and then at a gas station (this may not sound bad, but Antalya is not a small city). By this time an hour and a half had passed.

We continued on toward Alanya (no, that's not a typo, it's a different city). We drove at breakneck speed through little mountain roads, whipping around corners and over hills like a bat out of hell. I started to feel carsick and Ece was white as a sheet. Toward the end she was breathing into a plastic grocery bag.

After another hour and a half we finally stopped. We were given a life jacket and helmet and piled back into the bus, which drove us another 5 km and deposited us at the top of a ravine.
We walked to our boat, where our river guide gave us survival instructions and general rules to follow. I didn't understand but I kept silent, not wanting to give away my non-Turkish ness (besides, I was the only person on board who had over held an oar before).

We were nine people all together. We began by rowing upstream to a small waterfall where we met up with another boat of rafters. Everybody got out to put their feet in the ice-cold stream pouring from the rocks. In our boat there was a little plastic, lunchbox-like container meant to keep things dry that people wanted to bring on the voyage: cameras, cell phones, wallets, but which was actually filled only with cigarettes and lighters. Every person, one and all, got out their smokes and lit up, a scene that reminded me of the intermission at every Turkish cinema showing.

After the cigarette break we turned back downstream. I could tell straight away that I was rowing with a group of people who had never even seen an oar before (indeed, our river guide, who steered the raft from his perch on the back, was grinding his teeth at the inadequacy of our effort).

But really, the trip was pure comedy. We had one man, a strange little bald soldier, who loved splashing people and giggled like a child whenever he did so. We were riding in tandem with another boat, inside of which were a family of eight that consisted of two solid looking men and four gigantic women of varying ages. Their guide was a very experienced and energetic young man. Every time this (or any other) boat came within range, our solder let fly a string of splashes and high-pitched giggles. But the other boat's guide was much better at this game than our soldier, and the end result was always that we were soaked. The whole journey. Practically waterlogged by the end.

Then there were the two people in the front of our boat, a man and wife. Half the time we were rowing, this rotund, lazy man was not. Every ten minutes he asked our guide, "Are we finished yet? Are we almost finished? How long until we're done?" He resembled the other, larger man on our boat who rowed a little, huffed and puffed, and stopped rowing. This left me, effectively, as the only man who was rowing, what with the soldier splashing away.

At one point, after trying and failing to out-row the boat of overweight old women, one woman, who was actually a good rower, exclaimed: "Look at them! Why are we not beating them?" To which our deeply annoyed guide replied, "Because we are rowing very weakly." I chuckled, as I agreed completely.

Although Ece and I had hoped that this rafting trip would be an adventure tour through quick rivers and down huge rapids, we realized early on that we were on a family tour. We were pleasantly surprised, however, when we expressed this sentiment to our guide and he, unhappy-looking devil, got everybody off at one of the rapids and let us jump into the current, which swept us off like a shotgun. A little ways further down the river we stopped again at a group of rocks and climbed up a ladder onto a wooden plank suspended about thirty feet above the water.

Ece, who is a little wary of heights, hesitated momentarily at the top. "Jump," demanded our guide, whose day it just was not, and Ece leapt into the river. I was very surprised and congratulated her on her feat. She was beaming with adrenaline. "What could I do?" she said. "That man is very aggressive."

After a few more rapids, the tour came to an end. We took the raft out of the water and piled it onto a truck that was waiting for us. Other groups, most of which consisted of Ukrainian and Russian families, were doing likewise. But just as our truck was taking off, the guide of our sister-boat hopped off, walked back to the groups putting their rafts onto the trucks, and threw three quick roundhouse punches, giving some unsuspecting guy a sound thrashing. The momentary scuffle was broken up quickly, and the guide swaggered back to our truck with half a smile curling his lips. My boat's guide looked unsurprised. No one seemed to think it was out of the ordinary.

They took us back to the staging center, which was called Klas (Restaurant) Rafting, and we had lunch on the riverside. Freshly cooked fish, wrapped in salt-cured grape leaves ('dolma' in Turkish) and garlic, and two kinds of salad on the side. I squeezed a lemon over the whole thing and settled into some of the best fish I've ever eaten.

Sapped from a long day of rowing in the sun, we slept the whole way back to Olympus (this time sitting in the front seat). We skipped dinner and retired to bed early.

Friday, July 13

On our last day in Olympos, we decided that another relaxing beach day was in order (do you sense a theme being established yet?). We scaled up to the remnants of the only Acropolis we had yet to see. After that we lounged about, I took some more pictures, and Ece set herself the goal of getting as burnt as possible (when I asked her why she wasn't wearing any sunscreen she said, "Yanacagim," which literally means "I'm going to (I want to) burn." So far, I haven't found a Turkish equivalent for the word 'tan'). As for me, I sat in the comfortable, sandy shade. We had another fruit plate for lunch.

But later that night I finally convinced Ece to go on the Yanartas Tour (which means Flame Tour) to see the Chimaera. She despises tours, and this one proved to be no exception.

Since it only cost 7.50 YTL, I thought it would be cheap, easy fun. We booked a spot on the minibus only to find that the actual price was 10 YTL, since the advertised price didn't cover the Yanartas admission fee. We also learned that the tour, which starts every evening after dinner at 9 o'clock, didn't end until 12:15! I was surprised since all of the blog writers on Virtualtourist said they had insufficient time on the mountain. Since the Chimaera was only 20 kilometers away from the pension--maybe a half hour ride-- where did this extra hour and a half come from?

Much to my dismay, I discovered the answer when our bus driver handed me a flashlight, said "One, two people," indicating Ece and I were to share, and motioned us up the mountain. "One hour," he said.

The walk up was not short, nor was it easy. The path is broken, rock-strewn, and treacherous, and there are a lot of stairs, each one of which is about three times as high as a normal stair. One unlucky man tripped in the darkness and twisted his ankle.

The Chimaera itself is interesting enough, especially since my Internet research sources tell me that it's the only thing of its kind in the world. I wondered if this could have been the phenomena responsible for the story of the burning bush; if Mount Sinai could have once had a similar wonder that burnt itself out or was destroyed by an earthquake; or if simple anachronism could have juxtaposed the story of this mountain, very famous and important in antiquity, with that of the other religiously storied Mount.

On the way down our flashlight died. We had to wait for another group and follow them down. By the time we reached the bottom we were soaked in sweat. Ece bought a bottle of ice cold water, which is ready and waiting for you at the bottom, chugged it and straightaway stated "I hate the Yanartas Tour." Although she doesn't recommend it, I thought that it was neat enough.

We went back to the hotel and passed out.
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