Monday, August 27, 2007

Four Days on the Mediterranean

When we'd arrived in Istanbul, we'd heard about the cruises between Olympos and Fethiye along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It sounded tempting, but we didn't think we'd have the time. But when our plans for going to Croatia fell through--and still feeling like a few days without buses or moving from city to city would do our bodies and minds some good--we decided to go ahead with it. And so it was that we started three nights and four days in a traditional Turkish sailing boat with 10 other travellers: a couple from Spain, a couple from Italy, two friends from New Zealand on their way to work in London, and two other sets of friends--Aussies, all from Melbourne--who were already working in London for the time-being.

As often happens with budget tours of this type, a nice, friendly, English-speaking guy picked us up and ferried us out to the then tell us the rules, take the remaining money and leave us in the hands of the two crew members who didn't really speak any English. Seeing how this had been on our fate on pretty much any tour that went overnight, lasted for a few days, and could stand to have someone to communicate with, Tyler and I weren't so surprised. The others were less pleased. You could understand their point, I guess. If the crew are choosing to be in the tourist business, a little English would go a long way for everyone. On the other hand, we are in Turkey.

Our temporary home and vehicle for four days

So we began the tour with a swim. The water was delicious--beautifully clear, blue, a good temperature. A good start to our first bit of sailing. Except the funny thing is on these traditional sailing boats--they don't actually sail--so instead we motored along the coast, admiring the view.

No, you're eyes aren't fooling you. I had to try and capture just how beautifully blue and clear all of the water we sailed through and swam in was.

Swimming in the always beautiful Mediterranean

After climbing back in and feeling really good about our decision to take the cruise, we set off for our first destination, a traditional fishing village replete with the ruins of an Ottoman castle perched above the town. We set anchor, had lunch and then Tyler and I and the Italians decided to take the offer of the skiff to the town to go up to the castle. The ruins themslves weren't a whole lot to see, but the views from the top were amazing. To one side, the land stretched beyond, littered with old tombs and sarcophagi. Across the way, we could see other boats anchored in and the Mediterranean landscape of white rocks and scrubby bushes, the beautiful waters of stretching in between. Gorgeous, and worth the 20 minute uphill walk to get there.

Our first stop: Simena, a traditional fishing village with no car access and an old Ottomon castle ruin towering above everything else.

Up in the castle ruin. The views were breathtaking.

From there, we set "sail" again to begin what would become a comfortable routine: laying about in the sun or the shade to admire the view/sunbathe/sleep/read, stop periodically for welcome swimming breaks and meals. I quickly learned that the Mediterranean is incredibly salty. In some ways, it's great. You float really easily, so swimming is more a matter of small, spare movements to stay afloat (until you get really lazy and grab a noodle for flotation). But it also means that after a swim--and then multiple swims--you feel caked with salt. And you can see it, white layers on your skin, in your hair. By the end, our towel felt a bit like cardboard and all our clothes looked a bit ashy. I always thought the phrase "salty sailor" was a euphemism for the attitude; now I know it came from a real physical state!

Tyler enjoying the sun and the view on our first afternoon out

Enjoying the view and the breeze from the tip of the boat

I thought "salty sailor" was just a euphemism until we'd spent some time in and out of the saline waters of the Mediterranean. It would cake on our skin, hair--even eyelashes and eyebrows.

We spent our first night anchored in the harbor of a cute resort-y feeling town called Kaş. I was a little disappointed at first, harboring dreams of sleeping in the quiet waters, but it was nice to get off the boat, test our sealegs on land again, and move around a bit. It wasn't so nice when the bars and clubs pumped out bass-y techno music until 4AM.

We spent the next day sailing with no real sightseeing stops, just great bays for a swim. It was around then that some of the group started feeling a little peeved about not really ever having an idea of where we were and not being sure that we were hitting everything listed on the itinerary of the company's brochure. It probably highlighted a major change Tyler and I have experienced from spending a lot of time in the developing world. We don't really ever expect anymore to know what's going on or have things match an itinerary. We just wanted to relax, swim and hang out for four days, pretty sure that eventually we'd be dropped off where we were told they would. Though everyone in the the group was an experienced traveller, they were mostly experienced with European travel, and though all agreed we were having a lovely time regardless, some were a bit frustrated.

The third morning, though, pleased everyone, as the Captain sailed us into a bay surrounded by high, sheer cliff walls. We had arrived in Butterfly Valley. Some swam to shore, others took the small skiff (along with shoes and cameras that needed to stay dry) to head out for the hike through the valley. While at first most were happy to hang out on the beach, Tyler and I headed straight to the hike's entrance. (Not surprisingly, none of us knew how much time we had or when we needed to be back on the boat, so we wanted to go straight away to see it.)

The sheer cliffs in the bay leading to Butterfly Valley

We walked into the valley, awed by its scale. You could see the the walls we had seen in the bay continue and narrow along the 1K trail. At the end, we saw the first waterfall, surprising as there hadn't been a stream or any water to foretell its existence. The man at the entrance had mentioned we should continue on to the second waterfall, but at first it wasn't clear exactly how to do that. Then Tyler noticed a rope hanging to one side of the waterfall. I gave it a look and decided the heat and my sealegs made me happy to let the trail end there. Tyler looked a bit longingly but agreed, and we started picking our way down the rocky path. But when a group of tourists started scaling the rope--then others from our boat followed suit--we went back. I still sat at the base while Tyler climbed the rope, shimmied past the waterfall and disappeared past my vantage point. Apparently there was another waterfall, not much bigger, but higher than the other another 50 meters up. Satisfied with the find (and bringing photos for my vicarious enjoyment) we headed back to shore to find an anxious crew awaiting our return. This time I left Tyler to bring the dry stuff by boat and I swam back to the ship. I had been a long time since I'd done so much swimming, and I was loving it. Despite the name, thoug, we only actually spotted about a dozen butterflies. Maybe it just wasn't the season for them.

At the base of the first waterfall, admiring the views, if not many actual butterflies

The second waterfall Tyler hiked to, which included climbing a rope ladder and scaling past the first waterfall

We spent our final night in another small cove with only a few other boats. There was a beautiful sunset, hanging out, and even a night of playing the game Mafia.

Our last night, complete with a fantastic sunset

The whole gang, gathered around the table, playing mafia and sharing travel stories

Despite some of the group's disappointments, I was extremely pleased with the cruise. The scenery was beautiful, the boat was well-run and pleasant, the food was good, the swimming four times a day a real luxury, and a good chance for some travel fatigue to fade away. When we got on land in Fethiye, another coastal town, I even missed sleeping on the deck, under the open sky, stars shimmering overhead, even if it often got windy or even rocky for a period at night.

The other thing that happens when you're on a boat for four days with several guidebooks is you start to re-think your travel plans. So Croatia had been out, Greece in. But when I started looking up the prices of lodging, I decided to explore some other options. Hostels were just too pricey for our budget at this stage. The Kiwis had passed through Sofia, Bulgaria on their way to Istanbul, so we knew that was a possible and reasonable bus ride. So it went from there, finding a suitable and reasonably priced route to Munich, where we fly home on September 12th. So it is now that we will go to Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary for the final two weeks of our travels.

That's definitely one thing I'll miss when we're back State-side--being able to decide on a whim to travel through places I'd never even considered before, just because we have the time and they're there and we can. So future reports will start to have a more Eastern European flavor before this is all over.....


ambika said...

Though I know Barcelona is a thousand miles from Turkey, I cannot wait for my first glimpse of the Mediterranean in October. Seriously.

Sarah said...

The Spanish couple on our cruise were from near Barcelona. She showed me some pictures of the coast near there, and it was very similar--vegetation, rocks, water. You'll love it.

eddybles said...

You salty dogs! The yacht trip looks incredible. Looks like you're enjoying the final few weeks of your amazing adventure.