Upon leaving Istanbul both heavier and poorer, we were excited to set about the Turkish countryside to experience what we thought to be more “authentic” Turkish culture. To us, this meant small halls watching whirling dervishes, some beaches with hairy, mustached Turks sunbathing, and the “most authentic” kebabs. While we missed out on 2 of the said expectations, we did manage to experience some fantastic historical ruins, some gorgeous Mediterranean vistas, and, you guessed it, the Turkish men basking in the January sunlight.
Things began in Selcuk, the name for the ancient town of Ephesus, which contains ancient Greek and Roman ruins, a 25,000 seat amphitheater (where Paul “combatted” the idol-worshiping artisans before being sent off to prison on a nearby hill), St. Mary’s church, and St. John’s Basilica set amongst the more everyday ruins, such as the footprint which leads the way to the local brothel. Given the vast number of historical highlights in Ephesus, we did not want to chance missing vital information by simply hiring a guide. Instead, we took a 15 year old guide book from the hostel and took a “self-guided tour,” wherein we stopped at an interesting site, read the description aloud, took a picture, and remarked “ah, that’s pretty cool.” It then comes as no surprise that our highlight was the old latrines, in which the “holes” were placed curiously close to one another and apparently (the book says) was regarded as a wonderful area for “shoulder to shoulder conversation.”
After an extremely educational afternoon amongst the ruins (and tourists), we took some bicycles from the hostel to ride out to what we expected to be a picturesque Aegean beach. Under the impression from our hostel manager that the beach was 2 miles away, we grabbed the one-speed bikes and took off down the road only to discover that the beach was, in fact, 6 miles away, and more of a cluster of pebbles than a picturesque beach. After chalking up an afternoon at the beach, we later dubbed the experience as a “much needed workout” and planned our departure for the morning.
We awoke on Friday bright-eyed and bushy tailed with aspirations of heading down to the Mediterranean town of Kas for some seafood, sunshine, and a nice laid-back backpacker scene. We estimated that by late afternoon we should be in our swim trunks and lounging in the sun with an ice-cold Efes lager in hand. 14 hours later, we instead found ourselves admiring the constellations in Olympos while waiting in an abandoned market parking lot for the owner to drive us to our “treehouse.” Needless to say, there were some communication errors that left us tired and impatient without a chance of getting to Kas, so we took the bus (with the market owners help) to Olympos.
The town of Olympos is, well, not like any other town we have ever seen. Surrounded by orchards, mountains, two-thousand year old ruins, and the Mediterranean, Olympos is essentially a row of treehouses built alongside a dirt road and stream that houses backpackers all year round. We haggled down to an acceptable cost for our WiFi equipped bungalow (no kidding) and got some much needed shuteye after a long day of travel. The next few days were spent trekking through seemingly untouched nature, stumbling (literally- Burt fell) upon old overgrown ruins, and feeling like Indiana Jones as we climbed over ancient roman baths and theatres throughout a the dense forest.
We also hitch-hiked one evening to see the much-touted “Chimera,” which, as Greek mythology has it, is a creature with the body of a lion and a tail of a snake that came to being in the mountains outside Olympos. Given our well-known affinity for Greek Mythology, this was clearly a must-see. In reality, Chimera is actually a mountainside filled with small, naturally burning flames that have been burning for thousands of years. Given the amount of time that these flames have been burning and the fact that it is the cause of a Greek mythological creature, we were quite happy that we experienced it. We pondered the cause of such a flame for about 20 minutes (without conclusion) and headed back to the hostel for a nice hot meal, some beers, and intense conversation on Greek mythology (again, no conclusions) before finally heading to Kas the following day.
After leaving the gorgeous, if eclectic, Olympos, we took a beautiful drive along the Mediterranean coast to the town of Kas. It is a beautiful old fishing village with many adventure activities and gorgeous beaches around the town. Kas is known for its sea kayaking, the beaches of nearby Kalkan, and snorkeling through the old ruins of a “sunken city.” We however, spent 3 days relaxing on our hostel terrace, cooking tuna, and enjoying the occasional pint of Marmara Lager. We quickly found that, despite the 60 degree sunny weather, this is “winter” so no activities can occur. Bummer.
So, in typical fashion and especially when given ample time for thought, we have completely trashed our previous travel plans and are heading to Southeast Asia until mid-April. Enough chilly weather and “low seasons” have propelled us to to SE Asia for sunshine, white sand, and $10 daily budgets. After all, our board shorts are the only clean items in the pack….
Next stop: Thai border and Malaysia