TURKEY'S TURQUOISE COAST BY GULET
by Sally Hill ©
Arriving at Antalya by bus from Central Turkey, Trevor, Mishca and I headed straight for Setur Marina, west of the city on the Mediterranean Sea. Later that day we were boarding a gulet for a week's cruise along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast to Kaş and back. After several months of hectic travel we were looking forward to relaxing, exploring and soaking up the history of this fascinating area.
The sun shone down in a vertical haze. It was August and hot—hot enough to fry eggs on the pavement. Shrugging off our packs, we collapsed like wet rags in the only shade available—a solitary tree with spreading branches.
Along the waterfront gulets lay in the glassy water, cheek by jowl. It was siesta, nothing stirred. We studied the boats with mounting excitement and delight.
Each was a work of art, lovingly handcrafted from pinewood, which gleamed in the sunlight. Traditionally these vessels were used for transport along the Southwest coast of Turkey Now they are built with the comfort and luxury of charter yachts—with the tourist market in mind.
The prototype gulet is a ketch with a sharp bow, broad beam and rounded aft. They are motor sailors, equipped with motors and one or two sails, although they rarely sail. Because of their weight they are more suited to cruising and their top speed is a very leisurely 8-10 knots. In length they vary from 16-35 metres—most gulets can accommodate eight to fourteen guests in four to seven cabins. Some are very luxurious, sporting air-conditioning, ice machines, spacious mahogany interiors, teak decks and a large galley. Cabin or private charters are available. You can either rent a cabin, joining three to six other couples, or rent the entire gulet and its crew with a decisive say in your route/itinerary and activities. We had chosen the former.
Later that afternoon our captain, Ilhan and the crew of two (deckhand and cook), arrived along with the other passengers and we were welcomed aboard Sevgi 6. We were a mixed bunch: three Kiwis, four Belgians, two Germans, two Turks and four Brits. Our gear stowed we checked out the boat. Each cabin had an en-suite with hot and cold water. The three of us were sharing so there wasn't a great deal of room. There was a canopied forward sun deck with comfortable swabs and a canopied aft deck with cushioned seating and facilities for outdoor or indoor dining. Safety equipment included a dinghy, a ship-to-shore radio, mobile telephones and life jackets.
The Brits left after dinner—"It's not what we expected."
She was not luxurious (no air-conditioning here), but she was comfortable and spotlessly clean. She felt, and proved to be, a well-loved, happy boat. We spent the rest of the evening chatting, getting to know one another, before heading off to bed.
At first light, we breakfasted and set off along the coast. Mishca and I had sweltered all night in the cabin and thereafter opted to sleep in the open on the sundeck, as did Rudi, Hilde, Marc, Mieke and Levant and Adelete. Lucky us, we had a week of spectacular sunsets, balmy moonlit nights and sunrises to die for.
The lick of the breeze as we basked in the sun was pure pleasure. This mountainous, rugged coastline is also known as the East Lycian Coast. Holding a distinctive place in Anatolian history, the Lycians are thought to be an indigenous pre-Hittite people with their own language and customs. The sites of over 30 ancient cities have been found, and even now the most obvious features of the Lycian landscape are the tombs and sarcophagi left where ruins have disappeared.
We reached Olympus at midday, a beautiful bay and stretch of beach overlooked by the ruins of Byzantine-Geonese fortifications. The site of ancient Olympus is found on the banks of a shaded stream running between high cliffs. It was making its own coins in the second century BC and is thought to have been an important city in the Lycian Federation. It is only an hour's walk from here to see the eternal flame of the Chimaera, best seen in the dark. Flames appearing from cracks in the bare hillside, unique to this spot, have been burning since antiquity, giving rise to the legend of the Chimaera, a fire breathing monster with a lion's head and forelegs, a goat's rear and a snake for a tail.
We spent the afternoon swimming and snorkeling in the warm, crystal clear waters, before motoring to a secluded bay and anchoring for the night. Each night we joined, or were joined, by a few other gulets and ketches, some of which we soon came to recognise and although we never met, we enjoyed the personalities of each, especially Sinbad the 'party boat' which entertained us each night along with Mehmet, our cook, who sang beautifully. Blessed with a wonderful voice, he sang his way around the boat during the day and serenaded us each night.
We experienced a glitch the next morning and were forced to head for Demre—plumbing problems! We were however, in for a treat. While the problem was being seen to we were treated to a visit to the local haman (Turkish bath). Nearly every town of any size has several haman. Unusually we all, men and women, shared the main bath chamber or hararet at the centre of which was the göbek Laşi or 'navel stone,' a raised marble platform positioned above the wood or coal fired furnace. We lay on our backs in our bathing suits on the heated, smooth surface, sluicing ourselves with water when we became too hot. The ceiling was domed and loomed high above us . We were then led to a semi-private corner room for a massage from the tellâk or masseur, who used a kese (abrasive mitt). After losing untold layers of skin and grime, we emerged and relaxed with a refreshing apple tea, before heading back to the boat—squeaky clean.
It is in Demre that the Church of St. Nicholas (of Father Xmas fame), is found and just to the north is the ancient city of Myra, the capital of Lycia in the 5th century. Time being short, we missed visiting this site but Ilhan told us about the acropolis, at the foot of which lie remnants of the largest and finest theatre in Anatolia. Also found are large numbers of rock-cut tombs sculptured from the Western scarp. They imitate wooden houses and shrines with pillared facades and reliefs.
Back on Sevgi 6, problem fixed, we motored to Gök Kaya Bight where we swam, snorkeled and anchored overnight. All snorkeling gear was supplied and many hours were spent floating in the blue translucent water watching shoals of tiny fish, oblivious to the world above.
We had quickly adjusted to life on board. Meals were simple, filling and tasty—mainly pasta, pide, salad and fresh fruit. Clothing was minimal—swimsuits and shorts, top and sneakers when we went ashore to explore by ourselves.
We cruised into Kale (castle)—Simena, past the island of Kekova, early next morning. We were blown away. This breathtakingly beautiful spot is an archeologically protected site. Gulets, ketches and yachts lay anchored in the turquoise sea in front of the sleepy fishing village of Kale, which climbed up the hill and was crowned by the ruined castle of the Knights of St. John at Simena. With a heat haze descending on the hills behind it looked surreal.
Once anchored, we were keen to explore and leapt ashore beside the fishing boats tied along the harbour, wandered up past rustic pensiyons and restaurants, past the carpet shops and through the colourful village. It was already baking hot and few people were about. Interspersed with the village houses were the remnants of ancient and medieval structures, In ancient times Simena was a small fishing village composed of two parts—an island and part of the mainland where Kale is today. We climbed the steep steps carved from the rock to the castle, passing sleepy lizards basking in the sun. A sense of history (layer upon layer), became palpable. The view from the top was awesome—sweeping views across the bay and of the boats below.
The Crusaders' castle and its crenellatted walls were well preserved, resting partially on Lycian foundations. Inside we discovered a small ampitheatre, which could have seated about 300. Looking to the East, scattered along the hillside amongst ancient olives and overlooking the sea, stood many simple but beautiful Lycian sarcophagi. Ancester worship was important to the Lycians. These are house-type sarcophagi, some of which are plain and others carved. Unique to Lycia, the shapes of the lids have tall pointed, arched roofs rather than the usual shallow gabled roofs. In the water, near the harbour and along the shore, we spotted some more of these striking tombs.
Back on board, we motored across the bay to Kekova, to visit the other half of ancient Simena—the residential part. Half of the houses are submerged and others half submerged. Catastrophic earthquakes in the 2nd century AD are said to have caused a downward shift of land subsequently drowning the city. Staircases descended down into the sea and we could clearly see the foundations of houses and the ancient harbour in the clear water below us. Swimming here is banned as the area is protected, so we motored on to find a quiet bay.
We didn't find a quiet bay—but we did find a banana boat and before long we were all aboard being towed around the bay at breakneck speed, spilling off in all directions—great fun! Later we were visited by a young girl in a skiff, selling beautifully embroidered scarves. Then we slipped away to anchor in yet another beautiful cove, to swim, snorkel and enjoy an incredible night. Good food, drinks and stimulating company—what more could one ask for.
Kaş, our next port of call, was formally the Greek populated timber shipping port of Andifli but is now a tourist mecca and a major stopping point for gulet cruises. Wonderfully situated, it backs onto sheer 500 metre cliffs peppered with rock tombs. With Levant, one of our Turkish friends, we climbed up to the Hellenistic ampitheatre, then beyond to the almost complete Doric tomb on the hill behind. Levant, a forestry worker, picked cocoa pods to show us and pointed out the different types of plants, including hibiscus growing here, high above the town. The town itself was very picturesque. Lovely old houses lined the streets by the ubiquitous carpet and leather shops, restaurants and night spots. It was however, good to return to Sevgi 6 and head away for the night to swim and relax. We had run out of beer, so on the way Mehmet, much to our amusement, hailed another boat sailing close by. He dived overboard, swam over and climbed aboard. Shortly after he returned, swimming against the tide with the said items in a plastic bag clenched between his teeth—our hero!
On the return trip we anchored off Phaselis and swam ashore to visit the magnificent ancient site. Built around three small bays amongst the trees, as with Kale-Simena, here you could feel the spirits of those who had lived before.
Phaselis was founded by colonists from Rhodes. In 333 BC They surrendered the city to Alexander the Great. It became part of the Lycian Federation in the 2nd century BC until it, as well as Olympus, was overrun by Cillcian pirates. It regained its importance during the Roman era and became a flourishing port and trading centre; trading rose oil and its perfumes and timber from the surrounding forests. An elegant Roman aqueduct remains one of the most prominent landmarks and it was great to explore the site at leisure. Back at the boat we watched as a man squatting on the beach beside the water, shaped an oar with fire.
The next day was our last and we headed back to Antayla and Setur Marina for our final night and party together before we headed our separate ways. It had been a brilliant week and everything we had hoped for. We were relaxed, had made new friends, exchanged cultures and immersed ourselves in history. The best things about gulet travel are: the leisurely pace, laid-back days, the ability to swim, snorkel and go where the big boats can't and exploring all the beautiful coves and inlets along this magical coastline. Give us the chance and we would do it all again !