Week 33 – On The Turquoise Coast

7th – 13th April 2014

Fethiye esplanade

Fethiye esplanade

Becalmed in Fethiye – and loving it

We spent the first few days of this week pleasantly becalmed in the pre-season sun of Fethiye.  Ensconced in the light and airy flat of Emre, himself a tourist yacht operator from Marmaris, we enjoyed the nearby Fethiye foreshore, wandered its wide and modern streets, and sampled delicious local foods.

Fethiye is blessed with a fabulous location, virtually in the centre of the Turkish coastline where the Aegean coast turns east along the Mediterrenean coast proper.  Sheltered waters, ideal for yachts, proximity to the Greek islands, and a stunning physical, historical and cultural landscape offer heaps.

Emre is a passionate, modern Turk who is proud of his culture and islamic tradition.  He challenged us in conversations that ran late into the night, laughed with us at the humour we can share, and basked in the culinary triumphs he was able to offer up from his own kitchen and those of local eateries.  Authentic moussaka, fish selected fresh and cooked at the local market and cay – endless hot cay – graced our plates.

At this time of year all is nearly ready for five months of frenzied ‘season’: the final touches are being applied to boats, cafes and shops, and the early travellers are trickling in for quiet towns and bargains.  Here paint dries, there a bloke with an arc welder creates yet another pergola from steel tube; dust covers are whipped off outdoor furniture; signs are hoisted under the blue spring sky.

We wandered along the sunny foreshore to the marina, were briefly ‘captured’ by a group of army veterans at their club house for more bi-lingual conversation and cay, and, after our release, admired the freshly varnished wooden excursion boats bumping and straining at the quayside, as if raring for another busy summer on the turquoise waters.

The boys bounced on trampolines and slurped ice creams, and Reuben and Graham scrambled up the rocky hillside to the crumbling Crusader castle that offers a silent, magnificent view over town, harbour and distant mountains.

This week we clocked up our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and we’re privileged to share it here together on another big trip.  For us, these experiences are what life’s about:  building a life together, a life of journeys, family and – hopefully – adventures.

Entranced with this part of the world, we took the plunge and splurged on a Blue Cruise, the famous 4 day/ 3 night gulet trips that take the slow, seaborne route along the so-called Turquoise Coast.  It wasn’t cheap, but Prunella worked the emails and came up trumps with one of the several reputable firms that start the season a little early.

The weather is good, the coastline spectacular and largely empty of the hordes, it was our fifteenth wedding anniversary week, the prices were fair:  “what the hell”, we told ourselves…so two days hence we were to report to the boat.

An email from the yacht company on Friday afternoon left us somewhat dismayed:  bad weather had forced the boat into Kas harbour, a town about half way along the cruise itinerary.  We were to take a minibus and commence the voyage there, taking a slower version of the planned trip.  Sadly this truncated some of the more spectacular parts of the trip, nearer to Fethiye.

Our heads grudgingly accepted that spring weather troubles are a fact of nautical life, even in these parts, but our hearts sank somewhat.  Still, we tucked into our last evening’s dinner, whipped up by Emre, with gusto.  Another pair of couchsurfers had joined our merry company at his flat, and we enjoyed some good conversation and travel stories.

Ship’s Log – Day 1 –  Saturday 12th April

We pack our trunks and head off, waving a cheery farewell to our erstwhile and all round good host, Emre.  The dreaded minibus arrives, with not a hint of the bad weather.  Our party in moderately good spirits, enthusiasm for the voyage tempered by the change of sailing orders received yesterday.

The minibus swings through Fethiye Otogar, and sweeps up a cheerful bunch of Australian backpackers, taking a brief Turkish break from their working holidays in London.

Temporarily disgorged at V-Go Yacht Offices.  Passport details taken for the Harbour Master and Ship’s Complement.  To the great satisfaction of all, we are instructed to report to the beach opposite Gemiler (St Nicholas’) Island – a mere twenty minutes away on the other side of Fethiye’s peninsula.  The doughty crew had cajoled the boat from Kas!

We arrive on the pebbly beach, the 75 foot motor yacht ‘V-Go’ swinging lazily at anchor in a bay that can only be described as beautifully turquoise.  Pine clad mountains climb directly out of the water on all sides, one forming the Island.  A ship’s boat, manned by a cheerful Skipper, comes alongside a rickety jetty.  In moments our chattels are hoisted aboard.  If this water was in a pool you’d swear it had been tinted with something artificial, but this is a purely natural palette.

Reporting for duty, St Nicholas Island

Reporting for duty, St Nicholas Island

Soon we get underway, skirting the Island, and setting course across a broad bay, past languid Oludeniz, under the colossal peak of Baba Dag, and promptly drop anchor at the Butterfly Gorge, a narrow valley accessible only across this calm beach or via a perilous walking trail.

The boat is lowered away, and motors us to the shore.  A party of sabre-toothed chickens set forth into the lightly wooded interior, searching for the waterfall.  We map the trail as far as is practical, but frankly the stroll is the highlight as the water source is somewhat dry.  The canyon is spectacular, and a number of new insect species are observed by Felix, our senior bug expert. The “Golden Bum Bug” and “Spotted Black Bum” are entered (perhaps not for the first time) in the entomology books.  The eponymous butterflies are also observed, although not in the numbers anticipated.

Graham remarks on a particularly attractively gnarled olive tree under which he could imagine whiling away his old age, with a ready supply of wine, a suitable array of victuals, and his shipmate Prunella.

After a pleasant couple of hours, the ship’s launch returns and collects those of the complement who went ashore.  Lunch is served by the first mate/galley master, before the anchor is hauled and we set course for Oludeniz.  A swim is enjoyed in the shelter of the bay, before we motor across a calming sea back to our starting point.  This will be our anchorage for the night.

A shore party consisting of Reuben, Graham and sundry others takes a sunset stroll of the Byzantine ruins on St Nicholas Island.  A small cache of treasure (geocache) is deposited among the crumbling ruins, and a eye-wateringly beautiful sunset is observed.  We return through the gloaming to the boat, and one can imagine the Great God Pan, flitting among the long-shadowed olives and shattered arches.

Ship’s Log – Day 2 –  Sunday 13th April

Part of the ship’s company disembark with a cheery wave.  These fine sailors had voyaged from Demre to Fethiye (i.e the opposite direction to our voyage) and the aforementioned foul weather had caused our passages to overlap.  Again the boilers were fired up (OK, the diesel – but stick with me), and we commenced a long cruise along the coast, some five hours in duration, toward Kas.  We sailed past the flat expanse of Patara beach, passed Kalkan on the port beam, and skirted the Greek Island of Meis to windward, before finally dropping anchor in  sheltered cove opposite our destination.

Again, the sabre-toothed chickens set forth, this time for a swim or paddle on a little beach.  Our trio of cabin boys are not the best swimmers, and we noted with appreciation the skipper’s efforts making it possible for them to splash around off a beach rather than in the open sea.  We even broke out the snorkel and mask, and practiced with that instrument of marine exploration.

Prunella and Lucas head out to explore some cliff caves, and in the meantime the remainder of the party examine the beach for interesting pebbles, shells and speculate on pieces of Roman marble.

We returned to the ship, pausing to inspect an impossibly placed carved rock tomb, typical of the pre-Roman Lycian culture of this region.

A brief but choppy course is steered for Kas harbour proper – the captain and his two-man crew impressing all passengers with their skill at motoring into the tiny harbour at almost full power across a stiff chop, throwing the helm over, slinging out the anchor, and using it to pivot the boat neatly into a berth, sternwise.  Any one of these manoeuvres, if clumsily executed, could have seen substantial damage to any of the immaculately kept sailing fleet tied up in Kas, possibly ruining the season of several operators.

However, the evolution was completed with nary a scratch to varnish or paintwork.

We go ashore, and enjoy an early feast of Lahmajun (Turkish Pizza), take in the impressive amphitheatre by twilight, and enjoy ice cream on the foreshore.  The boys sleep in their cabin and all the grown ups gather on the quarterdeck for a fish dinner.

… continued

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