Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Road Trip from Lake Bafa to the Lycean Way

The last time I was in this region was the summer of 2011, and it was my last trip in Turkey before moving to Barcelona.  I had just gotten off a Blue Cruise in Fethiye, a private yacht a group of ten friends and I rented for four days of exploring small uninhabited islands off the Mediterranean Coast.  My friend, Randy, was visiting me from the U.S. and from Ovacik we began trekking the first part of the Lycean Way. The two major lessons I learned, however, is that July is way too hot to hike in that region, and that you don't need to truly backpack.  There are plenty of pensions littering the small towns along the Lycean Way.  So with my first holiday back in Turkey, Kurban Bayram, I influenced my new teacher friends to head back down to the Lycean Way with me.  This time, in the perfect month weatherwise, and with a rental car chock full of car camping gear.
Our first stop was Lake Bafa.  It is an inland lake created when silt deposited by the Buyuk Menderes river sealed off the Latmos Gulf from the sea.  It's 100 square-miles of brackish water surrounded by strangely-sculpted pinnacles.  We rolled in late at night, and woke up to this view:
Our campground:
We headed out to explore, and quickly picked up this friend. My fear of wild dogs is slowly subsiding,  after my ass-bitten experience in Ankara. Thank goodness!

This is the town of Heracleia, first inhabited by the ancient Carion people (my people). I was particularly enchanted by the myth surrounding Heracleia.  Apparently, the handsome shepherd Endymion was visited by the moon goddess, Selene, while he was sleeping in a cave in Mount Latmos.  Now, this was no ordinary visit.  She made love to him 50 times, and produced fifty daughters without him ever waking once.  Though unconscious during the sex, he somehow enjoyed how he felt when he woke up, because he went and asked Zeus to let this go on forever.  Zeus granted him this wish, oh he of little abstinence himself.  Thus Endymion was allowed to dream forever, and has come to be known as the demigod of the wet dream.
On our hike through the ruins, these village women tried to harass us into buy their handicrafts.
Tortoises, the only wildlife one will ever see in Turkey. Such an overhunted land!
We headed up Mount Latmos, not towards the cave of wet dreams, but towards some ruins we spotted from a distance.
This is actually a rock climbing venue for climbers in Western Turkey.  We saw one face was bolted for sport climbing, but most climbers visit the region to boulder.  Can you spot the steps that have been carved into this boulder by the Carions?

We scrambled...
We came across these steps leading to nowhere several times in our scrambling.  Step into the heavens!
Our view from the cafe where we had lunch with our buddy before heading onwards.
Our next stop was Fethiye.  We did a day hike on the Lycean Way from Kaya Koyu to Oludeniz and back.  There's the Med!
Oludeniz is a paragliders' paradise.  We enjoyed lunch on the boardwalk, then lay on the beach staring at the paragliders as they glided above us.
Sunbathing & swimming in the ocean in late October!!
We arrived back at Kayakoyu just as it was getting dark.  It is a village dating back to late medieval times, but was occupied and vacated by other groups of people as well.  In this century, the Greeks left in 1923 during the Great Population Exchange, and then the Muslim Macedonians moved in for awhile before leaving due to the infertile land.  Instead, they headed to Australia, of all places. Here's the abandoned ghost town at sunset. Creepy.
The next day we visited Saklikent Gorge.  This gorge channels all the water of Ak Mountain and fills up with with bubbling spring water.  It was cold, silty, and the clay sucked your foot in on every step. The slot canyon gets narrower and narrower as you hike back. It goes for 14 km but we only hiked for an hour or so before turning back.  Some of us were in barefeet and we were all cold.  I haven't done anything like this in a long long time, so it was the highlight of my trip.
That night we camped near Xanthos, the capital city of the ancient Lycean Federation.  The modern part of the town of Xanthos is a sea of greenhouses where they're growing tomatoes.  When we first arrived at sunset, the sun's reflection made the town look like a white sea.
The Xanthos River:
The city of Xanthos was originally connected to the tale of Pegasus. Historical mention of the city dates back to 540BC, when the Persian general Harpagus descended into Xanthos Valley and subjected the city to siege.  The Xanthinians responded by gathering their families and making a funeral pyre to kill all the women and children while the men perished fighting.  This was just the first local holocaust.  In 42 BC during the Roman civil war, when Brutus besieged the city, the citizens again made funeral pyres and cast themselves into the flames.  It was no surprise that when we camped near these ruins that night none of us slept well.
On top of this sarcophagus, there are corpses in the form of babies being carried off to death by harpies.
Nearly a full moon lit our campsite that night. We set up our tents right by a hillside littered with sarcophagi and cave tombs from 400BCE.
The next morning, we spent two hours trying to find the Lycean Way trailhead.  Luckily, we were able to wander around the ancient ruins of Patarra, the Lycean's main port, while searching.

Hot, lost, and hungry:
Okay, we found it. Here's looking back at Patarra Beach, the longest uninterrupted sandy beach in Turkey, 9km.
Here's John laying in a Lycean rock tomb:

Classic Lycean Way shot:  a gorgeous sea view and the Lycean way red-n-white trail marker.
On our last night before heading back to Izmir, we camped at a private lagoon near the town of Dalyan, which some locals told us about.
During the whole holiday, we managed to steer clear of the crowds, and soak up warm rays and swim in a still-warm Mediterranean Ocean.  The vegetation was just barely starting to show hints of Fall colors. This region of Turkey rocks especially during this time of year, and we're all itchin' to go back.  My happy place is a mental picture I took of walking barefoot along the sand dunes of Patarra Beach in search of some ruins in the middleground and a tall peak in the far distance jutting out of the sea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Last weekend, my friends and I took the ferry from Cesme (a nearby beach town) to the Greek island of Chios.  Here we are bright and early on the Saturday morning ferry:
Just a short hop, skip, and a jump away from Turkey!
So close, but so different!  As soon as we docked, I noticed a hint of European in the architecture:
The most boring part of an otherwise wonderful weekend, the customs line:
We stayed in a hostel recommended to us by other teachers from ACI.  It was super cute and super cheap.  Tall tall ceilings, exposed beams, and the classic Greek look: white stucco exterior with blue shutters. Here's the interior:
And the views from our balcony:
For our first day of exploring the small island, we rented a car and a motorcycle for the seven of us, and headed 15km inland to tour a UNESCO World Heritage site called Néa Moní, or New Monastery.  When we first pulled up, I noticed the silence and these prayer bundles fastened to tree branches. 
All the monasteries I’ve visited in Turkey and Spain have been perched in out-of-the-way hillsides like this, closer to the heavens, and all have contained the same stillness in the air.
But as we explored the grounds, the stillness I first noticed seemed more connected to an aftermath than an absence of turmoil.  For one, the monastery was surrounded by burnt forest, the remains of the forest fire that swept through these hills just a month ago.   
We hiked through the burnt forest to discover a small chapel with a padlocked door and a grated window for peeping in.  Inside, thousands of skulls stared back at us, laying atop neat piles of bones along the alter.  Shocking and creepy!  We soon realized there was definitely a story we were missing.We soon learned on our tour of the grounds that the story is one of fires, earthquakes, and massacres. I've since done a little research to fill in the rest of the gaps:
According to legend, one night three hermits noticed a strange light coming from the mountain where the monastery is now built, but when they went to explore it the next morning, the light was gone.  To discover the will of God, they decided to set fire to the site. The fire raged along the slope until suddenly dying out, leaving one spot unmarred. In this spot, there was a myrtle bush, and from its branch hung an icon of the Virgin Mary.  The hermits brought the icon to the cave where they lived, but miraculously it continued to return to the place where it was originally found. The hermits decided to build a monastery around its place.  The original monastery is referred to as the Old Monastery.

One day the Virgin Mary icon told the monks there that the general, Konstantinos Monomachos, then exiled in Lesbos, would be emperor. They went to the nearby island of Lesbos and informed the general of this prophecy. He told them that if it should come true, he would reward them.  The men asked only that he build them a new church for the Virgin Mary icon.
We continued to hike up the hill through the burnt forest to discover this newer monastery.  Several Greek Orthodox priests opened the door to let us come in.
Two years later, Konstantinos was unexpectedly called to be emperor of the empire’s capital, Constantinople.  Keeping his promise, he built a church dedicated to Mary at the site where the Old Monastery was. The work continued for 12 years, and after the death of the emperor, his widow brought it to its completion. This is the Néa Moní, or New Monanstery, which we visited.
(The legend is adapted from http://www.mesogeia.net/trip/xios/neamoni1_en.html
But the story doesn't stop there.  The Monastery went through devastating times in the 1800s.  The Néa Moní was burnt down by the Ottoman Turks during the massacre of 1822, and then was greatly damaged by the earthquake of 1881.  The icon supposedly survived both of these undamaged, and hangs today in the church. You can see it in this picture.
These are pictures of the exterior of the chapel.  You can see the older stonework next to the newer stonework, renovation after the earthquake.

The chapel was built inside a cave:

On the second day of exploration, we drove to a medieval village called Pyrgi.  It was built in a fortresslike complex of narrow streets for protection against pirates and invading Turks. The distinctive  technique used to decorate the exteriors of the buildings is called Xysta.  To create Xysta, the outer layer of cement is painted white and then geometric shapes (triangles, circles, etc.) are scraped away, exposing the black base. It is based on the Italian form of decoration called Sgraffito which stems from Genoa, Italy. People from Chios traveled extensively due to its strategic location and brought back the technique from Italy.
It also seemed the custom to hang out tomatoes to dry, creating a stark contrast of color.
This is one of my all time favorite door pictures:
This 13th century Byzantine church is in the town square.  The same striking design covers its exterior.  This is also where the old guy tending to the church kept trying to cop a feel of my girl friends and I. What's up with the old creepers hanging out in mosques and churches?  Ironically, these are the only places where uncomfortable things have happened to me during my travels.
The oldest church in town (12th c.):
The town square.  Okay, it's official. I miss Catalunya a little bit.  And being in Chios felt like I was touring a medieval village in Catalunya, or having lunch in the clocktower plaza in Gracia, Barcelona.  It's so funny how I could sense I was in Europe. Greece and Turkey use so many similar ingredients for their food, and the landscape is exactly the same.  But just changing the architecture so that a town is organized around a town square, preparing the food in different ways, and the way the country roads were built to wind through the small towns perched on hills... all these made me feel like I was in Spain again, even though Greece may have more in common with Turkey.
Then we drove to the southern tip of the island, a region where they grow mastic, a substance used in gum, cosmetics, and medicine, historically a major source of income for the island's inhabitants.  But we quickly passed the mastic farms, because we were headed for this beach, which we named "Paradise Found."
 Bye-bye to Chios for now!  Surely, we will be back again and again to explore more medieval villages, eat yummy Greek food, and swim on more gorgeous beaches...