April 27, 2008
Marmaris Yacht Marina, Turkey
Touring along the Southeastern Turkish Coast
by Lois Joy
You know you’re rushing the season when you come out of a hotel toilet to find mothballs in the wash basin.
“Did you find mothballs in yours, too?” I asked Gunter as we were blown along the sidewalks of Koycegiz by a cool, spring wind.
“All over the place. I don’t think they are ready for business yet. Wow, it’s brisk! Must be Force 5 or 6. Look at those whitecaps kicking up on the lake.”
It is Sunday noon and we are following Highway 400 east in our compact rental car, escaping Marmaris Yacht Marina and the seemingly endless chores on board Pacific Bliss.
One lone boat struggles against the waves as we continue to walk along the desolate promenade lined with empty orange-and-brown love seats and coffee tables bravely facing the slapping waves. I stop and turn towards Gunter. “I can see how this area would be real cute during the summertime. At night, these streetlamps would cast a soft glow over a serene lake…they would bring out the water pipes…and lovers would sit here gazing into each others’ eyes.”
The sleepy little town of Koycegiz is actually set inside a nature preserve, situated at the northern shore of the large lake called Koycegiz Golu, which is joined to the Mediterranean Sea by the Dalyan River. We had planned to follow the river drive to the ancient city of Kaumos, but elected to do it on Monday, in hopes of less blustery weather.
We find an enclosed restaurant for lunch. The food is off-season unappealing; my omelet is thin and dry—like a Denver without the toast—and Gunter’s hamburger is a thin patty with a lone lettuce leaf and no tomato, no onions with so-so French fries. The sidewalks and streets of the town are deserted as we walk back to our parked car.
We drive cross a mountain pass on the drive to the sea-side town of Gocek. Standing at an overlook, I am reminded that Pacific Bliss had sailed past this coast last June, during our overnight from Finike Marina to Marmaris. The islands off the rugged coast looked inviting, even on a gray day.
Gocek is a charming retirement village halfway between Koycegiz and Fethiye, our destination, enclosed by pine-covered mountains on three sides and the Med on the fourth. It was the favorite holiday retreat of the Turkey’s go-getter prime minister, Ozal, who later became president. We had twice been told that the village was a must-stop: by the couple who owns the Travel Depot in our home town of Pacific Beach and also by a cruising couple on the English yacht Aurora, who has decided to retire there.
We walk the town for quite some time, past an array of restaurants and boutiques, and along the marina quay, ducking into a number of chandleries just to look. Eventually we choose a café for an afternoon cake and cappuccino. As we are seated in a plaza, the rain begins in earnest. After three weeks of sunny days while we worked diligently on Pacific Bliss, we never even thought to bring umbrellas! Fortunately, we have packed our rain-jackets-in-a-bag, which we don for the walk back to the car.
Fethiye, a town of 48,000, spreads below us as we again descend the mountains toward the Med. It is an old town, originally called Telmessos in 400 B.C., often visited at the beginning or end of a standard Turkish gulet cruise. The town is an excellent natural harbor, a huge bay protected at its entrance by a small island. Another 11 islands dot the outer bay. A 1958 earthquake leveled the old building, leaving only the tombs. These old Lycian sarcophagi can be found throughout the town, in the middle of streets and even in private gardens.
We drive through the center of town, then head west to the yacht harbor. We manage to locate the Villa Daffodil, recommended by the Lonely Planet, Turkey. Our second-floor room overlooks the end of the harbor. It is small, but freshly painted in a pastel sea grass, with handmade rugs and curtains and a stained glass balcony enclosure. A common courtyard filled with lush trailing bougainvillea and citrus trees looks appealing, but the intermittent rain prevents us from using it. We catch up on the news, then venture outside for a walk—along the marina quay, of course. A cool wind off the bay prevents us from eating there, but we find a delightful little restaurant boldly decorated in orange and white, where we order far too much food and become intimate with kofta spices for the rest of the night!
The morning brings more rain. As we sit at a window overlooking the harbor, partaking of the Villa’s breakfast buffet (included with the room), a sharp crack of thunder invades our space. We worry about Pacific Bliss back in Marmaris. Did we fix all the leaks? We had applied silicone and done a leak test, but was that sufficient? We will find out. I can’t bear to come back to a water-damaged boat after all the work we’ve done.
By the time we pack and check out, fortunately the rain has cleared. Driving out of town, we watch for signs for the Tomb of Amyntas. Once we turn off onto a narrow side street and into a residential area, it is easy to see. Right along a path off the road, Ionic temple façades are carved into the sheer rock face of a high cliff. We walk along the cliff taking photo after photo of these carvings done back in 350 B.C. At the top of the hill, there is a great view over the rooftops of the town and its harbor.
We drive back out to Hwy 400 and turn toward the sea at Ortaca, a non-descript farming village, and then another 13 km to Dalyan, once another sleepy farming town but now a package tour colony. On the approach, the buildings perk up and roses ring the petrol station. We drive through the town to the river, where the action is. A Turkish man wants 4 lira for us to park in this obviously free spot in front of the quay and a long row of excursion boats.
“Go ahead,” I mutter, “I happen to have four coins right here.”
As we leave the car, we are accosted by a swarm of boat captains. “Ninety-seven lira for the entire round trip,” one says. “Eighty lira,” counters another.
“Let’s just go for a cup of coffee and think about it,” says Gunter. We head for a nearby café.
“It says here that we can negotiate in the off-season,” I look up from the Lonely Planet, Turkey. We walk along the row of excursions boats setting idle. A captain walking alongside Gunter offers a trip for 60 lira, then reducing the rate to 50 lira when he doesn’t answer. I stop to take a photo, turning around to see a dark-complexioned captain with an interesting face and a wide smile. “We just want to go to see those tombs closer up for a photo and then to Kaunos. Not the entire tour. It’s too cold.”
“25 lira,” he answers. My name is Osman.”
“Mine is Lois. Show me your boat, please.” We keep on walking along the quay to end of the line of boats. No wonder he has the least expensive rate. It’s all about location…location…location. The boat looks OK. I talk with Gunter.
“OK, let’s go.”
The first stop is among the reeds along the opposite riverbank, to view more Lycian style tombs on a sheer cliff. I wonder how many workers died there, falling from the scaffolding. Osman offers to take our photo with the tombs in the background; he shows us the result from the back of the camera. Good! He must take thousands of photos during the high season.
The motor starts again and we wend our way around a bend, docking alongside a wooden pier with steps leading up and around a high hill. The heavens break loose and we scoot toward the covered center of his boat. We sit there awhile waiting for the rain to stop. The sky is dark. “Don’t you want to go?” asks Osman. “It takes about one hour.”
“No way,” says Gunter. “I’m not slip-sliding through the mud for an hour. Can you show us what we are missing with your brochure there?” he points to a four-color brochure tucked underneath the canvas top. Osman dutifully opens the brochure to the first spread and continues on through, making a nice presentation about the ancient city of Kaunos, founded in the 9th century B.C. By 400 B.C., it was an important Carian city, right on the border with the kingdom of Lycia. But then, their harbor silted, pushed back by the Dalyan River. The Mediterranean Sea, which once surrounded the hill on which the archeological site stands, has now retreated 5 km south.
Our restaurant lunch along the quay is better than yesterday. I order grilled bass with chips. As we finish our lunch, the sun comes out. A couple of ladies are seated along the river. Oh joy! Now I have a decision to make. Do I retake some of my photos? By the time we purchase postcards instead, the rain returns. That speeds us on our way, driving through intermittent rain all the way back to Marmaris.
Back on Bliss, we return to good news. The old leaks are still dry. There is a new small one—in a corner of the port steps—that is a puzzle—but it doesn’t cause a real problem. The trip has been a preview of more sightseeing and good times to come. In one week, our first guests will arrive.