At first we were a little concerned about going to Turkey because the country shares borders with Syria, Iran and Iraq. The situation is not exactly friendly in Syria at the moment. Though Turkey is a huge westernized country and we’d be nowhere near the terrible fighting we had heard that groups of Syrian refugees were trying to board the ferries along the south coast and we didn’t want to inadvertently find ourselves in a dangerous situation, especially as our young daughter was with us. That’s a little more ‘school of life’ than we were up for. But, after discussing the matter thoroughly over a glass or two of cloudy, refreshing ouzo with Dimitri the bar-tending philosopher (aren’t they all) we felt more confident. “No problem. Nothing will happen,” and the biggie “trust me.” So completely reassuring. While absentmindedly polishing glasses behind the bar Dimitri continued with his history lesson, “Turkey says we took over their islands.” He grinned with such force that it sent shock waves all the way up and over his scarred bald head. “Well, when you are there, just dig down…under those Roman ruins what do you find? Greek ruins! So I ask you, who took over who?” Valid point Dimitri. “Another ouzo please!”
The trip to Turkey from the Island of Kos in Greece is a quick and easy deal. Hop on the ferry in Kos Town and you’re there in less than an hour with your passport stamped. By the way, that whole ‘you must buy a Turkish Visa online’ shtick seems to be a crock. We spent about $240 for three of us and nobody ever looked at it or even asked for it.
We arrived in the touristic port city of Bodrum on a bright sunny morning to hear Muslim chanting echoing loudly through the town from the mosque’s crackling loudspeakers. We are not in Europe any more. This very loud musical call to pray could be heard five times each day but we never saw anyone actually bow to Mecca. Apparently, though 99.8% of the Turkish population is Muslim, very few actually practice devoutly. Kind of like Christmas and Easter Catholics. Still, the minarets of the many mosques combined with the multitude of patriotic red flags flashing the white star and crescent moon, create beautiful contrasting silhouettes against the deep blue of the sky.
We had come to Turkey to celebrate my husband’s birthday ‘somewhere unique.’ He loves boats. No, let me rephrase that. He cherishes, admires, covets and adores boats. He has already purchased his dream boat… in his mind. In Cam’s fantasy we set off each summer on a 54 foot Grand Banks with an Italian cappuccino machine, Blaupunkt speakers and no particular place to go. He scours the internet for the perfect boat the way some men scavenge for porn. Often and surreptitiously. So it was very important that we try to be ON a boat for his birthday. Important to me at least that we be somewhere ‘boaty.’ He really didn’t give a shit. He’s extremely low maintenance that way.
We spent that first afternoon wandering around the market section of the ‘old town’ and found the whole labyrinth of lanes and shops overflowing with crap. Colourful, sparkly crap…but crap nonetheless. Designer knockoffs, fake hookah pipes, kitchy glass candle holders and tassled beach babe bikinis in every fluorescent shade. We went to an ‘authentic’ Turkish restaurant to try sample the traditional Kuzu Güveç or lamb cooked in a clay casserole with an array of eastern spices. Our very odd waiter decided that we should not have that. In fact, he decided that he would order for us. Everything. We asked for salad but instead he brought a big plate of “mezes” or a selection of different appetizers you scoop up with pieces of bread. Stewed eggplant, marinated peppers, soft cheeses and some other mysterious items. “This will be much better for you.” Our daughter asked for curried chicken but Mr. I’m-in-charge-here decided she should have kebabs. We did not dig in to our peasant casserole either. What we ultimately received was a a giant flaming (they had to extinguish it before we could eat) terracotta teapot type of contraption filled with a mix of meats and root vegetables simmering in a rather ordinary sauce. It was all very interesting but cost twice as much as we originally intended to spend. I suppose we had a typical Turkish experience of another kind. The old backstreet ‘upsell.’
The next morning we very excitedly carried our bags down through the cobblestones to board our gulet the G. Okan. Gulets are two or three masted wooden sailing boats ranging from 15 to 35 meters that originally sailed what has become known as the ‘Turkish Riviera.’ These days they are mainly used as small cruise boats and pretty much use only engines for power. This was news to us. Ours did have sails but they likely have rarely been used for sailing. This was a little disappointing as I had hoped to be quietly drifting on the wind rather than noisily chugging and spouting fumes. Oh, but she was a beauty! The G. Okan smelled of fresh varnish and diesel. After a winter in dry dock she was buffed up and ready for action. Twenty four meters of glossy burnished wood with eight cabins and three crew. The soft-spoken Captain Ramazan, his son Gôkhan the innovative cook and first mate the tall, reed thin and quiet Tekin. We would also be sharing this week long voyage with 11 fellow travellers. In all, seventeen strangers who were to become friends before the week was over.
Over the next seven days we anchored in countless quiet deserted bays surrounded by scrubby forest. We would drop anchor, stern tie and either swim in the refreshing crystal clear water or perhaps be shuttled to shore in Captain Ramazan’s little dinghy for a short walk on what narrow goat trails were available. We had lovely warm mornings and then for the first few afternoons and evenings the Spring storms rolled over us with loud thunder rattling right on top of us and heavy rains that had us zipping up tarps, cuddling under blankets and sipping the Turkish form of ouzo or Ricard called Raki. The biggest decisions were whether to swim, eat or sleep. Also, there was no wifi so we had books and each other for entertainment. After the initial withdrawal wore off it was invigorating to have a digital detox. Just hanging…with humans…weird. And speaking a lot of French. Who would have thought we’d have the chance to practice our Française in Turkey? This area seems to be the Mexico of Europe. A quick flight, culturally different, warm weather and affordable. We got a great price from a company called Boating Turkey who offered us 20% off for the last minute booking. It was about $1,000 CAD for all three of us for the week including all of our food.
This section of the Turkish coastline called the Gulf of Gökova is surprisingly unpopulated. With nearly 78 Million people you’d think they would spread out everywhere but even at night there were very few lights twinkling in the distance. The water was incredibly clear. When we would arrive in a small bay the indigo and turquoise reflected back at us from below. A little cool for swimming but we weren’t going to let that stop us. They call these ‘blue water’ cruises and you can see why. Not many fish around the but water was pure bliss.
One day we left our trusty ship anchored at a small marina and took a trip by bus and river boat to Dalyan to see the ancient cliff tombs and plop into the Turkish hot springs and mud baths. Great fun slathering each other in the slimy clay and our skin felt like a babies derrière after that. Once upon a time the tombs were filled with gold, gems and other treasures for the wealthy dead to “pay the ferryman’ into the afterlife. These huge ornate tombs were carved very high up on the stone cliffs to prevent raiders from looting them. Real life ‘tomb raider’ moment. Then we carried on to Turtle Beach, a long wide stretch of shimmering grey sand where the salt water waves of the Aegean Sea break on one shore and the back of the beach is lapped by the fresh water of the river system. We had a great afternoon body surfing until a powerful thunder and lightening storm chased us back to our riverboat for the trip back through the network of reedy canals.
Each morning on board G. Okan we were awakened by the ding ding of the ship’s bell telling us that breakfast was ready. Turkish breakfast is simple and fresh. It consists of tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, olives, boiled egg, bread, honey, jam and tea or coffee. After breakfast we would either swim and begin another serious day of tanning and reading or pull up anchor and move to a new small anchorage to…swim and read and eat. Gôkhan the cook and captain’s son spent many hours each day in the small kitchen preparing feasts for us. Big salads, roasted eggplant, fresh fish and bean and veg casseroles. The food was simple but delicious. Largely vegetarian and really enjoyable. Oh, and there was an ice-cream boat that would come and find us once in a while too.
In preparation for her Dad’s boat birthday Lyla had quietly designed party invitations for all of our new friends on board and stealthily taped them to all of the cute little wooden cabin doors. They were marked ‘Top Secret.’ When our last evening at sea arrived we had a simple little party for Cam after dinner. Somehow, somewhere Gôkhan had managed to find a delicious chocolate cake, we bought some candles and sparklers at the marina, there were special gifts of pistachios, a beautiful embroidered case for his sunglasses, an evil eye to ward off danger, an olive wood bottle opener, a fancy sun hat and of course some ‘raki’ to toast the occasion. Everyone sang to him in French and wished him well and the evening went on quite late. Cam couldn’t have been happier with his ‘birthday at sea.’ Lyla made a card and everyone signed it, including the crew and our newly named ‘Captain Raki!’ I’m pretty sure he’ll keep it forever.
It’s a birthday Cam will always remember. In Turkey, on a boat. With strangers that had become friends. Perhaps one day they will come to Vancouver and we’ll go for a ride to another beautiful, pristine coastal paradise on another big beautiful boat. Just putting it out there.
Love from Turkey,