We landed in Antalya on a warm afternoon. We scurried into the airport and up to the booths with familiar brands like, Hertz, Enterprise and Budget. Confidently we announced we’d like to rent a car, the attendant apprehensively eyed our female, blondeness and said they don’t rent to anyone under 25. A problem indeed, as images of motion sickness on a bus next to a crate of chickens raced through my head, we negotiated. We were little, blonde, females, but for every situation where that works against us, it could just as easily work for us. After some back and forth we revealed our blue passports and the second the fact we were American came into the pictures rental cars suddenly came rolling down red carpets.
We selectively negotiated with the various companies and worked out the best deal we could for a compact car. We exited the airport on cloud nine and our tiny white car pulled up in front of us. We peeked in, familiar styling and manual transmission. Gabby announced as she could not drive stick, I would be chauffeuring, oh well; we hopped in grinning from ear to ear. After a jerky take off, we came to a red street sign with ‘DUR’ written on it, thank goodness for a universal red octagon shape.
Speeding down the road to keep up with the haphazard traffic with realized Turkish does not even share a similar alphabet with English or Italian, there was no guessing or logical deduction of signs or directions. We used the map that came with the car to navigate in the supposed direction of our hotel. After about an hour of hectic city driving and 12 lane roundabouts, we found ourselves on a twisty two lane highway traveling west along the Mediterranean. We experienced a pattern, travel along the aqua sea, a steep climb up snow capped mountains, a descent into a valley covered with farmland and greenhouses, slowing down to move through a desolated half destroyed villages, then back to the sea. Though predictable, the pattern never became less awe inspiring.
The sun sank below the docile Mediterranean and we played the ‘those lights on the horizon are our towns’ game. After losing that game many times we climbed our last mountain, slowly navigated into the last valley and followed a long dirt road to our pension. We were greeted by a large Turkish family who sat us down and brought out the most beautiful feast and introduced us to their local delicacies. We ate under the stars on their outdoor patio surrounded by silence and a mysterious village we could not wait to explore tomorrow.
The next morning we awoke to a blue sky and we walked onto our patio to take in a town of perhaps 30 houses and buildings, a mosque and a tiny dirt road that linked it all together. We rushed downstairs for a fresh breakfast of olives, honey, bread eggs and vegetable salad with mint. We ate the freshness until we could not move and then put our feet up to begin novels which would soon become an after breakfast digestive ritual while sunning ourselves. During breakfast the waiter seemed proud and almost giddy to offer us, NesCafe! We confusedly accepted the brew and would soon find that NesCafe is somewhat of a treat in a country seemingly without American style drip coffee. After a few chapters we decided to explore, the beach was around here somewhere!
We started down the dusty road past closed stores and decrepit buildings. We entered a national park, which puzzled us then walked over the crest of a hill expecting a beach of sort, which we saw but what lay between us and the beach was a surprise, that even in all our exotic traveling planning; we could not have expected.
Standing on the top of the hill we saw the glittering sea in the distance and between us and the sea the ancient gates of a city and past the gates, an ancient amphitheater, tombs and other grand ruins. The spectacle stood half excavated in a giant field of red poppy. After some time of dumbfounded silence we looked at each other and ran toward the surreal scene. We danced through the hip high flowers and grass to the structures, we looked around cautiously, as if a thousand tourists and a ticket booth would suddenly spring up –but we heard only crickets and the cows munching thoughtfully.
We explored the ruins and then took to yoga in the amphitheater. Alone with the history, sun and fields of poppy we read into a book about Patara history which the hotel owner loaned us. Patara was once a hub port called ‘Lycia.’ A wealthy and powerful city Patara was known for visitors such as Apollo and inspiration for Hymns by Homer.
Leaving the ruins we continued to the beach. After traveling down an old wooden walkway we passed over the dunes which revealed a vast white sand beach with aqua green water, a lazy surf, and not one human being. We threw our clothes and books onto the sand and ran into the water. We spent a lazy afternoon on the beach with the surf, sun and our books.
The rest of the week followed fashion. After a long breakfast, an adventure, some mind blowing history and most of all; not one other tourist. We took the car to the neighboring resort-like towns where things seemed to be ramping up for the tourist season. We ate pancakes in an outdoor patio with rugs and pillows on a cliff overlooking a giant bay. We grew accustom to Turkish hospitality as numerous people invited us into their homes for coffee and merchants gave us free gifts.
Toward the end of our trip we brought our cameras to the hidden ruins behind Patara. As our photographic styles differed we planned to meet back in 2 hours and I set off for a tomb I saw far in the distance, nestled on the side of a lush green hills. I wandered through ancient courtyard, their glistening marble floors under 6 inches of water which had spilled out of the nearby marshes. I drifted through some dunes which were littered with stones covered in hieroglyphics and finally began trekking up the hill to reach the tomb. I photographed it and then climbed to the top to survey the land. I spotted another building; crumbling in the distance and projected I could hike to it and back in time to meet Gabby.
I followed some old sheep trails to the aged building and crossed over the piles of rubble to shoot inside. As I finished my shooting I was lured further away by yet another set of tombs, half buried in the earth. I found that my planned path of travel was headed right through a lake, which disrupted my plans. I figured I would have to backtrack around near the ocean and use the dunes to make my way back to Gabby.
I trekked up the sparsely vegetated hill toward the ocean and began to hear the sounds of a sheep herd, “oh the photos!” I thought excitedly and hurried my step. As I neared the raggedy herd I stepped lightly as not to startle then, just as I sunk into position to start shooting I heard a yell and looked up to see a shepherd, equally as raggedy, yelling and waving his arms wildly. ‘I’d angered a Turkish Shepherd, EEK!’ I turned to scurry away, but the shepherd persisted and grew louder as he came closer. I decided to put on my ‘forgive me, but I’m just a lost blonde American’ smile. I began to realize he wanted me to come over to him, near the tent I guessed was his camp. We eventually found ourselves face to face and said hello in smiles and pleasant gestures.
As he brought me back to ‘camp’ two ladies timidly came towards me, the man seemingly introduced them and they shyly looked at the ground, occasionally sneaking a sheepish smile and look at me. He motioned and they quickly took to putting on tea for me. My meeting time breathing down my neck I signaled I would like to take pictures, they were puzzled by my tiny machines but humored me as I gluttonously snapped away at this magnificent scene. We sipped on tea and I explained I was from America which invoked many ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhs.’ As if smacked by an idea the man stood up and rushed to a tree, taking down a plastic bag and excitedly showing me its contents: raw meat. I smiled at the gesture but explained I (luckily) needed to meet a friend near Patara.
The women said their tearful goodbyes, I thanked them for their kindness and the Shepherd and I set off toward the sea. Holding my hand the man took me to the dunes, stopped as if captivated to stare at the sea for some time then pointed toward my home base and bid me goodbye. He stayed and watched me navigate up and down over the white dunes until I was out of sight. I jogged back to Gabby to describe my dreamlike hike.
To return to the airport we cut through the mainland, instead of following the sea. We found ourselves traveling up great snowy mountains, through mountain villages and past many hazelnut orchards. Driving out of this dream that had been our vacation we reflected on the perfection of our vacation. Leaving Turkey we had grown as people, seen things most Americans don’t and clutched the 50 rolls of exposed films which documented our epic Spring Break.
For pictures from this adventure check out Southern Turkey in my photo gallery.