On top of everything else, my son is falling into heat stroke. We’ve been dragging our packs and too little water up the dusty mountain trail for hours, the Turkish sun lying like a dead weight on our heads. Our shirts, our shorts, even our socks are sodden with sweat. We haven’t seen another hiker, another human, since we started up the trail, and we’ve been half lost or worse for almost as long. Now this. Gordon stops, stunned, in the trail. He is flushed a dark red, and he complains that his heart is running out of control. He’s no longer sweating. He can’t walk any farther. I’m only in a little better shape.
But we can’t stop here. The next water is over the mountain we’re climbing. If we’re on the right trail, that is – something I’ve come to doubt as we slogged up the endless ascent, trying desperately to match our guidebook’s landmarks to the trail we’re on. There are no signposts, and we can’t expect a park ranger to come along. We’re deep in the Turkish mountains on a trail that hardly existed a few years ago, a trail that few have heard about, let alone hiked.
Well, if nothing else, heat stroke is a good excuse for a break. We drop our packs and fall onto them, hoping for a breeze. Two days ago, I was practicing law in Washington, DC. Just how did I manage to get us into this fix so quickly, I wonder. As usual, it’s a long story, and it begins with a book. Casting about for a summer hiking trip with my son, Gordon, I learned that Turkey had just opened its first long-distance hiking trail – the 500-kilometer Lycian Way -- linking the mountains and coastline of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast between Antalya and Fethiye. An Englishwoman, Kate Clow, had just released a guidebook, and The London Times had already rated the Lycian Way one of the world’s ten best hikes.
I was intrigued. I’ve traveled in Turkey before and liked it, even though the country has been relentlessly trashed by the American media. Most of us saw “Midnight Express,” an Oscar-winning movie in which the young drug-smuggling hero is cruelly mistreated in a Turkish prison. What none of us realized at the time was that the screenwriter, an unknown by the name of Oliver Stone, was launching an entire oeuvre of politically correct lies served up as fact. In fact, Turkey is by no means a perfect country. But it looks pretty good next to its neighbors – Syria, Iraq, the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia.
The trail sounds delightful. The Lycian Way winds through 6000-foot mountains. It passes Mediterranean coves and inlets that cannot be reached by road, promising solitary noontime swims as a break from hiking. It drops into villages and climbs to mountain pastures that rarely see visitors, let alone foreigners. And it carries its hikers through a mass of history unmatched by any region of the world. When Alexander the Great marched through this neck of the woods, wintering near Mt. Olympos, the Lycians he met must have viewed him as an upstart barbarian. They already had a centuries-old urban culture. The Lycians yielded in the end -- first to Greek, then Roman, then Byzantine and Genovese and finally to Arab and Ottoman influences – all of whom left homes and religious buildings strewn casually across what are now lonely goat pastures.
We’re sold. How can we go wrong?
After our flight to Antalya, a taxi takes us to the old city. Down a few alleys, around a few shops and cafes that seem to be doing all of their business in the street, and we’ve arrived at the Doğan Hotel – a rambling complex of houses built around a garden and swimming pool. (At least the brochure called it a pool. In the United States, we’d fill it with warm water and call it a hot tub.)
Antalya stands on cliffs that are broken briefly by the old port, a tiny inlet made nearly circular by two breakwaters. The cliff walls here are heightened by ancient Byzantine (and older) stone fortifications. One can easily imagine the great ships of vanished empires rowing up to the docks between the high stone walls. Now, the walls echo with the thrum of outboard and inboard motors, as wooden tour boats and fishing vessels putter in and out of the harbor.
Beyond the harbor, across a large bay, I catch a first glimpse of our destination – the high mountains ofLycia. In the dusty evening light, they rise one behind the other like paper cutouts. However two dimensional they look, though, one of the dimensions is definitely up. The coastal mountains seem to soar straight out of the sea, and the range behind them is just as steep and twice as high. For the first time, I realize how tough the next few days will be.
We carry our packs to a dolmus stop. Dolmuses are a combination taxi, bus, and minivan. They run a standard route but will stop anywhere along the route if hailed. Dolmus also appears on most Turkish menus, where it refers to grape leaves stuffed with rice and delicacies. It’s the concept of being “stuffed” that the two uses have in common, so it’s not hard to imagine what the trip was like.
On the other hand, dolmuses are efficient, cheap, and a good way to force ourselves to learn a few basic Turkish phrases like, “Where is the bus to Göynük? How much does it cost?”
These phrases come in handy on the outskirts of Antalya, where we switch to an intercity bus. It’s also here that we encounter our first difficulties with Kate Clow’s guidebook. She has written the book from west to east, so that it ends near Antalya. So we’re starting near the end of her guidebook and walking toward the start. This means reading all of her directions backwards, but since she’s written the book in short segments, this does not seem too hard. One segment ends at the coastal town of Göynük, which looks like a good place to begin our hike.
Except that Göynük is not on the map that Kate Clow has supplied. And on a close reading of the text, Göynük is simply listed as a good place to hike out for supplies – perhaps two or three kilometers off the main trail. So we actually have no idea exactly where in Göynük we should start. I’m hoping that we can just go to the town center and start from there, but the driver asks for a specific location. I tell him we’re going to “Göynük Yayla” – the high Göynük mountain pasture that is on the Lycian Way. He thinks for a moment, says “OK,” and a half an hour later drops us in the middle of nowhere. He points to a rough track headed west, into the hills, and says “Göynük Yayla” with emphasis.
Well, this is not exactly downtown Göynük, but we see a few some crude painted signs that say “to the waterfall” in German, and the driver seems pretty sure of himself, so we drag our packs out of the dolmus. The bus drives off, leaving us blinking in the hot sun.
Strapped into the packs, we begin marching along a dusty road toward the Germans’ waterfall. Immediately, we begin sweating seriously. This is dry country, and there’s a big difference between the temperature in sun and in shade. But the air is not as dry as the country. I estimate that humidity is in the 40 to 50% range – low enough so a good breeze brings refreshment, high enough so any exertion, especially in still air, quickly builds a saturated microclimate around our bodies. Our sweat no longer cools, it simply drips everywhere -- into our eyes (mixed for piquancy with sun tan lotion), down our backs, along our legs, and into our heavy boots and socks.
Of course, there’s one problem. We had planned to buy bottled water, bread, cheese, and a few other supplies in downtown Göynük. There aren’t any stores on the dirt road we’re following now. In fact, so far, there aren’t any buildings. We march on anyway. Perhaps we’ll find the center of town this way.
We don’t. But we do find Mr. Malik. Mr. Malik runs a inn (or pension) about twenty minutes’ walk down the road we are following. He speaks only a little English, but we get by in Turkish, German, and English, each of us trying to speak the other’s tongue and relying on German as a fallback. Mr. Malik is not a Turk, he says with emphasis. He’s a Macedonian, from the Balkans. He shows us the framed picture of his father, hanging on the wall above two wicked looking daggers that could double as swords and would come in handy if you had an elephant you needed to disembowel, quickly.
The old man looks like he knew how to handle the daggers, too. He stares fiercely out at the frame, piercing eyes above a thoroughgoing bandit’s mustache that must have been his pride and joy. “Why are you wimps sitting in a café when you’ve got mountains to climb?” he seems to say.
Well, for a start, because his son insists that we can’t get there from here. The trail is out – rockfalls or something. But Kate Clow’s book was published less than a year ago, and she doesn’t say anything about rockfalls. We invoke her authority, and Mr. Malik wavers. Or perhaps he sees that we’re going to try no matter what he says. He sells us water and fills a plastic bag with bread and goat cheese. As we leave, he waves warily. I suspect he’s worried about having to bring our bodies out next week, and who will pay for that?
We soon come up on a second pension and café – “Ali’s Garden Café.” It has a map out front for German hikers. It looks nothing like Kate Clow’s map, but after long study we conclude that Ali’s “Pfad No. 1” (Path No. 1) will take us to a place that also seems to be on her map and that avoids the waterfall that Mr. Malik assured us was a dead end. We march up the road, looking for Pfad No. 1 and grumbling about Kate Clow’s mapmaking and route descriptions, which have left us without a clue how to find her trail from Göynük.
We save some ire for the Turkish government. Ordinarily, we’d buy good contour maps of the route, and that would allow us to identify roads, rivers, mountains, and routes on our own from the map. But the Turkish government, which has such maps, refuses to release them to the public. National security, it says. Perhaps they’re afraid the Greeks will come back -- storming ashore to set up a Lycian National Liberation Front in the mountains -- and use the maps to launch raids on Göynük.
So, mapless, we march on, the sun falling heavier and heavier on the dusty white road. The way is still flat, running near a dry riverbed, but the ground is rising steeply all around. Soon we’ll have to launch ourselves on the real hiking. Right on schedule, a rough arrow painted on a rock points us off the road to Pfad No. 1. We cross the river, then a small open concrete irrigation channel, and the trail launches itself up the slope.
Now it’s really hot. The brush provides only occasional shade. The air is heavy and still. Our shirts sweat through, then our shorts. We have only two thoughts – putting one foot in front of the other and hoping to God we aren’t on the wrong damn trail. Because the only thing worse than grinding up this hill would be heading back down to start over somewhere else. On past vacations, we have hiked for an hour, taken a break, then hiked another hour. Now we can barely plod twenty minutes without a rest. Sitting in whatever shade we can find, we consult Kate Clow’s guide, which naturally describes this stretch of trail (if it is this stretch of trail) with the breezy fondness of a woman walking downhill. We don’t recognize any of the landmarks she ticks off on her jaunty descent. But Gordon points out that many of the trail markers match the red-over-white blaze depicted in Kate Clow’s book. This is comforting, though inconclusive. For all we know, that’s how all Turkish trails are marked.
As we keep stumbling up the mountain, Gordon begins to look bad – flushed and slowing, even though we stop often for water breaks. Around noon, after another break, he walks a hundred meters and stops dead. Heat stroke.
We drop onto our packs and think. I jog outside in the Washington summer, I’m familiar with heat stroke. In fact, it’s a standard feature of my first run in temperatures over 90 degrees. Plus, there was the infamous Baker family incident at Yosemite, when my daughter and I walked a friend of hers from Germany most of the way up a set of valley switchbacks, stopping only with her friend dropped unconscious on the trail from heat stroke.
That time, we poured water on her and walked her back down. But here our options are more limited. We don’t have enough water for that. Besides, if water could cool us, why hasn’t all this sweat we were soaking in do the job? And walking out isn’t much of an option unless we want to call off the hike. How could we face Mr. Malik, whose doubts we’d brushed off? How could we face his bandit father, who probably ran down other men’s goats on this very trail just for a change of diet?
Still, Gordon can’t go on like this. Since I am feeling better than him, I decide to carry his pack as well as mine. This is really brutal. But it works. Soon, Gordon is looking better, sometimes leading the way and doing the trail finding. After an hour or two, he gets his pack back. What a relief. I now appreciate the joke about the guy who hits himself with a hammer “because it feels so good when I stop.”
We’re still at least half lost. We’ve seen one or two spots that might correspond to Kate Clow’s descriptions, but we’re missing more than half of them. We reread the already memorized paragraph. Have we really spent an agonizing day on one measly paragraph? Or is it worse than that? After describing a long stretch of trail, Kate says that it “eventually” crosses an irrigation ditch, the only landmark we’re sure we’ve seen. Perhaps all our sweat and heatstroke is encompassed in that one word. The thought is too much to bear. Still, the view to the north across the valley is what we expect. Besides, the trail has begun to descend. We’re not going back now.
As we’ve climbed, the brush has grown up in a sparse evergreen forest. The trail is shaded now, and the landscape has a classic charm. Stark white rocks and twisted three trunks break through a carpet of pine needles. The trail is dead quiet. We have not seen a single human being since leaving the road. Our breaks are peaceful and calm, though in the still air of the forest every part of our clothing is saturated with sweat. And we’re running out of water.
Among the guidebook’s landmarks that we haven’t seen are the springs and water sources Kate describes. This is serious. You can’t sweat for hours the way we have – drops falling every second from arms and face – without replacing fluids. We started with well over a gallon of water, but it’s nearly gone, and we’re deep into fluid debt.
If we’re right about our location, we’re descending to a stream that divides two mountains and then merges with the main river. Kate describes a charming camping site on the shores of the stream. And even if we’re not there, this trail is clearly going into a major valley, and it’s hard to believe there isn’t water at the bottom.
At 3:30 we stop for lunch. Hammered by the heat, we’re still not hungry. We just figure we should eat. Mr. Malik’s goat cheese has leaked all over the plastic bag, soaking much of the bread.
“Ordinarily, that would be disgusting,” Gordon says as he digs in, “but right now it’s just a good source of fluid.”
In fact, we cannot eat the dry parts of the bread. We don’t have enough saliva to soften it, so chewing and swallowing the harsh crust seems to cut our mouths.
Suddenly, as the trail swings around the bottom of a ravine, we spot a pool. Of a sort. It’s actually more of a mud puddle, actually, topped by a fuzz of green algae. As we approach, frogs leap to safety in the three-inch-deep swamp.
“Hey,” Gordon says, “if frogs can live in it, how bad can the water be?”
“Fish, too,” I say, pointing to a small one, which is unfortunately floating on its side at the surface.
Still, it’s clear we’ll be drinking this water, using our purification tablets, unless we can find a better source upstream. Luckily, exploring a hundred meters upstream we find another pool. No scum, no dead fish. A frog jumps in as I approach, and the water is so clear I can watch him swim several feet to the bottom and try to hide in the shadow of a stone. In fact, I can see him sitting in the shadow watching me take off my shoes and wade in up to my waist. It is cold but not freezing. Nothing could be better.
Gordon joins me. We treat the water and then drink it by the liter. When we finish, the world seems very different. We are cooled, dried, and no longer desperately thirsty. It is past 5:00. The air is merely warm.
A few minutes’ hiking brings us to a larger stream wide enough to require boulder-jumping to cross. At the edge of the stream is an area that must have been mud in the spring, so perfectly smooth is the ground. It will make a perfect place for the tent. It is surely the camping place with water that Kate Clow told us to expect. We are on the trail!
We swim again while boiling water. The air is just a bit warmer than balmy. We will need no sleeping bags. We boil and drink, boil and drink. There is no end to the boiling and drinking.
By 8:15 it is pitch black. I lie out on a rock in the stream on a kind of natural chaise lounge that spring floods have smoothed into the top of this great boulder. The stars are sharp. Life is good.
We arise refreshed, break camp, haul on our packs, and cross to pick up the trail. Which, unfortunately, is nowhere to be found. Back at our camp, there’s a trail marker not ten feet from the water, and higher up are the blazes we followed down to the river. The trail must cross the river. We search again, this time without packs, going upstream and down, climbing the far bank in hopes of intersecting the trail. If this is Kate Clow’s trail, it should climb the ridge that marks the far bank, drop to the main valley then climb to Göynük Yayla. But, rereading her description, we read that our campsite is not exactly the “grassy open spot” she describes. This isn’t her camp and we may not be on her trail after all, despite the red and white blazes.
Have we missed a turnoff earlier? We pack up and walk slowly back to the puddle with the dead fish. There are no branch trails.
Perhaps with lighter packs or cooler weather (we are already sweating heavily), we would scramble downstream to the main valley, counting on crossing the main trail sooner or later. But yesterday has made us cautious. We are no longer sure that we’ve ever been on the Lycian Way, and we’re not ready to double what looks more and more like a bad bet. We decide to go out the way we came in, looking again for Kate’s landmarks now that we’re traveling in her direction.
But the trail still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Just after a spot I’m sure I remember from the trip down, we turn a corner and find – a pure clean spring, with water pouring out of a pipe and into a large stone trough. How could we have missed this on the way down, when we needed it so badly -- only to find it now, when our water bottles are still full? Is Kate Clow the magical realist of trail guide writers?
In fact, without warning, we’re on a new trail, also blazed in red and white. It’s going in the same direction, but unlike yesterday’s trail, this one searches out the views (and the long drops) to be found by hugging the cliffs where each ridge drops into the valley.
Trudging up the same slope we came down yesterday afternoon, we relive the first harsh hours of the previous day’s hike. But things are better today. We are still pouring sweat, still soaking our clothes, but the trees keep the sun off our heads. And the cliffs offer not just great views but strong breezes.
Sitting in the shade after a long climb, looking at the tiny braided river far below, feeling the breeze evaporate moisture from our shorts, we are almost content. Except for the fact that we don’t know where the hell we are and have been forced to retrace our steps.
Soon, though, we do know where we are. Kate Clow’s landmarks passed unrecognized while we were going west, but now they leap into focus on our eastward journey. Bathed in sweat at midday, we reach the top of the climb and start down. On the rocks, painted messages advertise Ali’s Garden Café.
When we get down, we’ll want a cold drink – at least a liter or two of cold drink, in fact. Ali’s Garden Cafe begins to sound better and better. Especially because the only alternative is Mr. Malik’s establishment, and we’re, well, not that eager to see him again. We’d have to admit that, in fact, we couldn’t get there from here. And face the contempt of his bandit father. Silently, we agree. Ali’s Garden Cafe is our destination.
Descending out of the forest and into the sun, we find the trail full of loose stones. They slide under our feet as we jolt down the path. Who would have though that going downhill would be such hard, sweaty work?
At last we reach the irrigation ditch, the river. And the stark unshaded rocky road in full afternoon sun. It’s forty minutes to Ali’s Garden Cafe from here. We are steeling ourselves for the walk when behind us we hear the clip-clop of horse hooves. We turn to see a peasant wagon headed our way. Actually, it is a peasant cart that’s been turned into a tourist attraction, complete with tourists. The young Turk with the reins says something to the tourists, stops, and waves us up onto the cart. It’s a miracle! Now we sit under an awning, jolting over the harsh rock instead of struggling to swing our tired legs down this unprepossessing stretch of baking road. The tourists, meanwhile, eye us warily and try to stay upwind.
We don’t care. Ali’s Garden Cafe is coming up. We can taste the cold drinks. Our cart trots right up to the front door. And past it. We aren’t stopping at Ali’s, and as hitchhikers it seems rude to insist on being dropped off. Especially because I now see that the driver has handed a card to the tourists. It is an advertisement for Malik’s pension. We are driven directly to Mr. Malik’s front door and sent into the café. So this is the price of the ride – a glass of water and a large serving of crow. Mr. Malik conveys in rough German his surmise that we spent the night lost on the mountain before admitting he was right. Neither my German nor my Turkish is equal to a more elaborate explanation. Indeed, I’m not sure how much more there is to the story.
His father stares down stonily from the wall. As quickly as decency permits, we decline dinner, hoist our packs, and walk out to the main road. There we flag down a dolmus to Tekirova. Tekirova is a “strip city” – a Turkish version of the strip city that can be found all along Route 1 in the U.S. Hotels spread out along the beach, while the road runs behind them. Across the road are the pensions and grocery shops and leather goods stores and restaurants that serve less affluent tourists. So arriving in Tekirova is has an element of ambiguity; somewhere along the strip, you have to decide you’ve arrived. At what looks like a vaguely urban clump of shops, we decide we’re there and get off the bus.
We walk to the nearest pension, drop our packs outside, and I stroll in to negotiate the usual discount off the hotel’s rack rate, trying to look like a tourist who’s left his car at the curb and would easily try another half-dozen establishments if the price isn’t right. This might not work if the desk clerk has a good nose; so I stand well back from the desk. Success; the price for a double room (With air conditioning! I try to contain my glee.) drops a third to about $25. We move in, showering in our underwear to kill two birds with one stone, wander around in town luxuriously unburdened by our packs, eat a modest meal in a courtyard restaurant, and do some window shopping. The stores are tiny, but the brand names are all too familiar. One shop seems to be devoted to “No Fear” clothing, all sold at prices that resemble those at Target stores in the U.S. Compared to Tekirova’s charms, bed looks good.
We wake up 11 hours later at 7:30. Breakfast is included in the price of the room, and it’s served out by the pool – goat cheese, boiled eggs, olives, honey, and bread.
We start eating, and the eating seems to go on forever. We get up again and again to fill our plates and glasses. We even drink multiple refills of the watered-down Tang that Turkish hotesl serve under the label “orange juice”. (As far as I can tell, Tang was last served in the United States in 1971. I suspect that the Turkish army must have bought up all remaining supplies that year, and some Turkish oligarch with connections has been making a fortune selling off the government’s stockpile ever since. There’s no other explanation to the ubiquity of this pitiful concoction in a country that grows some of the best oranges in the world.)
Other guests come and go. We keep eating. The manager grows uneasy. It begins to look as though we’ll eat $25 worth of olives and bread. A waiter clears our place. We don’t take the hint. We just get new plates and fill them up again. And again. The manager can’t bear to watch any more. He retires into the hotel. At last we are done. Cool, clean, full of liquid and food. We lean back and plan the day.
Today we’ll be passing through some of Turkey’s oldest seaports. We’ll begin with Phaselis. Since that ancient city is north of us, and the rest of the Lycian Way runs south from Tekirova, we decide to leave our packs with the manager (who’ll agree to anything if we’ll Just Stop Eating), take a bus to Phaselis, and walk back without the packs. Soon we’re in a dolmus, rattling a few miles up the coast and climbing down at the entrance to Phaselis.
Of all the ruins we will see on the trip, Phaselis may be the most evocative. The town was built on a small peninsula that is broken by several small harbors, notably a tiny and deep circular inlet used by the Romans as a military harbor. The whole harbor is smaller than the floor of a modern basketball arena. The town, too, takes up an area that would be no more than a few square blocks in a modern city. It’s remarkable how the internal combustion engine has changed everyone’s sense of urban scale.
Phaselis was settled around 700 BC. By 500 BC, it was wealthy enough to negotiate as an equal with the pharaohs of Egypt. It had been rich and strong for two hundred years when Alexander the Great showed up on the city’s outskirts. Showing a well-tuned instinct for the main chance, the Phaselians invited him to spend the winter with them before he marched off to conquer the known world. Thanks to its fine harbors, Phaselis maintained a high degree of independence for centuries thereafter, even acting as a pirates’ haven during the early years of the Roman Empire. When the city finally became too much of a nuisance, though, the Romans conquered and destroyed it, finally selling off the land to a new batch of settlers and incorporating it into the Roman Empire shortly after the birth of Christ. Since then, it has been subjected to Byzantine, Arab, and Ottoman rule, but the Ottomans encouraged the rise of Antalya and the decline of Phaselis, which was gradually abandoned and now lies at the end of a long, nearly deserted road.
The military harbor still has its sea walls – intact but now sunk below the water and tumbled about -- and it’s easy to see how a simple chain could have closed off the little entrance that was left when the Roman engineers were done. Other features of the town include a short but massive stone aqueduct from the town center, apparently built simply to make sure that water pressure would stay high for residents near the harbor.
We climb to the well-preserved and even more ancient Greek theater. From its seats you can see the high mountains that forced Alexander to winter here. We sit in the bleachers, where Alexander’s officers and men must have sat as he laid out the next year’s campaign. Then we stand where Alexander would have stood. You can look into the eyes of every member of the audience, speak to them in something close to normal tones.
Back in Tekirova, we pick up our packs and buy supplies -- a kerchief to wipe the sweat off my face while hiking, plus lunch for two more days. We eat the first day’s lunch as we walk south along the Tekirova strip -- succulent peaches and heavily flavored grapes. Turkish fruit is a joy -- still grown for the human palate rather than the convenience of mechanical harvesters. Gordon eats his oranges skin and all, observing that he could never eat an American orange the same way.
It’s midday. Shade is sparse. The guy who sold me this kerchief two kilometers back wouldn’t recognize it if I brought it back. In fact, I doubt he’d touch it. Soon the Tekirova strip ends, and a signpost tells us that the Lycian Way is leaving the paved road. We are embarking on a roadless stretch of Mediterranean coast.
With the shadows at their smallest, the tractor path we are following is in full sun, and it is hard to haul the packs up even the mild slopes of this rolling countryside for more than half an hour at a time. We take a long break, and by 2:30 the shadows have begun to creep across the track. We drag ourselves from shadow to shadow.
But the country makes it all worthwhile. We are marching along a coast defined by coves and headlands. We climb the headlands to the breeze and a view of the deep blue Mediterranean and the turquoise inlet waters. Then we drop down to sea level as we pass each inlet and start our climb to the next headland.
The first cove we encounter after leaving the blacktop has no cars, but it is full of tourist boats that have moored here to give a sense of isolation without actually getting too far from the “No Fear” outlet. The boats are rigged to look like two-masted sailing ships, but they never use the sails as far as we can tell. Instead they cruise along with a powerful inboard engine. From the headland, they make a pretty sight, romantic vessels in a picture-perfect setting. A few swimmers dive from the top decks. Rock music echoes off the far headland as we march over the next rise.
Here, the scene is different. The cove is nearly deserted. One small boat is anchored near two rocks that rise straight from the sea. A bright white beach curves from headland to headland. A winding pool lies behind it at one spot, like an old river too tired to reach the sea. The path drops straight to the valley floor, and we walk toward the beach, dying for a swim.
The water is as warm as blood here by the shore. It cools a bit as we wade to our chests and float on our backs, totally limp. Refreshed, we explore. The winding pool we saw from the headland is indeed a river that lacks the strength to break through the last thirty meters of beach. Instead, the water must be draining slowly through the sand. But it’s fresh and cool enough to wash the salt off our clothes and ourselves.
We lie in the sand for a time. But we’ve got one more headland to climb. Humping over the rise as the heat eases, we reach the third inlet and now are utterly alone. A deserted cabin sits at one end of the beach, Turkish flag flying proudly in the wind. The cabin looks as though the inhabitants left yesterday. Clothes hang on pegs. Plastic chairs sit around a table. But the newspapers littering the ground are from May.
Exploring further, we find another failed river just back of the beach. It is deeper than the last, but swampier as well. A small boat is tied up on the bank, and we pole out to the center of the deep, river-shaped pond. A turtle swims below the boat, startlingly visible in the clear water. We fill our bottles. The water will have to be boiled to be safe, but it’s fresh and there’s plenty of it.
Sleeping under the sky, the night air is perfect. There seems to be no barrier between our bare skin and the soft air. The stars and half-moon shine down brightly. Every few minutes, we catch a distant rhythm -- music from boats moored at offshore islands.
Next morning, we eat breakfast in style, seated in plastic chairs borrowed from the cabin. We tank up on tea and boil three more liters to carry with us. Water will be scarce on the next section.
The next cove is inhabited by a group of commercial fishermen camped out in the detritus of an abandoned mine. The roofless stone mine buildings have an coal-gray Industrial Age solidity and grimness. The fishermen’s section is more modern –all flimsy plastics and bright, open-sided shacks. A bunk bed with bedding has been moved out on to the beach.
Kate Clow says we can get water from the fishermen, but the place is deserted. We don’t want to wander around the empty houses, so we head for the next headland. At the top, the trail disappears entirely. Finally we stop looking for blazes and simply plunge down a dry creek bed.
This looks like a good place to sit out the noonday heat. The gravelly beach is deserted, though one speedboat lies at anchor. The boat is from Guernsey. They don’t wave, and neither do we. Perhaps they resent the intrusion. Perhaps they’re English.
This beach is nearly inaccessible by land. The entire valley is a few hundred meters square. Cliffs drop straight to the sea at both ends. But even here the quiet beauty is marred by an accumulation of plastic bags and bottles discarded from passing boats. The water is utterly calm. We float quietly on our backs, washing our hiking clothes at the same time. The hike drains away.
We doze in the shade. The Guernsey boaters loll on the front of their vessel. I‘ve never quite understood the appeal of boating. It’s like having a second home – just one more damn set of housekeeping chores. Then I think about what we’ve been doing for much of the last few days – finding drinkable water, building a fire, making and breaking camp. What is that if not a kind of housekeeping? Yacht owners must value the experience for the same reason I value hiking – it offers a kind of housekeeping that is utterly absorbing because it has to be, because mistakes have such harsh consequences. That demanding regime is what makes my law office seem so remote and irrelevant, which is a large part of the reason for taking a vacation in the first place. So, in a way, the only difference between me and the Guernsey yachtsman is that when I’m done housekeeping I can store my gear in a spare closet. Well, that and the fact that my gear doesn’t seem to have attracted two topless twenty-something women. But what the heck, the trip isn’t over yet.
We rouse ourselves to look for the trail out. While I’m thrashing around the back of the valley, cursing Kate Clow through thick brush and up steep hills, Gordon strolls to the end of the beach. When I show up fifteen minutes later, bathed in sweat with bits of brush clinging to everything from socks to hat, he tells me the trail begins just down the beach.
My mistake was a natural one, since the beach ends in a cliff. Nonetheless, there’s the blaze. We put one foot up, then the other. There is indeed a path here. As long as we don’t look back.
Water is now a worry again. We drank a lot in the lunch cove, and the river there was dry. We are hours from the next source of water, and hiking in the heat is wringing us out fast. We reach the top of the next headland and look down into a tiny cove, the last before we tackle the big ridge between us and a settlement called Cirali. It’s a beauty. Just two dozen yards of beach between the steepest cliffs we’ve seen so far.
And there on the beach, all alone in an empty Eden, someone has planted a beach umbrella. No car, no boat. Just the umbrella. It should be incongruous, maybe even offensive, but in fact it’s a nearly perfect note of domesticity, and I’d admire it completely except for one thing. As though to mock our thirst, the umbrella is entirely covered by a giant 7-Up logo. We’re down to about a cup of water each, with hours of heavy hiking ahead, and they want me to think about 7-Up?
Soon the trail starts down the hill, then it disappears. Did it slab off to avoid the cove? We decide it was committed to the descent and push on. This will be a very serious mistake if we are wrong. Even if the trail does descend, we could be on some goatherd’s track that ends in a cliff. Climbing back this way with our packs and no water will be hard indeed, maybe more than hard.
At last we reach the bottom. Then we see a trail blaze. Below it, a young boy is pissing against the cliff, his back to us. Spotting us, he stares hard, then scampers for the safety of the 7-Up umbrella. We lumber up beside his parents, drop our packs and then ourselves – stunned by dehydration and fatigue. God knows what we look like. I try out my Turkish greetings and small talk. As I hoped, the father pulls out a large bottle of water from the cooler and gestures to us. We nod. I’m ready to take the bottle. We could finish it in two minutes.
Instead, he puts out an eight-ounce plastic cup. Oh, God! He’s giving us a cup of water! I pass it to Gordon. He hands it back with a few swallows still in the bottom. They’re gone in an instant, leaving not the slightest satisfaction. The man seems surprised. He pours another cup. Gone again in two long swallows. Another. Gone again. A fourth disappears. He puts the bottle away. We try not to watch it too closely as it goes. We offer thanks and more small talk. It’s time to move.
Toward the top of the next rise, a wave of fatigue suddenly hits me. My heart is pounding wildly as I drop on a shady part of the path. I can’t go on. Like an old acquaintance, I recognize the early stages of heatstroke.
I sip the remaining water. Not much left, and we’re still not at the top, let alone done with the descent. I begin to wonder what would have happened if the 7-Up family hadn’t shared their water with us. I don’t want to dwell on it.
After twenty minutes, I feel better. We move on slowly. The terrain is beautiful, with the same kind of inborn familiarity as the African savannah. Pines spread sparsely over baking hillsides strewn with rock and pine needles. Shepherd country.
Half an hour later we crest the hill and can see the plain spread out below. Roads, houses, and an enormous beach stretch south. We give ourselves a few swallows of water and start down with enthusiasm, emerging at last on a road that will take us to downtown Cirali. At the first campsite, we find that some blessed soul has set up a water station along the road. It is the only one we will ever see, but it comes at the best time. We drink deep.
In the village, we find a pension that will give us dinner, breakfast, and two beds for $15. What’s more, they’ll give us dinner early. Because we’re not done for the day.
A couple of miles outside of Cirali is one of the most remarkable ancient sites in Lycia – the Chimaera. Most of us vaguely remember the legend. The Chimaera was a monster – part goat, part lion, part snake – and it breathed fire. It was finally killed off by a guy riding a winged horse. (For some odd reason, we’ve all heard of the horse, Pegasus, but no one has heard of his rider, a fellow named Bellerophon. Probably has something to do with Mobil ads. Or perhaps with Bellerophon’s unattractive qualities. Bellerophon wasn’t his original name, but he went hunting once with his brother, Bellos. At the end of the trip, Bellos was missing, and his brother was calling himself Bellerophon – which I’m told translates roughly as “the guy who ate Bellos.”)
Anyway, if the Chimaera’s been dead all this time, why walk for miles on top of heatstroke to see it? Because, the story goes on, the Chimaera’s flame didn’t die with the monster. Instead, it seeps up from the underworld to emerge still burning from the earth. And in fact, at the Chimaera site, flames do leap from the earth in dozens of places, as they have since ancient times.
A large government poster tells the Chimaera’s story. (This is a source of all my information about Bellerophon, which means it probably should be taken with a grain of salt.) Also according to this poster, Chimaera has another claim to fame. It says that the city of Olympos, a few miles down the coast, was the site of the earliest Olympic games, and the famous eternal flame that symbolized both the ancient and modern games had its origin at Chimaera. Now this is news. The Olympic games have been celebrated in modern time for more than 100 years. Desperate network commentators have milked every possible Olympic story to fill dead air during the high-jump qualifying rounds. But not once have I heard that the eternal flame might actually still be burning, and in Turkey. I’m guessing that the Greek officials in charge of Olympic mythology would rather cut out their tongues (not to mention the network commentators’) before acknowledging this.
We head up the trail, surrounded by sweating tourists, most of them Turks. We pass the ruins of several different religions’ temples. (As one religion fell out of favor, the next was happy to move in and take credit for the flames.) We emerge on a denuded patch of pale hillside about the size of a soccer field. All across it flames leap in the gathering darkness. Some are the size of a large campfire, others barely cling to the earth with a flame smaller than that of an oven pilot light. Perhaps a hundred people are scattered across the field, gathering around one or another of the flames. In one spot, six or seven flames emerge in a row, and some enterprising Turk has put a couple of samovars atop the flames and is selling tea brewed with the hot breath of Chimaera.
I read somewhere that Chimaera’s source is an underground gas that bursts into flame when it reaches the surface. To test this hypothesis, I pick one of the smaller flames, lean over, and blow it out. We wait. It fails to burst back into flame. Scratch one hypothesis.
We climb to the top of the field and look down. It is nearly 8:00 and growing quite dark. The large flames leap orange across the field, while numerous tiny blue flames glow along the ground.
In the United States, such a site would have its own paved parking lot, an interpretative center, and a hand-railed walkway graded for wheelchair access. It would be surrounded by its own designated wilderness area five miles square. National Park rangers would keep crowds ten feet away from the edge of the flames, confined to the boardwalk. Here, in contrast, two Turkish youths have stretched out their bedrolls at the top of the field and are cooking sausage over one of the more dramatic flames. On the whole, I think the Turks have the better idea.
Over breakfast, we decide to hike to the city of Olympos, where there are a number of well-preserved ruins, then take a bus to the next wild section of trail, which begins at the ancient city of Myra.
The ruins of Olympos are evocative, though less well preserved than at Phaselis. One can walk old Roman roads on both sides of the river, where the city’s wharves are still standing. An old theater remains as well. Perhaps most touching is a recently excavated tomb, which features a Lycian sea captain’s affectionate tribute to his old ship, beached and never to sail again. Thieves have broken into his tomb, like every other that we have seen.
Back at the pension, we pack up. By 3:30, we’re in Myra. We’ve still got a fair amount of hiking to do, but we cannot resist a tour of the site. An enormous theater still stands, including numerous arched entrances and exits. The stone carvings are extraordinarily well preserved and detailed. There’s also a small tomb city, or necropolis, carved from solid rock to resemble wooden cabins for the dead.
The climb out of Myra is harsh and steep, but the breeze is strong now that it’s past 5:00. At the top is an old fortress standing perhaps 30 or 40 feet tall. After a rest at its foot, we press on. We soon lose the trail among the rocks. We guess our way forward, following one goat trail or another in the general direction we think the trail was going. We eventually come to out to the main road, and then to a side road overlooking Sura, an ancient oracle site where we expect to make our camp. Kate Clow says the oracle was a whirlpool that filled with water and fish when a sacrifice was made. The prediction varied depending on which fish appeared in the whirlpool. According to Polycharmus, the fish sometimes included such ocean-going species as seabass, bluefish, even sawfish and whales. Kate Clow notes that the source of the whirlpool, a fresh-water spring, can still be found on the site.
I have my doubts. I suppose it’s possible for a spring to create a whirlpool, but what sort of fresh-water spring could support ocean-going salt-water species? The oracle, we can see from here, is a mile or more from the sea, at least by way of the river, which oxbows back and forth across the valley, scraping the cliffs on either side. Cute story, but Polycharmus doesn’t sound too reliable to me.
We swing with determination along the road, finally reaching the trailhead by 7:00. It will be full dark in an hour. Still, we should be at the bottom in 40 minutes or less.
Unless we get lost. Which of course we do, twice. Each time, we retrace our steps and find the trail again. But now we’ve used up our luck. The sun is down. The red-and-white blazes look black-and-white now, and the trees and rocks are full of black-and-white marks. By 7:45 we are still high on the ridge, plunging along switchbacks, desperate not to lose the trail again and just as desperate not to slow down. At least the trail is finally done meandering and seems to be headed more or less directly to the river and the beach. It seems darker every time we make a turn on the switchbacks. But luckily the trail has descended into scrub, and it is easier to follow. Below, we eventually see the beach. Then we can see the river. We keep plunging on. At last, with the moon rising, we reach the bottom and stand at the river’s edge.
Relief is followed by doubt. With our feet on the bank and our backs to the cliff, we realize that there is no place to camp here. Across the river is a vast expanse of beautiful camping-friendly beach, but this is the biggest river we have encountered, deep enough even now in the depths of summer to break through the beach and pour into the sea. Looking around, we see a bridge. Of a sort. It looks as if it were built to illustrate a Tolkien novel. Branches, most no thicker than a finger, have been tacked together to form three or four crude ladders and then lashed into an arch. The whole thing dips and swoops a few feet above the river, its wobbly legs perched precariously at the edge of each bank.
Left with no better choice, we start across. There is no handrail for most of the crossing. Where there is a handrail, it is 18 inches high. I crawl. The river rolls on below me. I have no difficulty seeing the river through the bridge. In fact, it’s easier to see the river than the bridge. But, to our surprise, the bridge holds. Gordon follows.
In the dark, we set up camp. Wood is hard to find. The river, however, is cold and refreshing. We take off our boots and walk into the center to fill our bottles for the evening meal. It is late, and we are tired as the water boils. Perhaps it’s the exertion and stress of the last few hours, but nothing tastes good. Tonight, in the hopes of avoiding insomnia, we are making hot lemonade rather than tea, but there’s something wrong with the lemonade mix. It gives a metallic taste to everything and leaves me craving the last of the water we bought in town. My mouth feels pasty and coated, and I wash it out with the store-bought water, which seems to help a bit. We are seriously dehydrated, and relief is not coming quickly. I drink three liters of hot lemonade and go to bed still unsatisfied.
We wake to a beautiful dawn. This campsite, which it was too dark to fully appreciate last night, is the best yet. We’re up early, and it looks as though we at last will get off well before the day warms up.
We are still remarkably thirsty, so we brew up more water for hot granola and for endless liters of tea. But something is definitely wrong. The tea, which tasted fine yesterday, now has the same metallic nastiness as last night’s lemonade. I look at the pots we have been boiling the tea in. Small bits of crystal are deposited here and there on the aluminum.
Is it possible, I think, that the constant heating and shock of cold water has somehow precipitated aluminum salts? Suddenly the last word that has me slapping my forehead. “D’oh!” I exclaim. I’m astonished at my own stupidity. These aren’t aluminum salts, they are plain old sea salt. This is the first river we have seen that has actually broken through to the Mediterranean. Those long, looping, oxbow curves should have told us just how flat the river is when it reaches the sea. There’s plenty of current, and probably plenty of fresh water, in the river, but the lighter, warmer seawater has been floating back upstream while the colder fresh water has been driving downstream. The result is a brackish mixture of salt and fresh water.
This explains why we couldn’t quench our thirst. The more we drank, the more salt we consumed, and the thirstier we got.
If I’d thought about it, I’d have realized that the first clue was from the oracle of Apollo. I jeered at the idea that saltwater fish might show up in a fresh-water spring. And of course they didn’t. They showed up in a mixture of salt and fresh water. If I hadn’t been so sure I was right and the oracle story wrong, I might have spotted this earlier.
What to do? We certainly can’t keep drinking the Mediterranean. After exploring upstream and finding salt water even far inland, I give up the idea of an early start, trek into the nearest town, buy a couple of gallons of water and hike back.
After creeping across the hobbit bridge, we start up the trail we descended last night. Again and again, we lose the trail and are forced to guess our way through an area of thorny scrub. Fragile, loose, white stone is everywhere underfoot. The rocks range in size from hens’ eggs to hippopotamus backs. The rock breaks easily. Indeed, in one spot, someone has hollowed out a large boulder into a rectangle the size and shape of a hot tub, though not so deep. Every other step we take is on or off one of these uneven broken rocks. Often the trail is nearly impossible to follow where it is not painted. There is so little dirt that the traditional trail finding clues are often missing. Instead, we rely increasingly on the reddish stains left by the soil when feet (and hooves) carry it onto the white rocks. Time and again, we find the trail simply by stepping from rock to rock, putting our feet on the spots that seem most dirtied by other passers-by.
The trail slabs along a fairly gentle slope, perhaps thirty meters from the sea slapping lightly at broken stone. It is a relief not to be humping up headland after headland. We’re sweating hard, but we can’t ignore the beauty of the landscape.
As the day unfolds, we hike along an old Roman road, stop for lunch and a swim near an ancient Roman lookout tower, and find only one source of water – a cistern whose stagnant water has been growing less appetizing every day since the rainy season ended a few months back. It seems unlikely that we will be able to reach the next town, called Uçağiz, tonight. That means another night of camping. But the prospects that we will be able to find water for our next camp are not good.
We decide to detour to a nearby village and buy water. The village, Kapakli, is on a height overlooking our trail, and there is no obvious trail to it. We stumble through new construction, stone fences, and pits for new greenhouses. When we finally stagger up to the main street, Kapakli is deserted. Three or four mongrels slink sideways along the road away from us. There is not a store or a vehicle to be seen. One woman walks into the middle of the street and stares, apparently wondering whether to run. We turn down another street, hoping to find a grocery street. Nothing. No one.
We return to the main street. The woman’s husband has joined her. I approach him with my best Turkish.
“We go water buy where?”
He doesn’t bother to respond, just gestures to us to follow him home. Instead of selling us water, he serves us glass after glass, then adds a half-liter to the remaining stores in our pack.
The man, Mr. Balei, could not be a better host. He and his wife bring out two kitchen chairs and put them on the concrete patio of their home. After Gordon and I have sat down gratefully, his wife brings out a small box for Mr. Balei to sit on. Apparently, we have occupied the only movable chairs he owns. His wife brings freshly washed grapes, on which we gorge.
Mr. Balei must be a fairly prosperous man by the standards of Kapakli. He has a young wife and a small son, several goats causing a ruckus trouble in a separate building, and a garden. He says, with the air of a man who’s done it, that the best way to reach the town of Uçağiz is to walk along the road for about four hours. Offering thanks, we set out. After an hour or so, a fast car driven by an Italian couple stops in the middle of the road and offers us a ride. Delivered from three hours of walking on hot asphalt, we leap at the proposal.
The way into Uçağiz looks like a road in the American southwest, winding past red earth, white rocks, and scrub brush arranged on hillsides whose geology is laid bare to the eye. Up and over a ridge, we begin the plunge down to Uçağiz. Suddenly there are houses on both sides of us and the street is a narrow, one-lane, twisting passage filled with curious observers and a few budding tourist touts trying to get us to park in their driveways.
We spot a pension we heard about on the trail – the Orun Pansiyon. We are met by Jacqueline Orun, a Dutch woman married to the Turkish proprietor. The house faces the main street, but its single central hall leads straight to a patio and dock ending in a picturesque bay. Five or six neighboring piers also wend their way crookedly out into the water. Tourist boats, yachts, and the everyday dinghies are tied up at each pier. Boats come and go, the passengers hopping off and wandering into the reception area of the hotel with the vegetables they intend to sell at market. We shower and sit on the patio, drinking endless bottles of water until it is time to eat and go to bed.
We like Orun Pansiyon. We decide to make it the base for a few day trips on the Lycian Way. That way we can leave most of our gear behind. Today, we will continue our wrong-way tour of the trail, marching west to the ancient city of Aperlae.
Starting out, we walk along the main street. The town is tiny, perhaps 40 houses in all, but it has 15 or 20 shops. Carpets, copper, ceramics, spices, fruit, groceries, and nuts – all prepared and displayed for the tour boats that dock here everyday. It may be touristy, but it makes for a colorful and pleasant stroll. Turkey in August is a late-rising place and the shops are just opening at 9:30. Less than five minutes after setting out, we have left the village and are alone with the brush, the sea, the stones, and the trail. It’s hot, but this trip will be different than the rest of the week. Gordon is carrying no pack, and mine is far lighter than I’m used to. The track is nearly level, the wind blows steadily across our sweat-soaked bodies. No longer beasts of burden, we suddenly see why Kate Clow loves this country.
With the sea on our left, we roll along a trail that wavers up and down a few meters as it skirts a bay that gradually dwindles down to a shallow inlet. We amble footloose for an hour, passing a cool spring that seems to be gushing directly into the sea. Finally, the trail begins to rise across the first peninsula. We cache a bottle of water. Soon, we can look back on the village and the host of cruise ships scattered across the harbor.
Now we enter a wilderness of stones, some rising ten feet from the ground, bright white in the harsh sun. The trail threads its way through and around these monoliths. Off the trail, the space between the stones is filled with thorny brush that makes it nearly impossible to travel. For once, we cannot lose the trail, no matter how hard we try. Remarkably, this unwelcoming ground seems to be pastureland, at least for goats, more common here than on any other part of our trip.
Now the trail alters again. The great stones fall away, and we are crossing a flat spot that most Americans would call a stony field scattered with occasional weeds. To us, however, after a week of Lycian landscapes, it looks the Turkish equivalent of Ireland – green and inviting in a way we haven’t seen before. Looking down on this lush land are three abandoned houses. We can’t imagine why someone would move away from the scene of such agricultural bounty.
Soon we arrive at Aperlae. Aperlae was never more than a modestly important town. But it took a big hit in 40 A.D., when an earthquake dropped the entire neighborhood several feet. This was particularly hard on Aperlae’s seaport. Large parts of the old Roman waterfront are now under water (and likely to stay so, sinceMediterranean Sea levels have been rising for centuries. After exploring the tombs and fortress walls that climb the hillside near Aperlae, we take to the water with snorkels and masks borrowed from the pension. We spot still-intact warehouse walls lying in the shallows. Farther out, we can trace the old harbor wharves and quays. Here, seriously deep water is separated from water only six feet deep by a straight-edge run of stonework that almost certainly marks the spot where Roman galleys tied up to deliver their cargo. It is a magical place. Apart from an occasional tour boat moored far offshore, we have it to ourselves.
Walking back, it’s clear that Gordon has recovered from our troubles. Instead of the monosyllables in which he spoke during the long, tough hours of past hikes, he is energetic and almost talkative. We stroll back, losing the trail only occasionally, and arriving a good half-hour before dark.
Today’s day hike will go in the other direction, back toward Kapakli. We begin by climbing the acropolis just outside Uçağiz. We’ve become pretty jaded about acropolises, never having found more than a few foundation stones at the top of these hills. But this area also contains an impressive jumble of old Lycian tombs, standing like big square stone treasure chests, every one broken open by tomb robbers centuries, if not millennia, ago.
Today, for the first time, we will be walking in the same direction as Kate Clow’s book. Despite this advantage, we quickly lose the trail. A signpost directs us into a field. We wander there for a bit, looking for the first blaze. As we’re doing this, an aging woman comes into the field with a rake.
“Where to Kapakli we go?” I ask.
Usually, my Turkish is so obviously rudimentary that people simply gesture broadly in deference to my doubtful mental competence. But this woman uncorks a stream of voluble and extraordinarily emphatic Turkish that goes on and on and on. I think she may be giving me her considered views on the moral ambiguities of ecotourism. I try my biggest smile and the one phrase of Turkish I’m pretty sure I know how to say properly.
“I don’t understand,” I grin.
Undeterred, she launches back into her disquisition. We are finally rescued by an older gentleman working in the neighboring field. He calls us over and points out the beginning of the trail. Then he too has a lecture to deliver. I’ve been wondering what all these people are doing in the fields. He shows me that they are harvesting strange, twisted black pods, perhaps five inches long, an inch wide, and a quarter inch thick. They look a bit like oversized dried-out brown peapods. He hands me one, then bites into another. I do the same. It tastes good -- a bit like dry fig.
The man tells me the pod’s name, then puts two of them up to his head and bends over, waving his head back and forth. I have no idea what to say or do. It doesn’t seem to be a fit, and I can’t connect it up to ecotourism either. Later, back at Orun Pansiyon, Jacqueline will explain that the name for this fruit translates as “goat’s horn.” And, indeed, the twisted pods do resemble the horns of the many goats we’ve seen over the past few days. Turks swear by these fruits as a source of vitamins and energy.
Trying to look as though we’ve been enlightened by the river of information that has just rolled over us, we bid the old fellow good-bye and head off down the trail, which runs along the side of a walled Moslem graveyard. Parts of the graveyard contain the well-tended graves of recent generations. But the wall encompasses a few acres, and much of it is entirely overrun by head-high scrub, from which a few decaying stone markers poke like stray rocks
Apart from that short climb, the trail is flat and easy. After five or six kilometers, we leave the trail and start across country toward a Genovese fortress perched on a hill off to the south. Our attention is focused on the tower when someone behind us shouts, “Hey!” in a tone that can only be American. In fact, it is a solo backpacker, probably a college student, from Oregon. He is the only American we’ve seen on the trail, indeed the only hiker of any kind we have seen in ten days. I know he’s shared our experience, because he has the same tinge of fear in his voice when he talks about running low on water. When he looks at our water bottle, I see in his eyes what the man under the 7-Up umbrella must have seen in mine. Luckily for him, today we’ve carried an absurd quantity of water. We share some. He is afraid to ask for much. We talk trails for a while, give him tips about the trail to come, and part.
At the foot of the fortress, we find a cove. It is filled with beautiful blue water, cooled in spots by a freshwater spring. The family that owns this land has a crude hut near the spring. They’ve turned it into a kind of restaurant for the endless succession of cruise boats that putters into the cove carrying an international clientele. The clientele gets a quick dip and a taste of Turkish pancakes. We’ve walked two and a half sweaty hours to get here, packing all our food and drink with us. I suppose we’re entitled to resent the discovery that our solitary hike suddenly has a soundtrack – a pulsing cover of “Mambo No. 5.” In fact, though, we find the blaring cruise boats more diverting than annoying. They might as well be from Betelgeuse for all the relevance they have to the country we’ve just traversed. We’re content to sit on the rocks and watch the tourists boogie across the decks with the same bemused air as the restaurant owners. For two or three months a year, I imagine them putting up the restaurant sign around noon and making extra food. Soon, “Mambo No. 5” drifts across the cove for a couple of hours, and people hand them money for a few pancakes. Then life goes back to normal.
Up early today, we rent the boat of a local fisherman. We’ve spent most of the last week within a hundred yards of the sea, but this is the first time we have ventured out on it. In fact, if our difficulties have shown anything, it is the unlikelihood of coastal travel except by sea. In summer, this is extraordinarily difficult country -- arid, steep, and broken underfoot. In contrast, the sea could not be more welcoming. There is scarcely a wave upon it, and the temperature close to the coast is like a bath. There is no doubt that we could have rowed the same distance that we walked with less effort. Rowed, hell, we could have swum the whole way with less effort. This insight is crucial to understanding the history of Lycia, which for thousands of years has been about controlling the seaports and thus the valleys that run down to the seaports. To conquer the port was to conquer the valley, because valley-dwellers had no practical way to move their goods into any other valley. Coastal travel was all by sea. Touring by boat brings us in some ways closer to the history of Lycia than hiking.
We’re taking the boat out to a “sunken city.” Aperlae was not the only Roman town to drop into theMediterranean during the earthquake of 40 A.D. Offshore from Uçağiz is an island where another old town suffered the same fate. We putter along the steep-sided coast of the island for a kilometer or more, passing the remains of a prosperous Roman town – wharves, steps, and houses cascading down to the water’s edge. All of these structure have dropped below the waves, where they still can be seen extending under the water to the old wharf line perhaps five or ten meters offshore.
The area is aggressively protected. No swimming is allowed, no snorkeling, no diving, even mooring is discouraged. Here, for the first time in days I feel like I am in western Europe, reading the rules in all their length and multilingual seriousness. I miss the casual comfort with the detritus of history that we felt at Chimaera and Aperlae.
To give ourselves a short last hike, we ask to be dropped at Simena. This is the largest town in Turkeythat is not connected to the Turkish road system. It has a well-preserved Genovese fortress on its hilltop. The walls are topped with shelters the size of tombstones, giving the top of the fort the appearance of a child’s carved pumpkin mouth. Inside the fortress are structures left by earlier settlers, including a pocket-sized amphitheater, with seats for perhaps 200 people cut straight from the stone.
Everywhere we have gone, the best-preserved remnants of Greek life are the theaters. But here, looking at this tiny clone of the theaters we’ve seen all across Lycia, it occurs to me that for the Greeks the need to build these things must have been almost primal. Why else carve one from stone for such a tiny community? Theater must have had the same power for the Greeks that television has today – so powerful that even the poorest citizens and communities demand access.
We head out the back of the fortress, past a suburban sprawl of Lycian tombs and down the trail that links Simena to mainland Turkey. Once down the hill, we need only cross a cow posture (“Must be rich,” I now find myself thinking when I see someone’s cow), and we are back at the old Moslem cemetery. As we march on, I can’t help noticing the trash along the road. There’s trash everywhere in Turkey. Part of the problem is that plastic floats, so it tends to wash up on the shores of even the most remote and charming inlet. But another part of the problem is the Turks themselves. They litter casually. I’ve seen something like this in Korea too, where massive numbers of people hike into the mountains to enjoy the nature beauty and leave behind a new mountain of trash. Maybe it’s part of the development process – perhaps there’s a point in a nation’s prosperity where it’s an irresistible thrill to be rich enough to throw away a potentially useful container.
This is our last hike. We are on the bus to Antalya by early afternoon. We check into the Doğan Hotel, but what we really want is an old-fashioned Turkish bath. The hotel sends us to a 600-year old hamam just up the road. For two hours, we are scraped, pulled, massaged, and lathered within an inch of our lives. A fair amount of skin comes off in the process, and a good thing, too, because the only way to remove some of this dirt is to take the skin with it. At last, we drag ourselves back up the stairs. After the inside of the hamam, what had been the swelter of the town seems as cool and gentle as an air-conditioned office. We sip apple tea and trade stories with the hamam staff.
We are content. We are clean. We are finished.