The Lycian Way. Part I.

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It’s a dark and stormy night. Really, it is. They call it the something something rusgar. It’s a wild and crazy wind that occasionally blows downs from Siberia crosses the Anatolian Plateau and smashes into the Mediterranean coast. School classes are cancelled, people run for cover and the landscape gets somewhat remodeled. We experience this phenomenon on the third day of our trek. We are making the long slow climb upwards from the paradise that is Kabak beach to the village of Alinca which sits on a ridge high above the sea. It’s late afternoon and we are almost to the top when the bright and sunny day suddenly transforms into a dark and stormy one. For the last half hour, the wind swirls and rages all around us like the world is going to end. I don’t think we will make it but we do. We find refuge at Bayam’s pension on the outskirts of the village. It’s my kind of place; for forty lira a person they will give us dinner, breakfast and a cabin on the hill. The cabins are flimsy and very small but they are tucked in comfortably among these giant boulders to protect them from the elements and there is a Mediterrranean view from each one that is worth way more than forty lira. All in all, it’s a fine place to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.

The truth is, I never even heard of the Lycian Way before I went to Turkey. But I met this American guy at the lost luggage office in Istanbul and he told me that he was in Turkey for that very purpose… To trek the Lycian Way. He was on some kind of pilgrimage to find himself and he believed by walking the Way he would discover something important. He compared his journey ahead to walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, Appalachia in the states or the Inca trail in South America. Apparently, the Lycian Way is high on the list of great walks for people who like long distance walking in faraway places. My curiosity was peaked so I did some Internet research and mentioned the trek to Ms. B. on the telephone. My research revealed this amazing possibility. The Lycian Way is a trail that runs along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey from Fethiye to Antayla. It goes for over 300 miles along ancient cobblestone pathways and eternal goat trails. It passes through tiny villages with olive groves and bustling harbor towns with big boats. There are ancient ruins and pristine forests; there are isolated and forgotten beaches and endless stretches of rocky shoreline. The next time I speak with Ms. B. she is as excited by the possibility as I am. “Let’s hike it together when I get there in February,” she says. So, here we are, two months later taking the first steps of our pilgrimage along the Lycian Way.

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If I had my overly enthusiastic way, we’d be hiking the whole trail, beginning to end, all the way to Antayla from Fethiye. But that’s over 300 miles and not vey realistic with our present time constraints. We have decided to give the Way about a week. We will start at the beginning, go at a relaxed and comfortable pace and see how far we get. We leave all our excess luggage at a cheap hotel in Ovacik (town outside of Fethiye) and find the trailhead nearby. We will walk now until we don’t feel like walking anymore. Ms. B. thinks 5 to 7 days while I’m secretly hoping for two weeks. How far will we get? How long will we go? The answer to this I do not know.

The first day is a doozy. Only 17 kilometers of walking but it’s mostly uphill. The trail hugs the cliff side, high above the Mediterranean Sea. The views are indescribably spectacular but the walking is definitely not easy. Ms. B. is trudging slowly along while I charge on ahead. I stop several times to wait for her.  I’m concerned, worried and maybe even a little bit annoyed. She looks exhausted, defeated… completely overwhelmed. What if she can’t do this? I know that the first few hours of any long hike are always the most physically difficult because the body has to become accustomed to walking again. There is a metaphysical barrier that quite literally has to be crossed. The human animal walks and moves in its natural state. It is only civilization that teaches stagnation. When a long journey begins, one must leave behind the stagnation and discover the animal within because unlike the civilized softie, the animal within is a physically fit creature capable of scaling mountaintops. I’ve been traveling, hiking and wandering for several months now so my inner animal is fully manifest. Ms. B., however, just got here a little while ago so the civilized world still weighs her down. As I stand above her on the trail watching her slowly negotiate the switchbacks up the hillside, I wonder if she is going to smash that metaphysical barrier and reach me here on the other side.

I offer several times to carry her pack for a while. Finally, in an undeniable state of absolute exhaustion, she hands it over. Truthfully, there’s not much in it because I’m already carrying the important stuff. I have the tent, cooking utensils, the food and even Ms. Bs clothes. All she has is her sleeping bag, water bottle and a few toys. That’s right, toys; the trappings of civilization (ipad, camera, book and sketchpad) are the only things weighing her down and now she hands them over to me for the big climb up the longest and steepest hill. The metaphor is so thick here I could cut it with a knife. Me and Ms. B. climb the mountain together and I carry her world upon my shoulders.

But I only carry her backpack for a half hour or so until we reach the top. Wow! What a view of the Mediterranean coastline stretching out beneath us. And wow too! What a view of Ms. B. I can tell by looking at her that she has shattered the barrier and reached the other side. The fresh Mediterranean air has awakened her inner animal. Yeah sure, her inner animal is a turtle, she’s still going to walk slow and we still have a long ways to go, but she willingly takes her backpack back. She is going to make it.

The rest of the day’s walk is glorious. Fairly flat with intermittent views of the sparkling blue sea, the trail passes through villages and olive groves and forests and fields until we reach Faralya, the tiny cluster of homes and pensions perched on the cliffs high above Butterfly Bay. On the way into the village we see several signs for the Monte Negro posted on trees and that is the first place we happen upon. They will give us a cabin to sleep in and dinner and breakfast for 105 lira total. Not super cheap but well worth the price. The showers are hot, the bed is comfortable, they even have wifi and the food is indescribably fantastic and infinitely plentiful. Oh my goodness, the multiple courses of local specialties after a long day of walking is what living is all about.

The next day pretty much qualifies as one of the very best days of my entire human existence. After a delicious big breakfast, we leave our packs in the room and go in search of the precarious pathway that leads over the cliffs and down down down 500 meters to Butterfly Bay. “Holy Paradise Ms. B., this place is unbelievable.” Steep rocky cliffs on the edge of the Mediterranean, a single crack formed by a river slices into the body of land. Within the crack is a small oasis of vegetation and a small sandy beach. Climbing the ropes down the cliffs is no easy task and its a little bit frightening but we do reach the bottom. Really, it’s like a post card or a movie set or a storybook setting. It’s off season so no one is here except for us and a few locals working in the groves and fields. In the busy season, lots of boats stop here and it probably gets crowded but not right now. We sit on the beach and soak up the warm Spring sunshine. I strip to my undies and take a plunge in the sea. Wow, awesome. It’s actually a nice temperature for swimming around.

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We only stay at the idyllic beach for an hour or so and then we climb back up the cliffs to the Monte Negro. It’s about noon when we check out and the friendly guy at reception fills our water bottles before we leave. I ask if the water costs extra and he laughs. “We don’t pay for water here and neither do you.” That’s right; fresh, clean, pure, beautiful natural spring water unpolluted by chemicals; the most valuable resource on earth. And here, on the Lycian Way, they give it away for free. I think of the hydrofrackers and the world wide water shortages. Why does the modern world have to be so insane?

It’s only seven kilometers from Faralya to Kabak but it is seven kilometers of world class scenery. Seriously, endless Mediterranean coastline and cliff top views. The color blue like I’ve never seen it before counterbalanced by the lush green of the countryside and the glittering rock outcroppings. We stop at this one place near a giant olive tree. A picturesque plateau stands above a terraced hillside. A patch of grass behind a stone retaining wall is the perfect place to lie down and soak up some sun. Wow… Me and Ms. B.; what a life!

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It’s late afternoon when we reach Kabak village. We stop for a snack at Mama’s Pension near the crossroads. There are two options here. The shorter, easier route goes left and up gradually along the inside of the valley to reach Alinca on the other side. We could stay the night here at Mama’s and have an easy walk in the morning. The long way goes right and down steeply for a couple of kilometers to reach the beach. From there, it’s a long hard climb up the other side to Alinca. Of course we go right and down because we want to stay on the beach. It’s a long, confusing and precarious way down . We lose the trail twice but eventually find it.

Kabak beach is another postcard. Perfect. Draw a picture of a secret hidden Mediterranean beach and the beach you draw will be Kabak. There are six or seven small guesthouses and camps set up in the groves behind the beach but its the off season so only one place is open. It’s called the Shanti Garden and its a hippie dippy yoga kind of place with triangulated cabins, a fire pit, veggie food and a common area with lots of musical instruments. They charge 40 lira a person for dinner, breakfast and a cabin. There are only two other guests; an older Dutch couple who are also hiking.
We check in, drop our bags and go back to the beach for sunset. Wow…yeah…a Mediterranean sunset on a beach by ourselves. We leap for joy on the shoreline and I take the plunge in the welcoming waters. How good is this life?

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In the evening, we sit around the campfire and chat with the Dutch couple. They are Christians from Amsterdam; she’s a nurse and he does “development” work in Africa. I have a secret urge to engage him intellectually on the topic of cultural imperialism but I fear the subject might get acrimonious. Be nice, says the voice, even to Christian developers. So we talk generally about traveling in Africa and don’t get into ideological specifics. Not surprisingly, they are nice…very nice; and their lives are very interesting. They lived in Southern Africa for a long time and they tell us stories of their time there.

Dinner is served in the common area. In addition to the Dutch couple, we are joined at the table by the Shanti Garden caretaker and a couple of his comrades. It’s another truly incredible meal with all local, all organic and all fresh food. It sure is a beautifully strange universe and the Lycian way just seems to wind on through the middle of it. Here we are in a Muslim country, eating hippie food with a pair of fundamentalist Christians and some young Turkish yoga enthusiasts. Include a few barking dogs and some computer generated background music and it almost seems like a party. A cross cultural mish mash bash…

The next day, there is a bit of a challenge before us. The walk from Kabak beach to Alinca is only 8 kilometers, but it is 8 kilometers up, up, up… There are no ropes or ladders to negotiate, just endless switchbacks and a continuous climb. We prepare for the endeavor with an unbelievable breakfast. Leave it to yoga camp to go above and beyond in providing the morning meal. Afterwards, I head to the beach and dive into the sea. Sunshine, blue sky, and back float in the waves. What a way to start the day.

It’s almost noon when we start but we still have plenty of time. The way ahead is difficult but the distance is not great. We should reach the village of Alinca in a few hours. When we first begin, the dogs from the Shanti go with us. It seems as if they want to accompany us for our entire journey. They are good dogs, we do like them… But we have to convince them to turn around and go back. It’s rather difficult to convey this rather complex message in Turkish dog speak, but when I speak slowly and use gestures and intention, they seem to understand. Really, communicating with dogs is not much different than communicating with humans. Words are but a small part of the overall communication dynamic.

After the dogs go back, the trail turns upward. The climb begins. Holy shit. No easy task. My pack feels heavy on this steep relentless incline. Ms. B. goes as slow as a turtle and we stop to rest often. The views are spectacular. The trail zigs and zags up a mountainous cliff. All the while we can look down on the beach where we spent last night. The higher up we go, the further down the coast we can see and the smaller the beach becomes. Safety and paradise lie below us, what lies head?

It’s late afternoon, we are both rather exhausted and the end is nowhere in sight. All of a sudden, the weather transforms. It seems to happen in minutes. Blue sky and sunshine no more… Now there is cloud cover, blowing wind and rain. Oh my god, oh my Buddha, oh my Allah and Shiva too. From sunshine and tranquility to raging storm clouds in the blink of an eye. The Apocalypse erupts all around us and we struggle our way through climbing ever upward in the wind and the rain. We don’t know what’s ahead of us. We just have to keep going. We must find shelter from this swirling tempest. I start to worry for our safety. These are steep cliffs with slippery wet rocks and strong winds. I can do it, no problem. But what about Ms. B.? If something happens to her…oh god I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. She looks exhausted. She’s had two dizzy spells. But she has to keep moving. We can’t stop here. We have to make it to the shelter on top of the hill.

We do make it. We reach Bayam’s pension just as the storm becomes an absolute fury. As we settle into the cabin, we listen to the howling winds and feel the flimsy structure shaking beneath us. Holy shit…that’s crazy. Shortly after dark the electricity goes out and we have to use flashlights. It’s quite the amazing scene; flashes of lightening charge across the sky, deep booming thunder rumbles and rolls, epic winds swirl an twirl and howl and blow while the pitter patter of rain taps on the tin roof. It sounds like the end of the world but we are safe and sound and comfy nestled in to a nook in the mountain high above the sea. The kid from the main house comes with flashlight to escort us to dinner. It’s a short but adventurous walk zig zagging downhill in the wind and darkness and rain to arrive at the common room.

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We are the only guests because its the off season. There’s a table set for two. The electricity is out here too but there’s a roaring fire in the fireplace and candles upon the table. It is, you might say, very romantic. The feast of food they then serve to us is truly incredible. Seriously…one of the best meals I’ve ever been served anywhere on the planet earth. Everything homemade with ingredients from the farmer’s back yard; olives, cheese, bread, salad, yogurt, honey, a mixed vegetable dish, a rice pilaf, and chicken in spicy sauce. Yum, yum, yum. We enjoy the meal in stunned, appreciative silence. After a day of trekking uphill with heavy packs, to sit down to such a feast is an absolute joy. The winds are howling outside and the rain is splashing on the roof. The fire crackles in the background. Me and Ms. B. are living the dream. But then suddenly, the dream is interrupted…

SLAM!

The front door smashes open and a young western woman (early twenties) comes charging inside from the swirling darkness outside. “I am so pissed off right now you would not even believe it,” she shouts as she slams her camo backpack down on a chair and tears off her rain jacket.

Ms. B. and I look up from our beautifully romantic meal to see a specter of anger come forth from the storm. She’s got to be American; is the first thought that comes to my head…

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