I’ve spent a few days in Antalya, couchsurfing with a guy I have little in common with, but who was very pleasant and left me mostly to myself with my own door key and use of his bicycle.
Now I’m heading to the Rainbow Gathering. It’s the 5th Peace in the Middle-East Rainbow Gathering to be exact. Previous experiences have put me off Rainbows, but after the time I spent with Erik and the others in Trahila, I’ve decided to re-open my mind and heart to these people and gatherings. I wipe my mind clean of expectations and set off alone with my thumb to reverse back through all the places I’ve spent the last couple of months hitching and hiking through – back, back, back, all the way to Fethiye…
This is my first time hitch-hiking alone in Turkey. I take it easy, a little at a time. Lisa, Brice and the Swedes have made it to Olympos, so first I go to meet them in the pension where they’re staying. Olympos is one of the most famous tourist sites in Turkey. I stayed there just under twenty-four hours and I didn’t see a thing. I didn’t go to the beach, I didn’t look at the ruins. I’ve seen nothing but beaches and ruins for two months. What can I say? I wasn’t in the mood.
Back we go through Kumluca where I met the Kurdish family with Evan; back, back, back to Kaş, where we decide we’ve earned a beer. My first thought is of the barman I was flirting with when I was here before…
I’ve never been on a date like this before. Not only does he not speak English, he doesn’t speak Turkish either. In fact, he doesn’t speak at all. This is my first lesson in Turkish Sign Language, and it’s going pretty well. We’re also making ample use of my notepad, drawing and writing simple words in Turkish and English. Also gesturing of course – every hitch-hiker can relay any information she needs to in gestures. Through these mediums I learn a little of his life – how he was born deaf and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong; how he could hear a little as a child, but it steadily decreased until now he can hear nothing at all. Still they don’t know why. He can speak, but when he speaks people make faces at him and turn away. He mimes stitching up his mouth, a metaphor.
Can and Ali are pleased to see me. I told them I’d be back. Ali takes me out for dinner and I have a drink with Can, who still seems tired. Back on the camp-site they’ve been working hard. The new bar is almost ready and the kitchen is now in use.
Brice stays in Kaş and I hitch on alone – rewinding back to Kalkan where I stop for lunch and visit Maggi in her shop. It’s a nice feeling hitching through all of these familiar places, visiting friends along the way. Also strange, reversing through these experiences. Returning always feels strange to a traveller – at least to me it does.
My final rewind – not quite to Fethiye. I have my first dodgy ride, entering the car after determining where he’s going, as usual. “Memnun oldum” – pleased to meet you, I tell him. “Ben de” – me also, he says – then smiles and plonks his hand onto my knee with a sigh of satisfaction. “STOP THE CAR NOW!!!” He brakes immediately and I get out, furious.
The next car is another lone man. After we’ve been driving a good ten minutes I try explaining in Turkish what happened in the last car. The man seems to think this is normal behaviour for a Turkish man and anyway, what am I to expect? “Me, no problem” – he reassures me. And he isn’t, though he does offer a marriage proposal a few minutes later. I politely decline with a frown, which seems to confuse him. I just told him I’m a traveller, without any home. Why on earth would I be turning down a marriage proposal from a perfectly nice man like this? Some people will never understand.
We stop at the crossroads just outside Kemer. According to my instructions, the Rainbow is 7km outside Dereköy, a small village 14km away. A little far to walk, but certainly possible. Anyway, I’ve hitched quieter roads than this before.
Due to a hangover-inspired late start from Kaş, the sun is low. I manage a couple of very short lifts, the second of which is with three older Turkish men. They’re a bit strange, but mostly harmless. The one in the back is really annoying, telling me over and over that it will be impossible for me to get there tonight – “where will you sleep? What will you eat?” I don’t have the words in Turkish so revert to English – “It’s none of your business. Please stop talking to me. You are a very annoying man.” They stop near a water spring and he walks up to it with me, constantly babbling away. I stop another car, but the woman seems a bit freaked by the man and refuses me a lift, even though they’re going all the way to Dereköy. I watch in dismay as the car drives off.
Finally the guy leaves me alone and I continue walking up, up, up as the sun is setting. I walk a long, long way. I walk into the village, see a woman with scornful black eyes who ignores my cheerful greeting. Further on I meet a woman with a cow on a bit of string. There are children on bicycles who greet me – “He-llo! He-llo!” The woman smiles and welcomes me. She says her husband saw three others walking earlier and asks how many more will come? I tell her I don’t know and ask how far they went. “Cok uzak!” – very far! Bad news. I thank her and continue walking. Dogs bark at me – one almost goes for me and I collect a handful of rocks, even throwing one when teeth near ankles.
I’ve walked maybe 10km. As the sky darkens, so does the atmosphere of the place and I grow nervous. When I hear a car I think about hiding rather than hitching, but a glimmer of hope prompts me to stick out my thumb instead. A completely full, long burgundy red car comes and the man winds down the window. He gives me a funny look and I attempt to hide my pile of rocks behind my back. I must look a sight. I wearily ask how far it is to the end of this seemingly endless village. “Are you by any chance going to the Rainbow?” says an English voice in the back of the car. Oh the joy! The man gets out and literally posts my backpack through one of the back windows onto the piled up people and bags already in there. He squashes me into one of the two front passenger seats along with his wife and two children. I turn and take a look at my new, squashed friends. There are three Rainbow people in the back amongst more children and a bored looking Turkish woman – an English guy called Ben, a Spanish guy named Alvaro and a German girl, Christina. They’re Erasmus students living in Istanbul and I love them all instantly.
These guys also met the woman with the cow. She told them a lone girl came up the road before them and they were hoping to catch me up. I am so happy! Ben has better instructions than me and tells the man the name of a plateau where the Rainbow supposedly is. He says it’s only 2km from his house and we can stay there for the night, so of course we agree.
One annoying thing about sitting next to drivers is when they use the clutch, their hand can easily “accidentally” knock up against your thigh. Sometimes it’s hard to determine how “accidentally” this has happened. I feel a little knock and my head spins to look. Unfortunately, the wife on my other side sees me look and her head spins too. Now I have accidents on one side and suspicion on the other.
We reach the house, pile out of the car and into the lounge. The woman goes to the kitchen and prepares food and tea. The Rainbow people get out their instruments and begin teaching and entertaining the children. The man looks very pleased, occasionally ordering his wife to bring us something, occasionally just sitting, staring at me. I notice how he often finds little excuses to lightly touch my leg or arm. I mention this to Christina, who immediately becomes aware of it also. Later we mention it to Ben. He hasn’t noticed anything, but having been told he begins to see it himself. So the good news is I’m not crazy, the bad new is that we’re in this guy’s house and now he’s freaking us all out.
It’s time for bed and it seems the suggestion is a gender division between the two rooms. This is normal in Turkey, but me and Christina are having none of it and insist that we four all sleep together in one room. The woman looks very displeased about this, but she keeps quiet and we barricade the door with a chair.
We leave the house early and stop for breakfast by a river. The man pointed us down a faint path and told us the plateau is 2km away. After an hour of walking, we’re not so sure, but the few locals we pass – the man with the donkey and shotgun; the woman weeding her garden – tell us the plateau is this way. But eventually it becomes clear: we’re at the place, the Rainbow isn’t. Also, there’s no telephone reception. We stop to rest by a small wooden cabin at the side of the track-road and a car appears immediately from the other direction. Two men and a woman wearing communist party insignia baseball caps get out and begin setting up a barbecue. We sit with them and get out some of our own food, sharing it around.
They’ve driven all the way from Antalya and seen nobody else the whole way down this road. We’re clearly going the wrong way. We’ll have to backtrack, find where our path diverted from the piles of rocks that mark the way to the Rainbow. I’m sure we passed some last night in the car, but can’t remember exactly when. These guys have space for two more in their car, but they’re getting the Rakı out and putting more chicken on – clearly they’ll be here a while.
Alvaro and I decide to walk. We leave Ben and Christina with our backpacks and head back the way we came. Down, down, down in only an hour – a quarter what it took to walk up with backpacks and frequent breaks. Just past the house where we stayed last night – just maybe 50m past it – we see an enormous smiley face made out of rocks, a bit of fabric hanging from a tree and the infamous pile of stones. If only we’d gone the other way!
Partly relieved, partly kicking ourselves, we wait for the others, who appear half an hour later. Apparently after we left, the communists drank a whole bottle of rakı and started firing a shotgun!
It’s still a fair way to the Rainbow, but now we’re accompanied by occasional reassuring piles of rocks and the safe knowledge we’re going the right way…
The Swedes have left a day ahead of us. They’re both fit, fast walkers so we don’t really expect to catch them up. We are Evan, Brice, Lisa and myself. Following the advice of our Lycian Way book, we get a boat to Limanağza and cut two hours off our walk. A good thing too as we are typically late leaving.
Limanağza is a small bay filled with plastic loungers and an overpriced restaurant. We don’t stop long, but take the small way-marked track with the familiar splashes of red and white up and out of the bay. The sun is hot and shade is in short supply. By the time we reach the next bay we’re more than ready for a swim.
Shouts from a bush – it’s the Swedes! They’ve been snoozing here a couple of hours after an early start. Unbelievable that we caught up with them, but they walked rather than take the boat and spent most of the previous evening on the internet in Kaş. Now we’re a party of six.
It quickly becomes clear that I’m the slow-coach of this group. All the others are fit and used to walking. Even Lisa, whose pack is heavier than mine in comparison to her strength, is flying ahead in front of me. I can only take things at my own pace, so it becomes routine to lose sight of the others for a while and then find them all waiting for me in the shade of a tree half an hour later. But then of course I need a rest and the others want to get on…
We spend a night on yet another small bay. Everyone decides to sleep around the fire under the stars, but the arrival of a scorpion sends most of us hopping into the safety of tents. Only Lisa and Brice sleep out and are still alive in the morning.
The following day we’re trekking again. We lose the path somewhere along the way and find a road. Unsure of what to do I leave my bag with the others and walk down the road to see what’s there. A car comes and the man picks me up and takes me back to my friends. We’re all out of water and food and this man spreads smiles and delight all around when he pulls out a big bottle of water and several oranges which he splits between us all. Then he puts us in his car – but there are six of us, including four full-sized men, two of whom are body-sculptors! No problem – Lisa and I can fit in the front, three of the guys in the back – and Brice? Well he can just sit on the bonnet of the car! Seriously? Yes! Brice is happy as anything, sitting cross-legged Buddha-style on the front of the car as the man begins crawling along the dirt-track, but gradually increases his speed until Lisa and I cry out in alarm – “Yavash! Yavash!”Oh my god, he’s going to kill Brice!
But Brice is still grinning from ear to ear when we stop at the pension in the village. This is Ali’s House – and our driver is Ali! He must have come out searching for trekkers and poached us from the trail. Well, on this occasion we’re more than happy to eat and pay for all of the food and water this family bestows upon us.
Back on the trail, back into the heat. We’re walking through ancient Apollonia, dotted with ruins and tombs and weathered stone staircases. Here there is no ticket booth, no souvenir shop, no village or even a farmhouse. It feels almost obscene that the Way takes us down these ancient roads and steps, eroding them further. But they are still here after all these centuries, they must be built to last.
It’s late afternoon when we stumble upon Purple House, a beautiful pension right by the waters edge, surrounded by Lycian tombs. This is the perfect space to spend the night, camping for free in the gardens. There are slouchy beanbag chairs and all of the tea, beer or fruit juice we might want. There’s even vegetarian food, though it’s not at all cheap – the family have to go by boat to the nearest town for supplies – or at least that’s their excuse for the high prices. The nicest thing is the other travellers and an evening around the fire with them – particularly a 60 year old Persian man, trekking the Way in the opposite direction to us.
I have decided I want to walk alone for a while. It’s important to me to do this walking, but despite how good the others have been about it, I feel like I’m holding the group back. Also, it’s a big group and I feel our reception differently than when we were only two or three. Now we’re definitely tourists and are treated as such by villagers. The Swedes are great, but the constant laddish joking is beginning to grate on me and I want to re-find the spiritual (oh no, not that word – isn’t there a better one?) journey that was in this walk for me at the start.
It’s not so far to the next village, but now I’m alone my pace slows right down and includes breaks for yoga, meditation and a swim. I finally arrive at the village Üçağız just as the others are ready to leave. This is something I hadn’t anticipated, thinking we would almost certainly camp very nearby in the evening. I don’t know what to do and feel torn. I don’t want to wild camp alone and if I don’t go with the others now I’ll never catch them up again. On the other hand, the mere fact that I feel pressured makes me want to leave the group. I don’t like the way we’re making decisions without consulting everyone first and I’m too tired and hungry to think things through.
Evan is leaving the group now anyway and hitchhiking to Konya. In a split decision I decide to leave with him. I have no idea if it’s the right choice, how far I’ll go with him or what I’ll do after, but I buy some food for the journey; we hug the others goodbye and walk out of the village, getting a lift fairly quickly as far as Olympos…
I would like to end this post with a little hommage to some well-loved friends…
“I’m not going there!” Lisa, Sara and I all said when we first read about Kalkan. Yet here we are.
Kalkan is something of a British colony in Turkey – tourists, fish and chips and large screen TVs showing football and English soap operas fill the streets. I am reminded of why I left England. Our host is a Turkish man, an Alevi, which would be interesting were it not for the egotistical slant he puts on everything. The kind of man who has many stories, all designed for the listener to steadily learn of what a wonderful human being they have before them. Apparently, once he had seven women in his house, all crying because they wore inappropriate footwear of the Lycian Way. He’s horrified to hear of our friend Lisa, out there walking with Deniz (a strange Turkish man) with her plimpsols and not enough money. He decides she is now his personal responsibility, along with Sara and myself. We are no longer deemed capable of making decisions for ourselves.
We go to sleep while he’s still at work and when he returns, he’s horrified to find us sleeping on his two rather short sofas in our sleeping bags. “You can’t sleep like that – you’re ladies!” He whips Sara’s sleeping-bag off her, not even bothering to check she’s wearing anything underneath, and pulls the sofa out into a bed. He puts a pillow under each of our heads and then sits on his computer smoking next to my feet for the next four or five hours. Every time I stir he says gently, “I’m sorry, I am disturbing you.” To which I of course reply, “No, it’s fine.” This seems to aggravate him and when I get up to use the toilet I am remonstrated on my return – “Why are you angry with me?” “I’m not!” I say, surprised. “I’m just finding it hard to sleep – the heat, the light, the smoke…” “Aha!” he jumps on this – “I told you I was bothering you!” “But it’s your house!” I tell him… This only angers him more, since apparently I am not accepting his hospitality. “But look, I’m really not used to sleeping indoors these days…” I try to explain. “What?! You are crazy! Crazy lady!”
Lisa arrives the next day. She wants to couchsurf for the night, but neither Sara nor I want another night with this man. I get a text message from another CSer. She can’t host us, but knows of a place we can camp. We go to meet Maggi at her boutique shop. She’s an English woman, living and working in Turkey for many years. She does a lot of work with animals, especially stray dogs, many of whom hang out in and around her shop. We drink tea with Maggi and her friend and talk about animals, then she gives us a voucher she won in a raffle: a free meal for two in a restaurant nearby! Maggi calls her friend Attila who collects us in his car. Attila owns a bit of land on the edge of town where he was building a beach resort on the rocks until planning permission was withheld. Now he’s pleased it will get some use. It’s not exactly the picture that went through my mind when I first heard the words “unfinished beach resort”, but it certainly has it’s own beauty and we’re all delighted with it, deciding immediately that we will stay for two nights instead of one.
It’s a beautiful starlit night on the rocks, but when a storm whips up the following day we’re invited to stay with Maggi, despite her lack of space. Lisa steps on a nail outside Attila’s place on the way there and it goes right into her heel, so there’ll be no more trekking for her for a few days. Dropping Maggi’s name about town with the Turkish people yields free tea, discounted food, and a bar owner giving us free vegetables from his own garden. What a popular lady she is – apart from with the snobbish villa owners of course, who seem to think the stray dog population is putting off visitors, and that Maggi is encouraging it by helping with the Winter Feeding Program and medical care. I’m surprised to hear this – these are the happiest, friendliest stray dogs I’ve ever seen.
Now it’s Sara’s turn to leave us and we’re back to a party of two. It’s been awesome travelling with Sara and I know we will travel together again, perhaps to India overland this autumn.
Now it’s just me and Lisa alone again, our first stop is Kaş, a place I’ve been meaning to visit for quite some time. I tell Lisa, “I feel like Kaş is calling me”.
While I was in Istanbul I kept seeing these posts on Couchsurfing groups about a CS host with a campsite in Kaş, in need of a little help getting it ready for the tourist season. He’s hosting people for free and is happy if they can help out a little. It seems like a good thing to do and Sara has already been there and enjoyed herself, so now it’ me and Lisa’s turn.
Arriving at the road just outside Kaş, we’re greeted by a surprising sight – not exactly what I pictured when I heard the word “campsite”. “This just looks like a building site!” says Lisa, who’s known for telling it like it is.
The site itself is a slit of land, wedged between two main roads, overlooking a marina building. It mostly consists of cement platforms and piles of rubble, with a small building and a table outside at the top. We are greeted by Can (pronounced “Jan”). Can has glasses and long wavy hair, tied back into a ponytail. He looks stressed, but greets us warmly. We are given our pick of “bungalows” – small wooden huts with two beds in each. Lisa and I are charmed by the first one with the white rush walls. It even has a plug socket, so I can write on my laptop in bed.
The campsite has been shut for thee years, during which time a shiny ugly new marina has been built opposite, in place of what used to be a beach. Can was offered a lot of money for his land, but is steadfastly determined not to sell. Apparently they used TNT to build the road above him in an effort to push him out. “This is my castle”, says Can.
Ali and Nedim are the two other main characters. Neither speak any English and are both in their late forties. Ali is warm and charasmatic and we get along well, despite our limited shared language. Nedim is more of a private person and seldom takes the time to speak with us, but I suppose this is just his way. Mehmet arrives a day or two later. He’s a bit younger, very sweet, and speaks a bit of English.
Lisa and I are given light painting work and fed like queens by Ali, who turns out to be an amazing chef. It takes a day or two for the concept of veganism to sink in, but when it does we are fed up on gourmet food and are happy and at home at the campsite.
One day, Lisa and I are hitchhiking up to a “festival” (more like a fete, I suspect) in a small village, high up in the mountains behind Kaş. We’ve been waiting for ages since it’s an obscure direction we’re travelling in, but finally a woman and some children stop and we’re on our way. The woman is nice enough, but when she stops to collect another woman and more children, I notice the adult newcomer gazing at me with spite in her little beady black eyes from the front. I’m conscious for the first time of my bare-flesh arms and decide to cover up with the scarf in my bag as soon as we stop the car. Lisa and I take to gazing out the window, away from the beady black eyes… “holy shit!” we just drove past two bare chested bronzed muscular guys with piercings and tattoos wearing shorts. They were eating at a pension with backpacks right beside them – travellers! Proper ones! We have to stop this car. I bumble something in Turkish about this place being fine. The beedy eyes are very suspicious, and rightly so it would seem. We get out of the car and trek back to the place we saw the guys.
They are just finishing off their dinner, but no sooner have we said hello than the pension owner has rushed out to greet us and hurried us around the house and up some stairs to meet his wife. They put çay into our hands and the woman gets a box down from the top of a cupboard and sets about showing us every silk scarf she has ever made. “Mmmmmm… chok güzel!” We admire them, glancing at the window. How long will these guys be sticking around for? The man gets out his photo album and shows us pictures of all of the tourists he has met. Ten out of ten for trying, but we still have to say no to the food and pension room he’s trying to sell us. I try to explain in my terrible Tukish, a little embarrassed, that we want to speak to the men outside. Reluctantly he lets us go. They are still there. Apparently they were out walking on the Lycin Way and this small boy came and grabbed them and brought them here to eat. These people are so pushy!
The guys are Swedish and walking the entire Lycian Way. We tell them about Can’s place and say goodbye, certain they will never come.
We were wrong. Two days later two familiar pairs of shorts arrive at the campsite. They will stay and work for a few days. These guys are into body-sculpting and their idea of “rest” seems to be shovelling cement and bricks for Can and working out at the gym in town in their spare time.
Now there are more travellers at Can’s – us, the Swedes and an American couchsurfer named Evan. I also meet another American guy called Brice in a bar in town and all six of us decide to trek the next part of the Way together.
It’s a sad goodbye at Can’s. Lisa and I promise to return, but I’m sure Can and Ali don’t believe us – little do they know how soon we’ll be back…