On the Coast, Sort Of

disappointing finish

When last we met, gentle Reader, I was in Fethiye, a coastal town full of British tourists and expats. The English-language newspaper offers columns of legal advice for potential landowners, tips for those seeking the best traditional English breakfast, and news from back home; last week, it was all about the royal wedding. You can also find carpets, trinkets, and a surly guy who wants to charge 20 Lira for a half-assed tour of the local ruins. In case you’re reading, Mister Unpleasant, “Why you want make trouble?” isn’t a great pitch for more of your limited services. Fethiye was playing host to the finish of a stage in the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey. The results weren’t what I’d hoped, but I’ll train harder next year. 

wild-eyed sunstroke-victim cyclist;
friendly but disappointed villager

After a brief rest there, it was time to head east with my Aussie friends, to cities and villages farther down the coast. Turkey doesn’t make it easy for the cyclist: because we wanted to avoid the main highway, every morning included a long, steep climb out of town and then a rollercoaster ride into the next valley, only to repeat four or five times before we reached the coast again. At the top of a long climb one day, we were waved down by old men parked in plastic chairs in front of a small house. Most of the village was there for lunch, in advance of a wedding that night. They poured us tea and soda and coffee–and we had to talk them out of feeding us, since we’d had a big lunch. Kids posed for photos with our bikes; the old men chatted amiably with us about the weather. (Weather, by the way, is a great conversation topic for these meetings. My whole Turkish vocabulary is nouns and occasional adjectives. Sun, I say. Yes, they answer: Water. Party?, I ask. Wedding. Married?, they ask me. No–bachelor. Women walking by cluck and shake their heads and frown. This takes about 10 minutes and by then it’s time for more tea.)

Another family stopped us for a picnic between Kas and Ucagiz, on a hillside with olive trees, goats, sheep, and beehives, far above enormous plastic greenhouses of tomatoes and peppers. Their car stereo played traditional Turkish music. A little weather talk (Rain? Maybe.) and we shared bread, olives, cheese, roast red peppers. Grandma encouraged me to taste the fresh green peppers. Sure–how spicy could they be? I’m from Texas, right? The family assured me they’re not hot. Better to let the pictures tell the story of my three bites of green pepper:

Pepper bite 1. Left to right: friendly, curious, bored

Pepper bite 2. Left to right: amused, amused, amused

Pepper bite 3. Left to right: bemused, mocking, amused, amused

Grandma pushed the bread my way, made me eat yogurt dip. A few cousins tried, politely, to keep their laughter under wraps.

It turned out that the old man’s son-in-law runs a pension near the harbor, and that Telemen is a good cook. So we pointed downhill to Ucagiz, also known as Kekova, also known as Simena, with bags full of peppers, tomatoes, bread, cheese, and olives (Grandma wouldn’t let us go empty-handed) for two days of hiking and eating. In Ucagiz (a.k.a, etc.) we had a short boat ride with Mehmet the fisherman to see the famous Sunken City, which fell into the sea after an earthquake in the 5th century. Verdict: exactly like all the other ruins, but wet.

Warrior of lost maritime tribe,
 in traditional paint-sanding

As we made our way down the coast, the towns, tour boats, and buses were smaller and smaller–but there’s no undiscovered corner here, no hidden gem, only places more or less overrun by big-bus and big-boat tourism. On a long ride in to Antalya, I spun past enormous Las Vegas style hotels and towns completely given over to resorts. The prediction is that nine million Russians will take their holidays this year on the Mediterranean.
Here in Antalya, I got a haircut and shave, which isn’t really a great story, except that: 1) the young guy cutting my hair spent an hour carefully snipping and shearing and straight-razor shaving, and then I got the standard shoulder and scalp massage with three or four different skin-tightening agents, with a cup of chai after, all for about 12 US dollars; and 2) after I left the barber, the nice folks at the restaurant next door fawned over my new Turkish look. The chef kept asking me if I’m Muslim, and if I like Barack Obama. He was eventually satisfied with No and Yes. For years during my youth in Texas, well-meaning Baptists would ask me, What are you? Greek, Italian? Lebanese? But it’s been a long time, as my transformation into run-of-the-mill White seems complete. So it’s a great relief to recover some long-hidden ethnic identity, even if it’s not my own.

A new Turk
Tomorrow, a bus to Konya, home of the Sufi mystics and whirling Dervishes. Then, probably, another bus to Capadoccia, where I’ll (finally!) explore Love Valley.

Jokesters, do your worst.


One thought on “On the Coast, Sort Of

  1. Hey Ben – looks like you are having an amazing time – I have that same Jersey you are wearing!!! Be careful keep having funperry

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