Published: June 6th 2012June 1st 2012
Feeling like I had done everything I wanted to do in Fethiye - apart from taking a four-day sailing trip back along the coast to Marmaris, which I had already decided I could no longer afford - I returned my scooter on monday morning (28th May) and took a typically slow but scenic bus ride through the Akdaglar mountains to Pamukkale - the site of the world-famous travertines.
For those that are unfamiliar with Pamukkale, the travertines are basically a series of terraced pools high up on a hillside that have formed over millenia from the calcium deposits left behind by spring water that gushes out from the top of the hill and then cascades down the slope, smoothing over the travertines as it does so; while simultaneously they are being bleached an almost-perfect white by the sun.
Unfortunately - given that I had only allowed myself one day to see Pamukkale - by the time I arrived in the dustbowl little town (and that's being kind) that sits at the foot of the famous hillside the storm clouds had gathered, thereby condemning me to spend the rest of the afternoon at my hotel/hostel - where at least I
Travertines at Pamukkale
was able to take advantage of the free spa and sauna on offer whilst cursing the inclement weather.
With my hostel in Köyceğiz already booked for tuesday night, I woke early that morning in the hope of better weather, as one way or another I was determined not to hang around in Pamukkale any longer than was absolutely necessary - even if it meant missing out on seeing the one thing that I had come to see in the first place.
This attitude was partly due to my scepticism at just how impressive the site would be, knowing that what was once an entirely natural phenomenon is now carefully controlled, with the travertine pools being alternately drained (so as to allow the sun to bleach them more effectively) and then re-filled. What seemed strangest to me was that this policy of human intervention has been adopted since Pamukkale was designated a Unesco world heritage site; when as far as I had been aware Unesco's primary function was to preserve sites of international significance in their natural state, rather than what we would prefer their natural state to be?!?
In any case by the time I reached the
travertines the sun was shining, allowing me to fully enjoy the unique experience of walking barefoot up the bleached-white hillside - which despite having been worn smooth is not the slightest bit slippery - through the fast-flowing spring water run-off. And despite my initial scepticism about just how impressive and 'natural' the pools would be, I must confess to being pleasantly surprised.
The fact that people are still allowed to walk into and even bathe in the various pools along the way (which get progressively warmer as you near the top) makes it a truly interactive experience; while the presence of countless bikini-clad girls from eastern Europe (who unlike their more demure Asian counterparts appear as if they are modelling for some sort of swimwear calendar photoshoot - which I personally don't have the slightest problem with) only serves to enhance the overall experience even further!
Upon reaching the top of the hillside another attraction invites exploration - and is thankfully covered under the same admission price - the ruins of a Roman city known as Hierapolis. While not quite in the same league as Ephesus in terms of it's overall level of preservation and/or reconstruction, it nonetheless
Sunset over Lake Köyceğiz
contains some very impressive features, such as the almost fully reconstructed theatre - probably the most complete and impressive example of a Roman theatre that I have seen - and of course the picture-perfect Antique Pool, complete with toppled marble columns (which is not only the centrepiece of the city, but also the major tourist drawcard - if the number of bathers wedged in shoulder-to-shoulder is anything to go by).
But perhaps the most impressive feature of all at Hierapolis is the location of the city, and the view that it provides from the top of the hillside down over the travertines and out across the vast, flat valley all the way (on a clear day at least) to the brooding mountain range on the opposite side of the valley.
Unable to resist the temptation of stripping down and soaking myself in the travertines on my way back down the hillside, my visit finally ended just in time to hop on a dolmus back to the otogar in Denizli (the city of half-a-million people that sits at the foot of the mountains) from where I took a slightly larger bus to Köyceğiz, back over the other side of
Perfect day for a boat cruise
The mirror-still waters of Lake Köyceğiz
the mountains toward the sea.
What was supposed to be only a three hour journey turned out to be a four-and-a-half hour exercise in frustration, as what was surely my most scenic bus ride yet happened to be simultaneously my least comfortable. At least I could console myself with the fact that this would be my last bus ride of any great distance in Turkey, since I was smart enough to buy cheap flights far in advance for my journeys to and from Cappadocia, saving me from the arduous overnight bus trips that most other backpackers are faced with.
Nestled alongside a picturesque lake ringed by mountains of varying heights, my first impression of Köyceğiz was most favourable, given that it not only offered wonderful views from the waterfront but also seemed to be pleasantly free of other tourists... in fact the only signs I saw in English were on the daily excursion boats lined up along the edge of the lake. This assessment was further confirmed when I arrived at my hostel to find that I had a six-bed room all to myself, and apart from a lone blonde girl who I saw briefly on my second
Rock-cut tombs above the Dalyan River
night there I didn't see another backpacker during the entire three days that I was there - either at the Tango Pension or anywhere else in Köyceğiz.
After spending the previous week on the ever-popular Mediterranean coast and then a day in Pamukkale, to say that this came as a most refreshing change would be an understatement - as if I had stumbled upon a beautiful little corner of Turkey that I didn't have to share with anyone else.
Wednesday brought another twenty-five lira full-day boat trip, this time one that went across Köyceğiz Gölü (Lake) and down the Dalyan River to the coast. And just when I thought the captain of the boat had been winding me up when he told me "many girls on boat today - you very lucky man" - since at the time there was only myself, a Dutch couple, and two Turkish couples onboard - out of nowhere suddenly appeared a group of about thirty Russians, most of which were indeed of the female persuasion! Of course I didn't have a clue what any of them were saying, but at least I had some nice scenery both inside and outside the boat
Sweeping sand beach
Iztuzu Plaji (Turtle Beach)
to look at for the rest of the day!
So with not one but two boats now fully loaded up with sightseers we headed off across the mirror-still expanse of Lake Köyceğiz towards the Sultaniye mud baths and thermal springs, where we joined a rowdy scrum of people (mostly British I noticed) tentatively immersing themselves in a pool of warm mud, then letting it dry and harden somewhat - which is supposedly beneficial for the skin - before washing it off with a swim in the lake and finally going for a dip in the allegedly therapeutic (and undoubtedly horrible smelling) thermal bath.
Next we headed down the green and winding Dalyan River past some impressive rock-cut tombs hewn from the side of a cliff a couple of thousand years ago, before finally negotiating our way through the maze of reed-lined channels that lead to the long, curving sandy strip of Iztuzu Plaji (Turtle Beach - so named because of it's importance as a sea turtle nesting ground) that separates the freshwater delta from the seawater of the Mediterranean.
After spending a lazy couple of hours at the beach we all piled back on board for the
Picturesque waterfall in the mountains near Köyceğiz
return trip to Köyceğiz, during which some of the Russian girls treated us to a sultry display of belly dancing, while most of the guys on the boat just hit the beers and got pissed! (Not me though - I'm saving that sort of behaviour for Tenerife in a couple of weeks' time)
Sleeping in the next day, it wasn't until mid-afternoon that I finally got my act together and took one of the hostel's bicycles for a spin to a nearby waterfall, which in keeping with the rest of my experiences in Köyceğiz (other than the Russian bombardment of my boat trip) I had all to myself, apart from a small group of in-the-know locals who turned up briefly for a quick swim before disappearing again, and an older gentleman who kindly offered to take my picture whilst I was at the waterfall.
Arriving back in town just in time to catch another magnificent sunset down by the lake and enjoy the same meal at the same place for dinner that I had done each of the previous two nights - to the obvious amusement of the cook - it was with a contented smile on my
Dusk on the shores of Lake Köyceğiz
face that I cycled slowly back to the hostel, having thoroughly enjoyed my time in this peaceful lakeside oasis - an undiscovered treasure if ever there was one.
There are more photos below