Ghostly villages and the Lycian way in Kayakoy

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Middle East » Turkey » Mediterranean » Kayaköy
June 20th 2012
Published: June 28th 2012
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After breakfast we grabbed our packs and jumped on a public bus for the six hour trip from Pamukkale to Kayakoy.

This was to be a long trip. We had a driver and an attendant (who made sure the passengers were all OK). They struggled with the air-conditioning for most of the trip. When we went uphill, they opened the front door of the bus to let fresh air in (but closed it again as soon as we levelled out or started going downhill). They opened the skylight every now and again, and they also tried to get the air-conditioner working, but it was just too hot outside for anything to be effective.

We were travelling through fairly rugged Turkish terrain. Huge mountain ranges filled the horizon, and every now and again we would stop in a small town and pick someone up or drop someone off. I caught up on my travel writing, although it was difficult typing in such cramped conditions. We were jammed in like sardines, and it was very hot! We eventually arrived at Fethiye at 1pm. we got off the bus, waited a few minutes in the bus terminal and then crammed into a minibus to Kayakoy. This was only a 20 minute trip, and we finally arrived at 1.30pm. On our way to Kayakoy we had passed an appalling tourist town that showed all the signs of unchecked and rampant commercialism. We had a momentary sense of horror until we realised our hotel was much further on.

We checked into our spacious rooms, unpacked and headed to lunch at 2pm. We were here for two nights, so there was a sense of incredible relaxation in the air. We were exhausted from the bus trip but very happy to be in such peaceful surrounds. I ordered a mixed meze plate and Ren went for the grilled mushrooms. The food was fantastic and full of garlic. I washed it down with two welcome Efes beers. The owner of the guest house was a butcher, so meat was his speciality. He liked to have prior warning of what he needed to cook, so we ordered dinner straight after lunch.

Having organised ourselves for dinner, we had the afternoon to ourselves. We showered, caught up with emails, dropped our laundry off and re-charged all our batteries (phones, cameras and laptop). We then just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We went for a quick walk around the tiny village in the early evening, picked up some water for tomorrow’s 7km hike along the Lycian Way and then headed back to the hotel for pre-dinner drinks at 8pm. We dined at 8.30pm, and the food was great. We shared a mixed grill, ezme (spicy tomato and chilli dip) and spicy eggplant salad (it was very spicy). We finished the meal with baklava and ice cream and shared another bottle of Sirince fruit wine (peach). With a strenuous hike ahead of us the next day, we decided to have an early night, so we retired at 10.30pm.

I woke early to the local mosque’s call to prayer, but I stayed in bed until 6am. I caught up on my trip notes and organised my day pack for the hike to Oludeniz lagoon. After a fantastic breakfast (I had fresh fruit, yoghurt and honey while Ren had a mushroom omelette), we headed off on our hike along the Lycian Way. We left around 8.30am and it had already started warming up. We walked through the ghost village of Kayakoy, and reflecting on Ataman’s 1+1=1 video in the Istanbul Modern, the population exchange that occurred here had an even bigger impact. With power in the wrong hands, I think many countries would probably go down the same path (including our own). We have met at least one Turk who felt the whole exercise was sad but inevitable. The displacement of two million people based on race/ethnicity is far more than sad and should never be considered inevitable.

The village had been built into a steep hillside, which meant we had to climb through it. The morning sun had started to heat up, so we quickly raised a sweat. However, the climb didn’t last too long, and we eventually levelled out into a gentle incline through a peaceful pine forest that provided welcome but intermittent shade from the sun. The track led us to the edge of the Turkish coastline, and we soon had incredible views of the Mediterranean. We edged our way across this coastal track high above sea level until we started our descent towards Oludinez. This was a very tourist-driven town, so it was a shock to arrive after the peace and solitude we had been enjoying above the coastline.

We dropped into the nearest restaurant (and there were many of them) for a cold drink, although I opted for a hot cay (Turkish tea), and it was very refreshing. We then navigated the masses on the pebble beach, found a spare few metres, peeled off our sweaty clothes and dived into the warm Mediterranean. There were hundreds of people on the beach but few in the sea, so we had the deep blue water to ourselves. The sun was intense but the water was cool below the surface, so we swam out to the boat net about two hundred metres off shore and just floated in the sunlight. It was a fantastic way to relax from the walk. As we lay floating, we watched the plethora of paragliders filling the sky, floating down from the mountain tops and landing on the beach. At times I felt there needed to be an air traffic controller to organise the landings – I think we calculated a landing every 60 seconds.

We swam back in, scrambled up the searing hot pebbles on the beach, dried off in the intense sunlight and headed to the Sun Cafe for lunch. We ordered chicken and lamb doner kebaps, and both were surprisingly good. I had a beer and Ren had a Snake Bite (half beer, half cider), and it lived up to its name – it knocked you out!

After lunch we jumped on a minibus and headed back to our hotel in Kayakoy. We showered, pulled on some comfy clothes and relaxed on the low wooden decks that were just outside our rooms. The decks were furnished with soft cushions and carpets and covered with grape vines, all of which created a very bohemian atmosphere. We caught up on our travel notes and downloaded photos over a cup of tea. The grape vines kept the late afternoon sun at bay, so we just lay back and relaxed. This was an incredibly peaceful place.

We went for a wander around the village at 6pm and met a very friendly spaniel. He befriended us, so we named him Cecil. He followed us everywhere, wagging his tail constantly. When we turned to go back to the hotel, he dutifully accompanied us. We had to issue a very stern ‘stay’ when he tried to come into our hotel room. He just sat in the corridor and looked at us with the saddest eyes. We closed the door and he wandered off, obviously hoping to find a new friend to walk with.

We headed out to dinner at 7.30pm. We caught a minibus to Fethiye and headed straight for the fish market. Surrounded by restaurants, this was a fascinating place to eat. We purchased our fish (sea bream) from one of the many fish mongers and then nominated our restaurant (Mercan Resturant). The fish monger pinned our name to each fish and took them over to the restaurant, where our chef char-grilled them and served them with salad and fresh toasted bread. The meal was sensational, and it was followed with a complimentary dessert. We didn’t catch the name of this dish, but it was a rich, thick tahini custard that had been caramelised on top and sprinkled with walnuts. It was a perfect dessert for a fish meal.

At the end of the meal, a group of local musicians (gypsies) began to serenade individual tables of the surrounding restaurants. There was an oud, violin, drum and tambourine player, and they all sang. They would start softly, and if people didn’t tip, they would get louder and louder until it was so unbearable that people would end up paying them to stop. It was a tough gig. We also met Hagi, Fethiye’s number one shoe-shiner. We were wearing thongs (flip flops), so with a downward glance he quickly realised we didn’t need his service. He gave us his card anyway. He had 27 years’ experience and was available 24 hours a day. The divide between rich and poor was very prevalent in this part of Turkey.

We jumped into a minibus and headed back to Kayakoy. It had been a tiring day, and the Lycian Way trek had taken its toll. We picked up our laundry, ordered breakfast for the next day and headed back to our room. I sat up for a while with a glass of red listening to the Portugal vs Czechoslovakia soccer match, and eventually crashed at midnight.

It was an early start for our journey to Kayakoy. We had a 6:30am breakfast and were picked up by a local public bus (they were kind enough to swing by the hotel on the way to the bus station). We had our pick of seats; but it was a small bus with inefficient air conditioning and not half as comfortable as the other buses we had been on. However, the bus wasn’t that uncomfortable that I couldn’t sleep for the first three hours of the journey. We had a rest stop with free cay (Turkish tea) which I declined because of the next two hours on the bus. The bus ride was absolutely beautiful and we passed some very picturesque and interesting countryside – dramatic hills and valleys, thick pine forests and small hillside villages. After the five hour bus ride south, we finally arrived in the resort town of Fethiye in the Western Mediterranean region. We were only stopping here to catch a local bus to Kayakoy which is a little village outside Fethiye. We were thanking our lucky stars that the resort towns around Fethiye weren’t our destination, because they certainly weren’t our cup of tea.

If you’ve been to any of the Costas in Spain, this area is a replica but without the high rise hotels. An influx of British tourists and retiree apartment blocks has created tacky towns complete with age-inappropriate clothing and condescending attitudes. Apparently most of these Mediterranean towns are swamped by tourists who really just want to be back home, but home doesn’t have beautiful sun or gorgeous water... so they bring home here. I have very little time for self-imposed ethnic enclaves – it goes against everything I believe about tolerance and respect for other people’s cultures. There was one restaurant that summed it up really well for me, and made me laugh out loud – in bright red and yellow letters – ‘McDoners’. 😊

Thankfully Kayakoy is still very much local. It is located on the outskirts of a deserted medieval Greek Village called Levissi, which was home to over 600 houses and 2000 people in its day. Today the remaining 200 or so houses are deserted and are a legacy of the controversial population swap I mentioned in this post about Sirince. Unlike the Greek Muslims who settled in Sirince, the Greek Muslims who were settled here from Macedonia found the agriculture and way of life unsustainable and left – and so Levissi became a ghost town.

The Turkish Government has committed money to archeological studies of the ghost towns after being forced to move away from ideas of turning the deserted towns into high population tourist ventures. Even though modern day Kayakoy has been born out of tourism, it’s still a quiet little traditional Turkish village with less that 150 people, and manages to convey a picture of what might have been. Walking around the town in the afternoons gave us a sense that the rich were very rich behind gated driveways, while the working class families did it quite tough. I have realized that the physical and emotional state of the street dogs and cats give a fabulous insight into the town and its people. The animals here were very friendly, relaxed and well fed. This was the best place for enjoying a quiet glass of cay and watching the farmers at work. Drinking tea is fast becoming one of my favourite things to do in Turkey. Apart from eating, of course!

Our experience here was made all the better by our gorgeous little guesthouse. Makri Pansion is set in a cute fruit tree-filled garden and run by a family of three. The father Mithat and son Murat run the front of house and the mother (who we rarely saw) did all the superb cooking. They were very very obliging, and as an added bonus, Mithat was a butcher, so he prided himself on the meat he served. After we arrived, we sat around the huge dining table on the terrace and had a light lunch of a delicious mixed meze platter and a side of cheese stuffed mushrooms with garlic. We had dinner at the hotel too, and the ezme (spicy tomato and chilli dip), spicy eggplant salad and mixed grill (cooked in front of us) were very tasty. As was the baklava dessert with pistachio ice cream – probably the best I’ve tasted. We then shared the last bottle of peach wine from Sirince and had an early night to prepare for the 7km trek along part of the Lycian Way early the next morning. Oh, and there were three cats and a dog for extra company too. 😊

The walk started at 8am after a hearty mushroom omelette breakfast for me and yogurt and fruit for Andrew. As we walked to the ghost town from the guesthouse, all we could see were greyed shells of crumbling buildings peppering the landscape, a few of which had most of their walls still standing. On the whole, it looked like a casualty of war, and it is very much a casualty of war, just not it the conventional sense of the phrase. It is a very eerie and sad place and another extraordinary part of Turkey and its history. I’ve recently read Louis de Bernieres’ book Birds Without Wings which is based on this controversial population exchange, and the fictional village Eskibahce in coastal Anatolia was based on the happenings at Kayakoy. It’s a sad tale of forced displacement, isolation and loss of identity.

We had a guided tour of the ghost town before we started the walk. It was strange walking through the old settlement, as some of the buildings looked intact from certain angles (until you walked up to them). Plants that once belonged in someone’s garden and fig trees were growing wild amongst the houses. It was bizarrely gorgeous. There was a section of the ghost town that had been restored and it was really weird to have a pocket of life, complete with fruitful gardens and overhead electric wires, in this deserted town. It was quite poignant.

There were two remarkably intact churches at the two different ends of the village which were well worth visiting. The lower church still had a few original frescoes on the walls, and there was a small outbuilding that was used to store the bones of the dead (who were ceremoniously dug up after five years of being buried). The Greeks were told they could return for their ancestor’s bones, but of course that never happened.

The trek started uphill from the higher church, which is the bigger of the two churches and has some remarkably intact pebble mosaics on the floor. Essentially, the Lycian Way is a mountain track which links the Lycian cities together, and this part of the track goes from Kayakoy, through the ghost village of Levissi and on to Olundeniz (which is famous for its gorgeous lagoon).

It took about four hours to get to our destination. We had to look out for red and yellow trail markers which weren’t always easily spotted. The start and finishing points of the walk were the hardest; there was an initial steep climb for 45 minutes over loose gravel and rocks, and at the end we had to climb/run down loose gravel and rocks to reach the road to the beach. I’m surprised no one in the group twisted an ankle in those hazardous sections of the walk. My nemeses on the walk were the thorny little bushes that were just the right height to attack my legs between my three-quarter cargo pants and my ankle socks. I still have the scratches from those pesky things. The middle section of the walk was pretty fantastic; we were walking in and out of light pine forested areas and the view was amazing, the clear blue Mediterranean sea below was stunning, and then more fantastic views when we got to the ridge and started walking down into Oludeniz. Thankfully, even though we were quite high up, this trail was much more comfortable for Andrew (and his discomfort with heights) than the unsafeguarded Walk of the Gods trek we did in Italy two years ago. From my point of view, this walk was of a harder grade than the trek we did in Northern Thailand last year, but I seemed to cope with it much better. So either I’ve got fitter (doubt it!) or the heat and humidity in Thailand affected me more than I realised.

The three-kilometre-long beach in Olundeniz frames a natural lagoon with warmish sparkling blue water, beautifully bordered by the bluish tinged Mt Baba. I can see why they call it the Blue Lagoon. We arrived in Oludeniz right on lunch time and we were all starving little marvins, but we had a quick drink from Sun Cafe and everyone hit the beach. The pebbles on the beach ranged from golf ball size to sharp little stones which were very painful and hot underfoot, and getting to and from the water was almost too much for the soles of our feet (some of the group were reduced to crawling on their hands and knees)! For those of us who didn’t swim, we sat on the pebbles, letting the waves wash over us. We also created a sport out of watching people trying to walk between their deck chairs and the water. Yes, we were easily amused. 😊

We went back to Sun Cafe for lunch and had very delicious wrapped doner kebaps (lamb and chicken). I tried my first snake bite (half Efes beer, half very strong apple cider), and although I wouldn’t rush out to have another one, it certainly worked to cool me down. Our lunch spot was lovely and the food was excellent, but unfortunately – as with most beautiful places in the world – it was overrun with tourists.

There was an offer to paraglide, but having heard of the many paragliding accidents, we sat this one out. We were tired from the trek so relaxing on the beach would have been ideal; however, we decided as a group that we had seen enough and headed back to our hotel in Kayakoy. Thankfully we didn’t have to walk back! The scenery on the dolmus (local minibus) drive back was almost as spectacular as the walk, but without the sweating and cursing.

We had an easy afternoon after the hike, and spent the afternoon writing, reading and generally lounging about in the hotel’s day beds in the shady garden. We eventually went for a walk when the sun began to calm down. I loved this little village. It was on this walk that we befriended one of the many dogs who ‘own’ the lane our hotel is on, and the cocker spaniel (named Cecil for the day) shadowed us on our walk and returned to the hotel with us. The hotel dog tolerated Cecil hanging out with us on the grounds of the hotel, but the minute I tried to pat Cecil, hotel dog would step in between us and shepherd Cecil away from me. It was very cute, but his jealousy was remarkably human-like.

That night, we hailed a dolmus to get us to the fish markets in Fethiye. The market is set up in the middle of a group of restaurants, and the deal is that you can choose and buy your fish from any of the stalls and have one of the restaurants cook it for you for a flat fee of 6TRY (which includes water, huge platters of salad and water). On the recommendation of the fish guy, we chose wild Sea Bream for dinner, and the restaurant grilled it to perfection. I’m normally not a ‘whole fish’ fan, but this was really easy to de-bone. We were given a complimentary dessert – it was a baked tahini and walnut custard-like dessert served in a terracotta dish (I have to google this when we get home). It was incredibly sweet but the perfect flavour to end a fish meal with. The atmosphere in this market courtyard was brilliant, and as the night wore on a Turkish Gypsy band started walking amongst the tables performing for tips. We made an escape before they headed our way. The dolmus ride back to the hotel was a lot quicker because there were no other passengers to pick up and drop off on the way.

It had been a fantastic but very energetic stay in Kayakoy. I was sad to leave and could easily have spent two more days here.

Tomorrow we start our boat trip along the Turquoise Coast in the Western Mediterranean!


28th June 2012

Good Morning
That omelette looks fantastic. Fantastic food pictures...... you guys are foodies! Can't wait to read about the boat have planned the perfect explorations of Turkey. We hope to follow in your footsteps one day.
29th June 2012

Re: Good Morning
That omelette was so delicious, I would happily have it everyday! We usually decide on our destinations by looking at the local food first :)
28th June 2012

I love how much information you two pack into your blog. I have never heard of these places and foods, but you inspire me to look into all of this and more. Thanks again and enjoy the rest of your trip. I know I will!
29th June 2012

Thanks Jill, our three weeks in Turkey have been just superb! We are sitting in Istanbul airport right now, making a wish to return here very soon. :)
30th June 2012

Hey, thank you so much for a well written few lines about your visit to our beautiful village. We are so pleased when people appreciate it. Best. John
1st July 2012

Re: Thanks
Hi John - Kayakoy is such a lovely place! We really did fall in love with it :)
6th July 2012

Respectful travel and tourism
"I have very little time for self-imposed ethnic enclaves – it goes against everything I believe about tolerance and respect for other people’s cultures" - so very eloquent and so very true - if only more tourists and travellers around the world shared your view. The ethical aspect of tourism warrants hours of discussion, especially over a plate of meze! We would commence the conversation with this quote by Clifton Fadiman. “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”
7th July 2012

Re: Respectful travel and tourism
And while we were waiting for the second plate of meze to arrive, I would say 'the best rule of travel is to treat other people and their country the way you would want to be treated'...

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