By Genevieve Richards
Turkeyis a bit of a conundrum — it has been called the gateway to Asia, is sometimes classed as being in the Middle East, and at other times is lumped in along with the rest of Europe. This confusion is somewhat understandable when you consider that Turkey shares its borders with no less than eight other countries, namely: Greece and Bulgaria to the west, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Syria and Iraq to the south.
The Turkish Mediterranean coast is known for it’s hot summers and mild winters and when I visited in August, temperatures were in the region of 40° Celsius each day (for the first time in my life I wore factor 30 sunscreen and still got a terrific tan!). Turkey is perhaps now the perfect place to visit, with temperatures still radiating in the 20s while the grey and gloom of Britain gets continually worse.
JEEPS AT THE READY
The jeep safari is a well-known attraction in Turkey and on any given day there can be between one and twenty jeeps per safari group, with five companies operating in an area.
Our safari company collected our group from our hotel and took us to a central meeting point where all the guests for the day were allocated space in specific jeeps. This allocation depends on whether a guest is going as a driver or non-driver — some guests wish to drive themselves and their families, while others prefer to sit back and enjoy the ride, with someone else taking the wheel.
In convoy, and all with hands on horns (which is truly deafening but quite exhilarating) the jeep safari got underway. After about 20 minutes drive up into the ‘mountains’ we had a briefing session by our guide Semih (pronounced Sammy) while overlooking some spectacular rock tombs in the ancient city of Tlos. We didn’t get to visit this stunning ancient settlement — Semih informed us that we would visit another ancient city later on in the tour – but moved straight on to first stop: the Yakapark Trout Farm, or Bolok farm. ‘Bolok’ is the Turkish term for fish, which means you have the opportunity to see “big boloks, small boloks, and the David Beckham golden boloks,” as Semih put it.
A tasty breakfast of traditional Turkish pancakes (Gozleme) provided more energy before jumping back into the jeeps and heading off to the Saklikent Gorge. ‘Saklikent’ means ‘hidden valley’ in Turkish and this gorge is the third longest in Europe at 18 km. It was formed after an earthquake and is so steep and narrow in some places that the sun does not penetrate the water, which means it is practically freezing despite the high temperatures where we stood. There are several restaurant areas suspended above the water (river) and entire area, and although somewhat commercialised it was quaint and very pretty.
It’s possible to walk along the gorge on the 150 metres of wooden walkway and even deep into the gorge but this is very tricky as access is gained through icy cold, very fast flowing water. Fortunately, the water is quite shallow in places and there is a safety rope to help you while crossing.
The restaurants in the region were the perfect place for lunch — a choice of meatballs, trout fish, pancakes or chicken kebab, all offered with salad from the self-service salad bar and all included in the original jeep safari price, which was around £25. After Saklikent Gorge, we zoomed down to the mudflats for the eagerly-awaited mud bath.
MUD FLAPS NOT NEEDED
Our guide told us the mud bath would take ten years off our age — an idea that was met with much appreciation by the women in the group. The men, however, only really perked up a little when they were told its amazing healing properties also helped with baldness. Whether or not the healing powers worked, a lot of fun was had kicking, splashing and basking in the oozy, muddy goodness!
After washing off in the freezing river (it runs down from the gorge) we piled back into the jeeps and headed off to the ancient Lycian city of Xanthos (pronounced ‘Santos’). This was once the site of the capital city of Lycia and dates back to at least the eigth century BC. It was amazing to see the amphitheatre, pillar tombs and even the mosaics left from the Byzantine period. Xanthos was made famous to the rest of the world in the 19th century by British discoverer Charles Fellows, and some parts of the tombs have sadly been removed to the British Museum in London. The city stands atop an elevated area of the Xanthos valley where the Esen (pronounced ‘Eshen’) river flows below. The surrounding area is simply spectacular and almost seems like a mirage.
From Xanthos it was on to Patara beach, also known as Turtle Beach. Apparently the turtles come out at night and lay their eggs in the sand, so to preserve these eggs, the jeeps are left at the entrance to the beach. Patara is the longest beach on Turkey’s coast, around 20 km, and there is not a single building on the entire stretch of paradise. The beach is excellent for swimming and even those who are not confident in the water are able to paddle as there is a huge sand shelf under the water which extends to some 70 metres.
After an hour on the beach we packed up and headed off for the last stop of the day, which was basically a rest stop before the long drive back to Fethiye and to our hotels. It was also the place where the jeeps were washed after a day in the dust and open air. We were also able to swim at this stop, as it has a gas station with an enormous swimming pool and restaurant area – quite a unique, if not necessary, concept.
NOT WAVING GOODBYE
The drive back to Fethiye was not nearly as inspiring as the drive to the various stops but as we drove back along the tarred motorway, we entertained ourselves waving at all the gorgeous local children who rushed out to wave and welcome us (some of them only just old enough to walk but all with beaming smiles and boisterous ‘hello’s’).
After roughly eight hours in an open jeep we were all rather wind-blown but were all thoroughly exhilarated after our day’s adventure. We had covered almost 200 kms during the day, and although that sounds like a lot of mileage, the day flew by and all of us were disappointed when it ended – so sorry, in fact, that I rebooked and did it all again the next day!