Turkey — Day Seventeen — Fethiye

October 24, Saklikent Gorge & Tlos tour

Wednesday morning dawned sunny enough. Not perfect, but sunny and cloudy and beginning with a delicious breakfast of muselix and yoghurt and honey from the mountains behind Fethiye. Amazing! The view from the terrace over Fethiye Bay with the light and shadow from the clouds was just astonishing. No wonder our host seemed to spend all his days sitting up there, smoking and looking.  

After our second entertaining attempt at showering in the little bathroom, we got ready to head out for our Tlos/Saklikent Gorge tour.  I was wearing my now-standard Turkish attire: my black capris and the 3/4 sleeve cotton shirt I had bought in Goreme. I never felt judged by what I wore, but I found myself a little comfier being mostly covered on at least one hemisphere, and, since I wore capris the most, I felt better being a little covered up on top. 
We walked down the hill and were at the travel agency (whose name has escaped me for now) before 9am, when we were supposed to be met by our bus. We waited and waited and finally, some 20 minutes late, a large dolmus showed up to take us to the big bus. There was a lovely British couple in their 60s on board already and we all reassured each other that if we were all supposed to be going to the same place it was quite likely that the bus was going in the right direction. We found many times that you just had to take things on faith in Turkey — faith that the bus would show up, faith that it was the right bus, faith that it wasn’t going to lead you astray. We were almost never disappointed.

In this case, we were driven out to the main highway going out of town, where we pulled into a gas station. A few minutes later, a big bus pulled up — like a BIG bus, like a big Mercedes highway-going bus, not the little dolmus we were expecting. We clambered onto the bus, which was almost full of octegenarians. Steve and I looked at each other and wondered if we signed up for the wrong tour! Hmmm…

After a short time, and another dolmus shuttle bringing people from the resort town of Oludeniz just down from Fethiye (and a quick trip to the very clean gas station bathroom), our tour guide (who had been outside smoking a cigarette) arrived at the front of the bus. He introduced himself as Atilla but advised us to call him ‘Ati’. He explained that when he called out ‘Ati’ that we were all to gather around him. This sounds a little strange, but actually he was hilarious and completely made the tour. On our way to the Saklikent Gorge, he explained that some people called it the ‘second longest gorge in Europe’ but they were wrong — it is in Asia! After a while on the road, wandering narrow roads through rural villages, he explained to us that we would stop at a viewpoint overlooking a river for a ‘Turkish minute’ which would be the unit of time it took him to smoke another cigarette. We all poured out of the bus, even the tottery tourguests, looked at the view and took photos and nearly got run over by a truck carrying bales of cotton. What fun!

Ati was done his cigarette in about five non-Turkish minutes and herded us back on the bus. Winding along the river road, we started to catch glimpses of a tall gorge heading into the mountains that soared about 1500m into the now-blue sky. It just looked like a narrow crack in the green hills and we were very excited to visit it. When we got to the entry area, we were given a big spiel about wearing water sandals or borrowing some cheap rubber shoes from the tourist people. Fortunately Steve and I were all prepared in shorts and Teva sandals. We were virtually the only people there who were so prepared. There was enough time for a quick pit stop before we started off on a narrow footbridge across the milky river, where we were joined by a very nice kopek. On the other side, we walked up to the entry turnstiles below the bus-bridge. This was the most controlled entry we’d seen; I guess they don’t want to lose people in the gorge!

Past the turnstile, we walked a wooden pathway suspended over the rushing water. It was very cool and felt very safe, as there were guardrails all over the place. The pathway ended at a little island thing that had a little cafe (closed for the season) and benches by the water. On the far end of the island was a white, rushing creek about 20′ across that met the pale trickle coming out of the narrow part of the gorge. The water was churned up to a glacial blue and it looked very, very cold. Ati gave everyone the option of going carefully across the torrent and then hiking up the gorge OR sitting on the benches on the side of the river. Almost everyone sat down…  Steve and I were already in the water. Ati started giving ‘how to cross the torrent’ instructions as we began to wade across. It was actually much less cold than we expected, but of course we’ve been bitten by truly glacial streams. The half-dozen people who followed us seemed to think it very chilly.

The water in the gorge itself wasn’t much over ankle deep and looked much like coffee when cream has just been added. When I bent down to take a closer look, you could even see the little curls and spirals of the sediment in the water, just like cream.

We wandered up the creek, walking on sandbars and wading through the water. In some places it got a little deeper and we were wading to above our knees. The walls of the canyon steadily narrowed until, in places, you could touch both walls at the same time. Being at the front, we had it almost to ourselves, especially given that not many people from our group were making the trip. Among them were a younger couple, the British couple we were first on the dolmus with, Ati and a few other intrepid souls. We seemed to be the only tour group going through, so the mud wasn’t too churned up. In places, trees clung to walls above the high-silt line. We were told it had been a relatively dry summer and given the evidence of how deep this place could be, we considered ourselves lucky to be coming through at low tide, as it were.

We reached a particularly deep section with a tiny waterfall at one end where Ati stopped us. We hung out there for a little while until another group came along. Ati conferred with the other guide and decided this would be our turn-around point. Left to our own devices, Steve and I would have continued on, but Ati gave us a stern eye and we reluctantly turned around. The landscape of the gorge was remarkable. When the other tourists passed out of sight around a corner, it was just magical — serene and cool and palely coloured. We were a little reluctant to leave, and might have dawdled a little… but we still made it out faster than one of the couples from our group.  I think the husband might have gotten lost, which is hard, given there are only two directions to go.    We got a little muddy on the way back, where some of the sandbars had been churned up as Ati chivvied us along. Fortunately we were all cleaned off passing back through the rushing water, where we went across one at a time I gave pointers (face upstream, that’ll help) and I took a little video of Steve.

After the obligatory time waiting around the entryway, buying and drinking overpriced visne suyu, we were back on the bus, heading towards a ‘carpet factory’ to watch a demonstration. Yeah, whatever. We were told all about how the women form a co-operative and work from home and have a very nice life. Steve and I were quite interesting in the brief demonstrations we saw, though they were much shorter than I hoped for. As we were being herded away (note a trend? we were herded a lot) from the carpet-weaving demonstration, I thanked the woman in Turkish and she turned and flashed me a huge smile. It made me wonder how many people from groups like this actually thank the ‘props’ on the tour.

After less than 10 minutes in the big, dusty ‘factory’, we were… guided into an even larger, slick wing of the building that had lots of lovely carpets hanging on the walls. Once in one of the many, many large rooms with benches around the outside, we were provided with a drink (cay for us), the REAL demonstration began! A team of young men got busy throwing out carpets onto the floor in a very flashy manner while the factory guide told us about the types and styles of carpets. It was interesting, but we were pretty sure prices where would be more expensive than elsewhere, plus we weren’t into being led around by the nose anymore. Baaaa-aaaa! I don’t think so.

At the end of the big demonstration, everyone was invited to walk around and look at the carpets on the walls. We noticed a pattern: if you stopped to look at one, a young man would appear at your elbow and ask you if you liked it. If you said yes, he would guide your unit (couple or single) into a private room and pull out a number like it. We saw a few we liked, but were quoted 1200L or more for what didn’t seem like an incredibly special carpet. We hauled out our favourite excuse, that we were going to shop for a carpet later in our trip, and were confronted with all kinds of offers for shipping. Since we had been guided into a fairly small and sparsely carpeted room, we figured they weren’t holding out a lot of hope on our purchasing power, especially when confronted with a bus load of well-heeled retirees. We used our next most successful diversionary tactic, and asked for the bathroom. After ablutions, and a few grumpy looks, we found ourselves back on the bus. After a few minutes, everyone was back on the bus, looking a little rumpled, but without any obvious carpets to their names. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally after some 20 minutes, one older gentleman was guided back onto the bus. He looked downright shaken, and I wondered if he found himself pressured into buying a carpet he couldn’t afford.

Off to lunch! Given our previous experience, we were fully expecting a cheesy tourist place, and we weren’t disappointed. We wound up into the mountains to Yakapark, which sounds worse than it was. It was a ‘trout farm’ which is to say that we didn’t see much of the farm, but it did have a cool bar with a trough in it that had live trout swimming in it. We felt a little bad for the trout as they were immediately harassed by the lone kids on the tour, but, well, they’re fish. They’ll cope. Steve got points for being able to keep his hands in the frigid water for minutes at a time, trying to tickle the trout. I’m not sure the trout were laughing, but he was told that if he could stand in the icy trout pond for five minutes, his lunch would be free! He was game to try, but frankly our lunch was already practically free given that it was included in the tour. We lined up for a buffet with fresh fried trout that was reasonably good, given its mass-produced nature, and it was very nice to settle on stone benches at stone tables under the cool trees and eat our fish. It even got a little chilly with all that stone and shade.  We paid for our drinks, thanked the waiter, enjoyed the view from the bathroom terraces and went back to the bus.

The bus swooped down the mountain road until it stopped on the side of the road. We stumbled off the bus at the amphitheatre at Tlos. 

Tlos was one of the six principal towns of the Lycian region and was a very prosperous and large city in Roman times. We learned that the port city at the end of the Xanthos valley was not a safe place to leave goods that came in though the ship trade; to keep them safe, they were immediately brought up to fortified towns on the cliffs, like Tlos.  Tlos was also the reported town where the hero Bellerophon lived with his winged horse, Pegasus.  Of course the horse aspect was immediately interesting to me!
The theatre was lovely, though quite tumbled.  Further down the road, the baths were being reconstructed and were quite amazing, perched on the side of the cliff.  We were some of the last to leave the site (given the overall age of our tour-mates, we were pretty sure we could catch them up).  The older man who had been last out of the carpet factory lingered behind us.  We didn’t want to be forward, but for a moment, we were concerned that he might have been so over-carpeted that he’d fling himself off the edge.  We were relieved to see him tottering up shortly behind us. 
Along the side of the road, we saw lovely arches and fields of pomegranate trees, a broad flat expanse that would have been the stadium, with a ruined Ottoman castle behind.  We came across a few cafes meant to service the tourist trade, and about half the group decided to stop there and rest while the other half went and hiked up to the castle.  I lagged behind a little while I looked at a stall with little slate carvings of bais reliefs of Bellerophon.  My initial reaction was that they seemed a bit cheesy and mass-produced, until I realized that the woman behind the stall was actually carving them right there!  I bought one and a little carved pendant shaped like a Lycian kitty.  Well, a kitty, anyway — I don’t know if it’s Lycian.
Having taken a bit of time over my choices, I turned and realized all the group were halfway up the hill.  I jogged up the hill to meet them, and arrived just as Ati was giving the spiel about the Lycian rock-cut tombs.  They are shaped the way they are to mimic Lycian houses, which had large wooden beams holding up the roof.  Interesting!  I was suddenly glad of all those stupid hills we’d been walking up in Fethiye that let me catch everyone up so fast.
We walked the rest of the way up to the castle, and then up the worn and cracked stairs carved right into the outcropping of stone to the top of the ‘castle’.  One side of the stairs was cut off by a sheer drop onto the little plateau below.  No handrails, no ropes, no chains, no nothing.  I can just imagine that if a hapless tourist had fallen off, it would have been met with the ubiquitous Turkish shrug (UTS) of the ‘should’ve been more careful’ nature.
Steve and I were the last on the top of the keep, and I felt a little vertigo-y standing up unsupported to take his photo.  That said, the view was phenomenal and I’m glad we climbed up.  Back to the cafe, where Ati was taking a ‘Turkish minute’ and that gave me some time to buy two Magnums and jump back on the bus!  We were tired and a little gritty, but we had a great day.  Ati kept up his entertaining patter until we arrived back at the gas station, where we and the Brits transferred to the little dolmus and were whisked back to Fethiye.  
We felt like we arrived back just in time as the heavens opened up and the thunderstorms began again.  After cleaning up at the pension, we decided to head out for dinner.  We saw our host, who, upon hearing where we went for the day, pouted a little and said we should have booked the tour through him.  We refrained from mentioning that we had tried, and he said there weren’t any available…  
The young English girls had purchased a rather lovely carpet bag made of a kilim and trimmed with leather.  It was very lovely and I admired it, though I thought the price tag of 260L was a little steep.  After the girls left, the young woman who was the cook and housekeeper kind of rolled her eyes.  I was able to ask her if the girls overpaid, and she thought so.  She suggested a more appropriate price of 150L and I was quite excited about the prospect of getting a nice bag.  She said she’d take me out to look at bags tomorrow morning.  Ok!  
We couldn’t put off venturing into the downpour any longer as we needed to get to the eczane for more cough syrup before dinner.  Cowering under the little umbrella we had purchased yesterday at the market, we scampered back down the hill to get the syrup and then eat again at the Park Cafe, so conveniently situated and — most importantly — with a fireplace!  We sat right next to the fireplace and splurged on rack of lamb for some 16L.  Cok nefis!  
Finally we could no longer tarry any longer, and left the comfort of the fire for the cold rain and went back up the hill (!) to the pension where, once again, we fell asleep to the sound of thunder.