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.
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.