When we arrived in Turkey and flew south to Dalaman we flew perilously close to snow covered peaks as we descended into the heart of the Turquoise coast of Turkey. Annoyed at the cost of a taxi we caught the bus as the daylight softened into evening. We drove through towns with mosques so different from those we were used to seeing in Saudi. Tall buildings with zinc coloured domes and tall minarets with wizards’ caps on top. They sat peacefully in amongst the springtime growth as we sped past them.
I found I liked being back in a Muslim country and felt a deep sigh of contentment wash through me as I contemplated being back amongst the Call to Prayer, Islamic art and the ever present Nasar – that blue eye symbol which is meant to ward against the evil eye. Concreted into pavements, hanging from doorways and sold at every gift shop it adorns objects and people alike.
Marmaris was a bit of a ghost town when we arrived. Rick kept saying it’s like a place where the carnival has left town…but really it hadn’t quite arrived. Summer was on its way but as we wore our only winter clothes for weeks on end we wondered when. It’s bizarre thinking about it now we actually found it hard to find somewhere to eat in those early days because nothing was yet open. So, we dutifully returned several times to the only Ockabasi in town – an open Oases amongst closed shop fronts. As we went through the process of checking out boats from our hotel base, all the locals were starting to make ready for the influx of tourists expected in June, July and August.
Marmaris shook off its winter coat as sand was dumped on the main beach and boys began to tout for ice creams, gullet tours, dinner, Turkish towels, you name it. Determined British tourists sun-baked in the late afternoon despite the chilly temperatures and as the temperatures slowly rose the sea began to sparkle.
We went on a road trip in order to see a boat to the East of Marmaris and we ticked the miles off with the windows open inhaling the smell of the orange blossoms wafting into the car from everywhere. We walked the streets in Marmaris to the same smells but added to that bergamot and early flowering jasmines.
The rivers in this region were still running full with the winter rains and the new growth on the trees was every colour of green. We spent a few days in the town of Fethiye in a traditional style timber guest house and relished stopping for tea at nearly every opportunity as we waited for our boat and summer to arrive. As the heat comes into the summer these smells are replaced by pine sap and oleander and the bougainvillea comes out. Tea is exchanged for mineral water (and beer for some). The winter clothes are stowed away in an inaccessible locker on the boat and I wonder why the heck I only bought one dress with me.
But we haven’t only been welcomed to Turkey by the environment, its people have made us feel a part of the fabric here too. No longer are we touted at…why is this? Somehow, they can tell we are not here for a short holiday and we are often asked if we live here despite learning almost no Turkish (yes, I am ashamed).
Our favourite restaurant brings us tea without us asking. It is a Locanta, or roughly translated, a home-cooking family restaurant. Only local food, all made in the early morning and served from a big glass case. Lots of vegetables and about half of the amazing dishes are vegetarian. We point and are served a spoon of each onto a plate. Bread and water are free. Gozleme are made to order. It costs about $10 for 2 people and we are usually the only tourists.
The people we have met in the marina, at hotels and on the streets and even at the dentist have been unfailingly kind. At the little apartment on the square we stayed in for a week the owner couldn’t speak English so he spoke to us in German. A lot of funny conversations we had as I half understood him which just encouraged him more.
But we are not city people really. Give us both nature. Sailing is a pretty perfect way to see this part of the coast as there are many beautiful places that cannot be accessed by car. Thus far we have seen only a few but what we have seen gives us an appetite for more.
In a few days we check out of Turkey for Greece and I am sure we will miss the steeply wooded hillsides, the jaw-dropping beauty of the topography and the protected and calm anchorages that characterise this coast line. And I will miss the call to prayer and the friendly shopkeepers and the genuine welcome we receive.