Sunday, June 01, 2014

Turkish saga - not a Saga holiday

I'm going to tell you a story. It's a true story, and it's already been told  in the form of a letter to a holiday company, but I feel the need to tell it with less restraint. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin ...

It's another glorious day in the area of Fethiye, Turkey, the second last day in a week of guided walking among the hills of the this beautiful place. Our group, the one doing the more challenging walk of the day, has enjoyed a morning hike over the hills into a lovely valley, a lunch of mezze and beer and Turkish coffee, an amble down the road to see some Lycian tombs. Now we are going to be taken to the entrance to the deserted village of Kayaköy, where our Turkish guide will show our leader - who is new to the area but has a map, of sorts, and instructions - which route to take in order to end up on the right path to get us all, eventually, to the Blue Lagoon at Olu Deniz. So far, so ...

So bloody disastrous, actually. For this is where the story really begins. Bear with me.

We feel we're  being rushed through Kayaköy, the village that inspired Louis de Berniere's novel "Birds without Wings", a sad, ghostly testament to the folly of politics. If we were closer, we might be able to see our leader's worried expression and be worried ourselves - for we know he's already lost the way on an earlier walk. But we take our photos, and wonder where the church is, the one we're supposed to be able to see inside, and by the time we arrive at the upper limits of the village the onward path has been chosen and we're ready to head out of the valley and down to the sea.

For a while, it seems ok. Even when we have to retrace our steps uphill when a chosen path (all way- marked, but with varying degrees of authority) proves to be leading in the opposite direction to the way we want to go, even then we feel we might be heading, eventually, to the Blue Lagoon. After all, is that not sea ahead, is it not vivid blue, is that not a pleasure-boat we can see through the trees ...? And we come to a halt.
Not the Blue Lagoon

We are on a small cliff, beside a stone water-cistern. The path leads to the left - the correct direction - and peters out. We try a short foray, return to the cistern. Our leader by this time has disappeared down the hill. Someone has heard him mention a boat. We think it's a joke - but hey, that big pleasure-yacht-thingy is still moored below us, belting out pop music. We sit on the ground under the trees; we drink some water; some of us obey the call of nature. I check my phone - great signal, so can see Google maps ... and we're a very long way indeed from where we should be. I point this out to a few people, but it is a rule on these holidays that the Leader has to be followed and obeyed or the company takes no responsibility for you. (We later learned that the Turkish guide had been told to accompany us to the start of the hill path. Had he misunderstood?)

And so it is that we find ourselves on a small beach, with the promise of a boat. The large boat with the music is preparing to sail - but to sail out of the bay, not towards us. We can see an inflatable dinghy beside a jetty; there is a rowing-boat, and there is a speed boat with an outboard motor. We are still making jokes, wondering how many will be left behind, when a man in a sports jacket appears magically (I must have been looking elsewhere; it seems magical) in the speedboat, fires up the engine, makes a showy sweep round the headland and returns to the jetty: our lift.
Waiting for the speedboat

The boat looks ... small. I later find it has a maximum capacity of 10. We are twelve, and we have rucksacks, walking boots and poles. Somehow, we are all squeezed onto the hard plastic seats and told to hang on. Some manage to get their packs off; mine is still fastened firmly to my back. There is not a life preserver to be seen - other than the decorative traditional lifebelt in front of the tiny wheelhouse. We move away from the jetty. The man driving us turns to me. "You will get wet," he says.

I shrug. What can I do? The woman next to me gives me a spare jacket to cover my camera, make me feel better, just as a wave curls over the boat and soaks me, and her, and the other two women in the stern. The engine roars as we hit the open sea and the open sea hits us. Through sea-streaked sunglasses I can see Mr Blethers and our friend Leo, who is next to him, rise into the air as the prow lifts with the acceleration. He seems to bounce, crash down again. I duck as more sea heads my way. When I look again Leo is crouched in the bottom of the boat. She later told me she'd slid off the seat and at that point was untying her boot laces in case she ended up in the sea. To port (notice the nautical terminology), uncomfortably close, there is a grey rocky cliff - the end of the promontory we'd have had to walk over had there been a path. To starboard, the large pleasure-boat, still playing pop music, scooshes along, swifter even than us, adding its wake to the turbulence of the open sea. I can see people looking at us, smiling. I have no spare energy to curse them.

I don't know how long this goes on. There is little to hold on to, and I am soaked. I have my hat clasped over my camera which is strapped to my chest; my poles are in my left hand and with my right I'm straining to keep hold of the plastic side of the hull (fibreglass?) I feel there is a strong possibility that I may throw up. Then the engine slows, and the sea stops coming in beside us: we are in Olu Deniz bay and the beach lies ahead. The beach ... sloping quite steeply into the waves, which are breaking enthusiastically, the beach where there is ... no sign of a jetty.

Before the significance of this can register, I become aware that our gallant rescuer, still unsullied and unsoaked in his sports jacket, is on his phone. And gradually, as we cruise in gentle circles just beyond the surf, we realise that he is negotiating our transfer to another boat, one with a prow gangplank that will let us land without risking his boat. The first to offer is rejected as being too high out of the water, with no scramble nets (come on, you're joking ...) but another, smaller craft is approaching. (I'm a strong swimmer. Would it be better to swim?)

Now I need you, dear, empathising reader, to picture this moment. You may have been lulled into imagining a boatload of fit, lithe forty-somethings having an adventure, but it's time for the reality check. There may be as many as four of us under the age of 60, though I doubt it. I know that at least three are 70 or over, and that the oldest is 75. Normal pensioners we are not - we have already hiked at least 40 miles of Turkish countryside over the past four and a bit days. But transferring from a small boat to a larger one in a lumpy sea is not easy, and this is a truly unpleasant moment.

I am in the last four to make the transfer, as we have been in the stern. I have just watched the oldest of our group, an indomitable Irish Californian woman, launch herself onto her belly on a table in the bigger boat. Now it's my turn. As our boat rises on a wave, our driver shouts "Go, lady!" I put my foot onto the side of the bigger boat, shove my poles ahead to give me two free hands, grab the rail of the big boat. At that moment, the speedboat - and my left foot, on which my weight is still balanced - drops a couple of feet and I am left stranded, hanging on like grim death, my right foot on the big boat, my rucksack pulling me back,  and my right knee bent at a tighter angle than it's experienced in a decade. I can see Mr B's anxious face suddenly vanish as he is pushed aside by some macho soul, then a young Turkish seaman grabs my belt and pulls and I find myself sprawled in the bar of the boat we've boarded.
Preparing to land

It isn't quite over - no sooner are we all aboard when the cry goes up that we've to remove our boots and prepare to enter the water. (After all that ...) The gangplank can't reach the beach, but is waving in the air about four feet out in the surf. So I end up edging along an increasingly slippy gangplank, now holding my boots and socks in one hand (along with my poles) and the rail of the gangway in the other. The Normandy landings flash into my mind as I take the hand of a seaman and jump - and find myself scrabbling up the shingly sand onto dry land.

And there, best beloved, I shall leave us, lying like beached whales in a row just above the surf line. It has not been what we signed up for, on this walking holiday, but I will admit one thing.

It makes for a great story ...


  1. Well, what can I say to comment? You can't say you were brave because this was not what you intended to do with your day but certainly bravo, so glad that you all made it. I hope you manage to get some recompense from the travel company, you deserve it because this should not have happened.

    1. The sad thing is that I greatly admire the company and want to go with them again. I'm waiting for their response, and what I'd like is the firm assurance than leaders will be properly familiarised with a route before they lead it - even if it results in increased costs for us.

    2. Thanks for replying, I discovered your blog the other week when we visited a small Kent church and I Googled to find out more information and you had blogged about four years ago. My husband is a keen photographer and does a blog himself quite often except for six months over Autumn/Winter when he injured his knee and couldn't get out. I have enjoyed reading them. PS if you are interested it is

  2. Good to see that your pluck levels haven't reduced with years! Well survived! Emlyn

  3. Footnote to the tale: Just had a letter from the holiday company telling me they've taken all the steps I suggested and outlining their future plans for this particular holiday. Apart from the dodgy punctuation of the letter, I reckon I'm satisfied!