Monday 5th November 2012, was glorious here in southern Turkey. At lunchtime the temperature in the sun reached 37C and the sky was blue. Not a good day for walking at sea level. So the plan for tomorrow was to get up into the mountains behind Kalkan and climb up to a ridge where we can view the Mediterranean and Patara Beach in one direction and the mountain village of Bezirgan in the other. Fortunately a road will take us up to about 600 metres so that we only have to climb about 300 metres to the ridge. That’s enough climbing for a potentially hot November day.
And so Tuesday dawned and the sun came over the mountain with the threat of high temperatures. By 9am the outside thermometer in the shade was showing 27C. November is often a good month once the storms of October have passed but this year is exceptional. Not only is it hot during the day but it only marginally cools down at night. T shirts at midnight!!
At 9.30 an assorted bunch of walkers assembled at the Kalkan petrol station. There was a collection of the usual suspects plus two visitors making their first expedition with the Tuesday walkers. We ambled about saying our hellos. Our retired prison officer regular, with a finely honed instinct for counting groups, told us that today we were twelve in number. A very useful skill when out with an ad hoc group on the mountains. It is always very good to have someone in the group who will quickly know that a walker has gone astray.
The route by car out of Kalkan took us eastwards up the side of the mountain with spectacular views over the Mediterranean. Being with two relative newcomers to the area stops you being blasé about the stunning scenery – thank you. As we turn from the coastline to head inland there is a big herd of goats on the road. These are the lucky ones who didn’t finish up on dinner plates during the recent Kurban Bayram – Feast of the Sacrifice.
Soon the road is climbing again in a series of zigzags to cross the col which leads down to Bezirgan. This wide, flat-bottomed valley was once a lake and, indeed, to this day, the southern end is frequently flooded after heavy rain. But this is the most fertile of land and is well farmed. For many years, Kalkan was simply a small harbour where the produce from Bezirgan and other mountain pastures, could be despatched to the population centres of Turkey and further afield. There was no reliable or fast road system in those days. Today there is a proper road network for the distribution of the produce, The traffic now between Bezirgan and Kalkan is carrying many of the people who work in the local tourism industry. Interesting to see how economies change on a micro scale.
We skirt the Bezirgan valley and the road starts to climb again. After a couple of kilometres we take a left turn signposted to Islamlar and after another kilometre or so arrive at our destination. Apart from it being the summit of the col, the main feature is a modern mescid – prayer house – which has replaced an older building on the same site. This is an area with many Lycian rock tombs. Some are still intact, high on the rock faces, but many have become dislodged by earthquakes and have tumbled down to lower ground. There is a fine example of such a tomb next to the mescid. You’re left marvelling at the craftsmanship that went into the construction of these tombs.
The first feature of the walk is a magnificent pine tree that seems to be growing directly out of the rock but standing some 30 metres high. Although there are other pines further down the slopes, this one stands proud and alone on the side of the col. Up to our left there are two very large rock tombs with surprisingly little in the way of decorative carvings.
A key reason for doing this walk, as indeed with many mountain walks, is to see the views. In the near distance we are looking down the steep sided Islamlar valley with its numerous trout farms. In the middle distance, across the serried ranks of poly-tunnels growing tomatoes, courgettes, etc, around the town of Kinik, we get a great view of Patara Beach and its 18km of pure sand. Unfortunately there is a bit of a haze in the far distance otherwise we might have seen right across to Rhodes.
One feature of walking in southern Turkey is the dreaded Kermes Oak. Unlike it’s big brother the English Oak, this is a bush with extremely prickly holly-like leaves that spreads out over the paths. Wearing shorts your legs are soon scratched and bleeding. Although the bush only grows to a metre or two in height, it’s acorns are as large as you would find on an English Oak twenty times the height. In this area the acorns are a food for the wild boar. Although you don’t see the actual animals during the day – maybe just as well as they look very vicious – we can see all the ground that they have dug up looking for other tasty bites.
The path goes steadily upwards, quite stony underfoot, and with occasional scrambles over small boulders. On walks in Lykia you spend a lot of time looking at your feet which is bit tedious but has some advantages. Our resident botanist declares that we are walking over juniper berries – a signal for us to stop and look upwards. And there indeed are the dark green juniper bushes with their blue and purple berries. The conversation, naturally, immediately moves into a discussion as to how to distil gin. One suggestion is to add the berries to vodka and see if that brings out the flavour. Another, already tried with some success, is to add them to local Turkish gin which has the effect of producing something not dissimilar to Gordons. Sounds like a worthy experiment.
Although we haven’t yet reached our goal of the summit ridge, the ground starts to fall away and we descend to the remains of a large stone water cistern. The outline of the structure is still visible and is may be 40 metres across. Unfortunately the domed roof has now collapsed and all we can see is a jumble of stones, some just plain stones but others have been properly dressed and some bear inscriptions and symbols. To one side there are two deep pits that have been dug out fairly recently presumably as part of an archaeological exploration. Although they are now completely dry, it looks as though they found water.
The path now crosses some gently rising ground until you reach the crest of the ridge and a spectacular view across Bezirgan. There are a few wide rock ledges which allow you to get right to the edge of the precipice and they provide an ideal place for a sit down and a place to enjoy a snack whilst taking in the panorama of the Taurus Mountains and the valley below.
To the north we can see Ak Daĝ the highest mountain in this part of the Taurus range standing at some 3123 metres. It is often snow covered but today it is completely clear. It is supposed to be an easy mountain to climb with a flat summit but the distances to walk are such that it may take more than one day to climb from the nearest point of civilisation. Rumour has it that people have been up there on trail bikes. Apparently the views from the top are totally stunning.
The route back to the road is, so we think, a simple reversal of the upward track. So we set off with more thoughts about enjoying the scenery than watching the path. After some 20 minutes or so the crocodile – we basically have to walk in single file because the path is so narrow – grinds to a halt. The leader decides that we have strayed off the route and suggests we do a strategic reverse. This means that one of our “novices”, who happened to be at the back of the line, is now in the lead. He leads us back and spots a blue flash a bit lower down. Soon we are back on the correct path and our new guide sees us safely down to the road.
It’s been another superb walk with the best of weather. In the shady bits of the walk it was refreshingly cool but, when exposed to the sun, it was decidedly warm and sweaty. It’s time to repair to “the walkers tavern” (the Our House cafe) back in Kalkan. The owners, Gurcel and Eser, are there to greet us along with a new member of the staff, Zeynep. It truns out that she has come to Kalkan with the express desire to teach Turkish to English speakers and English to Turkish speakers. This could be very good for those of us who have spent many years struggling to learn Turkish in an environment where English is the lingua franca. Once again, as is the custom, a happy hour is spent drinking Efes beer, supping delicious home-made soup and tucking into some beautifully flavoured, freshly made chips, today garnished with little sausages. Roll on next Tuesday!!