Bye Bye to the Seaside
The other day we had the privilege of an invitation to visit a home in the real countryside, away from the seaside. Of course, being by the sea is great, especially when the sky is blue and the temperature is in the mid 20’s but Turkey is much, much more than a series of coastal holiday resorts.
Over our years in Turkey, through our shared passion for walking, we have got to know a couple who can perhaps best be described as the “Goods of Anatolia” – remember the 1970’s TV series “The Good Life” in which Tom Good, played by Richard Briers, was trying to lead a simple, self-sufficient life in a London suburb, supported by his wife Barbara, played by Felicity Kendal. Our friends have taken this example to the extreme. Ten year ago, after having been settled in a Turkish Mediterranean coastal resort, they upped sticks, bought a plot of land in rural Eṣen, built a house and set up a small holding with fruit trees, chickens and ducks. Although they are making no pretence of being totally self-sufficient, they are leading a very simple life.
“Tom & Barbara” had invited us to lunch and as they had a reputation for producing high-quality, high-strength hooch, travelling by bus seemed a very sensible idea.
The Batı Antalya Tur Bus
As I have written before in these blogs, Turkey has an excellent bus network. Batı Antalya Tur provides the medium distance bus services in the western end of Antalya Province (“Batı” translates to “Western” in English). The main route is from Antalya, 200 plus kilometres to our East, to Fethiye, nearly 100 kilometres to the West. There are regular services, roughly one per hour in each direction. We set out to catch the 11.15 bus from Kalkan Otogar (bus station). It arrived at about 11.25 – this is not Switzerland as far as time-keeping is concerned. The waiting passengers boarded but the driver remained on the forecourt. About 10 minutes later, a girl appeared, walking quickly but not running, boarded the bus and sat down beside a friend. This was the signal for the driver to get onto the bus and walk round collecting the fares. Time-keeping did not seem to be high on the list of priorities. It was nearly 11.40 before the bus set off towards Eṣen.
The main highway along the coast is a national route, the D400, and stretches from the port area around Izmir in the west to Iraq in the east. Over the past ten or so years the road has been the subject of major upgrading. In our area it now bypasses the town centres completely. That’s great if you are a motorist trying to get from A to B as quickly as possible but not a good route for a bus trying to offer services to local people. Consequently the Batı Antalya bus in our area follows the old, twisty, windy, hilly road through the local villages. This is good from a service point of view but frustrating when you want to get to somewhere a little more rapidly.
Off we went up the hill to Akbel and down the other side to Yeṣılkӧy. Then briefly back onto the D400 through Ova before diverting again through the town of Kınık. Along the way the bus stopped every so often when hailed from the roadside. If the passenger boarding was male, they were let on via the rear door. If they were female, they came on at the front. Strangers of opposite sexes do not sit together on Turkish buses. When someone wants to get off, the procedure is to wait until the bus is few metres from the place you want to alight and then shout at the driver. There is no use of “please” or “thank you”, that’s not the Turkish way, just a straightforward demand.
At Kınık the bus stopped at a small bus station. Mysterious bundles of all shapes and sizes were unloaded from the storage under the bus to be replaced by similar bundles that were waiting for collection. The bus is far more than a passenger carrying service, it is a fully-fledged ad hoc courier service. Indeed, at one point in the journey, a boy flagged the bus down, handed the driver and envelope and got off again. So the bus is also part of the postal service. Very enterprising.
Also at Kınık, an older lady in traditional rural costume boarded with her daughter. After a bit of pushing and shoving – “excuse me” is another phrase missing from everyday Turkish – they decided to sit in the seats beside the front door. That was fine except that the lady was using a 7 litre plastic paint-pot as her handbag and there was nowhere for it to go but the aisle. From then onwards it provided an obstacle course for all boarding and alighting passengers.
Our friends had provided instructions for finding the place to get off the bus, a PowerWax petrol station and car wash. Car washes are commonplace in Turkey as there is so much dust that vehicles need washed very regularly. As the petrol station started to come into view, we made our way down the aisle. The driver saw us coming in his mirror and turned round with a quizzical expression. “PowerWax” I said in fluent Turkish, he nodded and started to pull over. As he did so he grabbed the “handbag” and moved it to a space near to him. The lady owner tried to grab it back but the driver insisted. We were glad, as I wasn’t quite sure if my legs were long enough to get over the hurdle.
The instructions were to phone from the petrol station. This we did and within a few minutes a familiar vehicle was stopping beside us. Whilst we waited, two small boys, under 10 years old, tried to sell us plastic bags of fresh, green, bitter almonds, a bit of a delicacy at this time of year. They were speaking rural Turkish and we hadn’t a clue as to what the actual words were but we got the general meaning. We kept repeating “hayır”, the Turkish word for “no” but this had little effect until a passing car pulled up about 50 metres down the road. A new target for the budding entrepreneurs. They ran to the car, did some negotiating with the driver and came away clutching money. A sale. They looked so happy as they ran off across the fields presumably to replenish their stock.
The Rural Idyll
The house was only a couple of minutes away but over very stony, unmade roads that “Barbara” took at top speed. And then we had arrived and were being greeted by “Tom” and a very friendly pet dog. Soon it was time for a guided tour of the small-holding. The house stands on the highest point of their land which slopes down to a small stream. The slopes have been planted with a variety of fruit trees. The trees were very well cared for and in blossom. Come the summer or autumn they would be bearing oranges, pears, peaches, mulberries, etc, etc.
They had planted the first trees shortly after buying the land, whilst the house was still being built. The one thing that young trees need is copious quantities of water. But at that point they had not negotiated connection to the mains water supply. So every drop of water had to carried from the trickling stream at the bottom of the garden and up the slope. To make matters worse, the water course was indeed a trickle so they had to fill a plastic bucket painstakingly from a plastic cup. You can imagine how tedious and back-breaking that would be. And it took 50 full buckets to water the whole orchard. In the Turkish summer this was true dedication to the project.
Apart from the family dog there are two cats. One is a large and beautiful grey tom, very happily curled up on a chair. The other, by contrast, is a small and lively female. It was found abandoned in the nearby mountains and brought home. Although, in cat years, she is a young teenager, she is still very small and probably won’t grow much more. Needless to say, the teenager runs rings round the older, sedate cat.
The chickens, all hens, looked exceedingly healthy. They are good layers of eggs and we are often the happy recipients of their produce. Until recently there were two more hens than today. They were probably lured away by the cockerel at a neighbouring house. Another friend of ours took up hen rearing in his 60’s and couldn’t resist giving each chicken a name. There’s no such sentimentality in Eṣen, except for one who has been given the name “The Princess”. She struts around in a slightly show-offy way, hence the name. She is also a bit of an escapee. At one point during the afternoon a search party had to be launched to find her. Later that evening, so we heard, she escaped again and had to be put into solitary confinement.
Did you know that hens like grapes? We certainly didn’t. It seems that they decimate the grape crop each year. This year a high frame is going to be built for the vines that will hopefully get them out of chicken reach. Having said that, it’s amazing, given their bulk, how high a chicken can fly.
The other domesticated fowl, are a small flock of white ducks. They seemed very content with life as they waddled around the garden. That is, all except for one which has serious walking difficulties – the result of over-active attention by a drake we are told – she needs to helped around. So “Barbara” carries this duck to her evening shelter every night. This throws a tender light on “Barbara”.
The fowl are targets for the foxes and the buzzards of the area. Constant vigilance is required to keep the predators at bay. Over the years a number have been lost.
And so to Lunch
Having seen around the land, had a tour of the house and met the menagerie, it was time for lunch. The countryside is the land of barter. If you have some spare produce you can trade it with a neighbour for a different crop that you don’t grow. One day a neighbour will bring some tomatoes, a few days later you will take them some oranges. It’s an excellent system and no money needs to change hands. In expert hands, this can lead to excellent food, full of variety. Our host is a wonderful cook so today we experienced the best of Turkish cuisine.
Lunch was served on the glass-enclosed veranda. The room is completely weatherproof so it can be used all year round. Today it was hot and sunny so a window was opened to allow a light breeze to keep us cool. The downside of being so close to nature was that the hens could see us and were constantly looking for attention – or was it food!!
The first course was tomato soup accompanied by home-baked sourdough bread. Delicious. And, when seconds were offered, there was no shortage of takers. Meanwhile, “Barbara” was spending some time in the adjacent kitchen-cum-livingroom. We were soon to see why. What had been an empty table was now laden with all types of meze dishes, there must have been a dozen separate delights. We were confronted with a gorgeous mixed salad, decorated with eggs from the household birds (orange yolks!), potato cakes, aubergine salad, chicken fritters, mixed potato salad, yoghurt-based savoury mix, tatziki, and ….. too much to recount.
The trifle which appeared after some of us had eaten two large platefuls each of meze, was a strawberry one, fresh, light, lovely –cool – a joy.
At one point during the meal, we were introduced to another facet of Turkish rural life. In the adjacent field there were some lambs sheltering from the sun under a makeshift roof. Their mothers had been taken to nearby pastures for the day but would be brought back at night. A girl was working with a rake. It turned out that she was in her early twenties, had had very little schooling in common with many girls in the country, was essentially illiterate and was working alone. And what was her job? Raking up animal manure to be used as fertilizer. What a sad, hard life. To keep her going, a bottle of water was taken over and very gratefully received. A daily ritual it seemed.
All good things must come to an end
While we were stopped on the bus in Kınık bus station, I had seen a notice giving the times of the buses back to Kalkan. I took a note of the late afternoon services and, once we got to Eṣen, was able to work out that the return buses should arrive about 20 minutes before the time it would be at Kınık.
As we sat replete around the table having another glass of 18% proof peach wine, Margaret asked what time was the next bus. By my back-of-a-fag-packet calculation it would be in 10 minutes otherwise we would have to wait well over an hour. Hurry hurry.
Hang on, though, just as we were putting on our shoes on the doorstep (no shoes indoors in Turkish homes – slippers are offered to guests), “Barbara” exclaimed and pointed to a sheep across the fence no more than 10 metres away. There was a new-born lamb struggling free of the afterbirth. As we watched, enthralled, it tottered, wet and weak to its feet, found its mother’s teat, and sucked increasingly vigorously. Another privileged glimpse into life in rural Turkey.
Bags were quickly packed, outdoor shoes put on and the four of us set of at a good pace to the nearby main road. Their local road meets the main road on a blind bend. Basically you have no idea when the next vehicle will appear round the bend. Nothing passed for about 20 seconds and then, the familiar front of a Batı Antalya coach rounded the bend. We had made it by the skin of our teeth. Quick hugs and kisses and our journey back to the seaside metropolis of Kalkan began.
Whereas the bus in the morning had been busy with young men and women plus the lady with the “handbag”, the afternoon bus was a complete contrast. There were only about ten passengers and most were tourists. At one stop, the driver came round to collect fares. On the outbound journey the fare was 8TL each. No tickets are issued, nor is there an obvious published price list, so you just have to take the driver’s word for the price. The driver asked for 16TL, exactly the same. I started to get out the money. First a 10TL note then a 5TL note, at which point the driver said that was enough. So we got a whole 1TL discount. It’s anyone’s guess as to how the end-of-day settlement of money collected takes place – on the surface at least, the system is completely unauditable. That, of course, suits the Turkish way of doing business, not too much accountability.
And soon the bus was descending from Akbel into Kalkan and our day in the country was at an end. What a lovely day it had been. Our friends had been excellent hosts and had introduced us to a completely different way of life. It wouldn’t necessarily suit us, but for some, most notably our hosts, with their determination and joy in the countryside, you can be, and obviously are, as happy as the proverbial pigs in muck. Except, of course, you don’t see pigs in Turkey.