The Joy Of The Side Trip


By Liz Tosoni

Yacht Marina Marmaris, Southwest Turkey
36 49.05N, 28 18.32E

One of the many benefits of sailing to foreign destinations is traveling inland to see the sights at your leisure. You get to explore the new land from the comfort of your own floating home. It's a simple but perfect concept for those of us who are born travelers. Cruising is about passagemaking and landing, and for so many sailors the “arriving” is just as important as the “getting there.” It certainly is for us. Thinking back over our two decades of sailing, many of the high points we experienced were away from the boat. Here are a few examples:

The people we met in Papa New Guinea were some of the most interesting in the world.

We delivered a jeep to Mount Hagen in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, and saw with our own eyes the most primitive culture we've ever encountered - a woman suckling a pig, men wearing penis sheaths and carrying bows and arrows. We were warned to never accidentally hit a pig as it would cost us $2,000 or our lives. To hit a woman would be less serious!

We once took a river cruise to the Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo, aboard a local klotok, an “African Queen” style river vessel. A pair of small dolphins escorted us and, at a leisurely pace, we putt-putted along while observing all manner of wildlife. The humorous red, long-nosed proboscis monkeys, found only in Borneo, were the most interesting; they leapt huge distances, and munched as they observed the funny-looking bigger monkeys (us!).

Regal, immense and powerful, the orangutans of Borneo made a big impression on us.

We spotted several river crocodiles, a group of six wild pigs, and lots of birds including the distinctive hornbills. The highlight, though, was coming face to face with the orangutans. We met adult females and their adorable, clinging, fluffy orange infants; playful adolescent males and females; and two dominant adult males, with circular cheek pads and large throat pouches, bold and regal looking with high foreheads and vibrant, flowing coats of fur. They stared at us as if to say. “I rule. Don’t mess with me.”

Another time, we took a leisurely three-day cruise-ship voyage on the Nile River in Egypt to view ancient temple ruins, fine traditional felucca fishing boats sailing by at a sedate pace, and simple village life on the banks of the river.

We once rented a car in Israel for a camping tour with friends Graham and Karen of the New Zealand yacht Red Herring. Besides visiting many historic cities, sites, castles, and ruins, camping by the River Jordan and floating in the Dead Sea, the big highlight on that journey was meeting and getting to know the people, and hearing their points of view.

So here we are in Turkey now, a vast and diverse country where everyone says hos geldeniz! -- Welcome! It's known as the “open-air museum” for its countless remains of ancient civilizations, with an incredibly long and rich history, beauteous countryside, and wondrous landforms to explore. Few people realize that many of the most famous sites from classical Hellenistic culture are not in Greece but in Turkey, including cities such as Troy, Pergamum, Ephesus, and Halicarnassus.

Where to begin? We've got a boatful of projects and maintenance tasks on the go, but we've got to make time to get out there to see what we can see. My sister Ann Marie's husband Herman was born in Turkey, and emigrated to Canada as a small boy. Over the years Tom and I have been intrigued by their stories of this exotic land. Now we have our chance to learn about it firsthand.

“You've got to see Cappadocia first,” the old hands at the marina advised. “And then of course you can't miss Pamukkale, and Konya is a must for thearchitecture.” And of course there was Istanbul, Antalya, Ephesus… the list went on.

“After much head scratching about logistics, we decided to use the reasonably priced public-transport system and head for Cappadocia (Kapadokya), armed with warm clothes, hiking boots, and our trusty Lonely Planet Guide. We were all set, packed, and brimming with enthusiasm, prepared for the 12 hour, overnight bus ride, when Tom, as is his custom prior to all departures, checked the weather forecast on the internet.

Tom enjoys a tea room near Cappadocia

Cappaducia was like a city-scape of rock towers and dwellings









“Looks like we've got some bad weather for a few days. Maybe we should hold off 'till Monday” he concluded. Of course, we're used to that scenario, but I know my face couldn't hide the disappointment. As it turned out, Marmaris then got its worst downpour in 10 years. Downtown streets and shops were flooded, people found themselves struggling in knee-high water as they made their ways home.

Sure enough, though, we got away, arriving in Goreme, a small town tucked neatly inside the Cappadocian valleys, early Tuesday morning. We were sleepy eyed as dawn appeared, but our eyes soon widened with astonishment as the wild landscape came into view. This is a place like no other, totally surprising and improbable. Masses of unique rock formations crop up on the horizon as far as the eye can see. These amazing giant sculptures were produced by volcanic eruptions that took place10 million years ago. A thick layer of volcanic ash spread, then hardened into a soft porous stone called “tuff,” and over eons, wind, water, and sand eroded and wore it away, forming elaborate shapes and patterns.

The amazing rock formations of Cappadocia must be seen to be believed. Many were used as dwellings

Some of the formations look like “fairy chimneys;” others are amusingly phallic; still others look like mushrooms or asparagus tips. The early inhabitants found they could easily carve the rock into cave dwellings, churches, even cathedrals and monasteries. Huge Christian communities thrived for centuries in these cave villages and a remarkable number of rock-hewn churches, complete with elaborate decorations, were left behind. Arab armies swept through the region in the 7th Century, causing the people to retreat into vast underground settlements.

Over four days, Tom and I tramped all over the extraordinary valleys of Cappadocia, quite in awe of all we saw. Weather was ideal for hiking, cool and clear, and the tourist season was over so we had it almost to ourselves. Some of the caves are still inhabited. In fact many of the hotels and pensions are caves, but not like the old days. We were happy to find a pension made of stone, not a cave, complete with windows and light pouring in.

Liz exploring Cappadocia

Next on the agenda was old Konya, a devoutly Muslim city famous for its fine Turkish architecture. The bus wound its way through a wide, windswept, lonely landscape, the heart of Turkey's very rich ‘bread basket.” Patches of green appeared and suddenly we were there.

“They must think I'm a gavur,” – infidel -- I say as soon as we arrived, feeling totally self-conscious of my western attire as the veiled women stared. It just took a friendly “Merhaba!” (hello) to break the ice, and the smiles soon followed.

We happened to be there on Saturday, the evening of the free “whirling dervish” show sponsored by UNESCO and held every week in the year 2007 at the Cultural Center. Last year was the 800th anniversary of the birthday of Mevlana, one of the world's great mystic philosophers and founder of the whirling-dervish religious order in Konya.

The colorful spires of Konya were architectural marvels.

“It's lucky you are here today,” said the amiable fellow in the Tourist Office. Normally, the dervishes only whirl during the Mevlana Festival one week per year, during December, so we really did feel lucky. The show, or rather, ritual dance, was a dizzying display, a constellation of revolving bodies, with musicians in the background playing breathy, haunting songs with their reed flutes.

What can top Cappadocia and Konya, we thought. Okay, we decided to try Pamukkale – it was on the way back to our boat in Marmaris, after all. So, just like that, we were off again, on another bus. The Turkish buses are great -- modern, inexpensive, comfortable, on schedule, and they even have friendly stewards that provide drinks and snacks.

When we arrived in Konya, I was self-conscious of my western attire as the veiled women stared. It just took a friendly “Merhaba!” (hello) to break the ice

“Are these your bags, my friend?” we are asked upon arrival in Denizli. “Yes,” we say in unison. “Oh, good. Are you going to Pamukkalle?” “Well, yes.” “Good. I hope you will stay in my family's pension. It's very nice, warm, comfortable, close, cheap. I can show you the way. You can take a look. No obligations.” How could we refuse? It was late in the day (“happy hour” in fact!) and we were tired. Our new friend lead us onto another shuttle bus and soon we were in Pamukkale. “Wait a minute. This isn't the town,” said Tom. “Don't worry. It's close and my pension is just down the road.”

Ancient buildings are all over Turkey, where you live amidst history

Our new friend (read “tout”) steered us to Dort Mevsin (Four Seasons) Pension. It's funny that we continue to get taken by these operators. You'd think after all these years we'd be able to spot them a mile away. Anyway, he and Tom had a bit of an argument over the price, the lack of heat (“5 lire more for heat”) and the fact we weren't in the town, but we ended up staying in the cheerful but rather chilly place, with a heater and plenty of blankets.

Pamukkale is another phenomenal spot and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name actually means “cotton castle” and that's a perfect image for the travertine pools and shelves of gleaming white calcium you find here. The Romans built a large spa city on the site, Hierapolis, to take advantage of the healing powers of the waters, and the extensive ruins are really impressive. You could spend several days wandering the area as well as taking day trips to Afrodisias and Laodikya, but we'd been away from Feel Free for over a week and it was time to go home.

So, after another full day, we hopped a bus and by early evening were back at the boat. Simple as that we were back in our own cozy bed -- home sweet home – with a list of jobs to get started upon the next day, and our heads full of the amazing sights of Turkey.

The whirling dervishes of Konya