GET OUT: Forbidden fruit in Turkey
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – The idea of hiking for enjoyment is lost among many a Turk, at least the ones my friends and I encountered while trekking on the Lycian Way. Established by a Brit named Kate Clow, the Likya Yolu is a 317-mile route that stretches along the Mediterranean, through pastoral villages and small towns, ancient ruins and across mountain passes. On several occasions, Turkish folk, known for their warmth and hospitality, offered to drive us to the places we planned to hike to. “Tesekkür ederim,” (thank you), we would say, “but we want to walk.” We received more than a few puzzled looks in response to this.
When we said goodbye to our new friends at Sima Peace, a lovely Cirali pension a few blocks from the sea cloaked in rose vines and home to Koko the parrot, our eccentric hostess Aynur insisted someone would drive us to the trailhead. We politely declined…and then our bags were tossed into Aynur’s white Renault.
The driver, who spoke just a few phrases in about six different languages, assumed we wanted to go where any normal person would to reach a new destination: the bus station. A comical sequence of hand motions, broken Turkish and broken English phrases ensued. One hour and one roadblock later, we arrived to our starting point; by foot it might have taken 20 minutes.
The path was rocky and steep. It climbed to several stunning vistas above the Mediterranean before delivering us to a slew of rocky deserted beaches and then sending us up and around Roman ruins. Over zealous after a winter of hiking, it didn’t take too long before I was reduced to a huffing, puffing, sweaty mess. We had about 14 miles to go that day and Ms. Clow’s guidebook was far from accurate. She omitted enough info about the treacherous nature of this segment that we wondered if she had ever set foot on this path.
But she was right about one thing. Just before the town of Tekirova, our stopping point for the evening, she noted some “holiday villages” that offer a shortcut to Tekirova if you “slip in between them and find your way onto the beach.” Sticky and ravenous, we were elated to read the word “shortcut.” If only we had known that “holiday village” meant a bizarre scene from a Wes Anderson film.
Slipping in through the back gates, the first thing I saw, of course my gluttonous self would spot this first, was perfectly good loaves of bread wrapped in plastic and scattered on the ground…for the animals? Famished, we wasted no time rescuing the bread from the dirt and sampling it, until we saw our audience. Across the way, a small cluster of parents and children had assembled on a bridge to watch us. The bread slipped out of our hands and we continued towards more temptation. Loquats are a small yellow fruit growing on trees all over southern Turkey. Unlike any fruit I’ve tasted, they are juicy and tangy, reminiscent of apricot mixed with lemon and mango. We tried to pluck some of these irresistible little nuggets swaying from a tree when a resort employee saw us struggling. He came over to assist us and after handing over the soft yellow fruit, he studied each of us for a moment.
“Hotel guests?” he asked.
We giggled and shook our heads (clearly we had outed ourselves by eating bread off the ground and fruit from the trees). The man warned that if security caught us we would be thrown off the property. So naturally, we smiled, thanked him and continued deeper into the luxury compound with our heavy packs strapped to our backs and our skin dusted with dirt. What we saw next left each of us with an uneasy feeling: A lush grassy hill teeming with bunnies completely unruffled by our presence. Across the hill was a petting zoo, which included among its exhibits, several large dogs.
Searching for a trajectory that would point us to the beach, we bushwhacked down a steep slope and past a long corridor of tennis courts where we noticed trouble on the horizon. A tall security guard outfitted in a sleek black suit and an earpiece stood watch at the end of the tennis courts.
The thought of being ejected from this strange playground for the ultra rich and forced to hike back up the uneven road from which we came was more than our throbbing muscles could fathom. So instead, we tried our best to blend in. Apparently that means laughing loudly and talking with British accents. I even had the ladies pose in front of the manicured gardens so I could take their photo for Daddy.
We eventually made it to the beach unscathed and that’s where we blew our own cover, gaping at the Turkish version of Laguna Beach complete with hookahs and plenty of scantily clad men. We hurried along to the resort’s boundary line just as we heard shouts from the men in black.