Diary of a Foreigner Living in Turkey (Part 3)
26 July 1994

Trip from Alanya to Olympos

Seker BayramI, 12-15 March 1994

Copyright © 1994 Pierre Flener. All rights reserved.
Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written permission.

For Seker BayramI (Sugar Feast in English, "eid-al-fitr" in Arabic, i.e. the Islamic holiday at the end of "ramazan" ("ramadan" in Arabic), the fasting month), I drove with Andrew to the Mediterranean Sea ("akdeniz" in Turkish: the White Sea). Here's an account of what we saw, and of what we did and thought.

Saturday 12 March 1994

The road

In Ankara, it is still cold as we leave in the early morning, heading south towards Konya (the city of Mevlana and the "Whirling Dervishes", also see my first Diary). For the "bayramlar", all of Turkey is traveling to see their relatives or to relax at some resort, so traffic tends to be rather dense, except that trucks are (normally!) not allowed to circulate. But it isn't too bad on the Konya road, as most people head west to istanbul, respectively south-west to Antalya, Marmaris, Bodrum, izmir, etc. So we just have to pay attention to the comparatively small trickle of cars heading south-east to Adana, Cappadocia, or "lesser" resorts on the eastern Mediterranean. After Konya, we even virtually have the road to ourselves, as we head south straight across the "Toros DaGlarI" (Taurus Mountains) in order to check them out for future trips. These mountains are indeed as spectacular as every guidebook or friend told us so far, so we decide to be back there some day for hiking purposes. The road winds up and down the slopes, the higher parts being snow-covered, and we advance painstakingly slowly, but have the time to admire the place. Eventually, around lunch-time, we "fly" down the final slope to Manavgat, on the Mediterranean.

We turn east, towards Alanya, our first objective. But hunger compels us to stop earlier. Unfortunately, as for the rest of this trip, and as during every "bayram", tracking down an open "lokanta" (restaurant) is a major feat: virtually the whole economy grinds to a halt, as everybody is supposed to be staying/eating with their relatives, rather than wasting energy on visiting places. The few open "bakkallar" (groceries) and "lokantalar" can usually be found in bigger villages, or near summer-resorts, but the choice will be very restricted. Eventually, after numerous halts for asking around, we do find an open "lokanta" (probably run by some greedy people, but why care when you are hungry?), which everybody else roaming around seems to have found. A filling basic meal later, we drive the remaining stretch to Alanya, where finding a dirt-cheap pension is a cakewalk at this time of the year.


So we have the whole afternoon to see this beautiful city, which isn't yet overrun this season by German package tourists. Indeed, many of the locals seem to be complaining about this, so they bask in the sunlight and enjoy the last few weeks before the big tide of the Deutsch-Mark economy takes over. The harbor is very nice, and features one of Turkey's main postcard-shots (also depicted on the 250,000TL bank-note): the massive "KIzIl Kule" (red tower) built in the 13th century by the Seldjuk Turks. There is a small ethnographic museum inside, and the view from its 33m-high top is quite beguiling. A small overgrown path leads from there along the sea-side ramparts to a superbly well-preserved boat-yard of the same era. From there, we head straight up the hill towards the citadel that dominates the city. There is no real path, it's just across the thickets, sometimes past old decaying Ottoman wooden houses, and finally we reach an asphalt road near the top. Life seems to have stood still here: it's village life at a stone-throw from the city-center, and people live simply here and in defiant mockery of the greedy life down there. The old mosque is closed, and the "imam" nowhere in sight, so we continue our crawl up to the main part of the impressive fortifications. We'd only have 15' left for the visit, so we skip it, and wait for the sunset near a wall overhanging the cliff and Cleopatra's Beach (she's said to have sun-bathed there, while flirting with Marc Antony, who "gave" her Alanya, so that her workers could deforest the surrounding hills to rebuild her navy).

Conning the con-artist

After a "dolmuS"-ride back to the city-center, it's "baklava ve Cay" time (time for a snack and tea at a pastry-shop, my favorite pastime in Turkey). So we enter the nearest "pastane" (also see my second "Diary") and gorge ourselves on, well, gorgeously sweet pastry (it's the Sugar Feast after all, so nobody feels guilty). As tables become scarce, two middle-aged Turks ask us whether they can share our table. Sure! Overhearing our discussion in English, one of them stirs, and asks us in perfect English where we are from. Aaah, so we really are no f*cking (sic) Germans (1st hint)! It turns out that Ali was a professional sailor and lived for many years in Australia. Hocam (literally "my teacher", his nickname for his younger cousin) doesn't speak English, and is moonlighting as a taxi-driver. Ali is slightly tipsy from beer, but apparently for good reasons: his clan extended to 532 members (how precise!, 2nd hint) a few hours ago, as one of his daughters (among 9 children) delivered her first baby-boy in istanbul, so he's celebrating his becoming a grand-father (for the second time).

A few rounds of "Cay" later, it's dinner-time, and Ali invites us to have dinner at a fish-farm of his clan in the immediate hinterland of Alanya. A few "Sure, why not?" glances between Andrew and me later, Hocam drives us all (taxi-meter not running) to that place. Common-sense dictates us to memorize every twist and turn of the road, so that we find our way back, just in case. Ali explains us that he's half-Azeri, half Kurdish, and that his clan has been moved in the early 1930s from Kurdistan to Alanya. He doesn't seem to bear Ataturk or Turkey any grudges, though, on the contrary, and his clan is obviously prospering. He asks us where we work in Turkey, and after our telling him, he exclaims that his youngest son just finished Prep School at our university with high honors, and even got a medal from the late President Turgut Ozal. We should definitely meet his son, once back. So we ask for his name and department, but somehow Ali doesn't want to give these easy details (3rd hint). Eventually he decides that his son will enter the Faculty of Engineering: fat luck, I tell him, because I teach there, and Ali visibly winces (4th hint) at his bad guess. As we enter the clan's area, Ali instructs Hocam to stop at every passersby to wish a nice "bayram", and to show us that he is indeed known by everybody here (nice show, Ali!).

The fish-farm is totally deserted (the clan is obviously celebrating their "bayram" somewhere else?!). But somebody is there, and must now pose as cook for the next few hours. After designating the fish we want from the pool, and after preferring wine over beer (the very best family-wine, though somehow served from sealed Turasan [the best winery in Cappadocia] bottles, 5th hint), we are alone with Hocam, while Ali helps the "cook" in preparing a salad (with only the freshest produce from the clan's gardens!). Hocam starts the oven for some heat, and lays the table for us. Eventually, they dish up a decent dinner, though only for Andrew and I. While we eat, and finish off almost two bottles of white wine, Ali, Hocam, and the "cook" each nurse several bottles of Efes beer.

Only Ali speaks English, and Hocam looks terribly bored. Somehow we wish our Turkish was better, so that Hocam could tell us which way we are going. But it's all fun, and perfectly safe and innocent so far, so why worry? As the evening advances, and the alcohol level in our vessels increases, Ali's stories become more and more outrageous.

He grabs a "saz" (a Turkish string instrument) from the wall, and plays a few inspired songs. Our clear favorite is the "Kilim Song", his own composition, which he supposedly sang in Monte Carlo while on a Kurdish cultural delegation received by French President Francois Mitterrand (yes!, 6th hint). He translates the lyrics of this ode to the kilim and the women/girls who weave them. But the late President Turgut Ozal (himself of Kurdish origins!) apparently didn't like the political under-tone of Ali's song, so Ali had to spend 10 days in jail for it (7th hint). Come on, good old boy, your nose is soon going to grow through the window! But the buzzword is finally out!

Next come the stories of his sexual heroics [partly censored here!] in the harbors all around this world. His description of Dahab on the Egyptian Sinai peninsula is very accurate though; that's where he seduced a Belgian girl (like most Turks, he can't tell Luxembourg and Belgium apart: referring to your home-country is a classical strategy; 8th hint, especially as he seems convinced that Belgian French is the most beautiful-sounding version of all French dialects: oh well?!), right under the eyes of her hapless boyfriend. Many conquests later (including the promise that when we go to Alanya's bars later tonight, many women, even married ones, will fall around his neck trying to lure him into their beds, as he's known to be the best lover in the area!), he admits that the very best and most beautiful woman in the world is nevertheless his (Kurdish) wife, and he almost moves us to tears with his heart-rendering account of her goodness and forgiveness.

Then comes the confession that he's in fact incredibly rich, but that money ain't important, so he is never showing it (off-the-rack clothing, unshaven, etc). But his son (the one at the Prep School of our university) didn't want it that way, and asked him for a car so that he could show off on our campus, where all these outrageously rich daughters parade around in search of wealthy husbands. So Ali didn't buy his (still unnamed) son only one car, but three cars, including a Ferrari (9th hint)! Part of the wealth comes from a chain of 97 (yeah, this fascination for precise numbers!) carpet-stores managed by the now 532 (how the hell did he remember that figure?) members of his clan all around Turkey (make that 10 hints). We still don't bite the bait, though.

Willing to keep our promise of treating him to some beer in town after he has treated us to dinner, we ask Hocam to drive us back to Alanya. Hocam is immensely relieved at this opportunity, and speeds away as soon as he drops us in front of the Manhattan Bar. Surprisingly, none of the women at the bar even bothers to look at Ali... Three rounds of beer later, we "miraculously" get back to talking about carpets, and this time we deliberately walk into the trap. "Yeah, of course we are interested in some fine old kilims. [...] So none of your 97 stores has such ones, they only run these junky, flashy, machine-woven tourist kilims? Too bad. [...] Aaah, but one of your friends has a few rare old pieces! We should definitely have a look at them!".

So off we are, after a phone call to the friend so that he open his store at this ungodly hour. Hey, but let's pick up a bottle of "rakI" (the Turkish answer to the French "pastis" or the Greek "ouzo") at a still-open grocery on the way (on Andrew's tab). The store owner looks like a "dinci" (religious man) and refuses to share the "rakI". He lets Ali display his kilims, and sits at his desk, chain-smoking and vaguely hoping for a good deal. Ali shows us a lot of crappy kilims, and Andrew doesn't hesitate to tell him that we want to see real ones. By then, the "Cember sakkal" (round-bearded) owner understands that no sale to naive tourists is in sight, and he turns supremely bored. Ali is desperate to spot some finer kilims, but (experienced) Andrew one by one rejects all proposals on the grounds of knot density, artificial coloring, non-existent colors in nature, tourist-motives that are not conform to Islam, bad quality wool (if at all), etc. Sensing trouble, I don't touch the "rakI" and observe the standoff between Ali and Andrew. Ali even takes a lighter to burn some of the fringes of a kilim to show us that it is wool (it would burn slowly), and empties a full ashtray onto a kilim to rub the ash into a kilim to show us that they are natural colors (they would not disappear), all this to the slight dismay of the wincing store-owner who knows that no liras are going to change hands tonight. Eventually, as the show becomes pathetic, we head out and sincerely apologize to the owner for the wake-up and mess. On the sidewalk, we decide the game is over, and "wealthy" Ali begs us for 300,000TL so that he can ride home in a taxi (which amount of course would take him much further). As we decline, he gives up and walks into the opposite direction as we started walking, not before saying that it was all fine until we started talking about kilims. True! After having found out where we are with respect to our pension, we stagger back and diagnostic the events: he's obviously a con-artist, but probably didn't mean to try and con us into a carpet-sale until very late in the evening. He definitely deserves a Guiness-book entry for MPC (most-patient con-man)!

Sunday 13 March 1994


Next morning, after a cold shower in the hot-water-during-24hrs bathroom, we drive west along the coast, past Manavgat again, to Aspendos. This ancient site features the best-preserved Roman theater of Asia Minor, and is in fact virtually intact! Built by Zenon, it offers 15,000 seats, features a rare stage-wall, and the acoustics is excellent. Behind the theater are the scrawling ruins of the city proper, with a basilica, a nymphaeum, an odeon, etc, and last, but not least, a superb aqueduct.

We continue our trip west, and have a very late lunch at some gas-station on our way to Antalya. Then a quick look (we make it there too late to actually enter the site) at Perge, another Pamphylian town that was successively conquered by Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, and finally the Turks. An impressive stadium is outside the range of a paid visit, so we have a look at that one in the 15' before they close down the whole area.

Eventually, we set out for the remaining few kilometers to Antalya, where we find a dirt-cheap pension in an restored Ottoman house of the "Kale ici" (inside the old fortress).


It's dinner time, but we don't settle at any of the tacky tourist restaurants in the Kale ici or at the harbor. Instead, we find a friendly cafeteria-like open-air affair somewhere further into the city. A pleasant meal later, we stroll through town, and have some "baklava" in a "pastane", before entering a bar for some more night-life. The place is very crowded, and we are virtually the only foreigners inside. A local band plays an interesting mix of Turkish, arabesk, and western music, and everybody is generally having a good time.

Monday 14 March 1994

We have breakfast at a "Cayhane" in the park facing the Antalya bay. It's a superbly beautiful bay, guarded by the snow-covered peaks of the Bey DaGlarI mountains: here you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon. Then we do a daylight stroll through the Kale ici, a UNESCO-protected monument, where virtually all the old Ottoman houses have been restored and transformed into pensions.


Eventually, we set out, driving up the mountain behind Antalya, heading towards Termessos, an ancient Lykian town interestingly constructed on top of a mountain. This spared its people a conquest by Alexander the Great, who didn't even waste his time and men on trying to take this impregnable city. But then nature conquered them: an earthquake destroyed most of their city, and forced them to leave it. And that's how we find it: overgrown by trees and bushes, with ruins lying around "in romantic disorder", as Andrew's guidebook puts it. A trail is laid out for the visitors so that they can visit the most important leftovers: cisterns, aqueducts, gymnasium, odeon, and even a theater in this eagle's nest. But there is much more to it, and we spend the whole afternoon climbing around a site that seems to be the Turkish answer to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. A distinguishing feature of the Lykians compared to the Greeks and Romans is their tombs: huge stone sarcophagi are literally all over the place, often dispersed down the slopes by the earthquake, and all broken up by grave-robbers. The site coordinator must be a pretty humorous person: in front of some pile of stones, sign #18 says "One of the many unidentified buildings" (sic).

Finally, our stomachs tell us that we forgot to have lunch, so we stroll back to the car and drive down the mountain frantically looking for a "lokanta". Eventually, after a much-needed Pepsi at a grocery, and an amiable chat with the grocer while perched on Pepsi crates, we find an open "lokanta" near the gas-stations at the main road from Antalya to Burdur. They have an interesting grill-it-yourself concept there: you just buy your salad, drinks, and raw meat (by the weight), and then prepare it yourself on a grill!

So, a few hundred grams of meat later, we drive back to Antalya, and on south along the Lykian coast, towards Kemer.


This night, we need not search for a pension, as we have the keys for a private summer residence of some wealthy Austrian baron (who knows a German in istanbul, whose girlfriend teaches at our university, whom we know). So we set up quarters there, and have a quick look at the deserted village of Camyuva. As nothing seems to be open, we drive the few miles down the road to Kemer, an artificial resort stomped out for German package-tourists. But it's only March, so even Kemer is pretty empty. We find a nice cafeteria, where some local politician entertains part of his potential electorate for the upcoming local elections. Then on to a cozy bar, which is virtually entirely occupied by a group of high-school kids from izmir. The solo musician at the keyboards doesn't know how to react to his audience: whenever he plays Western music (too often), people sit down and talk; but whenever he throws in a few Turkish/Arabesk songs (fresh off the charts), everybody just goes crazy, especially the girls who start dancing on the tables! And, boy!, in case you didn't know, Turkish girls sure know how to dance with their hands and how to sway their hips...

Tuesday 15 March 1994


When I wake up in the morning, it suffices to reach through the window to grasp an orange from a tree (they have so many oranges here that they are probably a public good)! As we leave the house, a suspicious neighbor shows up and asks us whether we know the baron. So we recite the standard story to which we had been carefully coached by Maureen, and indeed it lightens up his face and we may even fill the car with oranges!

After breakfast at a roadside cafe, we continue driving south along the Lykian coast. It's supremely beautiful here, and the lush pine tree forests make us "high" on the green color (Anatolia is a study in brown during the winter). Eventually, we turn left, down a steep side-road, and then left again onto a dirtroad across a bucolic countryside. The road crosses a small river quite a few times, and at one point we help a Turkish couple pull their car out of the river (you have to cross it swiftly, because of the soft bed). Then we reach the back entrance to the Olympos site, yet another set of ancient ruins (there are 10,000 years of history under virtually every stone in Turkey). The archaeology per se is only for experts, but the site is exceptional: it stretches along the river to the Mediterranean, where the superb sandy beach seems miraculously still untouched by mass tourism. We take a swim (although the water is not exactly warm at this time of the year) and crawl through the over- grown ruins as well as up a hill for a better overview. This is a very romantic place, and certainly a good candidate for a return some day: there are some nice hiking opportunities here, including a walk to the "chimaera", a set of perpetual flames.

The road

It's Tuesday afternoon, and we both have to teach tomorrow morning, in distant Ankara, so we'd better get out of here (too bad...). After yet another super-late lunch, at a roadside cafe near Antalya, we head up north through the mountains towards Afyon. This time we get the full shock of a "bayram" traffic: everybody seems to be trying to kill themselves (and us!), especially the obnoxious drivers from istanbul. Somehow we manage to escape a few inescapable close calls with reckless drivers. After a quick dinner-stop at a very big gas station (almost a city) near Afyon, we find that somebody has washed my dusty car! Thank you, Turkey, for being so considerate! Eventually, we do reach Ankara.

This is the end of a great weekend.

Pierre Flener