The Road Which We Traveled
Immediately on landing in Rhodes I sought out the post office, where the replacement debit card I had expected to arrive few days before I did was not there. This put me in as precarious a position as Odysseus landing on Phaeacia. I stumbled in aimless but determined wanderings into tourist office and received from my Nausicaa, who was much older and more disillusioned than the one in the story, a card for a local hostel run by a Greek named Peter.
The Rodos Hostel certainly rescued my chances. It not only offered beds for $15 a night, a especially low price for a Greek resort afforded by its lack of toilet paper or even toilet seats, but also a substantive exchange library, and a kitchen for me to cook cheap. This fine dining began with my traditional meal of bread and cheese and a beer―a Mythos. I picked up The Alchemist from the library and was lying around reading when an Aussie ski-instructor and traveler came in. Adam was born in Spain, and as a lot of people from the younger British countries do, told me that he was Spanish. I went out with him, and with three other Aussies: Craig, Matt, and Andrew. We went wandering around the battlements of that old town until we were well lost.
The Knights of St. John turned Rhodes into a massive fortification, so as to continue their solitary crusade against the infidel Turks. High battlements and deep moats surround the old city, and a great Castle of the Grand Master of that order. The old town itself retains a medieval character, as it was never sacked or destroyed. The Knights Hospitaller only lost it when the Sultan made a concerted effort to expel those corsairs from his domain, and after considerable losses agreed to led the Knights leave in peace. (They went to Malta to continue their zealous piracy.) The Italians later occupied it, after World War I, and their repairs and renovations to the old town give it a Latin character―not that the old stone buildings, the narrow alleys arched by additions and supports, the mosques and churches, the marketplaces and castles, or the clocktower, are in any need of that.
As I learned on Friday that my new cash card was in Halki, a small rock that supports 300 people, a lighthouse, and a vacuum of a post office, and could not be transferred to the Rhodes Central Post Office until the following Tuesday, I had plenty of time on my hands. That day the Aussies and I went up to the old harbor where the Colossus stood, and to a beach north of there with a fifteen-foot diving board on a platform out in the surf. Rain caught us on the way back under a stoa with two dozen package tourists in sun-hats and short-shorts and sarongs, and when it slowed we hustled over to a kebab shop and got gyros and beers in one-liter boots. When these were done, we stopped by the hostel on our way to another bar for more cheap beers on a rooftop terrace, sitting in the center to avoid the wet viewpoints.
The conversation shifted from an illuminating lecture on Aussie abbreviations when Adam learned that the other three Aussies all left girlfriends behind to travel. Incredulity resulted because he saw illicit affairs with the opposite sex as one of travel's greatest directives, and talked wistfully of the life of a ski instructor in Whistler and the blonde American girls he had met there. Adam had a girlfriend before he left, and while he did not technically break things off before rambling on, he hoped nine months away with minimal contact and no efforts at fidelity on his side of the world would accomplish the hard, emotional work for him.
For dinner we bought groceries at a supermarket outside the southern ramparts and made the Western brand of mousaka described three chapters prior, which was very filling.
Saturday we rented a small Hyundai for $45 and drove around the island: first south on the east coast to Faliraki, then west to the Valley of the Butterflies, which we insisted on visiting even as we deprecated ourselves for it, and which we never actually entered, it being egg-laying season. Rather than bowers weighed down with billions of winged insects, we saw five butterflies and an unfortunate crab which we photographed and dropped a few times.
I inexpertly took over the driving down the west coast, stopping at a wine factory, and south to some Greek city, which we also did not enter. Driving there was an incredible sight. The roads were straight and distant, the rules mere suggestions. My hands itched for impromptu lane changes and constant honking after so long in the Orient. The sky had a mystic quality, with great spreads of shaded clouds on a brilliant blue sky. Shadows played on the island terrain, which on the coast was mostly flat but in places and especially inland shot up into wrinkled ridges.
Andrew took over for the next leg further south to a fortress on top of a high ridge over Glyfada Bay. We took off our sandals for a better grip and augured up to the top of the wall, just because it was there. Below it we followed rusted sign to an isolated restaurant called Johnny's Fish House and stopped there for lunch. We swam in a rocky cove underneath the diner and jumped off the cliffs, before continuing south to another fortress, this one called Monolithos, where we found a sort of tunnel and climbed around like spiders, only realizing our danger when we came close to falling.
Now it was around 4 o'clock, and we had to return the car to Rodos by 9. We sped back across the island with one more stop to make on the east coast, south of Faliraki. Lindhos was a postcard town of white houses wedged in a rocky valley between the spire of the ancient acropolis, crowned with yet another fortrezza, and a sky blue cove, divided from the sea by a long spindle of rock, with a sandy beach. It took us some time to navigate the town's alleyway gridwork, as any signs pointing to the acropolis seemed to direct us first through a maze of tourist shops and pubs with English football games on a schedule out front; but eventually we found the right set of stone stairs.
The fortress closed in fifteen minutes when we reached the entrance, and they let us in only on the pledge that we run. We exercised our backpacker's constitution and cobblestone footing as we sped up stairs and through passages cut in the rock, across fields where marble curdled up between the flagstones, and finally up a long Rocky sort of step to the highest point, where the columns of old Olympian temples stood between us and a far view of the world. If all days could go like this, what you would see, and at such low cost!
We arrived home in twilight and made another dish of mousaka, this time with a bit more experimentation, so it took even longer than the first batch despite our experience, yet it was also very good. We met an Aussie girl named Mel while eating, and she joined us at a shisha place around the corner for some peach-flavored smoke. The café sat alongside a deep ravine, and on the other side more restaurants and bars climbed up the wall, so it looked strange and alien. The house music of our venue competed with the techno of another and became very obnoxious. We bought beers and went out to the main square to sit on a grand staircase to nowhere that young people commonly occupied, until we got tired early and went back to sleep.
I did not do much the following day but read in a nook of the wall surrounding the Grand Master's Citadel, accessible by climbing a fence into a graveyard of Roman statuary, and play poker with the three remaining Aussies, since Adam and Mel had left; and on Monday walked around and worked on that Istanbul chapter, time consuming for the both of us. That night we made souvlaki with pork shish kebab, tzatziki, onion, tomato, and French fries or chips. Peter, the venerable hostel owner, and his wife who instructed us thought it looked very authentic, but could not try any because it was the Day of the Cross and a fasting holiday. We shared some with a new arrival, Hire from Japan, and after ice cream he and a Kansas girl named Noel joined us for Uno.
We played a variant of Uno first introduced to me by a German in Skopje, where anyone with a matching card can toss it onto the pile and throw off the sequence at any time. Noel taught the rules of Speed Uno, which we called Spuno, and played with us and Hire until very late. When the courtyard light went off, Craig first wore his headlamp, and then hung a flashlight from the bough of a tree so it illuminated the table. Noel went to bed and Hire wanted to, but Andrew resisted: "When else will you play Spuno with three Aussies, an American, and a Japanese, in a courtyard, under a flashlight hung from a tree?" he asked rhetorically.
Soon we changed this arrangement even more by switching the flashlight to signal or rave mode, so that it flashed on and off every half-second. Cards appeared on the table in the dark spaces, and it was impossible to check your own deck. We all strained our eyes and laughed so much that Peter came out to yell at us. The new rule was that whenever anyone threw down a Wild +4, it became strobe time, or Struno. This was a horrible idea and we all went to bed with nascent headaches.
I woke up the next day with a new debit card and no inkling where to take it. I had ticket for the Marmaris ferry for 4:30, but after that my future was in the clouds. Bodrum, ancient Halicarnassus and the party capital of Turkey, was a possibility; Fethiye, a small coastal town, another; and Olympos, ancient hippy enclave of tree huts and eternal flames, a third; or I could head back to Istanbul to retrieve my package, or see something else along the way. The world is your oyster, said a wise man, because that's all the world is.
In Marmaris I bypassed the tourist district for a more Turkish one, found a bank, and walked to the otogar. Buses were about to depart for Istanbul and Fethiye, and I chose the latter. I had a brochure for a pension there called Ferah, and when we arrived in that strip of a seaside town at around 10 I walked through the Turkish district, the marina and its accompanying tourist sectors, and found the place in the dark. I slept in the dormitory on the top floor, which had open windows along one side and bunk-beds along the other and nets strung across the tin ceiling.
I spent the next day, a Wednesday, finishing that Istanbul chapter, getting a haircut and shave, and orienting myself in the town. In the evening I came back to the hostel and invited a group of travelers to dinner: my roommate, Tim of Australia, an artist named France from Montreal, and two women from Wisconsin, Deborah and Jordee. We went to the fish market. Fish are displayed in a ring at the center, and the customer choses a fresh-caught fish and points to a restaurant, which cooks the fish and adds a salad and bread for five lira. We shared sea bass, salmon, and prawns with some Turkish mezes, dipping sauces used as appetizers, and left full.
The next day I took a dolmuş to Saklikent Gorge. Heeding Nick's warning, I wore only a shirt and swim trunks, and brought only a pen, paper, and enough money for a bus back. There a chalky river has gouged a path through marbled rock. Maybe I should not have worn my flip flops. One of these came off as I crossed an icy tributary which met the river just up from the entrance, but luckily an enterprising Turkish boy dove to grab it and charged me one lira for its return.
I pushed my way up the torrent, and did my best, despite the gray opaqueness of the water, to stick to the shallow areas created by mounds of gravel and scree. Behind a waterfall, the cave continued on into darkness. The walls of the crevice did not form a solid ceiling over the river, but came close enough, like teeth, so as to block out much of the sun's light. Look up and see only misty sunbeams that pierce the stones. The walls were cracked and smooth like the hide of an African beast and billowed out about the water line that carved them. In places I climbed up rocks or wedged myself into narrow spaces to proceed up the river's tiered passage, into eddied pools beneath small fountains, until I came to a place where lack of skill and footwear prevented any further progress.
That evening I ate more fish with Deborah and Jordee and wrote in a notebook, and the next day the three of us went after breakfast to Kayakoy—once a city of 3500, a Greek town abandoned during the population exchange of the 1920s. To see how quick a modern town falls into ruins scarcely distinguishable from those cities of antiquity over which we seek enlightenment in remonstrance, this humbles the modern man, who thinks himself so advanced. How quick would our cities fade? Leave a city empty and alone for a year and see what happens to it: a rejoinder of the wilderness, which restores itself to full meaning in a fraction of the time it takes an urban sprawl.
I broke into the city by climbing up walls and running around in my tough new Tevas, and rendezvoused with Deborah and Jordee past the entrance and its sleepy warden. We looked through that remarkable valley town, and then followed a trail up past the old cathedrals into the mountains.
Yet what cause do I have to repeat the following scenes? for we had a guide! These directions were written by a traveler named Fergus Cunningham in October of 2005, in a handwriting so scrawled and on a paper so water-stained it looks at first glance like a missive from the Civil War.
To those who want to do this walk―allow at least 2 ½, 3 hours. Dolmuş to Kayakoy. Enter village by ciaff shops. Head up path to 17th Cent Church. Carry on up path. If you reach an old well you have gone the wrong way. Retrace steps back 30 meters and head up slope to your left heading southeast. You will find some way markers painted red and yellow (& sometimes white) like this = on rocks etc. A short Climb up will take you to ridge; continue in SE direction with views of sea straight ahead. You should have a valley on your right. Continue to first viewpoint looking West over bays and islands. Continue to next viewpoint shortly after. Shortly heareafter the path is more confusing on a slope and loose rocks. Head down the slope in a southerly direction if miss way markers. If lucky you will meet a well marked path that leads further down and across the valley bottom. This zigzags up to a partially open area. Watch out for the correct way markers. You know you are on the right path if you pass an old tomb on your right. Continue with valley on right in SE direction along easy-going path that eventually heads down & a viewpoint over Ölüdeniz lagoon. Zigzag downwards and the last section scramble down to the fence of the resort. Go right to end of fence, through gate (or over it), through the resort to the road. Follow road and it should be “Ölüdeniz Caddesi.” The road goes on to the beach (about ½ kms). Dolmuş back to Fethiye by bars/shops.We followed these directions verbatim and came by their instruction past secret coves and over forested hills to the lagoon we sought. On the beach we swam in crystalline blue water, and looked up into the heights of the hills where paragliders fell and swirled on thermals, with bright colors to their sails.
NB: This is part of the —Lycian Way— but the way markers can be confusing/misleading. Do not trust red & yellow markers in an arrow direction like this ^. They almost always point in the wrong direction. Older white pointed arrows are more accurate. Retrace steps if you do not find markers and you will find them eventually... Watch out for goats, and don't step on any snakes.
What next? I asked myself, over the fruit and yogurt salad I devoured after returning.
Further along the Lycian coast from Fethiye is Olympos, a hippy enclave with tree houses and a great field where natural gas emerges in flaming spouts; and east from there on the Mediterranean coast is Antalya, the great battleground for British and German socks-and-sandals tourists. The Germans leave towel on chair at 6, breakfast, and return to find a fat Brit has removed their towel and sagged into their chair. "Oh where could mein towel haft gone?" they ask their friends, loudly and in English. This sounded like a horrible place, and the only stories from Olympos included mention of dysentery, so I chose a third option: the sea.