A continuation of my TopDeck Turkey diary. If you haven’t read the first post in the series yet go and start here.
Today was the day I had been dreading from the moment I was invited to join TopDeck on one of their tours. I knew there had to be a day like this on the trip, and even though I didn’t know which day it would be, I was fully expecting it. A very VERY long drive that started incredibly early in the morning.
Our wake-up call came at 4.55am (thanks Alex!) and we were at breakfast by 5.20am – the hotel opened the buffet early as we had a 6am start. I couldn’t really face eating to be honest, it was far too early for me, so I opted for some fresh melon and raw peanuts to at least give me something in my belly for the journey ahead. We settled in the bus and left by 6am, heading west towards the coast. As we came out of Konya we climbed up into the mountains and could see sunrise right across the plain, it was quite beautiful and a lovely start to the morning even if it was early. The bus was silent as most people slept, but I just listened to music and looked out of the window using the time to relax my thoughts and let my eyes enjoy the view.
The landscape changed regularly – there were mountains and trees, then farmland and orchards, meadows and plains, more mountains, villages and factories. I saw lots of stray/wild dogs (we had to brake hard to avoid hitting a puppy), there seem to be lots living wild in rural Turkey, I know the municipality look after them (as far as injections go) in Istanbul but I’m not sure about everywhere else. A much nicer sight was watching a couple of doves dancing around in the sky, they seemed to stay alongside the bus for a few miles, I imagine there’s some kind of scientific reason how air flow around the fast moving bus allowed them to surf along without using up much energy or something, I don’t know.
After three hours of seated relaxation we stopped at Egirgir, a fresh water lake town, for a break and a walk. What an absolutely beautiful place. There would normally be a busy market there on a Thursday, which is the main reason for the stop (apart from that longer than three hours on a bus is definitely long enough), but not on this particular Thursday due to it being Eid. First and very importantly we filed off the bus towards what Alex described as the nicest toilet in the town, where we queued for the one western style toilet (well apart from those who were better travelled). I had expected there to be a toilet on board the bus, but there wasn’t – there was a fridge, but no loo.
The beautiful Egirgir lake – it really was crystal clear water.
The town was lovely. It was only 9am but already very warm, and as we had an hour to stretch our legs I had a wander along the waterfront to enjoy the views and the fresh air. I dipped my toes in the water but it was a bit chilly, if I had thought to have my towel in my day sack I could have gone for a swim. But it was nice to just have a chilled walk. The town was almost silent, there were very few people about, and none of the shops were open – a bit like heading into Lincoln city centre on Christmas Day. I came across a boat yard and a couple of little beaches, sat and watched some geese and swans rush about, and eventually made my way back to the bus. It’s a shame the market wasn’t on but I kind of liked wandering around the sleepy town in silence just poking around wherever I felt like without anyone wondering what I was up to.
Boats and geese at Egirgir.
As we left Egirgir we climbed up and over yet another mountain, there are lots in Turkey, and along the perimeter of a large military base that is in those hills. Turkey has compulsory national service, and some of those young men will end up at this particular base. There are also full time soldiers here. Alex said that it’s a well-known base in Turkey but for the wrong reasons; it’s the base from which military personnel get sent to Iraq and Syria, straight to the front line – men, and their families, know that if they are posted here they will almost certainly be dead within a few months. Wow. They are on base for two months for some training, and then get sent to war.
As I said, it was the day of Eid, and so one of the common sights through the bus window was that of sacrifice. It was all a bit gruesome to someone like me who isn’t used to seeing that, but it is part of the religious culture and I have no problem with it in that sense. I learnt that the sacrificed animal, which can be a sheep, goat, or even cow, is eaten. Families come together and buy an animal to sacrifice, and the kind of animal depends on how much the family can or wants to spend. Once cooked, they eat a third of the meat themselves, serve a third to their family and friends, and give the remaining third to the poor. I saw lots of families outside their homes making their sacrifices – right outside their front doors, or under their porch, in their gardens or yards. Some animals had their heads cut off, others were being skinned, and some were already hanging in the tree waiting to be butchered ready for cooking. I even saw a young boy of about five or six with a very large and blooded knife; Alex explained that boys are taught how to kill and butcher an animal during Eid as part of the festival, and therefore understand where their meat comes from. They say travel opens your eyes and helps you learn in a way books could never match, and I would definitely agree with that sentiment.
On the next section of the journey we drove through the mountains that are all made of marble, there were marble mines everywhere and cubes of marble stacked up in big piles like marshmallow or Turkish delight. I had no idea that there were hills and mountains just made of this stuff! It was quite impressive to see all the sugar-cube-looking piles of marble everywhere, but I couldn’t help thinking it was a shame these beautiful big hills also a shame that humans are cutting down the mountains piece by piece. With no-one being around it would have been very easy to hop out of the bus, grab a bit of marble, and put it in my bag, but up close those “bits” of marble were huge – the quarry owners could be safe in the knowledge I would need some kind of massive vehicle to transport one of those cubes!
In Saklikent Gorge.
Our final stop of the day was at Saklikent Gorge, where we were given three hours to explore at our leisure. We started, naturally, by finding food. There was a self-service buffet which, while it was a bit dearer than I’d been used to in other places, served the most delicious range of warm and cold salads to go with my freshly caught and grilled whole trout from the local river. Definitely the best lunch of the tour for me! We sat cross legged at low level tables by the river and ate, chatted, relaxed, and drank iced tea. We were pestered by a group of chickens, which was a bit odd, I definitely haven’t experienced that anywhere else! It was made even odder as they appeared to be begging for food, like a seagull might, but some of my fellow travelers were eating chicken.
River walking in Saklikent Gorge.
The gorge itself needed exploring and so I rolled up my shorts and headed off with a small group of friends from the tour on a canyon walk, which was an unexpected bucket list tick so made me smile a lot! I didn’t want to hire the communal jelly shoes so I decided to keep my old trainers on, which was definitely the right decision as the water was fast flowing in places and you couldn’t see the bottom. River walking is something to be very careful about, but with plenty of people doing the same thing here it was the perfect place to give it a go. Once in the river the first thing we needed to do was cross over to the other side; two fast flowing rivers joined here so there was a rope to help guide us across, and it was needed as the current was very strong. Once across we wandered up through the gorge, wading through the cloudy river and squelching through the soft and spongey edges (a bit like quick sand in places). We walked about a kilometer, maybe a bit more, before turning around and heading back down to the a km each way I think, it took an hour. It was such a nice way to spend some time and I was a very happy lady when we got back on the bus for the last stretch of our journey.
Our final stop on this mammoth driving day, and in fact the final stop on my tour, was the Mediterranean town of Fethiye. Being just an hour from Greece by catamaran, we were told westerners are a common sight and we might even here some British voices. It was still obviously in Turkey with its flags and mosques and culture, but much more relaxed and no issues with clothing or blonde hair or anything else.
Car Cemetery, Fethiye.
Alex warned us on the bus that this hotel would not be as good as the others so the fact that our room was small and rough around the edges didn’t surprise us. However the non-flushing toilet did! It took some persuasion to get the hotel to move us to a different room, but they eventually did and we could start to relax. Shame as the rest of the tour the hotel rooms had been great. Dinner was a buffet style including a kebab barbecue and loads of salad which was really good. We ended the evening by wandering down into the town (and I mean down… as steep as Steep Hill I reckon!) to a cocktail bar for cocktails (well, mocktails for me). It was nice to sit and chat on my last night on the tour – most others were continuing on to the second half of the trip, although I wasn’t sure about the background music – Bon Jovi and other similar artists set to a heavy dance beat!
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Thank you SO MUCH to TopDeck for inviting me to join them on the tour. TopDeck covered my flights and the tour itself in return for coverage here on Splodz Blogz, and I covered all other expenses (including food, entrance fees and excursions) myself. I definitely recommend this kind of travel to anyone who wants to explore somewhere new without any hassle. Take a look at the TopDeck website for the full range of tours available.