Monday, August 16, 2010
Once we had decided our trip to Turkey was a go planning began immediately. I opened our virgin copy of the Lonely Planet and skimmed through the first chapter which included a series of photos with accompanying quotes from travelers describing their favorite Turkish destinations. I immediately targeted the picture of sailboat in turquoise blue water and quickly referenced the appropriate page number to read more about the famous Blue Cruises aboard wooden sailboats the Turk's refer to as gulets. I was sold and quickly ran the idea by Catherine pointing out the quote in LP describing the cruise as one woman's highlight of the trip, "very relaxing", "beautiful scenery", etc. She agreed in concept (even though we would have to share the boat with up to 10 other people)and I began working to locate a charter. As you might have noticed earlier in our blog our travel schedule for Turkey happen to coincide with the peak of the tourist season but eventually we were able to get on board a 4 day/3 night Blue Cruise out of Fethiye.
Arriving on the first flight from Istanbul to Dalaman we met the driver sent from our pension and sped through the mountainous countryside which creates the eastern edge of the western Mediterranean. We were greeted car-side by the pension's general manager, Omer, who got us settled into our meager room and invited us out for a fresh Turkish breakfast. It was great to be near the water and look out over the rows of sail mast lining the marina. Fed and caffeinated we got cleaned up and set out to explore the little town of Fethiye. Our first stop (and typically one of our favorite places for a walk) was the marina. We strolled up and down the docks checking out the boats and making a mental contrast with similar but more familiar port towns in Annapolis, Nassau, Miami, etc. I was immediately struck by the design of the gulets and some of the other "sailboats." They had masts but were basically built like a motor yacht/barge--why in the world would you even bother putting sails on these things? Anyway, I'm no naval architect, it was still pretty, very interesting, and there were plenty of other sexy sloops to make up any disappointment I may have felt. We then located the cafe at which we were to meet our captain the following day and then made an afternoon of walking through the small town bazaar and taking in some cold Efes lager at the waters edge. Catherine had been on the hunt for a sundress that day and we had actually found two inexpensive dresses that fit the bill--no more shopping. So wrong, on our way back to the pension and fueled with just enough Efes we stumbled upon a shop selling a line of womens clothing called "T-Box." I had seen vacuum packed clothing once before in NYC, but this stuff was great. The designs were great, perfect for the beach, fabric was practically weightless, and everything was really inexpensive. Completely provisioned for the trip we enjoyed a surprising good Indian meal at one of the local marina restaurants and got in bed early in preparation for our boat trip.
We met the boat crew and several of our fellow passengers outside a local cafe at 11:00am. The boat had just arrived and it was going to be another hour before it was reprovisioned and we were ready to get underway. We sat with two nice couples one pair from Paris and one from Mexico City. After basic introductions and swapping stories about traveling in Turkey we were greeted by our Aussie host and welcomed aboard Ros. We were warmly greeted by all of our fellow 16 passengers (so much for the 12 passenger max mentioned in LP) which included an additional French family, German family, and a couple from London who had already been cruising for three days. Everyone was very friendly and we all ran about getting settled into our cabins. Ros was a two year old gulet designed by her captain, Ahmed, constructed entirely of wood with dimensions of 23.9m LOA and a 6.5m beam. She had a pair of mast, a headstay (for a third sail), and a 250HP Turkish built marine diesel. There were actually sails on the boat and I asked Ahmed if they were ever raised--surely there was no way they could add more than 1-2 knots even in optimal conditions. Ahmed confirmed my suspicions but still took pride in his boat (much deserved) as it held 8 full size state rooms with private heads, a full galley, and ample room for passengers to sprawl out on the deck. He described it as a comfortable small floating hotel--I couldn't agree more.
Our first day at sea included two stops in different coves to the south and east from Fethiye in the Aegean sea. The water was crystal clear and you could see many Greek islands off in the distance. Equipped with plenty of snorkel gear the boat quickly emptied each time the anchor was set as all 18 of its passengers hopped over board to get a break from the heat and enjoy the crystal clear turquoise water. We were served a fantastic lunch and I actually reveled in my own thoughts thinking how nice it was to not have to be working on the boat! (Don't get me wrong, I love working on boats, it had just been a while since I had zero responsibility as a crew member.) The blue waters were a beautiful contrast to the massive mountains and green trees which seem to start in the heavens and plunge directly into the water. I pulled out my trusty camera bag and took a few shots underwater while exploring the shore. It was not the reef encrusted scenery with which we had become so familiar in Dahab, but it was still very beautiful and I was quite happy to be at sea.
The first two days were relatively rough seas compared to the remainder of our trip. The rollers no more than 2' high (but probably 6-8' trough to trough) seem to bash away at us with a gentleness that was a little surreal when you looked out at the water and could not see a white cap in sight. No one slept well the first night on the boat. We had all moved to the top deck taking our bedding to escape the heat from below. The rocking of the boat at certain points was so amplified that you literally had to wake up and grab a hold of a line to secure yourself. Everyone looked tired at breakfast that next day but all continued on in great spirits ready to see the next amazing views our vessel would find.
We never motored very far, maybe 1-2 hours at a time, but Ahmed did an excellent job of finding secluded bays in which we could swim and take in the environment. Ros made on stop in the famous Butterfly Valley so that we might take a 1km hike inland to check out the waterfall. There was a sort of hippie/campers commune set up on the beach and it really was a great spot--that is until the tour boats arrived. It reminding me of the scenes from Saving Private Ryan when the marines stormed the beach at Normandy. Literally hundreds of tourist piling off the back of these boats and overtaking the landscape for what would be seemingly unending two hour period. Unfortunately we got a bit of a late start towards the waterfall and had to climb to its summit amidst at least a hundred of these folks. We were a little shocked at the way people were literally pushing past one another up wet slippery rocks to check out the waterfall. Amidst the crowds we still reached the top and warmly greeted by our fellow French passengers (Claire and Alice) who kindly agreed to document our climb--thanks guys!
On our third day of cruising I was ecstatic when Ahmed came up to me after lunch and asked if I'd like to accompany him on a spear fishing trip. There were only two spears on board and I was very excited that he had asked me to join. The tender took us about 1km from the boat to another bay where Ahmed said was very clear water and great fishing. I thought I understood that our plan was to fish along the shoreline as we swam back towards the boat. After about 30 minutes of hunting I realized I did not no where Ahmed had went. I assumed he was ahead of me on the coast line and so I kept working my way back towards the boat. I wasn't having any luck. There were sea bass to be had but I'll be damned if those suckers didn't all decide to hang out around 30' beneath the surface. I can dive down that far but not without having to come back up pretty much immediately. It had been a little over an hour and I still couldn't find Ahmed so I went back to the boat to check in. I arrived about the same time I saw Ahmed coming back in the tender with one of the crew--oops! Never a good idea to misplace your buddy when swiming (let alone spear fishing) and so I felt pretty bad that we had misplaced on another. He headed back out for more fishing and I took a quick break to go for a swim with Catherine before I decided to head back out with my spear--I could not come back empty handed. I spent another 90 minutes on the hunt for what I thought was a grouper. He wasn't huge but big enough for one person and by far one of the bigger fish I had seen within my diving/hunting limit. I finally managed to get a piece of solid steel through that sucker and swam back with a big grin on my face towards the boat. All the passengers were impressed (especially the kids) and I was feeling pretty good. Then I talked to Ahmed and found out it was not a grouper but rather a grass fish. I felt really bad, but he chuckled and said that it would come in handy as bait. One day, one day I will have a great spear fishing trip but not this time!
The remainder of our cruise was spent following the same relaxing format of eat, swim, cruise, sleep. On our last evening at sea, Catherine and I sat floating side by side in the water and watched a beautiful sunset over the Aegean and into the Greek islands--it was really spectacular.
Back in Fethiye we found our way back to Omer who was very kind to offer us showers after a day in the sweltering heat and before we got underway on our 14 hour overnight bus ride to Avanos.