For thousands of years, the warm southern shores of Asia Minor have been host to different civilizations. The ruins of Lycians, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines are still scattered along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, and a 500 km hiking trail called the Lycian Way combines this history with the cultural heritage of shepherding Turks and breathtaking coastal views.
We spent a week hiking the trail. It was a beautiful walk in an area that is surprisingly wild, and I consider it one of the best ways to get a feel for southern Turkey for those looking to get away from the beaches and resorts.
1 week on the Lycian Way: Kas – Demre
Kas was a town of blond women and bald guys, but it was a good place to shop for food to sustain Saule and me for the next 3 days. We left behind the sounds of construction from the newest jewel on Turkey’s real estate crown and pretty soon we were walking through olive groves and thick maquis, accompanied by goats and fluttering serins. We camped under a large carob tree with an overcast sky as our blanket. We heard gunshots that night, and would find lots of discarded bullets in the week to come. Before the locals would hunt for wolves, bears, and wild pigs, but nowadays, only pigeons are left.
The next day, we navigated a tricky cascade of white limestone to get to the small harbour of Liman Agzi. A woman hailed us, and offered us tea and cake. That typical Turkish village hospitality we had been told so much about! We were shocked to learn afterwards that the cost would be 15 lira, the price of a decent restaurant meal in Turkey, but our proper upbringing got us to simply get up, pay up and move on.
We quickly learned to say “how much?” in Turkish. The real lesson, however, was that hospitality should not be expected, as it can only lead to disappointment. Once our expectations fell away, we could look with open eyes for the first time, and genuine, friendly encounters ensued.
We continued walking for the remainder of the day along rocky single-file paths rising and falling next to the shore and hit on some remarkable ruins of Roman watchtowers in the process. The carelessness with which these ancient structures are strewn along the path of the Lycian Way are what really sets apart this route from other coastal trails.
Over the following days we wandered alone through the deserted remains of the ancient Lycian cities Apollonia and Aperlae. We did not imagine they would be so large, so complete, so utterly abandoned. Ancient carvings, churches and theatres redefined romance as the search for a feeling we knew did not exist.
On the third night, we were caught by surprise by a rainstorm. Our summer tent was not up to the task, and with our sleeping bags soaking wet, the two of us floated around on a single air mattress until first light, when we walked to nearby Ucagiz and checked into a friendly pensyon.
Ucagiz is a pretty town, which the government apparently prevents from developing into another bungalow park. We dried ourselves in the afternoon sun, and as the owner got progressively drunk throughout the day, we learned about the secrets of a small Turkish tourist town: his jilted love affair with a German woman, the fighting restaurant owners on the seafront and his desire to learn about Japanese culture that ended when an unclean Japanese woman threw a fork at him.
Time to move on, it seemed, and the next day under a bright sun, we walked along some of the most beautiful coastal views that week. We met tortoises, as well as more goats and their shepherds, and we noted how much these men looked and acted like the ones we meet in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan. Clearly, these Turks are not grape-growing Mediterranean people like the Greeks or Italians. They come from somewhere else, as they liked to stress themselves whenever we met.
We ended the day on the sandy beach before the ruins of the fish oracle at Sura, where we met Sali, the fish man. He graciously offered to cook us 2 of his fish. He lived simply in his tent, constructed from washed up wood and the remains of the camp of the Dutch version of Survivor, where he hosted friends and foreigners. People said he was crazy, and clever.
We said our goodbyes the following day and hiked up a hidden valley, climbing up big boulders to a plateau. In the valley the silence was big and deep, accentuated by echoing bird song and the ring of goat bells. Afterwards, the landscape changed. We were nearing Demre, and the Lycian Way became a trail through greenhouses guarded by big dogs. We avoided this last bit and hitched a lift with a maths teacher to Demre, an agricultural town inhabited by unfashionable, rough-looking locals. The church of Saint Nicholas is a tourist trap aimed at religious Russians, and when we saw the tour buses heading towards the site of ancient Myra, we decided to give that one a miss and get on a bus to Antalya. Probably a good move.
Empty and wild
The Lycian Way is Turkey’s most popular long distance hiking trail, but we met exactly 0 other hikers in our week on the trail in March 2013. It was still early though, and more people walk the Lycian Way in April, May and in autumn. We met up with Kate Clow, the route founder, and learned that before the Gaza flotilla raid, 80% of traffic on the route came from Israelis, who stopped coming after 2011.
So it is quiet on the trail. Turkey wants to move away from mass tourism on its beaches, overdeveloped but contributing little to the local economy, but it has no clue how to make the switch to a different audience. The Forestry and Tourism ministry are not working together, both simply devising ever more grandiose plans.
And it is getting more quiet still. Small villages are emptying out in Turkey’s never-ending urbanisation drive. A few eco-minded foreigners have moved in though, and we met 2 Turkish men with good English who were restoring their family’s country house. These people, together with a steady, low-impact stream of fit foreigners, might revive this wonderfully wild part of the world.