Didiyim, Miletos and Priene (Agean, Turkey)

Today we decide to check out some history. It’s easy to do here in Turkey at the confluence of the various Ancient worlds. It’s the place where the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and Crusaders all came together and left their marks.
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Mum and Dad have seen this type of site in Greece but it’s my first time really getting up close and personal with the Ancient Greeks. The scale of this place is fascinating. Firstly, it would have been the high point in the town when it was built but today it sits a good 3-5m (10-15 feet) below street level. That just shows how much landscapes change over time. This temple was the fourth largest temple in the Ancient Greek world in the third century BCE. No wonder I am struck by the size and architectural mastery that it must be. What strikes me most, though is the way the massive blocks are just strewn all over the ground. It looks like a childish god or giant came along and swiped his hand across the temple as though it was a game of chess at which he was losing.
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We drive on to Miletos where we start by drinking tea and coffee with a view of the massive amphitheatre and attached Byzantine castle.
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The amphitheatre is huge. I hear a tour guide comment that it was used for battles by gladiators. Behind it there is a Byzantine castle. I find the confluence of the two historic periods interesting. There’s two different styles of construction: the amphitheater is made of huge big blocks that are incredibly heavy. The Byzantine castle, by contrast, is made of smaller rocks that are held together like a puzzle. It’s fascinating on so many levels.

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Our final stop for the day is Priene. This large Ancient Greek city dates back to the fourth century BCE. Here there are ruins spread out under the pine trees under the watchful eye of a massive cliff. Like the other old cities here, the history of Priene is also intricately tied with the changes in the sea here. It used to be a seaside port but the water silted over here too and the area below the mountain became the land that now separates Lake Bafa from the sea.

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The Temple of Athena was spectacular in its setting and size. The blocks that lay on the ground were huge. I wonder how they managed to lift the blocks to create the columns.

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Here there was also an amphitheater. They must have been critical to life in the Ancient Greek times. This amphitheater had ringside seats and a raised stage.
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The thing I liked most about visiting these sites as the freedom afforded guests to move around at will. There are almost no barriers preventing access or forcing you to look from afar. You can just walk anywhere around the sites that your heart desires. Interpretive signs in Turkish, German and English provide enough information to help you create a complete story of the site in your mind. But mostly, being free to roam allowed me to take in the small details of the sites. Like the impressions of plants and the sculpture work embedded into the rocks.

Lake Bafa (Agean, Turkey)

After our successful hike of the Seven Brothers Monastery we drive 4km (2.5 miles) further around the lake to the tiny village of Kapkiri.

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Life here in the village is incredibly rural. It feels like I am in a time warp back a century or two. It’s not just the use of mules and copper boiler but also the way people are dressed. It’s at once charming and disarming. I can’t help but ask myself where the young people are? I mean, some of the women who I think look like they are 50 are probably closer to 40 but what about adolescents and young adults? Where are they? Does their absence indicate that Turkish people also want a more modern way of life? Or is it just that they are unable to survive here on the land so have left to find work elsewhere to provide for their families? It’s probably a combination of both. But I’m not sure.

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We take lunch at a cure restaurant on the shores of the lake. Our table is on a balcony overlooking the lake. But the restaurant also has tables on the pebbly lake shore. None are in the shade and it’s too hot to take the solitary romantic table part-way up the beach. It does look gorgeous though.

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Not far from the shore there is a small island containing the ruins of another monastery. This area has something like eleven monasteries at Christianity’s peak before the Ottomans came and conquered the area. Later in the evening Dad will use his online research skills to share the stories of the area. It’s fascinating (something I never thought I’d say about history).

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What’s even more difficult to believe is that this town was once a huge port city, Herkeleias. The walls that used to go around the city extend for over 6km (4 miles). Before the sea silted over due to the way a river’s path shifted, this was a thriving city. And even the monastery that is currently on the island was part of the mainland.

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When we stand at the edge of a cliff overlooking the lake and rock tombs below, the changing nature of the waterline becomes clear. No one would build rock tombs in the lake bed so the areas on which the rock tombs sit must have been dry at some point. Maybe before the sea was silted over or maybe in the period after it was sea and before it became a lake. I doubt anyone actually knows for sure. All I know is that it’s impressive and shows the strong interaction between human and natural history.

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The lake is not attractive for swimming, due to the high levels of algae that float on its surface. This happens at home too when water is stagnant for too long. But it is still gorgeous to look at if you can look past the algae and over at the way it sits around the rocks and reeds. And the colours of the fishing boats that grace its surface and shores.

We weren’t sure what we were going to find at Lake Bafa. Coming here was a random punt in the dark, dictated by the green national park markings on a map and some images on Google. But it turns out to be a fascinating place of history.

Seven Brothers Monastery hike (Agean, Turkey)

We had heard there was a walk to the Seven Brothers Monastery on the slopes of Mt Latmos. We asked at our guesthouse for some information or a map but nothing was forthcoming. But a quick search of Google helped me find two blogs that were really helpful: Eric and Sylvia’s photo blog (written in 2000) and George and Marta’s blog (written in 2011). I took screen captures of both blogs to use as written and visual guidance. In this post, I will add to the previous bloggers’ works by providing an update on how to walk this trail. I can confirm that not much has changed since Eric and Sylvia’s blog 15 years ago other than that the trail is now sign posted in places and forms part of the Karia Way hiking trail.
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We start our adventure by driving to Golyaka. Here we parked near the small village store, from which you can buy the usual cold drinks, snacks and ice creams. Both previous blogs mention a pension through which you can hire a guide and park for free. This pension has a ‘for sale’ sign on it and a chain across the driveway. It looks run down and neglected so I suspect the option for hiring a guide from there is no longer available (though other places might offer this service instead). We walked up the road from the corner after the shop where the pension used to be keeping the minaret on our right. The road goes straight uphill. Follow it up to the ridge on which the minaret stands (you do not have to go to the minaret, just go to that ridge) and follow the road there uphill to the edge of the village.
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Here you will find a sign marking the Karia Yulu (Karia Way) and Yediler (Seven Brothers Monastery). The monastery is 3km (2 miles) from this point.
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The trail follows a rock fence through fields littered with a healthy (or unhealthy if you are the farmer) quantity of boulders and stones. It’s a stark contrast to the rain forest hiking I am used to at home where trails are lined with dense forest and the surface usually squishy with mud.
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As we climb ever upward we are rewarded with incredible views back over the village and Lake Bafa. It’s easy to imagine this as part of the Agean Sea, as it was back in the Byzantine period. The village almost clings to existence there on the ridge with its pretty blue-topped minaret and red-roofed houses. I imagine it must be a fairly isolated existence living there with your small herd of livestock and food garden.
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We miss this cross painted on a rock on the path. We do not yet know that we are supposed to be following any markers and take the most obvious trail at a junction. This is NOT the correct path.
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This is correct. Notice the red and white paint stripe on the rock; follow these the whole time. Paths with red crosses are incorrect. This is our first time hiking in Turkey and so is our first time dealing with this style of trail marking (I noticed it in Hungary too but there the paint was marked on trees not rocks).
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You might still see these two rough benches under the trees at this junction. Turn right following the red and white paint, not straight ahead where the cross is. This is one of the only difficult navigation points on the trail. You might be used to the red and white (or other coloured) paint markers so might not have difficulty or even notice this point. But I am including it because we missed it and got a little geographically embarrassed.
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The trail slipped up over this rocky shelf. It’s typical of Mt Latmos and I think it’s absolutely beautiful for walking. I much prefer this landscape to the jungles at home.
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A few gates block our path but are easily opened. The gates here are a rough affair, with any materials available quite obviously being all that is necessary to keep the livestock in the correct paddocks.
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Throughout the walk we come to places where we can see the monastery. It’s almost a tease that we have to walk so far around (not that 3km / 2 miles is far). But it’s just there in the gully. And we have to go up a spur before dropping across to get there. A tease. But worth it for the pleasure of hiking here under Mt Latmos.
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And have I mentioned the views? Nice hey.
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After about 2km (1 1/4 miles) the path goes between two rock walls. This feels very much like we are hiking up some Byzantine road, rather than a hiking trail in the 21st century (mind you, this part of Turkey feels more like the 1950s than 2010s). The occasional pine or olive tree shades us from the sun but this hike is mostly exposed and hot. I pity anyone walking here in the summer. It’s already mid-autumn and the temperature is in the high twenties or low thirties.
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Heat aside, it’s stunning. And I am grateful it’s not winter with the violent storms that season is said to bring here. Storms that result in the mountain being known as an angry old man.
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After 3km (2 miles) you will reach this sign. It points back to the village and forward to the next village. The monastery is no longer signed. Go straight ahead here between the rock wall in the direction where you can see the back of my mum’s shirt in this photo. This path will take you to the monastery.
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The Byzantine monks who lived here sometime between 300CE – 1,000CE must have experienced a harsh and austere life. I imagine the summers were torturous for the scorching heat and the winters bitterly cold and wet. I don’t think it snows here but apparently electrical storms are common during the winter months so being surrounded by all this rock would be pretty rugged.
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There’s the remains of a building perched impossibly atop a huge boulder. I wonder whether it was isolated like that in the Byzantine times or whether the rest of the rock fell away over time. Perhaps this was a chapel. I’m not sure because I can’t find enough information online and am not interested enough to invest in one of the books we later found for sale in Kapkiri.
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The site is interesting and we spend about half an hour just wandering around taking photos. We debate pushing on for another 3km (2 miles) on the Karia Way but decide instead to return the way we came. As always, the return journey is faster and easier than the way up. The navigation is easier and we make good time.
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On our return to the village we come across some turtles. They are so funny when they walk. While they carry their homes on their backs, it does not seem a natural thing for them to do.
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Passing the mosque we see a large group of men sitting drinking tea in the shade of a large tent-like structure. It looks like all the men of the village are there drinking tea. They are friendly and wave. I wonder what they are all doing. We’ve seen this more often: men drinking tea in a huge group as though they are having a town meeting. It’s not Sunday or anything. At the bottom of the hill near the car we see what looks like half the village’s women walking along the road carrying cold bottles of soft drink (soda / pop) in plastic bags. We can’t help but wonder who they bought these for and why they had to go get the drinks. All wear the same outfit we will come to recognise as village woman attire: baggy pants, long dress-like top and head scarf. The outfits make the women all look much older than their years. Especially when combined with the aging effects an outdoor existence has on their skin. It’s definitely another world here; one I find myself a little surprised to find.

Yalikakav to Lake Bafa (Agean, Turkey)

We have three days before we can collect the camper van that we’re going to use to walk sections of the Lycian Way. What to do? I’ve looked at a map of the Agean area of Turkey and see Lake Bafa. Google images brings up some interesting historic ruins, bloggers have written about hiking in the area and there seems to be a nice guesthouse on the lake’s shores. So I suggest we make it our base for the next few days.

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Our route will take us past Milas and on to Lake Bafa. As we near Milas I notice a huge castle to our left. Becin Castle stands high up on a cliff-lined knoll. It’s got rounded walls to match the shape of the cliffs. We drive up and discover that the ruins are extensive. There’s not only the castle but a whole city behind it; some of which is still actively being dug up by archaelogists today.

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The castle dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries CE when the Byzantines built the castle. It included the fortress, mosque, hamam (Turkish baths) and a school. I find it fascinating that a few months ago I was exploring Hungarian castles that were built in defense against the Ottoman Empire and now I am at the other end of the scale: in Turkey visiting Byzantine castles that were built in defense against the Ottoman Empire before that empire invaded Hungary.

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The castle has been under renovation since 1974 and some is in fantastic condition for it’s age; like these tomb stones at the graveyard.

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And inside the castle fortress you can really see that there was a whole community living here at one time (and probably later times too).

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And did I mention the view yet? The view from the castle is spectacular. It gives an amazing oversight of this part of Turkey’s landscape. I can see exactly why the castle was built here.

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We drive down the hill and stop in Milas. It’s an old city that has been occupied since about 450BCE. There are hints of its history around the city but mostly it’s a modern market town with narrow cobble stoned streets, modern cafes and a hint of poverty in its run down residential buildings and old cars. We eat delicious cakes in a restaurant, take a turn through the city and stop at a grocery store for supplies. It’s nice to take a walk through a town to see what life in Turkey is like outside the tourist mecca of Bodrum.

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Lake Bafa appears over a high steep ridge as though it were an ocean, rather than a lake. Mind you, Lake Bafa was once part of the Agean Sea so this might be why it appears this way. We have booked into the Hotel Silva Oliva. No one is sure what to expect from our guesthouse. It turns out to be absolutely gorgeous. There are lots of little cottages set into the mountain side about the lake with a short path to the lake front, which is also part of the hotel property. This is a working olive farm so the cottages are set into the grove and surrounded by beautiful grey-green leaves.

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Mum and I set off on foot to explore the lake front.

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There’s no real path but we make do quite well pushing our way through prickles and balancing along rocks. Being on foot is a great way to connect with your surrounds and work out where you are. We find a geocache at a nearby lookout where a man is selling fruit. We buy two appples. When we ask how much he wants for them he tells us to make an offer. We give him 2TL ($AU1) and he seems content with this. Eating our apples we continue our adventure.

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We come across a turtle. I’ve never seen a land turtle before, only swamp-loving tortoises. Mum can’t help herself and picks it up for a closer look. She tells me that she had turtles as pets when she was a child so no doubt she’s having a moment of reminiscence. The difference between these land turtles and the swampy ones we have at home is that land turtles don’t stink. So it’s not disgusting to pick them up.

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We find our way back to the hotel. All that’s left to do now is put up our feet, relax and watch the sunset over the lake. Later we will dine in the hotel’s restaurant while the moon rises in the east, casting a white glow across the lake. The restaurant is fantastic. It overlooks the lake, is very local, has a friendly host who has lived in the area all his life and serves fresh local home made food. Not a bad way to end the day at all.

Kargacik Bay to Yalikakav (Agean, Turkey)

I wake in the cockpit to find the sun shining brightly on me. It’s our final morning at sea and I feel a bit sad about it. I have enjoyed being on the water and swimming in this crazy blue sea. It’s probably the most beautiful water-based experience I’ve ever had.

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We eat breakfast while watching a fisherman negotiate the sale of fish to a neighbouring vessel. The negotiations are delicate and take time. Eventually, he sells a single fish, which he scales and guts for the buyer. The fisherman’s son is bored so he takes a handline and casts it. I guess fishing is in his blood and, maybe, one day he too will be making this same trip around the bay.

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I swim to the shore one final time to untie the shore lines. We’ve finally worked this process out and now we are going back to land. Funny how that happens. The water in this bay is particularly clear. It’s almost unbelievable.

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We motor-sail our way back to Yalikakav, passing now familiar shore-scapes that were totally foreign to us just five days ago.

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We reach the white houses of Yalikakav’s urban sprawl and know we are almost back to the marina. A pair of dolphins swims in the distance. They rise out of the water higher than our bottle nose dolphins at home do. They are more brown than the blue-grey I’m familiar with. It’s a pretty sight. They frolic on the horizon long after we have passed them.

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We pass the Bond-esque elevator that leads from cliff-top houses to the sea. It’s one of those random feats of human doggedness that someone would pay for this luxury. But hey, why not. I mean, everyone wants beach access.

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And then we are done. The boat is returned to the marina and the first leg of our adventures in Turkey is over.

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But it’s by no means done. We walk into Yalikakav village to stretch our legs and eat some food. We find a Bosnian restaurant that sells some cheese and spinach bread cooked in this crazy outdoor cooker. I felt sorry for the man who was responsible for keeping the coals hot because it would be tough in the hot Agean weather.

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We take a turn through town. There’s a whole cafe filled with me playing board games.

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And lots of colourful decorations to catch the eye.

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We watch as people enjoy the final rays of the sun’s warmth by playing in or near the water.

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And take in the sunset while we eat dinner at a waterside restaurant.

Cokertme to Kargicik Buku (Agean, Turkey)

My parents are reading so I decide to head ashore to explore Cokertme a little. It’s handy being moored to a jetty because there’s no need to swim or row. So I make the most of it.

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There’s some cute straw umbrellas outside one of the other restaurants. I guess you can use them if that’s where you are moored. Because each restaurant has its own beach chair set up happening.

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There’s also this gorgeous stone house that looks like it has been renovated and restored. The new windows are tucked back on the inside of the wall’s thickness, hiding this modern touch from the old exterior.

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And a rusty old anchor completes the maritime theme that naturally occurs here in this seaside hamlet.

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There’s a path at the end of the beach. I find it because I am looking for a geocache hidden in a rock wall. Without the geocache I probably wouldn’t have thought to come walking here. The path takes me past some old olive trees on my right and clear water on my left. Shale dots the trail where it passes near the old rock wall.

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At the end of the walk I come to this gorgeous bay. I rowed to this same bay the first time I was here in Cokertme but it was different then. I wasn’t yet used to Turkey and being on the water. But now I am and I am seeing things more. It’s always this way in a new place. The first few days everything is new and you miss the subtle. But then you start to find the paths and the nooks and the interesting places.

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We’ve been eating so well on the boat. Today’s for breakfast I make yoghurt with honey, mint, half an orange and some toasted museli. It’s absolutely delicious and I must remember to make it at home because we grow mint in a terrarium.

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We potter to a nearby bay. I work inside while my parents sail the boat. We arrive and anchor before swimming ashore to the stony beach.

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When the shore is pebbly like this the water seems even more clear and crisp. The wooden gulets anchored further up the beach make it feel like I am a long way from home. Tourists snorkel and swim along the rock wall at the far end of the beach.

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Again I go for a walk. My parents are sitting on the rocks enjoying the sunshine and view. But I need to stretch my legs. I am definitely a land person; though I am enjoying being on and near the sea. But I need to walk and get some exercise. So I do. The rocks here are pretty.

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At the end of the beach there is a marked trail. We have seen a group of people walking towards this point and can see a rock building at the top of a nearby knoll. So that’s where I go. I think we will become used to trail way marking like this next week when we walk some sections of the Lycian Way.

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There’s an old ruined building at the beginning of the climb to the knoll. I don’t know whether it’s ancient or just left over from busier days in recent centuries. Perhaps I will never know. But there are many of these rocky buildings in all sorts of state of disrepair that have long been overgrown by nature. Many have big ancient-looking wild olive trees nearby.

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The views from the walking trail are magnificent. That’s our yacht there in the distance – the white one farthest out to sea.

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Walking back to the beach I pass through a large olive grove. It’s such a pretty sight. Unfortunately, olives are one fruit that you cannot just pick and eat. So I cannot sample some of them as I walk (not that I advocate stealing of farmers’ produce).

I make the long swim back to the boat where Mum and Dad are waiting for me. We have some biscuits for morning tea and set off again. This time I manage to fall asleep in a shady spot in the cockpit. It wasn’t my intention but just happens. The boat is rolling gently, there’s nothing for me to do and the passing scenery lulls me into such relaxation that my eyes fall closed. Next thing I know I am being woken up to prepare to take the lines ashore.

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After securing the lines I row down the rocky beach towards a spot where I’ve seen some steps cut into the rocks. I figure there is probably a walking path there. And I am correct. I think it will just be short so I only wear my board shorts and boat shoes. Next thing I know, I’m out hiking for an hour.

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The sweet scent of pine fills the air. I am used to tall proud triangular pines but here they are windswept and rugged from growing in rock. They are definitely not as boring as our pine trees growing in plantations at home. Nor as grand as the Norfolk Pines that grow across the road from our house at Scarborough Beach. These pines have distinct character. Each an individual in its own right.

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There are lots of pretty lookouts along the way because the path crosses a few headlands that open views to the gulf and other bays.

The path follows a ridge that takes me above a resort where disco music is playing loudly. Tour boats are all moored in the bay and speed boats are taking people water skiing and tubing behind it. This must be where the Contiki and other similar youth tour operators come. Not my scene but the guests sound like they are having fun because I can hear them from the ridge.

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The trail also takes me past old rock ruins including walls and buildings. The afternoon sun has coloured them a golden brown. Piles of shale make the walking challenging around the ruins so there must have been much larger structures here at some point in the past. It’s interesting to see these rock walls that are held together as a puzzle of correctly sized pieces, rather than with concrete or mortar. I wonder how long they have been there.

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Finally the path leads me to a village. White blocky buildings are becoming more familiar to my eye. I am starting to like the way they look dotted between the green pines. It’s pretty.

I turn around and walk back to where I left the dingy, row back to the boat and relax for the night with my parents. The weather has turned again and the night sky is clear so I can once again sleep on deck after two nights indoors. It’s heavenly.

Sogut to Cokertme (Agean, Turkey)

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We start the day lazily. It’s been raining all night and squalls of wind and rain will continue to buffet us all day. So there’s no point rushing. So it’s probably 10am when I swim to the little stony beach to release the shore lines.

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It’s a shame the weather has been bad while we’ve been here in Sogut because this beach on the far side of the bay is absolutely gorgeous. It would make a wonderful place to swim and frolic. Well, I guess the irony of that comment is that I did swim at the beach. I swam there to undo the shore lines, swam back to the boat to collect my camera, swam to the beach again to take photos and then slowly swam back to the boat. But it would have been gorgeous on a sunny day.
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We leave Sogut and head towards nearby Cleopatra Beach. I have a lot of work to do, so I spend the time downstairs in the cabin typing until we get closer. Cleopatra Beach is on a tiny island that was occupied long ago. It had a village and church and amphitheater. All the things a Byzantine might have needed to be comfortable. These are my first ruins here in Turkey. They just look like stone blocks. But maybe it’s the rain and worrying about work that make me feel that way.

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What does very much impress me, however, are the way the mountains on the northern shore of Gokova Korfezi drop into the sea. The mountains have steep jagged cliffs and today, with the weather coming in, the clouds gather up there like they do in alpine regions. It is stunning.

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To get to Cleopatra Beach you anchor on one side of the tiny island. There are lots of tour boats here. In the peak season it must get really crazy here. Then you go to a small jetty at the island, pay a 15TL ($AU7) entry fee and walk on a board walk past an old ruined church to the famous beach.

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Cleopatra Beach is famous for its white sand. It’s the only white sand beach in this region. All the other beaches have stony shores. Legend has it that Anthony had the sand brought here from the Red Sea as a gift for Cleopatra. The beach shore itself is unsightly with an ugly rope cordoning it off from the public and a guard with a whistle very quickly chastising anyone who dares to try to reach or step through the rope to the sand. There has to be a better way to present this icon. But the water is, as always here in Gokova Korfezi beautifully clear. And watching all the other tourists is as much fun as seeing the beach. On a sunny day it would be a place to sit and watch people all day long.

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The amphitheater is only a short walk away along a boardwalk. Fortunately the day is relatively warm because the rain starts bucketing down. It’s my first ancient amphitheater. You cannot enter the site (imagine the damage that would cause) but I can see how impressive it is for it to still be here after thousands of years.

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The rain increases in ferocity on our way back to the boat. There’s no wind so I can watch as the drops of water make patterns on the sea. I think it looks interesting; though the feeling of having driving rain stinging me isn’t so nice.

After leaving Cleopatra Beach I again retire into the cabin to work. Mum and Dad hoist the sails and we cruise along under wind power. After a couple of hours the angle of the boat is too steep and my laptop starts to drift away from my hands so I return to deck. It’s lucky that I do because within fifteen minutes we are hit by the strong winds that are common here. Within the space of seconds the wind speed changes from 13 knots to 35 knots and settles back at 22 knots. It takes all three of us to get the sails in so that we can motor the final approach to Cokertme where we will stay again tonight (we stayed here the first night too).

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I need to charge my laptop for work so suggest we stay at one of the jetties so we have access to power (my laptop doesn’t charge off 12V). We approach near the jetties, unfamiliar with the process for getting a berth. But we needn’t have worried. The local men come to greet us in a dingy, expertly tie themselves to the bow of our boat, climb aboard and guide us in. Meanwhile, a guy on the jetty gives directions to Dad at the helm. I tie the fenders all wrong (it’s my first time) but the guy in the yacht next to us is all over it and reties them as we come in. There’s no risk to his yacht … he has lots of fenders out too and we are moving slowly enough. The process is simple and the men from the jetty are swiftly back in their dingy racing out to collect more yachts for their restaurant. Here in Gokova you can moor at a jetty if you eat at the restaurant attached to said jetty so the guys from the restaurant work hard to fill their jetties with boats. They also will go out across the bay to anchored boats offering to “drive” people to the restaurant in their dingy. They are not pushy or rude; just opportunistic.

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We will see these same men later in the restaurant dressed in crisp clean clothes serving our drinks and meals. We are moored at the Rose Mary Restaurant jetty so that’s where we eat. The view of the yachts on the bay under a quickly filling moon is beautiful. I can imagine it’s very romantic here if you are with your partner (alas, Paul is at home working). We eat dips with bread, garlic prawns and fresh sea bass. It’s all very lovely.