Turunc is a small town with a post office, a mosque and a main street. The centre of town revolves round the bay, dirty brown sandy beach and the most wonderful sea blue sea that you have ever seen. The curve of mountains, the Bozburun nips it at the waist, a maiden’s waist at that, before it flows into the Aegean. Today, there is a haze, greyish brown hanging in the air, as of a slight sandstorm in the Sahara. We are staying at Physkos, a secluded property.
Tonight, Monday, our first night, we had dinner at Fidan’s, a place looking out at the bay. In the night air, the sea is black except for the few sailing boats with lights on their masts. We hand pick our grouper and have it grilled and it is brought to us with tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and chips. It was a very simple meal, but so much the better for it. The fish was fresh, succulent and the wood smoke tinge of open air grilling made it something special.
On Wednesday, we woke at 5:20 am to leave for a three and a half hour journey from Turunc to Ephesus. We stopped at Marmaris, first to pick up our guide, Taz, and then stopped at Mugla for breakfast. I had a ham omelette; Jan a Turkish breakfast of cheese, olives, tomatoes and bread, fresh orange juice and coffee. It was a most wonderful way to start the day.
The day before we had gone with Nevruz, a Turkish woman, to Orhaniye to visit Mr Idris, an expert in extracting essential oils from thyme, sage, bay and almonds. The process was simple but efficient. This is a dying craft. His son works in Marmaris as a chef and his three daughters have no interest in dealing in herbs. His perfumes, rose and aniseed, especially the rose were exquisite. Mr Idris was a little man, squat and strong looking, very much like Picasso in his physique. He was dour, his face was inexpressive, and there was no obvious light or laughter in him.
We then went to Turgut to visit the weavers’ association. This was a lesson in what a cottage industry is. We learnt how to extract silk from cocoons, how to use organic dyes, how to weave carpets of various qualities and how to price the carpets. These carpets of silk, wool, cotton or mercerised cotton, in various shades of red, blue, green and grey spoke of the long lasting nomadic traditions of the tribal Turkic peoples from Central Asia. We thought hard about buying a Kilim but in the end we thought no, not another unnecessary holiday acquisition, no.
Next was Bozburun where Gulet boat building is a cottage industry, well a garage industry! It seemed as if every backyard had an unfinished boat in its garden. These boats that looked like Noah’s Ark are commonplace here. When we arrived at the harbour, our boat wasn’t there. There had been a misunderstanding between Nevruz and the boatman. For a while confusion reigned. What to do next? Nevruz finally called another boatman, and we had a less splendid boat but as we hadn’t seen the other we were none the wiser how more or less splendid this one was. We travelled to Dirsekbuku for lunch a hidden gem of a bay. At the entrance were Gulets of various sizes, all admirable and we admired them. The beautiful people longed about deck in bikinis, holding long stemmed glasses of champagne. This was the life, the imagined life made real but yet illusory. I suppose Hollywood and OK magazine have propagated this image of the life of leisure as something desirable, even requisite for a wholesome life.
At Kocabahce we stopped briefly for Jan and a young man to leap overboard for a quick swim in the Aegean. This sea that is impossible to describe, varying in colour from cobalt through to indigo, azure to topaz. And, like molten glass or an oil slick depending where you sat to gaze upon it. In the background, a mountain range that seemed endless as it emerged from the haze, shadow-like, crisp and then blurred, endless and secluded from everyday reality. Another dreamworld.
On Wednesday though, our aim was for Ephesus. The sun was not yet at its summit but it was climbing resolutely, the day was getting hotter. At Ephesus we followed Taz, first to the Odeum, a minor amphitheatre, minor only in size since it was in the upper city for the nobility and sat 1500 people. It was built by Vedius Antonius and his wife Flavian in the second century AD. With your back to the Odeum, on you right is the Varius Baths and further down was Heracles’ gates through which you walk on the magnificent Curetes street down towards Celsus library, the third largest in antiquity. To one side you have Domitian’s folly, a temple to himself, a warning to dictators who start to believe in their own power and imagined divinity, their own hype. Domitian’s memory was banned after his death. Opposite was Pollio’s house and fountain.
Celsus library housed 170,000 scrolls, not the largest in antiquity but nonetheless still larger than any library built by any government in West Africa. Here 2000 years ago, the rulers’ respect for knowledge and learning was symbolised by the library. And before I forget the sewage system with its pipes and water, and the water system with its fountains, all examples of civility and civic development. Now think of Lagos, Mumbai, Phnom Penh or Rio, where the governments have no sense of the requirement to provide the amenities that would improve the lives of their citizens. A sharp contrast indeed.
From the library’s entrance you can see the agora, second in size only to the forum in Rome. This agora was bordered by Marble Street and Harbour (Arcadia) Street with its street lamps that led to the sea. That’s something, streetlights in antiquity! With your back to the grand amphitheatre you would have seen the sea. But, alas today the sea is over four miles away; the Meander river silted up and Selcuk replaced Ephesus in importance after this. That is the fate of cities!
And, next door to the latrines was the brothel! How ironic?
On our last full day we went on a boat trip to 3 bays: yellow berry bay, Pregnant Church Bay and Kardegha Bay. Even I had to put sunscreen on, that’s how hot it was. The thermometer read 43 degrees in the shade!
Rhodes was a bare 15 miles away. Apparently on a clear day you can see it on the horizon. We had no such luck. There was the compulsory haze of grey and brown, like sandstorm in the air. The sea was a spectacular impenetrable deep blue. Sometimes it was aquamarine, sometimes turquoise. I never ceased to marvel at the sea’s incredible capacity to shift colour in the bright sunlight. Mullet fish, minnows, swam just under the surface and threaded their way to the surface to snap at scraps of bread.
For lunch we had Turkish salad, which is exactly the same as Greek salad! A meal of bread, olives, goat’s cheese, tuna salad, chicken salad, and Rosé wine, that was very satisfying. Whilst the others swam, I sat and let my thoughts float, alighting on the most surprising and diverse subjects. Reverie.
That evening we ate at Yali’s: bream and bass grilled and laid on a bed of salad. The most exquisite freshly pressed orange juice and freshly baked bread. The sea breeze almost as delicate as gossamer thread against the skin, buoys twinkling in the distance, and the waves sounding like leaves brushing the sand.
“Where are you from, lovely couple?” A great opening gambit for friendship, I thought. Anatolia is where the best in courtly behaviour has come to settle. The men are gentlemen, courteous, deferent, and the women darkly beautiful but quiet. The hills are pinewood and the occasional cypress. Everywhere there were olive trees, vine, figs, and mulberry. Then, of course, the glorious bougainvillea, jasmine, oleander, hibiscus, and lantana prospered profusely everywhere.
Turunc where we are staying was named for limes and rightly so. There are lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit trees everywhere. And then pomegranate. The hens run out on the streets and crow at odd hours, 4 pm in the sun as if their body locks are awry, as if they’re competing with the muezzin for attention. Mountain goats loiter close to the precipitous cliffs, and feral cats and dogs hide in the shade. I am yet to see a snake or lizard. And the bird life is a solitary stork, lonely, perched on a rock on the edge of the promontory out to sea.
If I was to come back a god I might chose Anatolia for my home. You could do much worse. And the Aegean for my own very sea.
Photos by Jan Oyebode