Shepherd’s Heaven

Lycian Way, Turkey. Sidyma to Belcegiz.

Coat your yufka (flat bread) with thick sweet honey and use this sticky yummy soft gluey spatula to lift adhered scraped crumbled goats cheese and tomato seeds from the breakfast plate.

Tart and sweet flavours burst intricately against our palates as we follow our host Sideka’s demonstration of proper Turkish breakfast technique.

I do my best to follow the previous nights show of appreciation by eating as much as I possibly can however finally I retire humbled by the sheer volume of breakfast bounty laid before us.

I always have to eat a double ration of tomato as Pam finds the texture of raw tomato repulsive and every Turkish breakfast we have had thus far consists in large part of raw tomato. Not really a problem as the local tomatoes are bursting with flavour and remind me of the fruits from my long lost youth.

Keen to tour the ruins we had passed exhausted yesterday afternoon we set off down the crunching gravel track leaving our backpacks behind. Cemil calls out and waves us left, we have missed the shortcut.

Obviously Cemil thinks we need some guidance for he catches up with us and begins a guided tour of the ancient site. He points out features that we would probably have missed. Faces carved thousands of years ago, symbols of adornment, inscriptions, heralding nymphs.

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Long desecrated tombs form most of the remaining structures however some walls still stand. Nestled in a high beautiful valley where fresh water springs abound, civilization exits still where grander older civilizations thrived.

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Cemil leads us to the area where we met him, I take photos from advantageous angles doing my best to get the light and surrounds captured as best I can and am rewarded with his admiring commentary ‘professional’.

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Language barriers prevent me from sharing the real truth ‘striving amateur’.

To our surprise the tour is not done yet, Cemil leads us up the stony edge of the valley that leads down to the left of where we first entered this ancient site.

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Across the valley Cemil points out erect rocks above stone gates offering entry points into the hillside. Retracing our steps we cross to the other side of the valley where views extend to the snow capped heights of faraway mountains to get a closer look at the inscriptions carved into these stones.

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Back on flat ground Cemil bids us farewell, hugging me on both sides in the Turkish fashion.

As he pulls out his mobile phone, we crunch back up the gravel road towards his house.

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Planning to have only spent quarter of an hour or so taking photos from afar of the ruins we are very grateful for the much longer up close and guided tour with commentary that we have received.

Of course it has had the side effect of making us very late to set out.

Hitching our packs skywards we say farewell to the lovely Sideka and set off up the gravel road taking us towards a couple of water taps where we stop and fill our water bottles.

Across the road from the water taps an old manual grain mill relic of the not so distant past patiently awaits the inevitable day when the electrics fail. Eager to commence marching Pam leaves me fumbling with the camera and Pacerpoles.

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Striding through the little village we politely refuse offers of Cay (tea) and breakfast and make our way towards the yellow road sign of the way beside more ancient ruins.

At first the path is obvious however we soon encounter radiating goat tracks and lose the markers. After casting around with backpacks off for ten minutes Pam finally finds a marker hidden on the side of a dry stone walled water course.

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To my rural eye this ‘track’ following a major drainage point between hills would be a site of flash flooding in heavy rains and I am cursing the stupidity of having this as part of a marked walk when our passage is blocked by trees fallen by the last torrents that would have surged down here.

I am about to blow a gasket after having spent nearly three quarters of an hour trying to cover a few hundred meters when a local points out the track that they use to more effectively cover this terrain.

Easy peasy, we press on over the flat ground and at last begin our first serious climb.

Having a camera with handy features such as a zoom enables good shots of a beekeeper hard at work.

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Inevitably the trail turns rough, narrow and steep, following the side of a watercourse. Nothing we are not used to by now. Scrambling up the last few meters of loose gravel to the bitumen above is tough and I need to turn and offer Pam a hand.

Smooth and steep bitumen, a flat area to the right in a valley serves as a short soccer field.

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Up further we rest in the shade of pines doing our best to avoiding falling sap from above. Pam is paranoid here as there is a pool of rancid water enclosed by sticks and stones swarming with mosquitoes above and wrigglers below.

Rejoining the road we realise we have not seen a marker for a while however there is no way I am going to descend a meter but to climb it again from another slightly different direction.

‘All paths must lead to the crest above’ I placate my stressing wife.

Looking back whence we have come snow tipped peaks meet the sky regal and serene.

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Sure enough at the top the way rejoins the road, just beyond the crest the bitumen gives way to gravel.

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We have learned through repeated harsh experience that on the Lycian Way a smooth road will never suffice when a rough, ankle turning goat track offers a far more time consuming option.

‘The freakin’ roadsign say’s Bel and thats where we are going’? does nothing to sway my masochistic missus. We turn left just where the road surface changes and head down along a rough stony trail where a wire fence tugs the clothes on our right and thorn bushes duplicate the effect on our left.

Despite my obvious disdain for the ‘paths’ chosen on much of the Lycian route there is no denying that mysteries that would otherwise never be revealed open themselves to the hiker willing to risk life and limb in their pursuit.

Rocks, moss, thorn bushes eventually part at a football field sized flat green oasis where bee hives line one edge. Our route takes us directly past a sunken bark filled water hole where bees swarm in their thousands upon thousands resting on the floating bark to drink from the water below.

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Pam cringes as we pass unmolested by the thirsty bees and we descend once more with the trail taking us through rocky moss covered clefts where tortoises munch on fresh green leaves.

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Breaking through into another much larger flat area I can see a herd of sheep with three shepherds on the far side.

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A large dry fallen way marked log provides an excellent resting spot.

Finding the way again from the log we encounter another tortoise who unlike his mostly shy brethren is completely unconcerned with our presence.

‘He’s coming right for us’ I say however Pam does not get the South Park reference. This tortoise is definitely on a mission, Pam jokes that ‘it will probably beat us to Bel’.

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Circling the flat area to the right we encounter the shepherds at the far end. Three young men assure us that the gathering clouds behind us offer no threat of rain for the afternoon.

Shortly after the goat track finds the start of a gravel road leading to the flat area we have just crossed. The easy bliss of walking on a road again is tempered somewhat by the steep descent with ball bearing gravel underfoot. Pam has a couple of slip sliding moments.

Eventually we sight the village Bel below us. Bel spots us as we near. Turning down an offer of a pension as we enter the edge of the village we make our way to the mosque to fill our near dry water bottles.

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A young boy has been sent down the other hill of the valley of Bel on his bike and greets Pam with offers of Cay (Tea) and accommodation.

Full water bottles gives us the luxury of choosing to camp rather than pay for a pension, we make our way up the far hillside, masters of our own destiny.

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Spectacular views offer themselves as the road contours around the peak of the hill beside a long stone wall. We descend beside green stone walled terraced fields. Stopping to take a photo of a cow tethered on the left of the road I am surprised by another jack-in-the-box cowherd. You are never as alone as you think you are in the Turkish countryside.

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Down the road curves down, around and down. Markers are infrequent and we are always on the lookout worried that the next plunging goat track might be our route.

Down in the distance we see another dirt road veering right and upwards from the one we follow, a few figures seem to be walking towards us.

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‘Perhaps they are other hikers’ I say to Pam only to revise my statement a moment later after taking a zoom shot, ‘perhaps they are other hikers who dress as goats with a couple of them wearing bells’.

Must be late in the day for this cracks us both up laughing.

The way veers up this gravel diversion to where the goatherd is calling his flock together from the hillsides above and below. As we pass the herd of agile cloven hoofed mountain dwellers part disinterested in the two sweaty tired tourists who are trying to coax them to ‘look at the camera’.

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A few turns down the road our path is blocked by a roughly constructed wooden gate. Our options to pass are either to dismantle it or to gingerly make our way round the outside where a cliff plunges down but a few feet away.

Two ‘time poor’ daredevils we must be for we elect for the latter. Even Pam has jelly legs after the experience.

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Belcegiz is a hilltop area where a couple of shepherds huts are intermittently used according to season. We have read that there are great camping options and are happy to confirm what we have read when we turn the last gravel corner and make our way to the shade of a big tree.

Despite the huts just across the ridge of the hilltop we seem to be alone with first choice of the prime camping site. I find a great flat area between the terraced walls below us. No stones, no sap, no thorns, a nearby fireplace with a stacked pile of wood. This is primo camping real estate.

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By the time we are erecting our tent a trio of Austrian hikers have also arrived, they elect to camp near the big tree where we had rested which would have been my second option.

Pam and I are so tired that even the contemplation of social etiquette is exhausting however we are happy to chat with the young Austrian woman who comes over to inspect our site and gear.

‘Nice tent but too heavy’ she tells me with the Teutonic directness I admire.

Lucky we got first dibs with the camping site for a couple of young Australians are also setting up their tent by the time we have fully organised our gear. They must be as tired as us for beyond a wave and a hello little else is said.

As the sun sinks towards the hillside at our backs a couple of local cowherds do the rounds of the campsites. We are approached by a little friendly man and despite the language barriers have a lopsided conversation.

He has assisted with the firelighting done by the Austrian trio above and indicates that I should also light our fire. Despite my preference for small fires lit late so they don’t use much wood I comply with his request.

Our new friend is delighted with our slideshow of photos from the day that I have transferred to the ipad already. I ask if we can take his picture which makes him happy. He asks us to post it to him and scrawls down his address and seemingly requests that we also send him a pair of binoculars so he can keep a watch on his spread out herd.

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Spreading the love around he makes his way to the young Australian couple however does not chat with them for long and returns to us for a little more entertainment before heading off back towards Bel with his herd.

A couple of small handfuls of nuts and dried fruit, I eat our last carrot, we are almost out of food.

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Alone, mountain top, a fire dancing hot shadows at our feet whilst cool stars and a pale Leunig moon cast their ancient ethereal hues as blossom laden mountain air caresses those few bare skin patches we have left exposed.

Now that’s living.

PLL

Pam and Mick

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