Lycian Way, Turkey. Gokceoren to Campsite pre Cukurbag
Turkish breakfasts are typically raw sliced tomato, raw sliced cucumber, two types of cheese, a boiled egg, fresh bread and honey. Next to the dining table where we sit is another small square table piled almost 40-50cm deep in huge fresh cooked circles of flat Yufka (bread).
Huseyin obviously has a full house and is staggering meals, we are first cab off the rank. With our guide book advising today’s walk is a ‘long but easy route’ of eighteen kilometers we turn down the offer of a car ride for the first six kilometers of road from Huseyin.
From the moment we arrived at the pension we attempted in vain to inquire regarding the price for the nights accommodation and are dismayed by Huseyin requesting 80 Turkish Lira each after breakfast. This is even higher than prices asked in seaside hotels in larger towns.
Perhaps expecting us to barter Huseyin has started high however with the obvious language barrier and the services having already been provided we feel we have no option other than to pay the amount requested.
Having no competition and an extremely effective method of enticement for unsuspecting weary hikers makes this a real spider and fly approach which leaves both Pam and I with a bad taste in our mouths.
Of course if we had been advised of the costs upfront we would still probably have accepted or at least had a chance to barter prior to acceptance.
Casting such thoughts from our minds we set off down the bitumen road leading down the valley from Gokceoren.
Flat ground and bitumen road gives way to slightly downhill gravel. Gradually the angle of descent steepens until we turn and cross the little stream flowing in the valley to our right. Here the road bifurcates and only a little stone cairn alerts us to take the left hand downhill option.
Rapidly the gravel gives way to freshly bulldozed dirt road where no Lycian Way markers appear on the recently upturned stones.
Walking downhill for at least a kilometer with no markers we only discover we have passed the place where the Lycian Way once more crosses the stream and heads uphill when two road workers walking up the road gesture and point out our direction.
Roadwork has pushed fresh dirt into the stream, my first step sinks ankle deep and I sway like a tall Jenga tower with the wrong block removed as I strive to regain balance on stones. Finally I release my left foot from its muddy sucking embrace without toppling and scamper across the first of the two streams we have to cross.
With no fresh muddy surround and plenty of firm easy stepping stones the second little flow offers no problems in crossing. Forearmed by my swaying, arm waving approach Pam has taken a better route and her boots are barely even wet as we rest in the open green area between the stream and the steep hillside ahead.
No obvious markers show our way when we set off towards the slopes of the valley side and we follow little cairns erected by previous hikers until the path upwards makes itself apparent.
Immediately steep and narrow with many low trees and bushes clutching at my pack the going is tough. We pause often to rest and are overtaken by a group of six young hikers as views of the valley below become more and more expansive.
Each rest period is vital for ’tis whilst we regather breath fresh from our mountain surrounds that opportunity exists for the grandeur of both our locale and our opportunity to seep through us to bone and beyond.
Climbing higher we are overtaken by the two families I met last evening as we rest once more.
Striking a long section with a very steep climb indicated in our guide book where the path winds zigzagging upwards has us both gasping and by the time we make the crest in a stony saddle between peaks Pam is feeling like her feet are going to spontaneously combust.
Both of us lie in the shade of a tree where rocks have been cleared to form a camping site and she strips off her boots for me to give her a foot rub which partially restores her good humour.
Stone and sky amidst shade’s cool embrace. It’s been a stiff climb to heaven.
Despite our altitude the day is hot and still and we have consumed much of our water making the crest. No choice exists other than to drink as needed to stave off dehydration headaches and I am worried as to our options as we regain our feet and cinch up our packs.
Our shady spot required diverting from the Way and we struggle to regain the correct path in the multitude of goat tracks weaving in all directions. No descriptions of what we are seeing match those in our guide and we have no idea of where we are or how far we have come or have to go.
Frustration has no place in the midst of such stone and sky grandeur, we find a marker and forge on.
According to our guide we are now somewhere between 900 and 1000 meters altitude, everywhere we look is the stuff of postcards. Pam gets me to try on her polarised sunglasses which has the colours of our environment popping with even greater intensity.
Climbing onwards up the now gentler rocky slope we cross a crest and unexpectedly catch up with the ‘Finnish crew’ who are having lunch in the shade of a few trees below an abandoned stone cottage.
Despite Pam’s best sweaty red faced efforts the little boy is paying her no attention and the group point out the direction of the Way markers which head up the stony slopes ahead once more.
Between stone walls, over stone fields, following stony tracks, have I mentioned the stones? We climb on and on.
Passing a concrete square pool full of water fresh enough to harbour abundant green algae and many frogs who all dive for the base as we approach I am sorely tempted to fill our water bottles as we are now down to our last 1.5 litres.
Pam seems none too keen to drink from water where frogs have so recently obviously peed and we head for the rocky goat track plunging between thorn bushes ahead.
Luckily this path eventually leads to a concrete trough where two plastic pipes pour clear spring water from the hillside above. Just below this trough a wooden floor has been erected above the ground in the shade of a tree offering an obvious rest point.
Strike whilst the iron is hot, filling our water bottles to the brim we drink deep and pour cold water over our heads and neck which simultaneously elevates mood whilst lowering blood pressure and frustration.
Full water bottles makes us once more masters of our own destiny.
The obvious choice of the path through the clearing ahead turns out to be completely incorrect, we have lost the path again.
Casting about for the way eventually has us back on path where our friendly neighbourhood goat track leads to a roadside rubbish tip where we turn left.
Just beyond a parked empty car and an accompanying tethered donkey a group of locals are having a picnic in the bush to the left of the road.
Strange place for a strange gathering. Paying only the minimal attention required to greet them ‘Merhaba’ (hello) we stagger on down the road passing piles of corded wood.
No Lycian Way markers are making themselves apparent to us us we descend however there are some regular stone cairns which are enough to prevent us from panicking.
At the base of a long decline in the road where it turns sharply left two large cairns with accompanying markers seemingly advise us to turn right and climb once more.
Large branches from trees that have been cut and dropped on the ground make this climb extremely tough, particularly for Pam, and we are both cursing the choices and directions of the path when we are met by the oncoming Finnish crew.
To our dismay we discover that there was a marker just prior to the car and donkey that we have both missed and the path we are now halfway along leads back to the road where we have already walked.
Nothing for it but to rejoin the younger and fitter Finnish crew back along the path and descend through the grounded branches once more.
Just around the left corner where we had turned right and begun climbing, Lycian Way markers indicate we should have turned left and begun descending instead.
Obviously I am in need of an orienteering refresher course.
Within fifty metres the Lycian leaves the comfort of the gravel road electing to follow a narrow single file track upwards once more. Unable to match the pace of the Finnish crew they rapidly leave us behind when we pause to rest and regather our dashed spirits.
At least this section is shaded and cool as we wind our way upwards through a semi-rain forest with thick fallen mulch offering rare soft areas beneath our trudging boots.
Rejoining yet another gravel road finally we commence a section of real descent which follows a contour below the stony ridge top. The valley to our left offers continuous views that exceed one and other in magnificence.
As we descend I see a rock jutting from the drop to our left which would offer a perfect opportunity for a brave individual to pose for an awe inspiring photograph superimposed on the sprawling valley far below.
Pam by now is tired and less than enthusiastic, I am merely too craven and vertiginous. Pam veto’s, we pass on.
Further on and much lower down at a roadside area that offers similar if slightly less awesome opportunity Pam finally consents and poses.
Down and down we plod wondering just how far we have come and how far we have yet to cover before the sun dips below the horizon when a green and yellow sign pointing out the Lycian Way appears in the distance.
These signs invariably mean exchanging smooth roads for rough goat tracks and thorn bushes and so it is today.
Astonishingly the sign advises that we have yet another 4km to make the ruins of the mountaintop Roman garrison at Phellos with our intended destination Cukurbag kilometers of steep descent after that.
Now I am hissing Gollum just after his encounter with the trickster Bilbo in The Hobbit.
‘Lies, trickster lies, the guide lies, oh how it lies’.
This is certainly no ‘long and easy route’, in fact the indicated distance has a discrepancy with the signed route of at least five kilometres.
‘That’s it’ I say to Pam as we disconsolately strip our packs off for a rest and new planning session. ‘Next opportunity we have to pitch our tent we are stopping for the day’.
Pam is in complete accord as by now she is very tired and suffering once more from feet of fire.
Careful water management in the flatter sections since our spring refill has us with four and a half litres remaining which give us the freedom to pitch our tent ‘Vincent’ at the place and time of our choosing.
For the last few kilometres I have noticed red soil loosened at the base of every tree and bush in the manner of pigs seeking grubs and other foods. Further evidence of fresh feeding lies all about us as we take a few corners along the path ahead.
Mentioning my observations to Pam who would otherwise have remained completely blissfully ignorant of the existence of pigs in the Turkish hills was probably not the wisest move for when we encounter a flat ideal camping space with ready made fireplace a couple of hundred metres into the brush she is loath to stop.
By now the sun is getting close to the tops of the slopes rearing above us, we are running short of options.
‘If I had just kept my big mouth shut you would have been completely happy with this great spot’ I say as I cast down my pack to declare my stand.
With no comeback to the bleedin’ obvious Pam sets about making do and sits on a stone to rest as I go in search of firewood.
Erecting Vincent is a process we now have down to a fine art and within a couple of minutes our green and orange haven forms a cave into which Pam gratefully crawls and collapses.
I soon join her in blissful horizontal repose.
Cool air rushing down from the slopes above as the sun slips under grey stone ridges makes the effort of rising and lighting the gathered firewood seem inconceivably difficult.
A lying down handful of nuts accompanied by a cheese scraped tosta each has us laughing at our frustrations and great fortune alike.
Pam and Mick