With our Feet on the Ground and our Heads in the Clouds

Lycian Way, Turkey.  Demre – Finike

Day One.

A conscience comes with wearisome burdens. Despite her vigorous claims to the contrary I clearly see the spark of regret that we did not complete our intended route down the hills to Myra in the back of Pam’s eyes.

M’Lady doth protest too much.

My suspicions are confirmed when we commence striding, heavily laden once more, along the street towards the centre of Demre only to turn right and walk towards the Myra ruins rather than catch a cab to the recommencement point of the Lycian Way.

Just up the road from our hotel Pam had stopped to give a pretty little three legged lady dog a pat which has broadcast her transparently kind heart to all and sundry of the canine world nearby.

A rangy skinny female dog, with all four legs intact and the customary blue tag in the left ear that signifies ‘hobo’ status falls into step with us and when we turn right and head towards Myra so does our new companion.

These ‘hobos’ never seem to want anything other than simple companionship, she won’t come close enough to pat, ignores our shoos and gestures back towards town completely and ducks in and out amongst the tomato tents, shops and houses we are passing at will only to rejoin us moments later.

‘Hobo Four’ seems to be too cold a name, we are her chosen companions not her cell wardens.

‘Hobette’ fits more closely with her now neutered original gender and from there ‘Betty’ is a natural progression.

Passing the road that turns left to the Myra ruins we follow the heavily trafficked road towards the outskirts of Demre and stop at a water altar on the Demre side of the bridge that crosses the wide gravel bed of the Demre Ced river.

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Whilst following our by now customary procedure at all these altars, drink deep and refill our water bottles, a ute pulls up and we are approached by two men.

Greeting us in a friendly manner we are informed that they are payed by the Turkish Government to ensure the safety of hikers over the long mountainous stretch ahead and they are returning to Demre after having dropped many five liter water bottles in the shade of a tree just beyond the Alakilise ruins.

Our friendly guardian tells us we are wise to carry a tent, hands us a card and tells us to call him if we run into trouble. Thanking him for his advice I am thinking to myself that calling is going to be difficult as we don’t have a working phone.

Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread, we cross the bridge, turn left and head up the valley we would have gazed over from above had we completed our previous Lycian leg.

Just beyond the narrow row of houses and tomato tents to our right the slopes of the lower foothills that are going to be our real heart starter for the day tower imposingly.

A few kilometers up the valley we pass a mosque and soon after turn right passing between a house and some poly tunnels where Betty has chosen to lie in the shade while we discuss if this narrow path is really the way.

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Just beyond the house lies a red and white marker, this is definitely the Lycian, we turn right to walk around the back of the house and almost immediately commence our climb.

An olive grove has been planted in the fertile red soil of the early slope and the soft earth is still slippery from the storm the night before. Doing my best to climb straight up one particularly steep early section I lose my footing and have to catch myself from planting my face in the ground three times in a row.

Luckily the steep slope means the fall forwards is not very far and is easy to recover from even with my pack on.

Familiar steep rocky trails that zigzag their way up the slopes above await us beyond the edges of the olive grove.

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Adopting our steep uphill strategy we rest for short periods frequently, sipping a little water each time.

Betty finds shade each time we rest and seemingly falls asleep instantly. She is incredibly lean yet seems healthy and the slopes that cause our respiration levels to skyrocket barely have her panting. She has a low energy consumption approach down to an art form and continues to rest when we regain our feet until we have heaved on our packs and actually commenced walking once more.

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Maybe she can carry my pack for a while.

‘Onwards and ever upwards’ our climb takes us through the almost totally abandoned village of Kutluca where we follow a bitumen road for a few meters before climbing a badly eroded gully that takes us past one of the few still inhabited houses.

Scraping muddy clods from the gully off our boots we rejoin a wide stony walking track that climbs steeply, accompanied by a chorus of barks and howls from an aggressive sounding dog guarding the house below.

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Only a few twists and turns up this comparatively benign section the first Lycian commandment ‘never ever follow a road when a rougher goat track will suffice’ has us leaving the ancient footpath and circling to the right of the 765m peak of Muskar on the western side of the deep gully between Muskar and the even higher 781m Kepez T.

Every direction has its own stupendous views, once more I get the tiniest inkling of the true mountaineer’s intangible reward.

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In an effort to not repeat our dry run of a few days ago I have left Demre carrying three full 1.5L water bottles and Pam is carrying two. We have already drained the bottle Pam carries on the exterior of her pack and most of one of the two I carry in the exterior pockets when we take a long rest after being passed by a couple of Russian hikers coming the other way.

A goatherd climbs down the steep slope of the valley ahead of us following the clanking bells of the leading goats like it is nothing.

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Struggling upwards again soon after our rest I notice that I am one water bottle short but for the life of me can’t remember if I put it back in my back or if it was dislodged by scraping branches of the many low trees that unceasingly continue to impede my progress.

The only thing I know for sure is that I am not going back down to look for it despite my aversions to leaving litter or waste.

During our last rest one of our many conversations with Betty urging her to return to Demre seem to have had an effect for it is when I check for my bottle that we notice she is no longer with us. Perhaps she has realised we are just going to keep on uphill and has decided to follow the Russians downhill instead.

Pam is simultaneously relieved and heartbroken. I am merely relieved as it is hard enough being responsible for just the two of us in these harsh conditions.

Soon after we arrive at the very steep gravel shoulder of the bitumen road leading to the village Beloren and this time it is Pam falling forwards on her face.

Turning right after we eventually make the top a herd of goats descends around us with the large white dog in their midst walking directly towards us. Luckily he is calm and non-threatening, merely checking us out with soul piercing eyes and a slowly sweeping tail before ambling on like a small pale horse.

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Beloren lies a few corners up the road and we turn right off the bitumen and follow a clumping red dirt road through the village drawing curious onlookers from their homes.

Many houses in little village are abandoned however there is a shelter with taps and loudspeakers that will perhaps serve the function of a mosque being constructed on the left of the road we now traverse so maybe the town is waxing rather than waning.

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With our intention being to make the ruined church at Alakilise by nightfall we have little time to explore tiny villages and stride on without pause.

The Lycian is poorly marked and confusing once more on the outskirts of the village and we pause for rest in the deep shade of a tree that is not far from a large and recently built roadside well.

The loss of one water bottle has made me very uncomfortable, water is always the limiting factor on our long hikes and after each having a deep drink in the shade we are down to a couple of liters remaining with a long way yet to walk.

By now it is mid-afternoon, we have already climbed high and far and according to our ‘dodgy at the best of times’ guide we have a long steep climb with an even steeper descent to follow to make Alakilise.

I piss Pam off by announcing my doubts that we will make our intended destination and the promise of bottles of fresh clean water deposited nearby however she can see the clear wisdom in filling our water bottles if we have the chance.

Leaving our packs in the shade we carry our empty water bottles over to the well hoping that there will be a rope and bucket.

For once there are both and a passing lady shepherd shows me how to swing and splash the rope and bucket to clear the water surface of debris before sinking it into the cool depths below.

Our shepherd friend and her young daughter look on amused as the two sweaty tourists clumsily imitate her instructions and fill their water bottles to the top.

We are assured in gestures that the water is fine to drink and in all truth compared to the water of other wells we have seen it is clear however Pam still takes the precaution of dropping a chlorine dioxide pill into each bottle.

Heavy packs make us masters of our destiny again. We rejoin the rough and rocky path that takes us up the right side of the gully where across the left side a smooth gravel road climbs in an identical direction.

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The map shows that the Lycian rejoins this road further on however Pam is ever fixated on the red and white markers and even I concede that our trail could reveal pockets of magic around any turn.

By now perhaps we should be finding the ever present rocks and bushes mundane rather than magical however there is undeniable beauty everywhere as we climb a saddle between two 1000m peaks and descend into the valley of Zeytin with the sun sinking ever closer to the peaks of the surrounding hills.

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Just beyond the highest point of our climb we rejoin the road for a couple of hundred meters as indicated on our map yet Pam is adamant that we leave this secure underfoot haven for the rough and ready unknown of the Lycian when it once more plunges down the steep side of the valley.

We are both feeling the effect of our long climb in our lower limbs and the knee grinding descent taxes us both heavily however spilling out into the green and white fields where a shepherd’s hut of flapping plastic walls stands amongst tombs and ruins strewn casually like just a few more stones raises our spirits.

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A man who looks as old and weather beaten as the masoned stones near where he squats waves us on pointing out some almost unidentifiable markers in the distance.

Down, we go down, passing more ruined rubble, struggling down over collapsing rock terraces until we have almost reached the watercourse of the steep valley.

Pam is done by now, even she can recognise that we will not make Alakilise unless we take the near suicidal option of walking in the dark.

Dropping our bags under a tree near the gully of the watercourse I realise we have chosen the best place to pitch a tent that I have seen in the last few hours as our place to rest and confer.

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I can see another point on the top of a nearby ridge that may prove even more advantageous and I take an unladen walk up the slope ahead only to find it is covered in many sharp pointed white stones.

Traversing the watercourse of the gully, which has obviously flowed heavily during last nights storm but is now a string of puddles, I notice that the water level of the flow is marked in a baby puke yellow as if from the runoff of some industrial accident.

Distressed by this sight but unable to explain the source of the bright yellow catastrophe I return to Pam where she by now has commenced getting our packs ready to unload.

After stomping down the grass and plants to find rocks and branches to kick aside we have Vincent good to go within a couple of minutes.

Once we draw those zippers and assume our horizontal places our day is done and dusted.

Day Two.

Casting about for markers to start our day I see more evidence of the ‘industrial spill’ that has turned the watercourse bright yellow and point it out to Pam as we cross and commence walking up the moss and stone gully of a tributary that forms part of the hillside catchment for the downhill flow.

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Climbing up this (or any other) slope I accidentally dislodge the occasional rock and notice that despite there being no evidence of the yellow in the gully the underside of many of these stones bear this iridescent yellow hue.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The head of this gully has a flat stoney area with a nearby well however we both agree we have camped last night in the more comfortable area. With the promise of abundant clean water beyond the ruins at Alakilise I don’t even bother to check this well for water and we rejoin the gravel road that follows the higher contours of the Zeytin valley.

Not far up the road I notice a 1TL coin embedded in the gravel and Pam swoops to pick it up as she chants the child’s rhyme that she invariably repeats on every such occasion.

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‘See a penny pick it up, all that day you’ll have good luck’

‘Give that penny to a friend, and your luck shall never end’ she says handing the coin to me.

With our good fortune assured we follow the smooth gravel road for a few hundred meters before multiple stone cairns beside a single red and white marker advise us that we are at the entry point to the latest downhill goat track.

Pam tells me that I could whinge underwater as I begin bleating about rough tracks and sore knees however the bright green wheat fields contrasting with stones of the ruined walls in the valley below spark me up when they come into sight.

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Soon after, we are casting off our packs and resting in the shade of a tree as we look out over this green and grey grandeur.

As we rest we notice a huge white sheep dog has spotted us and is now making it’s relaxed ambling course directly towards us.

Many of these shepherds dogs have had their ears cropped, presumably in an effort to prevent them being torn to ribbons by the thorny underbrush that has been clutching at our legs as we hike.

To our relief this dog is quiet and non-aggressive however it will not come closer than a few feet away despite our urgings. Wagging it’s tail it lies in the edge of the shade in seeming contentment.

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Looking around as we sit Pam notices that several other dogs are also making a beeline for us and we are soon joined by another three dogs who appear much more aggressive particularly the red coated latest arrival.

Submissive and protective at the same time our friendly early arrival shields us from the newcomers. When a fifth dog arrives who seems even more aggressive than the previous four Pam has started to get very nervous.

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My throwaway doomsday comment ‘that I should take a photo as evidence of the moments before they set upon us and tear us to shreds’ is very poorly received but serves the purpose of converting her fear into anger directed at me.

Having initial friendly contact with the first of these very large dogs sways the encounter in our favour, they have obviously decided we are no threat to them, or the herds. They all watch us as we stand however let us leave unimpeded and immediately sniff over where we have been sitting once we walk off.

None the worse for our nervous encounter we wander up the valley slopes towards the imposing grey rimmed peaks that ring three sides.

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Eventually we make the tree where the clean water bottles rest as promised and take the opportunity to pour the remaining well water over our heads and refill all our bottles to the brim.

Resting after we have restored our fluid levels as high as we possibly can without developing leaks I notice huge clouds of yellow pollen from the hillsides covered in pine trees lifting in the swirling air of the wind that has arisen.

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So thick it looks like yellow smoke, I have discovered the flying natural source of the storm water concentrated ‘industrial contamination’ of the watercourse of the previous evening.

We continue winding up the valley which is gradually growing steeper and steeper.

A perfect alignment of the stone terraces that continue to entrance me gives the illusion of a field of stones within a green and grey bowl.

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Rest often, sip frequent and shallow, our uphill mantra finds us resting in the shade sitting on comfortable stones masoned into rectangular solids thousands of years ago.

A little shepherd’s girl has been following our progress up the valley with interest and as we pause to regather our wits she also sits perhaps fifty meters away and returns our waves shyly.

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Pam begins a conversation with a passing small herd of goats, ‘oh you are all so handsome’.

One particularly inquisitive member of this little herd approaches us ‘I know I am handsome but who the heck are you guys’?

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Just another of the small wonders of the hike.

Soon after this friendly encounter the real climb of the day and this section of the Lycian begins. The slopes that look so mediocre in our photos are gravel laden torture sessions where every meter of altitude gained is precious.

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In the solitude of the day even we are beginning to feel embarrassed by the number of times we need to stop and rest.

One step after another, take enough of them in the right direction and slowly but surely, there you are.

Eventually we pass the two massive boulders mentioned in the guide that lie just below the baseline of the towering ridge top cliffs and begin a much flatter climb through the pine forest that lies beyond.

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A section of road begins where a portion of the steep hillside has slipped down the steep valley slope and Pam wisely insists that we rush through this area to avoid the rocks hanging in abeyance atop the cliffs above.

Ears peeled to catch the slightest of catastrophic rumblings from above we pause on the far side of this dangerous section to rest again before setting off down the gravel road beyond.

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Perhaps the slip has taken Lycian markers down the slopes or perhaps we were just overjoyed to be walking at last for a decent distance on relatively flat surfaces. In any case it takes us a few kilometers to suddenly recollect that we have not seen a marker in ages.

I am confident that the Lycian will once more rejoin this track that obviously follows the contour of the upper reaches of the valley in the same manner that the Lycian Trail map does and a little while later beside one of the many wells covered in rough planks that we have passed we pick up the red markers again.

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Today we have climbed the highest gain in altitude in a single day since leaving Australia and are now somewhere around 1700m above sea level.

There are still a few hours of daylight left however we are both pretty much done and since leaving our campsite of last night have not encountered anywhere more suitable to pitch Vincent than the stony hillside that lies a little further on up the Lycian from the well we have just passed.

Kicking the worst and sharpest of the stones aside it is not too bad once we have put down our skinny rubber mats. By this stage I think we could sleep almost anywhere.

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Once Pam has found her horizontal bliss there is no moving her again and after taking a few more shots of our glorious surrounds I join her for our dinner of soft cheese on tosta and a handful of nuts and dried fruit.

I don’t remember it getting dark before we are deep in our dried sweat encrusted salty pungent dreams.

Day Three.

Blue skies of the last two days have become overcast with swirling clammy tendrils chasing downdrafts into the depths of the valley below.

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Knowing we have a huge day ahead we do our best to set off early, my back bearing the extra weight of a now dampened tent.

Immediately our path is climbing for we still have at least another 100-150m of ascension to reach the highest point of the mountainous trail between Demre and Finike.

After breaking through the pine and cedar grove we slept beneath the trail becomes simultaneously exhilarating and dangerous with magnificent views of the valley below always distracting us from our primary goal of remaining upright on the steeply diagonal treacherous rocky slopes.

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Pale bleached fallen trees occupy the hilltop like solidified ghosts.

High fives as we top the crest. 1810m climbed from the sea level of two days ago passes in a flash and we are heading downwards almost immediately.

With the highest peak in our home state Queensland, Mt Bartle Frere being only 1622m, the spectacular Cradle Mountain in Tasmania 1545m and the highest peak in all Australia, Mt Kosciuszko 2228m above sea level our two day climb makes us regular little Aussie Alpinists.

Foggy tendrils swallow and regurgitate leaving us cold and damp.

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Grey rocks cracking against each other and our panting breath are the hushed music that accompany us as we pass through a section of forest and a few beautiful dells.

Suddenly we are swallowed whole by the clouds for the last time.

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Finding indistinct randomly placed markers in bright sunshine is quite a task.

With our field of vision suddenly reduced to a ten meter circle about us the task ahead suddenly seems insurmountable. No other choices other than just keepin’ on keepin’ on make themselves apparent.

Memories of our time in Korcula, Croatia (the birthplace of Marco Polo) arise as when either of us see a red and white painted patch we cry out ‘MARKER’ which earns the apparently hysterical reply of ‘POLO’.

Pam is freezing in the now damp and windy conditions and dons all her cold weather clothes that she carries before pulling on a pair of socks as makeshift gloves.

Incredibly steep rough and stony sections crawl by with our field of vision coming ever closer as we descend. Sound lassos tight around us, we could pass within meters of other people without realising.

With no idea of where we are other than the marker ahead we finally come to a road that eventually leads past a few shepherds huts where a well with a rope and bucket provides us an opportunity to replenish our precious water supply.

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Just because it is cold and clammy doesn’t mean you stop sweating, the hard work of our descent has my internal fires stoked high and as long as we keep moving I remain warm.

The moment we pause to rest is another matter entirely and cutting our rest periods to a minimum serves the dual purpose of keeping us warm and covering ground as fast as we can.

Beyond the well we follow a gully down into the pine forest where we contour down the hillside for an eternity.

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Every tree acts as a filter condensing water from the heavily laden air into drops that stream from branches and needles above us. A species of tree that is still just bare boughs and buds at this time of year does this in such a spectacular manner that the entire tree seems to weep.

Views of the valley beneath this forest section would be incredible however we make our way down the steep slopes confined in our little grey bubble.

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After making our way down to another section of road and commencing to climb down yet another steep valley I am both angered and mystified by the Lycian apparently climbing back to near the road from whence we came before seemingly circling a hilltop and making its way down the roughest track of the day.

Of course as I cannot really see a thing we could be heading in any direction. Still I know upwards when I am fighting mighty gravity with each step.

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All that counts is the next marker ahead.

Eventually we make our way down a long stretch of ‘rock and roll’ scree that tests our joints to the maximum before following a steep rocky gully to shepherds huts below where the markers run out.

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Despite our best efforts neither of us can locate a single marker however when I call out to a goatherd dealing with a flock in an enclosure he waves us on down the hill where we pass between a couple of further enclosures where an old woman and man are having lunch on a carpet laid out on the ground.

We have been grinding our way downhill for hours now and we have just stumbled upon the ruins of Belos when the mist suddenly changes its density and a downpour commences that has us scrambling to cover our backpacks and put away the camera.

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Our guide’s author Kate Clow describes Belos as ‘my favorite city in all of Lycia’ and raves about spectacular views spreading to the sea from the slopes.

With our view still restricted to a grey ten meter radius circle we see little point in searching for the views remarked upon both in the book and by the Russian hikers we met heading down towards Demre two days ago.

Teeming vertically falling rain has my clothes soaked within seconds. Pam who was already wearing her raincoat in an effort to stave off the cutting wind advises me to don my Rainbird however I am fine with the rain washing out the salt of the last few days.

Focussing on our feet placement now becomes our primary goal. Rocks, protruding tree roots, pine needle leaf litter hiding more of the same, our boot soles, everything has suddenly become lubricated which requires heightened caution and extra care with every step.

At least we know where we are now, though the knowledge of just how far we have to go to make Finike is disconcerting. Despite feeling like we have climbed down for a foggy eternity Belos is still 900m above sea level and at least ten kilometers from Finike.

Our guide indicates a thirty kilometer distance for the entire section between Demre and Finike whilst the signs we have passed always add up to forty kilometers.

The thought of ten extra sodden kilometers wrapped in cold grey mist whilst missing marker after marker lifts my pulse rate and warms my blood. Muttering threats of harboured vengeance under my breath I begin to significantly outpace Pam which is stupid and dangerous as we need to look out for each other in these conditions.

As we make our way down the valley edge and then contour back up the slope ahead I declare that once we finally rejoin the road to come as indicated on the map there will be no more Clow Specials for the day.

Pam is one hundred percent with me ‘if we see a car we will try and hitch a ride’.

Chances of two sodden tourists with enormous dripping backpacks finding a lift on quiet mountain roads are not terribly high however hearing my own internal dialogue coming from the mouth of my wife is encouraging.

The rain abates while we are still making our way round and down the hillsides.

Still wrapped in the clammy shroud that has accompanied us for hours we finally stumble onto the start of a rough gravel road that passes between a few shepherds huts and continues down to a T-junction with the downstroke of the ‘T’ heading towards Finike.

The 8.5km to go indicated on the sign has us groaning. My feet are slopping in wet boots, the heat of my anger has long subsided and now I am shivering like I am in shock as we discuss walking down further to the village Belen where we may be able to ask someone to call a cab.

Our Australian friend and fellow Lycian hiker Kay whom we met back in Kalkan uses a lovely phrase ‘Trail Angel’ to describe randomly encountered generous souls who give aid and succour to hikers in need.

We are just about to hitch up our packs from where we have dropped them beside the gloomy road sign when a knight in black leather appears astride his red Yamaha motorcycle.

Thankfully he slows and stops in response to our signals, strips off his helmet and watches and listens as we go through a little pantomime routine to request that he call us a cab.

Our new friend is a Trail Angel of the highest order. He not only calls us a cab but insists on waiting with us in the fog and damp until the cab has rattled its way up the long and winding road.

As we wait we dig out the ipad and have a sweet and funny ‘conversation’. He is a shepherd with two little girls whom he loves dearly. We show him a picture of our ‘little girl’ and he smiles broadly in appreciation.

Family is very important in Turkey. Questions we are asked as we travel generally follow the order ‘what country are you from’? ‘do you have any children’?

We express our appreciation of his motorcycle which looks shiny and brand new and he beams. He is one of the very few motorcyclists we have seen wearing any safety equipment in Turkey and is obviously a very successful shepherd for his helmet and leather jacket also have a brand new patina.

Adamant in his refusal to take any money in compensation for the multiple phone calls that he has made to ensure the cab arrives he has a chat with the driver and is obviously telling him which hotel to take us to then waits until we are safe inside before throwing his leg back over his red steed.

With our faith in humanity restored we rattle down the winding gravel road towards Finike. Soon after setting off our driver offers me a cigarette which I politely decline before lighting up his own.

With both front windows down the smoky air inside the cab rapidly cools my wet clothes. Shivering and twitching with cold we finally break through the cloud cover and congratulate each other on making the call to get a lift rather than attempt to sodden plod our way any further.

The road is long, steep and winding and undulates up and down around several very deep valleys. I very much doubt if we would have made Finike before sunset should we have insisted on walking the final stretch.

A little puzzled by our cab passing through Finike without pause then driving along the long straight road that follows the grey beach to our right we decide to relax and place our faith in the local knowledge of our Trail Angel.

Soon the cab crosses the dual lane highway via a median strip roundabout and deposits us at the Hotel Anadolu. We pay the 100TL charge without a murmur.

Our Trail Angel has given great advice, the owner of Hotel Anadolu is very friendly and offers us a very affordable apartment in the building across the road rather than a hotel room.

Our apartment is great, two bedrooms, each with shower and toilet, a kitchen with a real size fridge, a washing machine, two balconies to dry out our tent and sodden boots and clothes, ocean views across the four lanes of traffic.

A day shrouded in cloud and mist gives one last lesson, solar hot water doesn’t get real warm on such a day.

Pam snuggles up to me under all the blankets piled on the bed to bring my shivers under control at last.

PLL

Pam and Mick

2 thoughts on “With our Feet on the Ground and our Heads in the Clouds

  1. So glad to hear you survived your mountain adventure! It was surely the toughest part of the whole Lycian Way. We were lucky to have a GPS app on our smartphone as I thought the trail marking was pretty poor. We will definitely go back and do the first part of the walk, maybe next year. We had to stop in Cirali as were running out of time. Take care, looking forward to reading about the rest of your hike.
    Cheers
    Heike

    • Thanks for staying in touch Heike. For sure the mountain trail was tough however we survived unscathed and tougher ourselves for the experience.

      Beauty we encountered everywhere was a great reward for effort.

      It was our great pleasure to have met you and Ernie on the trail. I can still picture you both clambering over the jagged shoreline rocks in the sunshine ahead of us after we first met.

      The laughter filled afternoon with the two of you and Matthias in Ucagiz was icing on the cake.

      Cheers

      Mick and Pam

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