I am floating, suspended, weightless. The morning sun is gently warming my face, only an hour away from turning into a scorching force. The salty seawater stings a tiny puncture of a mosquito bite and knees scuffed by the beach gravel and, remembering where I am, I open my eyes and look around. I see mountains with rocky cliffs jutting out from the surrounding lush greenery of pine trees. Beach chairs, paired under umbrellas. At the uncrowded beach, an occasional shriek of a child can be heard over the sound of the waves breaking. I`m swimming in a sea!
Amid recent health issues (of which I`m not sure I`m ready to write about in the blog), our summer plans drastically changed. We had to cancel our trip to the US, firmly pushing away worries over non-refundable plane tickets and disappointment over all the plans we had spent the last year excitably discussing, in the face of bigger things to worry about. But we were determined to salvage the summer, even if it meant snatching only a few days. So, on spur of the moment we decide to go to the seaside. After an afternoon of frenzied switching between Turkish Airlines, Pegasus and booking.com websites and a flurry of messages to friends and family asking for recommendations, we knew we’d be heading to Çıralı, a village on the coast of the Mediterranean sea.
Our friends Nick and CeAnn, who had been to Çıralı a few months previously, insisted that the only place to stay was Orange Motel. My bafflement at their combined insistence turned to deep gratitude once we saw the place, but more on that later.
Unfortunately, the only way to fly out of Kayseri is through Istanbul. Fortunately, it’s a short one-hour flight, and another hour from Istanbul to Antalya. At 9 on Saturday morning we were standing outside Antalya airport, marveling at the humid air and waiting for our ride to the hotel. Çıralı is 95 km from Antalya, which translates to about 1,5 hours of driving. According to the owner of our hotel, Yusuf, when he was a child Çıralı only had two families, both making their living from animal farms. Now it’s a collection of small pensions and hotels with a few souvenir shops and a number of cafes. Most Turks I`ve spoken to have never heard of Çıralı, but nodded in recognition at the mention of Olympos, an ancient Lycian city whose ruins are located south of Çıralı, in a valley just off the coast. In fact, the Olympos bay was by far the busiest stretch of the beach we had seen there, groups of young Turks drinking beers in the shade of the mountains and families with children sheltering under beach umbrellas.
Note a stretch of nearly empty beach on the second picture which starts right after the Olympos Bay beach in the first photo:
We were staying in Orange Motel, established 24 years ago. It’s territory is almost completely shaded by orange trees and palms. The bungalows are painted green and are almost invisible among the surrounded greenery. There are hammocks dotted around the territory, as well as wooden seats covered with rugs and cushions. It’s an oasis of calm, and the sounds of cars and people passing by fade away, drowned out by the chirping of birds, the songs of cicadas (I had to Google that one. I don’t entirely agree that the sound cicadas made can be called a song, but that’s what Wikipedia says) and an occasional soft thump of an orange falling from a tree. Without exaggeration, this is the best hotel we have stayed in Turkey (and second best in the world, after the Hermitage hotel in Mount Cook village in New Zealand). The owner also keeps about 50 chickens, so all the eggs we have for breakfast are freshly laid.
The rest of the hotel:
This is what sheer bliss looks like: reading in a hammock under an orange tree.
And it looks even more inviting in the dark:
And you can pick oranges right from the tree!
Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the owner, Yusuf, who served us a complimentary breakfast.
As soon as we could tear ourselves away from the delicious home-made jams, we headed to the beach. To get there, you duck out of a small exit, almost completely hidden on the outside by pomegranate trees, and 5 minutes later you go, Ouch Ouch Ouch as the hot sand scalds your toes. If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t find it!
Once we get to the beach, I run into the turquoise sea, my enthusiasm momentarily extinguished as I navigated the obstacle course that is a stretch of small rocks, pebbles and gravel as you get into the water, and I sigh in deep pleasure. I hadn’t been to the seaside in July since I was 18 and I forgot how warm seawater could be. As I keep a running commentary on just how pleasant it is to float in the warm and clear sea, I remember that Michael is not allowed to swim and promptly backtrack, declaring the whole experience disgusting and most unpleasant. But Mike never liked swimming as much as I do, so he retreats to the beach to read a magazine under an umbrella as I swim back and forth, grinning widely. This is exactly what we needed!
The beach is also home to caretta caretta turtles so you can see turtle nests like the one below throughout the beach.
Some stellar use of English there:
As much as I like swimming, Mike loves exploring “old stuff”. There’s never been a ruin he hasn’t been compelled to examine in detail, so we spend the next few days exploring the ruins of Olympos, which are almost completely shaded by the jungle-like forest. There is a river at the entrance to the Olympos valley. For whatever reason, it is stagnant and green with algae as you enter the valley and we spent many entertaining minutes trying to spot frogs and turtles on the spongy green surface. Can you spot them?
As we walk further into the forest to explore, the sound of cicadas becomes almost deafening (did you know they could produce a noise over 100 decibels?) and it smells like pine trees. This was one of the nicest ruins I’d ever been too, charming, peaceful and beautiful.
A ruined amphitheater
Another must see sight in the vicinity is Mount Chimaera, said to have given the origin of the myth of the Chimera – a fire-breathing monster composed of a lion, a snake and a goat. Called Yanartaş (flaming rock) in Turkish, it is located near Olympos. There are several fires burning from vents in the rocks, fueled by gas emissions. They have been burning for around 2500 years. Seeing the flames shoot seemingly our of nowhere, I could see how the myth was born.
He put two chairs in the back of his pickup truck “for sightseeing”, and I have to say, sitting on those rickety chairs and holding onto the rails for dear life was probably one of the most exciting rides of my life!
The walk up takes about 20 minutes and the climb is easily manageable even for kids. Even though the sun has almost set, it was still a bit hot and soon we were both red with exertion.
People usually come to see the fires after the sunset, when they are at their most spectacular. Some use the fires for cooking – we saw a couple of families roasting sausages and marshmallows, and I imagine a pot of tea by the fire might be a great comfort on a cold night. If you think the pictures aren’t that exciting, after all, you probably have had bonfires more impressive than this, remember: THIS FIRES NEVER GO OUT! They come from under the ground! They have been burning for at least 2500 years! They are a complete mystery!
The walk down was greatly complicated by people walking up waving flashlights all over the place and temporarily blinding us in the process. Mike can see in the dark as well as a cat, but I had to resort to using my small flashlight, thoughtfully provided by Yusuf.
The rest of our weekend we spent swaying in hammocks, reading old editions of Newsweek out loud (we found a stash of issues dating to 2004) and wondering at how much (and how little) the world has changed in 10 years. And of course, we enjoyed eating out. On Monday, possibly because there were very few guests, there was no buffet breakfast and I was served a mini-buffet while Mike was still sleeping. My breakfast for the last few month has been a smoothie with kefir (a fermented milk drink similar to drinkable yogurt), flaxseed, oat bran and banana – easy to make and super nutritious, so I felt like I could afford to indulge a little and generously heaped home-made jam on a freshly made pancake.
We also tried out a few local restaurants, quickly finding two favorites and alternating between them. Every meal started with a complimentary home-made flat bread served with a dip and a salad. We also had some mezes, or starters. Our favorites included a cold eggplant salad and okra cooked in tomato sauce, as well as a spice dip similar to salsa.
Mike’s chicken stew
One of my favorite fish – çupra, or gilt-head brim.
Another great example of English
On Monday, I swam for as long as I could, but 4 pm came and with it our ride to the airport. We`ll definitely be back to Cirali and the Orange Motel, so we tried not to feel said as we concluded our peaceful and much needed mini-holiday. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”