Tuesday 7 June 2016

Three Days on the Lycian Trail

In April 2016, I made plans to hike a section of the Lycian Trail in south-western Turkey. This part of the country was getting popular among my friends recently, and I too decided to give it a shot.

Of course, I had no long-term hiking experience apart from jogging regularly, and the last time I had stayed in a tent was more than a decade ago. So I organised myself for a "light trekking" trip of four days, traveling without a tent and sleeping gear, walking from town to town and sleeping in motels rather than camping out in the open.

Thinking myself very smart, I printed out and stapled together these pages from Google Maps, one map-booklet for every day of hiking. (Relying on these maps resulted in a minor disaster, but read on.)

I borrowed a North Face Terra 35 Backpack from one of my friends and packed it with four days' worth of essential clothes, hygiene and medical supplies, blankets and so on.

Most of my weight was taken up by food, which came in the form of honey & granola bars, tuna fish and packs of Apikoğlu smoked beef. Of course, I could always buy food & supplies on the go, but I was boyishly excited about this trip and relished its preparation phase: At long last I would be alone and self-sufficient on a journey of discovery and adventure!


Day One: Göynük

After carelessly forgetting my packs of Apikoğlu beef in the fridge, I boarded an early Pegasus Airlines flight to Antalya, that fateful city on Turkey's Mediterranean coast.

Normally a bustling tourist town, Antalya was now going through rough times after a crisis with Russia and terrorist attacks had rendered Turkey a no-go-zone for many international visitors.

From the airport, I went to the bus terminal and boarded one of these gaudy minibuses that plied the route between different towns along the seashore.

I went to Göynük, a dreary tourist town that used to host low-income Russian tourists, now turned drearier with the prospect of a summer without visitors. I stepped off the bus at a highway intersection where a rather grandiose monument exclaiming Göynük as the "tourist capital of the world" stood falling apart in perfect imitation of Turkey's touristic enterprise.

I walked away from the decrepit monument and into Göynük's hinterland, towards a small village and a national park inside a mountain valley. The weather was cool and pleasant, and my spirits were up. My plan was to walk up to the mountain valley, all the way to the highland town of Ovacık and spend the night in a motel there.

I was very happy to be finally out there, walking on my own on an uncertain and generative adventure. But half an hour into my walk, I began to realise the difficulties of trekking without prior practice. My backpack, although "packed light," was feeling too heavy on my shoulders, and my pants were getting stuffy with the rising temperature.

I came across this quaint garden-restaurant-motel-place named Ali's Garden. I sat down there to lighten my backpack. I put on a pair of shorts I'd brought along just in case, "donated" half of my clothes, one of my blankets and my cumbersome pants to Mr. Ali in exchange of some refreshing tea.

The owner of this strange garden cafe, Mr. Ali, was a unique character in his own right. He had a fluent grasp of German and Russian after living in Germany for years. Mr. Ali used his linguistic skills to position himself as something of a "trail manager," offering refreshments and helpful tips to international visitors who passed through Göynük to walk the Lycian trail every year.

Mr. Ali was also something of an outsider artist. His garden was full of redundantly-labeled, hand-painted maps and signs in German and Russian, and hordes of grotesquely-sculpted, semi-humanoid calabash gourds.

A nightmarish array of faces were visible in Mr. Ali's gourds. I was vexed by how he had managed to modify the plants into such shapes. His method, it turned out, was as gritty as the sculptures themselves. Mr. Ali got hold of empty, transparent plastic bottles from the garbage and sculpted them into his desired forms by heating them on a fire. He introduced nascent gourds into the bottle-moulds, and the plants conformed to their shape as they grew. Mr. Ali then cut open the bottles, harvested the gourds and dried them in the sun to give them their final forms.

The massed formation of gourd-faces, staring at viewers from every corner of the garden, made for a bizarre and more than a little off-putting freak-show of vegetable portraits. Some were likenesses of world leaders and other historical figures. "Putin" was visible here on the right.

Another portrait, perhaps of Turkey's president Tayyip Erdogan.

A disturbingly embryonic form was a likeness of the "mother goddess" figures known from prehistoric Anatolia.

The vegetable portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. 

The madness intensified as I dwelled deeper into Mr. Ali's garden. Large, multi-gourd assemblages (with a separate gourd for every limb), portrayed sexualised likenesses Hitler and Jesus, and a hydrocephalic Vladimir Putin. These sculptures may well have come from a Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibit.

A close-up of Mr. Ali's Hitler figure. The strange German comment scribbled on its chest; "We love him NOT for art, but what he is made out of," had a weird undertone of admiration for the bygone tyrant.

Another strangely feminine Jesus figure, made out of multiple gourds linked together by wood glue and iron wire. I felt like puking after finding out that Jesus' head, chest and pubic hair were made out of actual human hair Mr. Ali had collected from a hairdresser's, and glued onto the figure.

The ultimate expression of the feminine form in the garden were these blatantly sexualised "vegetable dolls" with strange, featureless faces and perfectly sculpted bottoms. One was clad in sexy underwear. Another had a dried crust of sweat-like liquid running down its back.

This particularly brutal "vegetable doll" was held together by dollops of white, semen-like silicone, and had wisps of real human hair attached to its head.

A half-formed butt-gourd looked as if it could start twerking any minute. I wondered if these vegetable dolls had ever been used for more... intimate purposes. I then quickly put the disgusting thought out of my head.

Less than an hour into my trek, I had already stumbled into a haven of weirdness. The sexual vegetables, the rank human-hair and glue on the gourds and a hinted admiration for Hitler added a taint of darkness to Mr. Ali's garden. For an extra thirty minutes I enjoyed the spectacular view from the porch.

But now came the task of actually walking the road to Ovacık. This discarded boiler in front of a majestic mountain landscape reminded me faintly of Simon Stalenhag's retro-futuristic paintings.

I passed through the village of Göynük, and entered the mountain valley that led to Ovacık through the Bey Mountain Coastal National Park.

A crystal-clear river ran through the park. The lush beauty here contrasted strongly with the ugliness of Göynük less than a kilometre away.

I began climbing up the valley through a winding path that hugged one of the hillsides. I found myself alone in a beautiful, lush and silent mountain forest. I saw many kinds of interesting flowers, but being a wretched botanist, could only identify a few of them.

I am indebted to the IFL Botany group on Facebook for sorting out the species in these pictures. This purple wonder was some kind of long-stalked Muscari.

A sage plant, Salvia sp. These plants were known for their medicinal value. One kind, Salvia divinorum, was even a potent hallucinogen. This one did not belong to that species, however.

A clump of yellow Jerusalem sage, Pholmis fruticosa with hungry pollen-eating beetles.

Soon after, I began to encounter animals. This stone locust, Orchamus sp. (possibly O. yersini), crept out of a rock crevice in an odd, lizard-like fashion.

These flightless locusts were readily identifiable by their atrophied wings and lobed antennae. Their scientific name, Orchamus, also belonged to a mythical Greek king, who ordered his own daughter, Leucothoe, burnt alive after she was caught in a tryst with the sun-god Helios.

Nineteenth-century scientists named legions of organisms after figures from ancient myths. I loved tracing down allusions between the names of animals, plants and their mythological counterparts. I also noted in sadness that centuries later, paternal misogyny was as common in Turkey as it was back in Orchamus' day.

I rested frequently and drank lots of water to save my stamina. At one of those rest stops, I saw these Greek strawberry trees, Arbuthus andrachne, natives of the Mediterranean basin. 

With red, waving branches, the ancient strawberry trees created an enchanting atmosphere.

The Lycian trail was famous for the paucity of its trail markers. Usually these minute cairns, or tiny splashes of red and white paint, were all that indicated the continuation of a path.

 A view of the forest path. It was sometimes difficult to discern the trail in the undergrowth.

I saw another, more yellowish-coloured Orchamus locust nearby. I really liked these animals, they rarely jumped and behaved completely unlike other, more active locusts and grasshoppers.

Some branches and twigs were covered in drops of what looked suspiciously like human saliva. I knew, however, that these were not what they looked like. The spit drops were actually nests.

Huddled inside every wad of "spit" were the gelatinous larvae of froghoppers, Cercopidae sp. These insects hid from predators inside their spit-like foam nests. When they matured, they metamorphosed into brightly-coloured, jumping plant-eaters. I introduced this bug back to its spit-nest soon after photographing it.

Another strange denizen of the undergrowth, a firefly larva, Lampyris noctiluca. The last segment on this prehistoric-looking insect's "tail" glowed in a cool, yellowish light.

A busy nest of carpenter ants, Camponotus sp. possibly Camponotus dalmaticus. They were busily clearing the entrance of their nest from the pollen cones of nearby pine trees. Notice how the workers came in thin-headed, pale varieties and big, black-headed forms.

At certain points, I felt as if I was being watched by tiny eyes on the forest floor. Soon enough, the sight of these small, fluffy jumping spiders confirmed my suspicion.

These chunky critters were pretty big for jumping spiders, about 8-10 mm. long. They were also quite common, I kept seeing them every 5-10 meters. 

Look at that cute face! They were also very docile. I think they saw their reflections on the lens of my camera and froze up examining what they thought was a stranger entering their territory.

One even crawled onto my finger and sat there like a tiny cat. Identifying the species and genera of these cute arachnids was notoriously difficult. After an extensive online search, I concluded that they might be members of the genus Philaeus, or the wonderfully-named Yllaeus.

I saw this smaller and rufous-tinged kind of jumping spider alongside the fat grey teddy bears. Heaven only knew what species it was. Perhaps it was simply a sub-adult.

A giant tree, its serpentine trunk stripped of bark, lay across the path, creating a picturesque resting spot.

Near the tree I saw my first snake of the trail. It was a mild-mannered, inoffensive modest snake, Eirenis modestus.

I considered this snake a good omen, caught, photographed it and released it back to the forest floor, where it glided out of sight.

I saw two other snakes in the mountain valley, but could not photograph them. One was possibly a red whip snake, Platyceps collaris, and the other was a large bodied dice snake, Natrix tessellata.

All snakes I saw on my trip belonged to harmless species, but the whip snakes, Platyceps collaris, had a reputation for aggressive behaviour. Guides on Turkish herpetology frequently stated that traditional Anatolian snake-charmers, who handled docile but dangerous vipers with impunity, were scared to death of Platyceps snakes due to their quick movements and tendency to lash out in painful (but harmless) bites.

Another herpetological highlight was this gaudy Anatolian wall lizard, Anatololacerta oertzeni. It was the height of spring, and like many other animals, this brightly-coloured male was out looking for mates. I guess all the snakes were out hunting lizards like these.

A spectacular view of the mountains and the forest floor.

I sat down here and wolfed down a granola bar.

I then noticed something... strange on a nearby Euphorbia plant.

It was a gecko, its skin darkened in the daylight, trying to hide by pretending to be part of the plant stem.

I took a closer look...

...and closer still. It was a Kotschyi's gecko, Cyrtopodion (=Mediodactylus) kotschyi, but this behaviour made it resemble something from a tropical jungle. I had never seen this kind of camouflage among gecko species in Turkey before.

I caught the fascinating little critter for a closeup.

The gecko moved rather slowly, and stayed for a few minutes on my lap after I caught and photographed it. I gave it a few drops of water and let it go into the bush.

I kept on walking. Somewhere along the way, I encountered Mr. Ali's crazy outsider art again, in the form of a baroque advertorial hand-painted on a rock face.


Apparently Mr. Ali walked this park regularly, maintaining the trail, re-painting the faint markers and leaving behind these unique call-signs. Was it art, advertisement... vandalism? Or a curious mixture of all three?

I used my camera's self-timer function to take these self-portraits.

A distance away, I encountered another Kotschyi's gecko, this time basking on a mossy rock. This specimen had an even more pronounced array of spiny scales on its tail and eyelashes.

I was long familiar with these geckos from Istanbul, Bodrum and other corners of the Anatolian mainland. The ones I saw near this particular mountain range in Antalya were markedly different with their flat heads, pronounced lower jaws, eyelash-like scales and in their overall appearance.

These specimens and their unprecedented behaviour, increased my hunch that the "kotschyi" geckos from this region might be an unrecognised species, or in the very least, a different subspecies. Someone, someday, needs to do a DNA study of these lizards to be certain.

After some more climbing, I reached the edge of the valley and from there, looked on to the magnificent vista of... another valley, complete with Ali's graffiti.

I realised then that my printed-out maps were hopelessly inadequate: they did not reflect the topography of the terrain. I was spending so much time looking at every insect, reptile, plant, etc. that it was now getting late. It looked like my trek from Göynük to Ovacık would take a longer than I assumed.

I nevertheless decided to walk on. I made up my mind to concentrate purely on walking, but this determination was shattered a while later when I saw another, tiny Mediodactylus kotschyi gecko that I just had to stop and photograph.

Another interesting sight was this ancient, ornately twisted tree root.

The path descended smoothly into the second valley towards Ovacık.

In the valley path I met a friend familiar from an older adventure, a juvenile bush cricket, Saga sp. These tiny, green insects grew into massive, mouse-sized predators.

This second valley was shadier and more moist than the hillside I had just climbed up. Mats of cool green moss covered every surface, and it was absolutely silent. Not even birdsongs were to be heard.

I was now undeniably getting tired. My backpack was still feeling too heavy, and I had no more supplies I could afford to discard. To complicate matters further, a piercing headache had just embedded itself to the left side of my skull.

I sat down on the comfortable moss, cooked up a tablet of aspirin from my medicine bag, drank some water and rested. Maybe it was not such a good idea to press all the way to Ovacık, especially considering that I had no tent or sleeping equipment with me?

Fifteen minutes to half an hour later, these two middle-aged, friendly British backpackers came walking from the opposite direction and ran into me, lying exhausted on the moss. Unlike me, they had proper trekking equipment...

...and proper maps, which showed that my intended destination lay quite a way and an enormous climb away from my current location. The British trekkers (I forgot their names), had been walking since dawn, downhill, from Göynük Yayla, a place halfway through here and Ovacık, and were only now able to make it to the outskirts of Göynük's national park.

The British couple's map convinced me to turn tail, and probably saved me from a world of trouble that night. Without encountering them, I would probably press on in my stubborn manner, and be forced to spend the night in the mountain valleys around Ovacık.

This part of the world was notoriously easy to get lost in. Earlier, in 2015, three young British trekkers had wandered off the hiking trail, and subsisted on insects and rainwater for eight days before rescuers found him. Even earlier on, in the 19th century, there were travelers' accounts of people getting lost for days on roads only a few miles long. I decided to return to Göynük from the same path I came through.

I saw one more masterpiece from Mr. Ali on my route back.


It gave me a hint on where I could spend the night, but I did not look forward to sleeping in a garden of perverted gourd-sculptures.

I crossed the riverbed again on my way out of the park.

I sat down by the river and ate the first "full meal" of the day. This trek really opened my city-slicker eyes to the value of food - calories were literally fuel for the body.

I felt refreshed and ready to walk more after gulping down the pack of tuna with some water and another granola bar. They all tasted delicious - hunger was truly the best sauce.

On the route back through Göynük village, I took notice of various man-made structures. Human artefacts were as bizarre and noteworthy as the animals and plants I'd encountered in the valley.

Extremely ugly villas, so awful that they had attained a strange level of beauty, littered the outskirts of the village. No doubt this unpainted concrete masterpiece was somebody's idea of a fine countryside manor.

A more tame-looking countryside house with walled-in gardens.

The sun was finally setting behind the majestic mountains and the strange houses of Göynük village.

Somewhere near the entrance of the village lay this abandoned house, possibly built by members of Antalya's departed Greek population in the first decades of the 20th century. Made before the advent of plastic window-frames, mass-produced bricks and concrete, it was perhaps the only proper-looking structure in the area.

The garden of another house, with a strange spiral staircase and an interesting brick fireplace.

A decrepit old car with a piebald pattern of rust patches was parked outside an "eco-lodge." Unfortunately, perhaps owing to the dearth of tourists in this season, the place wasn't open for business yet.

I kept looking for places to stay near Göynük. No hope. Even Ali's place was closed by the time I returned from my botched trek in the valley. While looking for motels, I also passed by this beautiful little house with a walled-off garden, blossoming with magnolia and poinsettia trees.

The ruins of Turkish tourism were visible everywhere around the town. This decaying van, branded by the logo of "Kybele Tourism," a dead company named after a long-dead Anatolian goddess, was an iconic picture of the present state of affairs.

A hundred or so meters away from the rusting Kybele van stood this decaying row of ATVs, sun-baked and rusting, uncared for due to a lack of visitors.

I reached the end of Göynük's hinterland village without finding a place to stay.

I saw a final hand-painted sign by Mr. Ali on my way out. It told of a historical castle an hour's walk away, but time was in short supply now. A sense of urgency crept in - I was getting cold, tired, and the straps of my backpack were digging into my shoulders. From here, I could press on to the seashore, where some hotels were definitely available, but now that I knew my maps were botched, where would I go from there? Somehow, coming back to Göynük valley did not appeal to me - I wanted to reach my final destination, Çıralı.

I made a swift change of plans. I caught a passing minibus from Göynük to Tekirova, where I could go on a daily trek to nearby Phaselis, and on the following day, walk all the way to Çıralı itself.

I arrived at Tekirova close to midnight. On first sight, it seemed to be a touristic town like any other in the region.

I ate a final meal, a slab of overcooked chicken schnitzel at a completely psychedelic local restaurant. The restaurant owners were a bit upset that I was photographing their empty pond. "You should come back tomorrow," they said, "and we'll fill the pond and turn on the light fountain!"

After dinner, I checked in to a local 2-star motel named Jasmine Hotel. The small but comfortable room (with a hot shower!) seemed like paradise after my tiring day.

I drifted off to a dreamless sleep after watching soft-core Turkish porn dressed up as an advert for a performance-enchancing "health cream." It was a magical day, full of strange animals and human artefacts I'd never see if I hadn't dared to embark on this trek. Despite not being able to walk all the way to Ovacık, I was very satisfied and was filled with excitement for the walks I'd take in the following days.

Thus ended my first day on the Lycian trail. Here is a map of my walk in Göynük that day.


Day Two: Tekirova to Phaselis

I woke up early on my second day, and walked out of the purple-and-liliac lobby of Jasmine Hotel, and into a nearby breakfast joint.

Exhausted from my first day, I ordered myself a massive breakfast: two eggs, a circular, honey-laden Turkish dessert, various pastries, breads and coffee. I decided to "take it light" that day. I'd leave the extra weight in my hotel room, walk to the nearby ruins of Phaselis and return before sunset.

Before taking off for Phaselis, however, I decided to explore Tekirova itself. I firmly believed that the weirdness and foibles of man-made environments, especially in chaotic places like Turkey, were as interesting as the beauty and diversity of nature itself. At any rate, the distinctions between the two realms were forced and artificial.

The town had an older core of planned, Yugoslav-style holiday houses and stores dating to the 1980s, surrounded by a growth of "modern" hotels, cafes, restaurants, and leather shops aimed at low-budget Russian tourists who started coming here in the last decade. The older part was full of architectural quirks like this beige, brutalist square surrounded by concrete fencing.

Overcast skies, pattering rain and this old Mercedes O-305 intercity bus added to the nostalgic feeling of the town.

This angular, planned complex of holiday houses from the 1980s actually looked quite charming and liveable in its own right. The permanent residents of Tekirova lived in these houses year-round...

...while the shops lay abandoned due to the sudden cut-off of Russian tourists this year.

More views of abandoned shops and their strange architecture. The town was going through really hard times this year.

A view from the town's little cemetery. A purposeless concrete fence was painted an inexplicably cheerful shade of tangerine.

People really liked concrete in Turkey. Perhaps it was due to its cheap price. Or perhaps, the stone-like permanence of the material gave people a sense of security. Even the ablution fountain next to the cemetery mosque was made out of Play-Doh-like slabs of the material, and painted in brilliant tones of white, green and pink.

More brutalist holiday-house madness from the 1980s: I couldn't even begin to describe the ways I loved this cake-coloured motel building. That globe light set into a niche of its own, the tiny polygonal wooden windows, the tetrahedral smokestacks... This place was abandoned due to a lack of tourists. Behind its weird facade, a cacophony of frogs croaked every night in a half-empty swimming pool.

The epitome of brutal architecture in any Turkish town was likely to be its government buildings. Tekirova was no exception in this manner. Its public school was a massive, salmon-coloured edifice, emblazoned with Ataturk's quote, "Peace at home, peace in the world."

In the last decade, the school's new administration had added their own, less-meaningful and more hilarious motto: "We are the best until someone better comes along." I was really puzzled by this slogan; it was a perfect admission of ineptitude if there ever was one. How could people, school administrators no less - be so stupid? Then again, Turkish administrators generally seemed to have weird and oppressive ideas about what kind of places schools should be.

More kitsch details abounded around the town. This power transformer was decked out with fake stone walls and geometric chimneys in imitation of an old-time Lycian house.

This fake Ionic column, wrapped in LED lights and standing pitifully alone in front of massive mountains, seemed to me like the embodiment of human impermanence in Tekirova.

This region, and much of Turkey, was extremely rich in untapped reserves of outsider art. I discovered an extremely cheerful series of naive mosaics, depicting various animals, on a wall that ran along a long, empty road. Here are some cute, fat birds.

A rabbit and a fox.

Chickens? Or a turkey and a quail?

A dangerous, lobster-like scorpion.

A wonderfully-stylized deer. This artist had a serious talent in simplifying the forms of animals.

A black ram, complete with testicles represented by two bits of dark stone.

A fat turtle.

A white dog with a brown head. This was the magnum opus of this nameless artist. His work reminded me of Bill Traylor's striking, primitive art.

I kept walking to the outskirts of the town. I passed the local Rixos resort, a five-star establishment known for its links to the government. At the back of the hotel, a statue of Attalos, the legendary Greek king who founded the city of Antalya, lay discarded among a heap of broken furniture. This particular hotel was known to be one of the preferred vacation spots for Turkey's President Erdogan. Perhaps the statue was too indecent, too non-Turkish, or both, for Turkey's capricious new president.

A security guard on the Rixos beachfront first stopped me for trespassing, then gave detailed directions to Phaselis upon learning I was not a bad guy.

The town's streets ended few hundred meters later, and I emerged into seemingly pristine hillside.

It felt refreshing to be out of Tekirova, and I was also happy to be carrying a much-lighter backpack. I climbed the small hill and had my lunch on its summit.

The view from the hill. The Rixos Hotel's spires were visible on the far right. The cluster of four little islands off the shore was famous as a local diving site.

I continued walking towards Phaselis. The descending face of the the hill was home to a dizzying variety of lichens, mosses and fungi.

I spent half an hour taking macro shots of various lichens and mosses.

The diversity of plants, even on a single boulder, was staggering.

I wished I could shrink in size, so that I could tumble and play among them.

These unidentified silver-white plants lent a further unearthly aspect to the undergrowth. I chewed some of their leaves, they had a minty aroma.

Dazzling purple-pink flowers (Gladiolus sp.?) punctuated the beautiful landscape.

I uncovered plenty of scorpions on the moist hillside. This big (4-5 cm. long) bruiser was a Mesobuthus gibbosus. One of the key points of identifying poisonous scorpions was looking at the thickness of their tails and pincers. Scorpions with thick pincers usually needed no further weapons and were not dangerous. Slim-pincered, thick-tailed varieties, like this one, however, could be dangerous.

Another scorpion was this smaller, softer-bodied form with thick, reddish claws. I think it was something from the genus Euscorpius, perhaps the newly-described Euscorpius gocmeni.

Spiders were there too. These nursery web spiders, Pisaura sp., were running all over the moss and lichens with their graceful, finger-like legs.

I saw three different kinds, or perhaps three different morphs of one kind of Pisaura. I really loved this cheetah-yellow variety, with its tangle of pipe-like legs and friendly, smiley "face" of six eyes.


All these spiders had leg spans of about 1.5 - 2.5 cm. This smaller specimen with a characteristically angular abdomen may have been a male. They were all out looking for smaller insects or spiders to eat, and members of their own species to mate with. In some Pisaura species, males took their females out to "dinner dates," presenting them with a freshly-killed insect as a "gift" to facilitate mating.

The gem of the mossy hillside, however, was this amazing worm snake, Xerotyphlops vermicularis.

It looked like a rivulet of pink mercury, terminating in a tiny head with comically small eyes and a mask-like snout. I had last seen these animals in nearby Olympos, more than eleven years ago. It was such a pleasure to run into one again.

Another reptilian encounter was this juniper skink, Ablepharus kitaibelii, or the closely-related A. chernovii. It looked like a tiny snake, but if you looked closely, you can see that it had small, perfectly-formed arms and legs.

Seeing all these arachnids and reptiles in rapid succession brought me to a state of almost mystical joy. Encountering these tiny, silent denizens of the undergrowth was truly a privilege.

I soon finished descending the mossy hill, and emerged into a grove full of massive Eucalyptus trees, (plus two inexplicable red velvet chairs). The Eucalyptus trees were by now essential fixtures of the Mediterranean landscape, but in reality they were an introduced species, all the way from Australia.

I walked out of the "Australian grove" and continued towards another hill en route to Phaselis. My print-out maps were more useful in this day of trekking, there were no unsurpassable mountains on the way.

A view of the second hill, with charming Euphorbia plants in the undergrowth.

Once up on the hill, I followed an old stone wall that straddled a long, rising ridge towards the seashore. Beautiful clusters of silver-white Verbascums and those other, unidentifiable herbs were clustered all around the hillside.

A cute mantis nymph was walking among the sliver plants.

Fat jumping spiders prowled among the boulders, very much like the "teddy bear" spiders I saw in Göynük the previous day. These guys, however, belonged to a different, spectacularly-coloured species, Philaeus chrysops.

Despite the spectacular colour difference, these spiders and the "teddy bears" of Göynük were actually closely-related species. It was interesting to see how different hills and mountains, only a few kilometres apart, were inhabited by different "tribes" of jumping spiders.

I also saw this mystifying, tiny jumping spider with striking brown-and-white stripes. Its identity remains a complete mystery; maybe it was a juvenile Philaeus chrysops, or maybe something completely different.

The jumping spiders' main prey seemed to be these tiny juvenile bush crickets, Pholidoptera sp.

After climbing the final hill, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the bay next to Tekirova. This cove was locally known as "Sundance Bay," after a bohemian holiday camp located there.

I took these panoramic shots of the bay. You can click on them to see high-resolution views. The sea, the blossoming spring vegetation, the breezy trees... created a landscape of incredible beauty.

A flock of grazing goats and geodesic-dome structures erected by the hippie camp were visible downhill.

The view facing Tekirova was almost as beautiful. A strangely bifurcated tree, a cairn of stones and associated strange bushes created a surreal composition. The undulating mountains in the extreme distance hugged the Çıralı coast, where I planned to walk in the following day.

I walked down the hill and entered the Sundance Camp resort. The "namaste" types running the place kindly escorted me out of the premises, because I was "trespassing." They wouldn't let me have a drink on their cafe, even if I paid for it. I guessed this was as far as it went for their "open minded" hospitality.

A shepherd was grazing her flock of goats on the riverbank opposite of Sundance Camp.

A misty rain picked up for a few minutes. I took shelter beneath some oleander (Nerium oleander) trees and had a big snack with granola bars and leftover olive cakes from my breakfast.

A mantis with striped eyes and a graceful, wingless body was also seeking cover beneath the same trees. Mantis classification is a tricky business, I got in touch with several mantis researchers to properly ID this guy and the several other mantids I saw on this trek.

The rain subsided and I resumed my trek towards Phaselis. I really wanted to identify these colourful stone formations I saw en route, but I was a complete illiterate in geology.

I was guided by the scanty painted-rock markers (one of them is visible on the left side of the picture), to another, smaller beach next to Sundance Bay.

I passed by two other trekkers on this second beach. We waved to each other from a distance and kept walking in the same direction.

The view of Sundance bay, from the beach next to it, was breathtaking. Ancient pine trees were reaching serpentine branches down to the sand, and a rolling mist was drifting over the landscape.

I walked on, into a grove of Mediterranean pines, and soon began seeing lamp posts, showers, and so on: signs of a touristic establishment.

Ruins started cropping up as well. I had finally reached the outskirts of Phaselis.

The internet was replete with tourist pictures from this famous site, so I kept photography from Phaselis to a minimum. The main attraction of the ruined city were these monumental aqueducts from the Roman era. 

The site also had a very picturesque harbour, where a solemn pine and a massive neighbours that looked like a tangle of pythons, grew in unusual proximity of the sea.

A trio of Korean tourists were quick to notice the zen-like beauty of Phaselis harbour, and soon began photographing it with every picture-making device at their disposal.

I rested by the time-worn stone pillars of the harbour.

It was time for a bigger snack. I cut open another pack of tuna. Once again, the stale, salty meat felt delicious and extremely refreshing after my day-long trek.

I now had to walk back to Tekirova, but a couple of guys luckily offered me a lift to the nearby highway, where I caught another minibus home. 

A strange character on the minibus first asked me where I was from, (Istanbul) what I was doing with that big backpack, (trekking) and then playfully chided me; "So you are taking a bus to Tekirova and back home you'll boast that you walked all the way, eh?" 

I responded by saying that I had no such qualms, I was simply out here to look at animals, plants and ruins and showed him some of the photos I'd taken. Bossy guy was impressed: "Take a load of this Istanbul kid, he's all laid-back and open-eyed!"

I returned to Jasmine Hotel, took a shower and ventured back out to Tekirova in search of dinner. I also needed to use the internet in order to take care of some last-minute translation work.

The hotel owner, a friendly Zaza guy who had moved here a decade ago, gave me directions, and at my request took my portrait in the splendorously kitsch lobby. By now Jasmine Hotel had grown on me - I took a distinct liking for this Wes Anderson-esque establishment.

There were two internet cafes in Tekirova. One was a horrible testosterone den packed with adolescent boys, playing games and endlessly swearing at each other. I skipped that, and visited the more charming, smaller one on one of the quiet back alleys of the town.

The owners of this second internet cafe were an extremely kind and friendly family. They even offered me a free meal after I helped them sort out an issue with another foreign guest. I'd hit two birds with one stone.

Tired, fed and satisfied, I crawled back to Jasmine Hotel and fell asleep under my room's garish red night-light. I had to gather a lot of strength for the following day, when I'd walk the long route from Tekirova to Çıralı.

This was the route I took on my second day.


Day Three: Tekirova to Çıralı

My third day on the Lycian Trail began in high spirits. I packed all my belongings back into my trekking bag, checked out of Jasmine Hotel, walked to the breakfast joint and wolfed down my usual heavy breakfast. 

I then stopped at a nearby market to pick up supplies: water and extra granola bars. The proprietor of the store, Mrs. E-, noticed that I was out trekking and quipped in about also being an "admirer of nature." To prove her love of living things, she took out a dried snake that she was keeping near the check-out counter.

I was surprised to see Mrs. E-'s dried snake, possibly an Eirenis of the type I had seen in my first day in Göynük. She hadn't killed this serpent, but had found it dead on a roadside.

When I was thinking how my day was off to an interesting start, Mrs. E- decided to boost the shock factor by opening a drawer and bringing out a living, albeit wounded green sphinx moth, Hyles livornica. She had found this animal on her window earlier that day, and was now looking after it until it could fly again. I was happy to meet a fellow critter enthusiast, in the heart of the Lycian region.

I talked for a few moments with Mrs. E-, and then walked out of Tekirova, towards another national park that extended between the town and Çıralı, my ultimate destination that day. I knew it was going to be a long trek, so I walked at a slow, leisurely pace.

I ran into Sarah and Valentin Marquardt, a friendly couple from Tübingen, Germany. He was a photographer, she worked in I.T. They saved me from walking off on a wrong path and together we found the true entrance of the national park.

We struck up a nice company, talking about married life, politics, Merkel and Erdogan, the Mediterranean migrant crisis, jobs and the future. I was hungry for social life after two semi-feral days spent trekking alone. 

We walked through a beautiful pine forest overlooking the sea, punctuated at one point by the spires and domes of a secluded luxury hotel.

We stopped briefly at one of the several fountains on the way. Although unsightly, these fountains were lifesavers for trekkers passing through the park.

Valentin and I found another subadult Saga cricket. Sarah was a great admirer of insects and other strange critters.

The road then began to descend...

...into an absolutely stunning beach with no one in sight.

A detail of the two "sentinel stones" by the big beach. One of them was wearing a "wig" of bushes.

We had a great time at the beach; we swam and basked in the sun and relaxed. I then retired into the shade to eat a "lunch" of packed tuna, and also to give the Marquardts some romantic alone-time.

My German friends then had to leave. They did not have the supplies to walk all the way, and at any rate they had booked a hotel in Tekirova that night. Before parting ways, they mentioned that I was "the most original person they had met on this trip," which made me feel pretty neat about myself. I gave them one of my memento prints as a departure gift. The Marquardts also donated me an extra bottle of water, which turned out to be a lifesaver later that day.

Alone again, I continued walking through a slowly-ascending path, towards the general direction of Çıralı.

Beautiful plants abounded on the trail. This was a spiny spear thistle, Cirsium vulgare.

I also saw these silvery Verbascum plants.

These plants, on the other hand, I could not identify.

A Mediterranean stone pine, Pinus pinea, stood with insane dancing branches in front of a breathtaking seaside landscape.

There was no shortage of amazing vistas on the seaside walk towards Çıralı. I took hundreds of pictures and stopped frequently just to enjoy the view.

On the sides of the trail I noticed dozens of these small, conical pits. At first I took them to be natural artefacts, but they were too regularly shaped...

A closer look inside the pits revealed an angry pair of vicious, tiny jaws at the centre of every depression. Occasionally they stirred and flicked bits of sand about.

These were the larvae of ant-lions, Myrmeleon sp.

The nasty-looking but harmless animals spent their larval existence in these pits, waiting for interloping insects, usually ants, to fall in. All and any victims were quickly devoured.

The mature form of the ant-lion was nothing like the larva. The turnip-like crawlers transformed into these pixie-eyed, lace-winged flyers after metamorphosis. This photograph was from another, earlier adventure. This was the first time I had seen ant-lion nests and larvae in Turkey.

Some of what I thought to be the world's best beaches appeared beneath the cliff-sides as I walked on. It was possible to walk down to a few coves, but the paths were extremely steep and I did not want to spend precious calories with the heavy load on my back.

After nearly an hour of walking, I stopped at another "rest area" with a fountain.

A pine forest with a dense undergrowth extrended around the fountain. I drank lots of water, ate some granola bars, took off my heavy backpack and explored the surrounding area.

This tiny mud structure was plastered on the side of the fountain. It consisted of sealed-off, circular cells, one was still under under construction. The humble appearance of this nest concealed an extremely macabre way of life, for this was the larval stash of the mud-nest wasp, Sceliphron sp.

Knowing these beasts, I knew that paralysed insects or spiders, each with an embedded wasp egg, lay entombed inside individual cells. The eggs would soon hatch and the larvae would devour their paralysed victims, fresh and alive, before breaking out of their containers. The life cycle of these wasps was a direct inspiration for Dan O'Bannon & friends as they wrote the script for ALIEN, the 1979 sci-fi classic.

Not far from the fountain, I found this enormous bush cricket, Pholidoptera griseoaptera. The small, black bush crickets I'd seen the previous day may have been the immature versions of this impressive insect. Notice the dark, oval apertures on its front legs. These strange organs were the cricket's ears, believe it or not.

I also started flipping stones, and was soon rewarded with this giant Scolopendra centipede, with dew-drops glistening on its cool, moist skin.

After a few more minutes of fruitless stone-flipping, I put my backpack back on and started walking again. This leg of the trek was quite difficult. I ascended a series of steep paths, pausing occasionally to catch my breath. The extra bottle of water given by the Marquardts really helped me during this part of my walk.

An exhausted self-portrait.

More interesting rocks protruded from the sides of the ascending trail.

The serpentine branches of this pine tree reminded me of the work of John Glower, an 18th-century landscape artist from Australia. Come to think of it, there was a slight, but undeniable resemblance between the landscapes of the Lycian shore, and those of that far-off-continent. 

I soon cleared the steep hill.

Lo and behold - the blue haze of Çıralı Bay was visible on the horizon. I felt like shouting "the sea! the sea!" in the manner of the battle-worn Greeks in Xenophon's Anabasis.

...but something wasn't right. As I descended along what I took to be the path to Çıralı, another bay, in fact, two more bays, surrounded by pretty rough-looking hills, loomed into the view. This unexpected new cove was the "Maden" (Mine) Bay, the site of an old mine.

I descended towards Maden Bay. From there, I'd find some kind of route to Çıralı. I guessed. Or I could return to Tekirova when there was still sunlight, but my pride did not allow me to turn tail when within sight of my destination. This tiny grey mantis appeared on my path, as if to mock my growing sense of anxiety.

I also saw a lot of bright red-and-black soldier beetles, Trichodes apiarius, on this path. I really liked the variable, mask-like patterns on their backs.

This Levant frog, Pelophylax bedrigae, was sitting in a puddle that had formed in a skid-mark left behind by a large vehicle. The setting sun was reflecting ominously from its thoughtless, idiot-savant eyes.

I began to walk faster, worried that the sun might set before I got to Çıralı. En route, the "magic hour" sun illuminated one of the most gorgeous vistas of my entire trip.

Another view of the poignantly-setting sun...

...and another...

...and another, with old stone buildings left over from the mining establishment at Maden Bay.

This area was the site of a chromium mine that ran intermittently from the late 1930s to the 1990s. Various buildings set on the outskirts of the beach dated to the earliest days of the mines. I was in a hurry to find a route to Çıralı, but one gaping doorway, with vibrant pink Nerium flowers inside, almost beckoned me to enter.

I found more than just flowers inside. A giant diesel engine, no doubt used to power the mine in the past, sat in the building like a dead metal sphinx.

I walked to the beach after taking a couple of hurried pictures. The cove was completely abandoned.

I saw this empty trailer and a dead cargo van, perhaps the remnants of an unsuccessful attempt at hosting tourists. Someone had spray painted "HORNY IBO" on the gaily-striped trailer. I thought if the worst came to pass, I could spend the night inside the trailer. But what if "horny Ibo" came back?

If I only had a smartphone, I could look up proper directions to Çıralı. But being a thorough opponent of the attention-span-destroying devices, all I had was an old-style brick phone. So I called a few friends and asked them to find a proper route from here to Çıralı. At their advice, I decided to press on deeper into Maden Bay. 

All around the beach, I saw these old remnants of fish farms, falling apart like crashed UFOs.

Another strange view with clouds and the majestic summit of Mount Tahtalı, contrasted pleasantly with the bright spokes of a beached, plastic fish-farm pen.

This modern excavator was also rusting on the beach alongside the fish farms. I took it to be a relic from the final days of the mine in the 1990s.

At the far end of the beach stood this kiln. I couldn't figure out its original purpose.

I wandered around the hinterland of Maden Bay for a long time, trying to find the continuation of the path. The sun had already set when I finally determined which way to go.

Thankfully, I had brought a wearable LED headlight just for such occasions.

This was my view in the dark, with the faint illumination offered by the LED headlight. I collected my wits and made a plan. I had found the beginning of the route that led to Çıralı. I had plenty of food and water. All I had to do was walk. By now, staying on Maden Bay would just be a waste of time. If I spent the night here, I would have to trek to Çıralı at any rate, in the morning.

I made way along the lunar-looking riverbed that extended behind Maden Bay. Lit by my faint headlight, the little trekkers' cairns and the guiding paint marks emerged from darkness. After orienting myself, it wasn't terribly difficult to stay on the path that led from Maden Bay to... what I hoped would be Çıralı.

At several points, my zig-zagging path crossed a small river.

The zig-zags meant that I was climbing, and eventually the road got steeper. I crossed a section of the river littered with discarded sections of giant concrete piping.

I kept climbing the increasingly steep road, in the dark, for about two hours after sunset. It was utterly exhausting, yet somehow, I kept at it. I took care not to wear myself out, and sat down frequently to rest. The dancing trees seemed to be mocking my progress as I walked on.

I saw this giant wolf spider, Hogna sp. during one of my frequent nocturnal rest stops. It was as big as a baby's hand. I first noticed it through the gleam of it beady eyes, reflecting the light of my LED lamp like those of a miniature cat.

Sometimes I switched my headlight off just to look at the stars. These scrappy photos could do no justice to the brilliant, nebular sky visible that night. Many thoughts and visions crossed my mind; my family, the uncertain future, reverberating memories, ideas for new paintings and so on. Such celestial contemplation was worth every risk of getting lost, or having to spend the night alone on a lonely mountain. 

The climb seemed to be never-ending, and my fully-loaded backpack was digging into my shoulders. I scaled one steep hill, only to be confronted by one, two more. At every turn, I hoped to see the lights of Çıralı, yet nothing appeared. I comforted myself at least with the fact that I was following a path, and that path had to lead somewhere, eventually.

I decided to have dinner. I sat down at the bottom of a tree root and finished my last pack of tuna, together with my last granola bars, and a special "cocktail" of my last remaining water, dosed with vitamin C and Aspirin pills. I hoped this final meal would give me enough strength to reach Çıralı.

I spent one more hour climbing and walking after "dinner." Eventually the road began to slope down. Some lights appeared in the distance. Horray! I was certain that this time, I'd be heading down to Çıralı. Except I wasn't. Instead of Çıralı beach, I found myself somewhere on the highway between Tekirova and Beycik. Somewhere along the way, I'd branched off the hiking trail and wandered into one of the forest roads that connected to the highway. The lights I'd seen were those of passing lorries, not those of twinkling beachside restaurants.

Even then, blundering into some vestige of civilisation was an enormous relief. I made a smart move and called the hotel I intended to stay in Çıralı (I had saved their number in advance), and asked them to pick me up from where I was. 

I little while later, I was saved. I immediately took a hot shower and hit the bed. It was around 2 AM when I finally fell asleep.

Here is the route I walked during that fateful day. Click on the image for a high-res version.


Day Four: Rest in Çıralı

I woke up the next day with sense of comfort and relief I had seldom felt before. A refreshing, cool breeze was wafting in from the windows of my motel room. Every bone in my body ached, yet I also felt as light as rain.

I had a full breakfast, and went walking towards the beach of Olympos again, like I had done many times before in other visits.

I sat down on the beach, read issues of the Economist and dozed off into a delicious nap for about an hour.

This eerie, flat and sleek-looking Gnaphosid spider crawled out from beneath my blanket as I woke up. These spiders were very rare and their classification remained quite problematic. It left a very weird impression on me: for no particular reason, I felt as if encountering this animal was the ultimate purpose of my trek.

People got funny thoughts like that after going through difficult experiences. I guess I was still a bit jittery after getting lost the night before. 

I walked back to Çıralı town for lunch. A quiet and secluded place, it now seemed as busy and urban as Times Square after three days on my own.

It was time that I rewarded myself. I sat down at Karakuş Restaurant, that peerless establishment, ordered a dish of their best seafood and some beer, and started sketching.

This pencil composition emerged after an hour or so of automatic drawing. I guess the influence of my three-day-trek was easy to see in the branching plants, the walking figure with needles of pain in his calves, the details reminiscent of spider eyes and fangs, and so on.

It was an unforgettable experience, filled with human weirdness, perverted outsider art, natural wonders of every sort, reptilian encounters, mystifying arachnids, new friends, poignant memories and unexpected risk. I thought of the final lines of Tea at the Palaz of Hoon, a sublime poem by the recently-deceased Wallace Stevens, and felt glad have embarked on this adventure by myself.

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard, or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

The loneliness, of course, was only meaningful thanks to the contrast offered by the love of my friends and family. Everyone needed some alone time every now and then, and I was glad that mine was soon about to end.