Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

FOTHIt’s always a gamble booking a holiday to somewhere new isn’t it? And when the only way to get there is on Easyjet with herds of real-life British budget package tourists then you start having misgivings pretty early on in the proceedings, spoilt as you are by Indian Ocean beaches, wide open spaces and good contacts in the travel industry. But stiff upper lip; we are doing this primarily so that the kids can enjoy some quality time with their English cousins and my wife with her sister and having spent the last three days walking their dog in a sailing jacket and waterproof trousers (and I thought Labradors were tough) I am glad we are not spending this quality time in what is turning out to be a miserable summer in the UK.


Turkey slaps us upside the head with a midday temperature that could make a Siavongan faint and we pile thankfully onto an air-conditioned minibus for the drive from Dalaman to Marmaris one of the largest ports on the western Turkish coast. Despite a long legacy of repulsing Alexander the Great and later the St John’s Hospitaller Knights, Marmaris has finally fallen to foreign powers and although in daylight it offers a charming marina and quaint shopping lanes, at night the streets run with tattoo ink and regurgitated tequila and sambucca shots pumped in and out of the budget tourists. Luckily we are not staying and after a quick lunch and a change of clothing we are shown to Laila Deniz, the 22m traditional sailing boat, or gulet, we have chartered for the week. We meet the crew, Captain Mete, Attila the First Mate and Orz the ship’s boy and as soon as we have loaded the booze, cruise out of Marmaris to moor for the night out of sight but still in earshot of the throbbing base from the clubs to watch their 20th Century Fox light show over the spine of the island. We try on the first night to make use of the cabins of which there are five all with air-con varying in degrees of efficiency. But the aircon doesn’t work without the engine and smooth as she is the cadence of the big Cummins keeps sleep at bay, so the cabins become wardrobes and changing rooms only for the next 6 nights. The weather is very democratic and we soon realise that it doesn’t matter how posh your yacht is (and ours isn’t very) everyone sleeps on deck so waking up in a marina is rather like being at a naturist festival, and with boats moored cheek by jowl there is very little space between the foredecks full of flesh on adjacent gulets.


Sailing folk, amongst which my wife and her family are numbered, are funny buggers aren’t they? We can all agree that messing about on the water is great and handling a boat under canvas is a worthy skill-set all youngsters should embrace alongside learning “to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth”. There is of course a wonderful feeling of freedom in being able to weigh anchor and leave the hoi polloi behind, but come on lets face it, the accommodations are no better than a caravan. Yes there are degrees of luxury on yachts, but there are too with trailer homes and RV’s. I try to convince my wife and in-laws that we are no better than big fat seagoing gypsies, pelagic pikies, diddycoys of the waves … but my arguments fall on the deaf ears of a family swaddled in Musto and Helly Hansen since birth!


The agent, so meticulous in all other detail had omitted to tell us that this time of year is not ideal for sailing and although fully rigged, double masted and to all intents and purposes ready to feature in the opening credits of The Onedin Line, the crew are not eager to even unfurl the jib let alone the mainsail and when finally persuaded with a premature tip we find that there really isn’t enough wind to ruffle a puffin’s quiff let alone push a boat. So instead we cruise along the coastline heading west and then east into the many coves and bays of the BozborunPeninsula north of Rhodes. For the first day and a half the coast is severe and almost devoid of vegetation and as welcoming as ferrous cement wedding cake. I can’t even see any goats, so pickings must be lean and am surprised by the abundance of safe nesting sites but a paucity of seabirds. The cliffs and scree slopes looks ideal for raptors but turn up only one buzzard and an Eleanora’s falcon in a week of scanning.


Initially disappointed by the scarcity of beaches we are soon grateful for this as any bay with so much as a patch of grey gravel is oversubscribed by Turkish holiday-makers on day trip boats which arrive and lower a gangplank at the rear to decant up to 150 people into the water. The Turks are as rugged as their coastline and after their mid twenties all seem to conform to type with Zeppelin like bellies, forearms as thick as a bull terrier’s chest, hands like bunches of plantains and ubiquitous Pancho Villa moustaches. The men are no less robust and though lacking in headscarves, they sport man-boobs which make me feel shyly flatchested and favour tight children’s Speedos which conjure unwelcome images of a half dozen cocktail frankfurters stuffed into a magician’s handkerchief.


But despite all the above the water is fifty shades of blue, glassy and a perfect temperature to dive into at any time of the day or night and the kids snorkel for hours and are rarely on board when we are stationary. The food is excellent as are the crew and I marvel at their discretion with ten of us and three of them on the boat. The resinous Turkish wine flows and the Efes beer is crisp and cold, so this is far from a complaint. The greatest gift this holiday has given us is in teaching us that there can be few better ways to see any country with a coast than from the deck of a sailing boat. It’s certainly something we will do again (and hopefully our youngest will be able to swim by the next time which will reduce stress levels a little!)


As we motor onwards to explore the bays between Bozborun and Selimye the landscape softens and yields up a foothold to indigenous trees and feral shrubs and hardscrabble smallholdings supporting some livestock and a few olive and almond groves. Tourism though still seems to be the main industry and often as we round a headland into a bay a large new hotel complex will rear up. The architecture seems to be of two types. Older buildings nod to their Ottoman roots and were inspired by the nationalism of the 1920’s with tiled roofs (all sporting solar water geysers) and gracious lines, but these new hotels all seem to be the spawn of Eastern Block neo-capitalism and are as pretty as Lego models. Obviously built with the same money that is being laundered through the many super-yachts, some of them costing as much as sixty five million Euros, which ply these waters brimming with Russian gangster types in the company of women who may or may not be their teenage daughters. Turkey’s age old bipolarity straddling two continents is now reborn as a European nation that is not in the EU, a position obviously being exploited by those who want to invest without any of those sticky EU banking regulations prying into where the loot came from.


Unfortunately talk on board is dominated by what is happening at home and every morning is greeted with trepidation as Blackberries squawk with news of the latest surprise SI to take the wind out of all our sails and send us back into the doldrums of a pre-liberalised economy. Perhaps this time next year we can look forward to spending our devalued new Kwacha holidaying on a kapenta rig in Sinazongwe.



By Jake da Motta

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