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"The Blue Voyage" By John Flinn

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Posted 22 December 2003 - 09:09

"The Blue Voyage" By John Flinn

The Blue Voyage

These wine-dark seas yield luxurious bounty :wink:

RESPONDING TO NEEDS UNVOICED, CAPTAIN MAVIS APPEARS on the deck of his yacht Surgund with an armful of frosty-cold Efes Pilsen beers, just as the setting sun transforms the Mediterranean into a sea of gold.
He hands me a bottle and I raise it in a silent toast ... not just to Mavis and his gorgeous boat, but to the trio of frisky dolphins that escorted us across the bay this morning; to the ruins of vanished civilizations clinging to the hillside behind us; to Cleopatra, whose alleged bath we splashed around in this afternoon; to Gdr the cook, down in the galley whipping up a lobster feast; and most of all to Cevat Sakir [email protected]
In the years after World War II, [email protected] was part of a group of Turkish writers, artists, and intellectuals who set out on coastal voyages to rediscover their nation's rich trove of history and nat- ural wonders. They hired l9cal fishermen and their boats, called gulets-wooden fishing caiques that have been working Turkey's rocky coastline for time immemorial. Kabaagaq wrote a book about these journeys called Mavi Yolculuk-Blue Voyages-and a new form of tourism was born.
Today a small fleet of these gulets, outfitted specifically for plea- sure cruising, plies Turkey's Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, from Ephesus to Antalya, from spring through fall.
If you can get together a group of like-minded friends, hiring a gulet and crew for a week is almost ridiculously inexpensive. This past spring six of us spent eight days and seven nights sailing Turkey's Mediterranean coast aboard the 80-foot Surgund, and the bill, including three enormous meals a day, came to only about $1,000 a person.
Built of polished teak and mahogany, the two-masted Surgund has five cabins, each with a double bed and its own bathroom. There's a downstairs lounge with a TV and VCR, a shaded aft deck for dining and napping, and cushions for sunbathing on the foredeck. It can easily accommodate ten passengers. With just six ... and a crew of four to attend to our every need ... it felt like something out of Lftestyles of the Rich and Famous.
As we stepped aboard in the port town of Marmaris, Mavis handed each of us a glass of sparkling Turkish wine. His real name is Muharrem Baykuslar, but the thirty-year-old David Hasselhoff look-alike prefers to go by "Mavis," a Turkish nickname meaning "blue eyes." Lined up to greet us was the shy first mate, Ceyhan Kirli; the fun-loving cabin boy, Hakan Hacioglu; and the brooding, taciturn cook, Gfir Arpat.
We motored out of the docks, past a castle built by Sultan S61eyman the Magnificent for the siege of nearby Rhodes, and through a protected harbor where Admiral Nelson once hid his fleet from Napoleon.
Precipitous, craggy, pine-covered mountains jutted straight out of the turquoise sea. This stretch of Turkey's Mediterranean shore is called the Lycian Coast, after an ancient civilization whose isolation and reputation for fierceness kept it out of the mainstream of his- tory. The Lycians; show up as bit players in Homer's Iliad and Herod- otus's histories, but their main legacy is the magnificent rock tombs they carved into the sides of the chffi around Dalyan and Fethiye.
The Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines also flourished along this coast, leaving behind ruins almost too numerous to count. We grew used to seeing the outlines of sunken Roman villages in the vodka-clear water beneath us, and we encountered Byzantine homes that were fully intact and still inhabited.
One afternoon Mavis anchored the Surgund in a little jewel of a cove and we went for a hike on a trail that climbed past untended olive groves and ramshackle shepherds' huts. Near the crest of the hill I paused to have a sip of water and noticed that the rock I'd sat down on felt odd: It was part of a beveled stone column, with Latin inscriptions chiseled into its top. A little further we rounded a corner and found ourselves staring, slack-jawed, at the acropolis of a long-forgotten Roman town.
There were more toppled columns and ornately carved blocks of stone, and the square-cut walls and arches of a temple, its floor littered with the shards of terra cotta urns. We peered into a dark hole beneath the temple and could see vaulted catacombs.
And here's the thing: It didn't appear as if archaeologists had ever excavated this site. There were no signs, no fences. Turkey's coastline is so densely packed with antiquities ... it was far more heavily populated in ancient times than it is now .. that researchers have had to focus their efforts on the bigger, more important ruins.
In a little valley on the far side of the hill stood the rest of the Roman town, with the outline of a neat grid of streets and bits of crumbling walls. I heard the metallic tinkle of goat bells, and through binoculars could see shepherds sharing a meal in the shade of an ancient cistern. Down the valley stood a new stone house, with a chunk of wall looking suspiciously like the chunk missing from one of the old Roman houses.
We saw bigger and better ruins throughout the week, but these were my favorite. We felt as if we'd discovered them; they belonged to us. I could find no mention of the town in books about the Lycian coast, but one map did identify it as Lydae. (And while ar- chaeologists may have ignored them, the ruins are well-known to gulet captains; on our way down we met the passengers of another boat, coming up.)
Our days aboard the Surgund quickly took on an idyllic same- ness: We'd roll out of bed and plunge into the Mediterranean, which was just bracing enough to wake us up, but not jarringly so. Hakan would be waiting on the deck with steaming cups of strong Turkish coffee. As we toweled Off, he'd cover the table with bas- kets of crusty bread; tubs of yogurt, butter, and pine-scented honey; plates of feta cheese; three kinds of olives; slices of sweet melons and rich, sun-ripened tomatoes; sliced cucumbers; and enormous,juicy strawberries. just as we finished gorging ourselves he'd return with the main course: heaping platters of omelets or French toast.
We'd motor east along the Big Sur-like coast for two or three hours, slicing though the glassy blue water of various bays and gulfs. One morning I was standing on the fore deck, lost in a little Homeric reverie, when Mavis came rushing out of the wheel- house and vaulted over the railing. Startled, I looked over the side to see him balancing barefoot on a steel bow cable, just above the water, reaching down to stroke the backs of three dolphins playing in the bow wake.
Around noon Mavis would anchor his gulet in a rocky cove and we'd leap off the deck again to paddle and splash in the sea while Hakan laid out platters of spicy lamb meatballs called k6ftes; stuffed eggplant; b6rek-cheese wrapped in phyllo pastry; a green bean and tomato salad, an onion and cucumber salad, yogurt, and Kalamata olives.
Sultry afternoons presented ve2dng choices: Nap or swim? Read a novel or poke around ruins? Backgammon or gin ruminy? Sunny foredeck or shady aft? VVhdte wine or red? "It's a dog's life," some- body said. "All we do every day is sleep, eat, and get taken for walks."
In late afternoon, Mavis and the crew would hoist anchor and we'd scud across another gulf. Once, when the wind was good, they hoisted the [email protected] sails; but mostly we traveled by motor, like other gulets.
As the evening sky turned pink Mavis would personally super- vise the sundowners, pulling the cork on a bottle of crisp, dry Turkish white wine called Villa DeLuca-pretty darn good, we all agreed-or dispensing chilled bottles of Efes Pilsen. I - In the last light of day he'd anchor in another protected cove, and out from Gir's little galley would come yet another feast: octopus with cheese and mushrooms, fried calamari, boiled prawns, fried lamb, fish, a lobster salad with lemon and garlic- accompanied by several bottles of Villa DeLuca or the California Chardormay we'd brought from home. (Please understand that I'm not describing dinner variations throughout the week: this was the menu for a single meal.)
We'd wake up the next morning and, with rninor variations, do it all over again. If eight days of this sounds monotonous, trust me: it wasn't. At the end, all six of us would have gladly signed on for another eight days.
One day we hired a little motorboat, which looked like the African Queen, to sail us up the reed-filled Dalyan River to view the coast's best Lycian rock temples, explore the overgrown ruins

In the garden of the church there is a modern statue that shows Saint Nicholas with a sack slung over his back, flanked by three small children. This evokes the most famous Santa legend of all, when in order to save three poor girls from prosti- tution, he dropped a bag of gold down their chimney. Conveniently for the young ladies, and for future mythmak- ers, the coins fell into the row of stockings which were hanging up to dry.
-Theresa O'Shea, "Desperately Seeking Santa"

of the large Greco-Roman city of Kaunas, and splash around in an outdoor mud bath (which, my Lonely Planet guidebook later in- formed me, is "mildly radioactive"). Another day we poked around in the re- mains of an ancient, half- sunken Turkish bath that, according to local legend, had been built for Cleopatra. (Historians scoff at this, but it's not entirely out of the question: the Egyptian queen cruised along this coast-with Marc Antony.)
One evening, Mavis an- chored the Surgund alongside a pretty little pine-covered island called Gemiler Adasi. In the water beneath us I could make out the walls and columns of an old Byzantine port, submerged by a series of powerful earthquakes. Hakan swam ashore and tied our stern line to one of the ancient shops and storehouses clinging to the side of the hill.
Mavis led us up a rocky pathway that wound through stone arches and past cisterns, with bits of mosaics scattered on the ground, to a series of churches built in the fifth century to honor Saint Nicholas, the former bishop of the area. The son of a wealthy landowner, Nicholas had a habit of tossing sacks of gold down the chimneys of impoverished neighbors. Along these sweltering Mediterranean shores, and not at the North Pole, is where the real- life Santa Claus lived.
The trail climbed past olive trees and old stone tombs and bits of shattered domes to the very top of the island, which was crowned with a sixth-century Byzantine church. We sat down amid the ruins to drink in the sweeping vista of the sparkling sea and the islands, coves and rocky mountains stretching down the coastline.
As the setting sun once again painted the Mediterranean gold, Mavis reached into his backpack and produced two bottles of chilled Villa DeLuca. Far, far below us, in a little turquoise cove, I could see the last light of the day striking the Surgund, where Giir the cook was no doubt hard at work in his galley, preparing yet an- other feast.

John Flinn was the travel editorfor the San Francisco Chroniclefor seven years and now is the staff travel writer

"The Blue Voyage" By John Flinn

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