My old lady knees are sore and tired! Today I hiked 10 kilometers of the 520 km Lycian Way long distance footpath from Fethiye to Antalya along the south Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It was one of the things that I definitely wanted to do while I was here and I’m delighted that I was able to do it.

10 kilometers of that up and down route, I figure, is equivalent to running a marathon! The jeep from Dragoman Tours, driven by a man whose broken-nosed profile reminded me of the now-deceased English actor Oliver Reed, drove the six of us up the road past Buyuk Cakil beach (which I had ridden up on my bike) and further up and up along a rocky red soil track (what we’d call in BC a logging road) into the hills of the Limon Agzi peninsula. We stopped briefly near the top to walk on the remains of the Silk Road, the ancient caravanserai route from China to Anatolia – wow. I could still see the old wide paving stones that would have originally paved the route. Finally we arrived at the hill village of Ufakdere where we received our ski pole walking sticks and set off.

The first downhill stretch was steep and rocky with lots of loose stones, winding down through fields of more stones and olive trees. One of our two guides, Kevser, stopped periodically to put a little pyramid of stones on top of path-side rocks, a marker to indicate to the village people that we were travelling through the area. Our first pit stop for snacks was made at sea-level on a wide field next to the ocean and a ruined seaside house. We watched goats frolic as we snacked. Leaving the beach, we began our upward ascent along the stony path through scrub brush, spiky yellow-flowered bushes, and tiny oak trees, pausing briefly to allow what looked to be a school group of hikers to pass by us. The path, marked by red and white stripes painted on the rocks, went up quite steeply and we had to keep a careful eye on the ground because of the loose stones and the possibility of falling. I really did not want to fall or twist my ankle out there in the middle of nowhere.

Our second rest stop was made at the summit and the third when we reached the opposite side of the peninsula and once again descended to sea level. The rocks along the coast here are all limestone and very pitted and eroded and a bit tricky to navigate in places. It was very, very windy and white capped surf was up on the ocean. We could see the island of Meis directly opposite us, glimmering on the mirrored surface of the ocean. (“Meis” means eye and “Kas” means eyebrow, the names linking these two geographically linked places). From there, another upward stretch took us through canyons of eroded rock and a pomegranate field; guide Alkan explained to us that nomadic people still live in this area and they move from seaside village to the mountains to farm, depending on the time of year. In earlier days pirates were a plague along this coast and people built their villages high in the mountains; later, when the Lycian people became more powerful on the sea, they returned to the coast and built villages ocean-side.

Coming down from the hills once again, we crossed a wide level valley and descended down onto one of the three beaches on Limon Agzi. Here live the only full time residents of this peninsula, the family which runs the beachside restaurant. There are two hotels on the other two bays, but these are only populated during the summer season and are not open for business yet. We had a nice lunch of meatballs and fish (these seem to be staples of the cuisine here) and, while the others rested and swam, Alkan took me to the cave which supplies the peninsula with its water. We had to clamber over rough rocky terrain to get there and my knees were certainly complaining but I did want to see the cave.

While we’d been sitting at lunch, I’d noticed some Lycian rock tombs high in the hills above us. I’d asked Alkan whether we were going to climb that mountain and he said no, that we’d be taking the seafront route. Hah! If the route we took was the seafront route, I’d hate to see the mountain top route. From down below, I had no idea that there was actually a path up the mountain and along past the tombs – it was not at all possible to see it from below. The path was very steep and narrow and tough, going up and up a cliff side through scrub brush until finally we reached the two rock tombs. One was quite elaborately decorated and large, carved for a family to occupy. Each of the dead bodies would have been put on one of the stone benches inside, curled up in a foetal position in preparation for their rebirth in the life to come. In the space above the tomb proper, now empty, would originally have been a carved relief of harpies, part-woman and part-bird, carrying off babies – these creatures were the Lycians’ angels of death who were thought to take the souls of the deceased to heaven. The Lycians interred their dead in this way because they thought that to bury people underground was to consign them to Hades, god of the underworld, whereas to place them in tombs high in the hills was to station them part-way to Helios, the sun god, and heaven, from where they could be carried the rest of the upward distance by the harpy-angels. Lycians also engaged in a recycling program for their dead. In some of these rock tombs there are small indentations hollowed out in the centre of the floor; these were used to hold the bones of the old dead when it was time for new corpses to occupy the stone benches.

Around the open doorframe of one of the tombs was tied a thick rope. This we used to navigate up and along a very narrow, high ridge of rock past the tombs. And further up the hill, at the top of the mountain, was one lone sarcophagus just resting there in the trees. Our route continued to take us along a ridge at the top of the hill, over more rocky terrain, through more scrubby, spiky brush and a field of stone pyramids, through a village, and finally down the road past Buyuk Cakil beach back to town. We had a glass of tea at the Dragoman office to celebrate our achievement and I took my weary, sore knees home.

The tour was great. The scenery was amazing and the weather perfect for hiking, sunny with a nice stiff breeze that occasionally gusted up to a gale force wind. Alkan, the cultural guide, spoke good English and is obviously enamored of the Lycian civilization, talking animatedly and at length about the history and customs of these ancient people (who were matriarchal, incidentally). Kevser, the route guide, was more taciturn, likely because she speaks very little English. Everyone else on the tour was Turkish, visiting from Ankara for the long weekend. Even though I didn’t understand most of what was being said when they spoke to one another, I enjoyed the lively energy and enthusiasm of the group.

Originally written for Ms. Poiesis

posts by Lisa MacLean