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BLUE CRUISE

This article first appeared in Sunday's Zaman on 16 May 2010

RHAPSODY IN BLUE – CRUISING THE TURKISH COASTLINE

BluecruiseToday when Bodrum is one of Turkey’s prime holiday hotspots it’s hard to believe that it was once a place to which those who had fallen foul of the authorities were exiled. Amongst those exiles was a man called Cevat Şakır Kabaağaç who had been born into a well-to-do İstanbul family, the same family, in fact, that produced the artist Fahrelnissa Zeid whose vibrant abstracts are on display in the İstanbul Modern. But Cevat had a hot temper and in circumstances that will probably never be known for sure he shot his father dead in 1914. For that crime he was sent to a conventional prison, but later when he was accused of sedition for writing about Kurdish conscripts who had run away from the army to return to their villages he was punished with three years of internal exile, a story related by his niece the actress Shirin Devrim in her book A Turkish Tapestry: The Shakirs of Istanbul.

In Bodrum the troubled Cevat finally found himself, as many others have done since then. Soon he had established a new life as a painter and writer with a particular interest in recording the lifestyle of the sponge fishermen who then made up much of the local population. Nicknamed “The Fisherman of Halicarnassus”, Cevat also organized regular cruises along the coastline for his friends, giving birth in the process to what is now known affectionately as the Blue Cruise. Needless to say, when the three years were up he chose to stay on in Bodrum where there’s a bust in his memory in the town center.

Nowadays no trip to Turkey is really complete without participating in a Blue Cruise, and every resort from Bodrum to Antalya boasts its fleet of gülets, graceful wooden-hulled yachts that come equipped for everything from a one-day pleasure jaunt to longer voyages of one or two weeks at a time. The three most popular routes are from Fethiye to Olympos, from Fethiye to Marmaris, and from Bodrum to Marmaris.

The Fethiye to Olympos route has established itself as part of the regular backpacker circuit of Turkey, and makes a great introduction to the superbly beautiful coastal scenery of the part of the Mediterranean dubbed with good reason the Turquoise Coast. Fethiye itself is a lively town which has been hosting tourists for decades, and which offers a wide range of hotels and pensions, restaurants and shopping options, especially in its bazaar area. There, too, you’ll find an old and authentic hamam (Turkish bath), a great place to get scrubbed squeaky clean before embarking on a journey which may mean less than ideal bathing conditions for a few days.

Most trips kick off with an overnight stay in Fethiye marina, before leaving in the morning to cruise to Kaş. On the way you may drop in on Gemile Adası, a rocky outcrop just offshore from the abandoned town of Kayaköy which is crowned with the ruins of the seventh-century monastery of St Nicholas, as well as some rock-cut tombs and the remains of a 19th-century church. The boats continue on to Butterfly Valley where they may make a short stop so people can sunbathe on a wonderful stretch of sand bracketed by sheer cliffs.

Kaş itself is another regular port-of-call. For many people this is one of Turkey’s finer small resorts since it comes equipped not just with a superb range of restaurants, but also with shops which range from the trendy and upscale to the cheap and cheerful. What’s more there are all sorts of reminders of ancient Antiphellos dotted about town, including a romantically sited theater and several sarcophagi and rock-cut tombs. The seascape around Kaş is also especially beautiful, not just because of the backdrop of mountains on shore and islands offshore, but also because it’s possible to gaze down on the remains of an ancient city completely submerged beneath the water. Most cruises also drop in on Kaleköy (Simena), an absurdly picturesque rocky peninsula topped with the remains of a castle and with a Lycian necropolis full of enormous sarcophagi. Fish restaurants ring the shoreline, and there are pensions, too, for those who’ve had enough of life onboard.

The backpacker cruises continue onto Kale (Demre) where everyone disembarks to continue by road to the tree-house sanctuary of Olympos. Altogether these cruises last for four days and three nights, and along the way you’ll have ample opportunity to swim, snorkel, and even perhaps take to the water in a kayak. The same is true on the cruises that head west from Fethiye to Marmaris, with a particularly popular stop on the way being in Dalyan where the gülets ply along the Dalyan Çayı (river), past some magnificent rock-cut Lycian tombs, to İztuzu beach, long strip of sand which is well known for its nesting loggerhead turtles. Here, too, passengers can visit the remains of the Carian city of Kaunos, and the mud baths at Sultaniye on the Köyceğiz Gölü (lake). Boats also call into Göcek, a pleasant small resort that’s very popular with the international yachting fraternity.

The cruises from Bodrum to Marmaris tend to cater to a better-heeled bunch of passengers, although if you ask around you may be able to find something not too budget-busting. There are not quite as many obvious sites to visit along this route, although the scenery is uniformly spectacular, with mountains soaring up beside you especially as you cruise round the Gökova Körfezi (Gulf of Gökova). Just before you moor in Marmaris most of the boats put in at Cleopatra Island (AKA Sedir Adası) whose talcum-powder-fine sand is said to have been brought from Egypt by Mark Anthony as a gift for his lover, Cleopatra. Most people are too busy relaxing in water which has the consistency of a foamy bath to bother about what else there may be to see here, but those of an archeological bent will want to stride inland to inspect the remains of the fortifications and theater of what was once Cedreae, a Carian settlement that was later occupied by Greeks, and is now gently slipping back into the surrounding greenery.

Most people have a fantastic time on their Blue Cruise. Indeed, many list it as one of the highlights of their holiday. Still, it’s as well to be aware of a few things to look out for before making your booking to avoid unpleasant surprises later. Most people seem to prefer sleeping beneath the stars on the deck to using their cabin, but if you think you will want to sleep inside you need to check that you will not be expected to share not just a cabin but also a bed (or a very confined space) with a stranger.

The better cruises will certainly ensure that you have at least one fish supper on board, but otherwise the quality and range of food on offer can sometimes be disappointing – and sweets seemingly served as dessert have been known to show up on bills at an absurdly inflated price at the end of the journey. Cruise companies routinely forbid passengers to bring their own alcohol on board. Some even forbid you to bring your own water. While you may need to book ahead in July and August to be sure of a berth, at other times of year you might want to leave booking until the day before to make sure you don’t find yourself cruising through the rain. If at all possible it makes sense to take a quick look at the boat you will be sailing on before you commit yourself.

It’s all a far cry from the days when the Fisherman and his friends had the coast more or less to themselves, but given the right group of companions you should have just as enchanting a time as they did.

 

 

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