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One Big, Happy Vacation


© St. Petersburg Times

We awoke to the tinkling of bells and the touch of soft breezes wafting across Karaloz Cove in Kekova Bay, our secluded lagoon for the night along the Turquoise Coast of Turkey. A colony of grazing goats was making its sure-footed descent nf the hillside in search of clumps of grass sprouting in defiance of the rocks.

Because the night had been warm, my 14-year-old daughter, Alissa, and I had slept on the cushioned stern of our gulet (yacht) instead of in its cabin, dozing off as stars popped and glowed in the jet-black sky.

Afterward, Alissa and I would proclaim this weeklong cruise of Turkey's jagged southern coast the highlight of our 15-day Turkish odyssey, led by Wildland Adventures. Our gulet embarked from Marmaris, sailing 100 nautical miles to Olympos. Each afternoon we either docked at a small marina or anchored in a sequestered, dreamlike cove where we were often the only vessel.

We swam, kayaked, windsurfed and lazed on deck in between hearty walks through mostly unpeopled hills. We visited beaches and seaside villages, and toured ancient ruins.

Other bonuses: the low-key ambiance, the small group of 11 people, the outgoing crew and the family aboard whose two athletic teenagers, David and Arne, teamed with Alissa to hike, practice windsurfing, play card games and swap CDs during the sail.

Alissa and her newfound pals, tired of the daily breakfasts of feta cheese, olives and scrambled eggs, taught Ali, our cook, how to make French toast and pancakes.

By sailing instead of spending all our time on well-traveled routes, we gained an expansive view of the land, perhaps a feeling for it close to that of the Lycians, the Anatolians who occupied the area about 3,000 years ago.

We experienced a Mediterranean mostly without city crowds, high-priced hotels and over-rated shopping opportunities. From ports we drove to nearby ruins -- some dating to the 7th century -- and explored ancient stadiums, streets and bathhouses.

For instance, after docking in the simple seaside town of Kas, we went to Aperlae, an ancient Lycian city where tiered ridges of stone walls are now mostly submerged beneath the sea. Despite the strong current, Alissa and I snorkeled above rubbled foundations, cracked urns and rows of tumbled pillars, all part of this once bustling city.

Wildland arranged for us to lunch at the home of Mehmet, our bus driver, in the village of Bezirgan in a high mountain valley. Sun-bleached limestone rocks divided the fields of wheat and sesame from the apple orchards. As we walked to meet Mehmet's family, we encountered Ahmet, a smiling 7-year-old, who spontaneously offered to share his cache of fresh-picked chick pea stalks, a special treat.

On the open hearth, Fatma, Mehmet's wife, cooked gozlema, a flat bread, and katmer, which is gozlema with a sesame filling. Over tea, Alissa and Sukriye, Mehmet's 17-year-old daughter, compared school schedules and rules and giggled about boys.

The land portion of our tour, marred by long bus rides and late arrivals at hotels, did, however, bring us to several interesting sites. Our favorites were Ephesus, founded about 3000 B.C., and Olympos, a once-grand Lycian town.

Walking through Ephesus, the best-preserved and most-visited archaeological site in Turkey, we gained a sense of this city's prosperity in ancient times. In the well-preserved, 24,000 seat Great Theater, still employed for concerts, Alissa and the other teens shouted to each other to test the admirable acoustics, and Murat, our guide, sang a traditional Turkish folk song. He also recounted the history of the ancient peoples who had passed through here: the Lydians, Lycians, Ionians, Greeks and Romans.

Alissa and I envisioned chariot traffic jams, and some regal figure -- Cleopatra came to mind -- walking along the Sacred Way, the impressive columned-lined, marble-paved main street, followed by her entourage.

A once-grand Lycian town, Olympos is best known for its nearby mountain that burns with eternal fires. The path to the ruins of this city cuts through one of Turkey's longest beaches, Cirali. Although the widely scattered ruins of Olympos are not all that impressive, the location is: a fairytale setting at the end of a brown sand beach, where fluted green mountains meet a stream. When we followed this winding brook through the woods, we came to a cluster of centuries-old houses, with much of their walls intact. Here, Alissa and I imagined the women cooking over the open hearth and children playing the equivalent of marbles on the mosaic-tiled floors.

To reach the flames, we hiked uphill through a pine forest that thinned to scrub, sage and rocks. Fires burn from crevices near the pinnacle -- most likely gases released from this volcanic site. But it's easy to understand how these flares would mystify ancient peoples. Legend has it that on this site, Bellepheron, mounted on the winged horse Pegasus, killed the monster Chimaera.

It was the Turquoise Coast that drew us to Turkey, but we also admired Istanbul, its grand mosques and graceful minarets and and complex Grand Bazaar. The center for local commerce over the centuries, the bazaar now caters to tourists. Spice stalls brim with bushels of saffron, cardamom and coriander; shops sell kilims and rugs, cheap T-shirts, knock-offs of American jeans and thousands of other items.

Alissa became our designated rug-bargainer, facing off against hard-driving merchants who swore tearfully that the deal they proffered was so low it would bankrupt their families. They met their match in Alissa; we came away with some rugs at one-third the asking price. The truth about bargaining for rugs is that unless you are well-versed in the textiles and craftsmanship, there is almost no way of knowing the fair value of a piece.

In the soft light of a summer afternoon, Alissa and I walked to our pension in Istanbul's old city, near the outer walls of the palace grounds. On this Turkish adventure, the historians and tour guides had focused on the conquests of famous men such as Alexander the Great. We realized that we had also seen evidence of a succession of strong, unheralded women. While we shared late afternoon coffee and hot chocolate in the rooftop terrace of our hotel, we heard the muezzin's call to prayer and we added our own thoughts for all the anonymous women who for centuries have cooked meals and comforted children whether in marble palaces, stone dwellings or village houses. Candyce Stapen is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. If you go

The 15-day Ancient Egyptian Voyage, the trip my daughter and I took, has two departures this summer: June 13-27 and Aug. 15-29. Although children are welcome on both trips, the August departure is designated as a family trip. The land-only rates are $2,265 per adult, with a 15 percent discount for children under 12.

Wildland also offers a 19-day Turquoise Coast trip, which includes a visit to Cappadocia, Turkey. The dates are June 6-24 and Sept. 5-23. The land-only rates are $2,595, with the same discount for younger children.

For information, contact Wildland Adventures, 3516 NE 155th, Seattle, WA 98155; call (800) 345-4453.

Originally published May 11 1997

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