When my friends visit me, they are always in for an adventure. I don’t like seeing the same old, tired tourist sights over and over again. So when my friend M. came to visit me from Russia, I first sent her to Istanbul with a map in hand and some advice to go along with it. After seeing all the conventional marvels the city had to offer, we were ready for a real adventure.
Not wanting to spend an entire day traveling, we booked a car ride from Istanbul to Fethiye and our drivers – two police men, could we be safer? – picked us up at 1 a.m. for a speedy ride down the coast to Fethiye, where we arrived at 8 a.m.
When visiting Turkey, many travelers tour Istanbul and Cappadocia. Antalya for the beaches maybe, but the real explorer should head to Muğla. In the Muğla province, Fethiye is one of the largest towns in the west of the Mediterranean coast and it is also where the Lycian road that leads to Antalya begins. Fethiye and the region around it offer incredibly beautiful natural environment, as the tall, rocky cliffs overlook the turquoise oceans below. Naturally, as Turkey’s tourism industry developed, the region around Fethiye became more known to tourists so the town of Ölüdeniz actually draws a significant number of European and mostly British tourists every year. Not being especially fond of the hustle and bustle of an European vacation spot, our path only passed through Ölüdeniz and Fethiye to the more remote Kelebekler Vadesi or Butterfly Valley.
Since we were completely ravenous after sleeping through a bumpy ride, we beelined to a cafe on the seashore in Fethiye. Thankfully Turkish breakfast is usually a lengthy affair, involving copious amounts of food, so our hunger was soon assuaged in the busiest restaurant. We were certainly not disappointed by the feast in Fethiye. The spread that awaited us included some local specialities such as fig jam and endless flow of Turkish tea for the next three hours. Well, one hour, and then we had to spend the next two digesting this deliciousness.
While it may seem like pure gluttony, we knew that a filling breakfast was a necessary step since paragliding was the next thing on our to-do list. Our logic was simple enough: you should help the gravitational pull by packing on a few extra pounds during breakfast.
After arriving in Ölüdeniz, where many tourist agencies offer jumps with a trained pilot, we searched around to find a good deal. Seeing as Turkey is one of the countries where the art of bargaining is alive and thriving, we did not shy away from emphasizing the deplorable economic situation of students, which in the end yielded a free trip to a hamam, or a Turkish bath. The agency even threw in a free ride to the hamam, and we could not have imagined a better way of relaxing after a night spent in a car and a day of traveling! The body scrub and massage was at a hotel, not a typical bath, and it ended with a bubble scrub as we listened to the hamam workers sing Turkish folk songs. We left feeling refreshed, and our skin scrubbed squeaky clean.
So cleansed and relaxed, we were finally ready to leap from the mountain. First off, the car ride to the top was absolutely terrifying as the decrepit, old van struggles up a narrow mountain road, often avoiding the chasm below by a mere foot or two. Once at the top, one is astounded by the gorgeous view of the cliffs and the sea. Unfortunately, since we were on the last jump of the day, we did not get to spend much time on the mountain top. Almost immediately after we got out of the car, I was strapped into a paragliding seat as my pilot assured me that this was not his first time and off we went.
First time in the air. The highest place from which I had ever jumped before was a tree in our garden. This was incomparable. The sudden awareness of our weight and simultaneous feeling of lightness. The mix of fear and excitement. The breathlessness in the face of never-before experienced beauty.
As we glided along towards the sea, my pilot pointed out the different mountains and villages below. Having taken off my helmet, my hair was rustled by the wind, so I had to let go of the handle to brush it away from my face. In that moment, I had to trust my pilot and the parachute, I was not holding onto anything myself. The thrilling danger of possibly falling, tumbling down to an ultimate demise overtook me. Soon enough, however, this feeling disappeared and I wanted to learn how to control the parachute. Because my pilot was more than understanding of this desire, he let me take the handlebars and even taught me a few tricks, which I practiced over the azure depths below. After that, the landing was a child’s play.
Now safely on the ground, M. and I were ready to embark on our next adventure. As it turned out, we missed the last bus to our hotel in a mountain village. What were we to do? Taxis were overpriced, so we first started out on foot but eventually hitch a ride from a water delivery truck. Our hostel was a wonderful surprise, the perfect refuge after a busy day of gliding around on borrowed wings. Nested in the rocky crevice in the wall of Butterfly Valley, Montenegro Motel in Faralya village perches at 400 meters above sea level, or high enough to offer a view of the ocean without the climb to the shore. The view, along with delicious homemade dinner and local wine, restored our energy for the next day’s climb down the mountain.
In the morning, M. and I decided that after all the excitement of paragliding, we deserved a day of rest and that we would spend it relaxing on the beach. The beach, we thought, was only a short walk down the mountain. As we described our plans for the day to the hotel staff, we could see the manager’s smile turn into a skeptical smirk when he quickly surveyed our footwear. “Climb down? In those sandals?” he inquired, looking at my feet. “I hope that you have real shoes with you.” I rolled my eyes inwardly. I knew my sandals did not look like much to strangers but I have hiked up hills and mountains all over Georgia and Turkey while traveling in these exact shoes, so I was not too worried. I tried to reassure the manager as well. “No, I don’t need to borrow another pair of shoes, I’ll be just fine in these,” I protested in vain as he forced a pair of sneakers on me. Trying not to offend the staff by refusing the extra pair of shoes, I conceded defeat and we headed down to the trail, my feet encased in the tokens of the hotel’s generosity.
At first, the trail seemed fine, if a little steep, and in my head I continued to berate the manager for his needless worries. I would have been just fine in my flimsy sandals. My train of thought continued all the way until we reached the first rope. Suddenly, looking down at the drop in the trail, which we were supposed to scale using a piece of an old rope that some good soul has left tied behind, I became immensely thankful for the manager’s insistence that I wore proper shoes. I had to admit, there was no way to do that drop in a pair of sandals. While this was not my first climb, it was a first for M. and at this point, I started worrying. I have hiked and climbed with experienced hikers before but I was rather disturbed by the idea that something might happen to my friend as we were scaling a rather inaccessible trail. There were a few moments, especially while I was waiting at the bottom, when I had ample time to ponder the possible consequences that only augmented my fears. Luckily, we met other climbers on the way down which quieted my unease a little bit.
In the end, a trail that should have taken about 40 minutes ended up being an hour and a half, eventually landing us in the valley, right in the middle of herd of grazing goats. The surprised “me-eh”s were enough of a greeting and we were ready to celebrate our climbing successes with chilled margaritas on the beach. Since our planning for the day left something to be desired, we ended up on the beach with no wallets and very little cash. Of course, we could not compromise on the margaritas, and so we shared a grilled octopus for lunch (3 tentacles each,) with the intention of saving enough money for a boat back as we lacked the desire to climb up the same way we came down. In a sense, we stayed true to our original plan: our “walk” down the mountain did result in us sipping margaritas on the beach and enjoying the sun and white sand. The boat, which reaches the beach in Butterfly Valley three times a day, simplified our return and so, it was a day well-spent.
Overall, our trip wooed us with the beauty of the Turkish Mediterranean coast, showing us the rugged cliffs from a whole new, aerial perspective. Both, gliding in the air and climbing down a difficult trail, made us feel more connected to the different elements of our environment, which is an exceptionally enriching experience. The cliffs around Fethiye are a must-see!