Our destination was the small coastal resort town of Side (see-deh), Turkey. It historically served as an important port and trade center in the region. The Greeks and then the Romans occupied Side and left their indelible mark; the ancient ruins are Turkey’s most notable. Prior to 20 years ago and the advent of tourism the main industries were fishing and agriculture. Today it is a vacation destination for Turks and Europeans alike. They receive en estimated 6 -7 million tourists annually. This year we were two of them.
Charter tours are the most convenient way to make a trip to the Mediterranean. We joined a tour that included a flight and bus ride to Side where we would be staying in a holiday apartment of a good family friend. The only catch was that the bus would drop us off at a nearby hotel and we would have to find the apartment ourselves using a small map our friend had given us. It seemed simple enough. But we hadn’t calculated our flight time or the hour drive to Side. So by the time we got on the bus it was one in the morning in Norway and (being highly dependent on sleep) we both immediately dropped off into what felt like a coma of sleep. We were abruptly awakened when we realized that we had missed our hotel drop-off and the bus driver was scolding us in Turkish, motioning that we had just slept and not paid attention. He unloaded our luggage on the curb at the next drop-off and drove off leaving us standing under the dim street lamps in the humid night, our minds numb with sleep. We pulled out the map and meandered the streets, our luggage clattering on the brick sidewalks behind us. We walked south then east. I began to grow frustrated and incredulous, what had we been thinking? And just then we found a teenage boy in a corner store that pointed us to the apartment complex – we had only been a block away.
The daily temperatures hovered between 92 and 98 degrees with high levels of humidity. Such temperatures typically call for air conditioning and indoor activities. But not on a trip to the Mediterranean – one of the main goals is to get as sun-tanned as possible so your bronzed skin can serve as ample evidence of your amazing vacation (plus Northerners need as much Vitamin D as possible). My husband, in true Norwegian form, began lounging by the pool at noon, sweating bullets and loving every moment. I happen to find the whole process of forcing oneself to endure heart-pounding heat and soaking sweat for a mere suntan to be a form of modern torture. But with some practice I got used to the ritual and was able to join him in the heat a couple of hours later, (imagining Californians shaking their heads at us in amazement) cooling off at regular intervals in the shade and out door shower or pool. Reading and listening to podcasts is what made it enjoyable even (one book that we both read left us in shocked amazement for days, if you haven’t read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand yet, put it on your list!).
My husband jogged early in the mornings a few kilometers to the beach, along the shores carefully lined with lounge chairs for the thousands of tourists that would arrive later in the morning, and finished with a swim in the Mediterranean. A few mornings I walked to the beach and swam while he jogged. I savored my solitary walk as I felt the whisper of a breeze against my skin, heard the song of the swallows as they flitted in the nearby fig trees and took in the wide, barren desert carved by the winds and dotted with ancient ruins. The ocean was thick with salt and a slightly murky turquoise; clear enough to see the wavy hills of sand on the bottom. I relished the push of water against my skin as I swam broad strokes, venturing far out on the ocean horizon, squinting occasionally at the beach until I saw my husbands small figure waving.
One day we took a charter boat trip along the coast. We stopped at a special spot to see about a dozen sea turtles surface for air and then made our way up the wide Manavgat River where we could choose to swim in the 68 degree river waters or cross the beach inlet to the 82 degree Mediterranean. We floated in the warm Mediterranean and ended our swim break in the refreshing waters of the river, diving joyfully and repeatedly off of the dock. Our final destination was Dolphin Island, a spot dolphin pods frequent. There was only one dolphin sighting and I happened to be on the deck when it leaped in a clean arc out of the water, its skin shimmering in the sun, and then disappeared with a splash into the blue depths.
Our days became rhythms of sunning and swimming, punctuated with meals, dishes and a few trips to town where we wandered the ruins and bought a few keepsakes. My husband found his coveted “authentic” soccer jersey and I a beautiful hand painted Turkish plate. We were sure to buy the famed Turkish confection called Turkish delight, a mix of sugar thickened with starch that is flavored with fruits and nuts (you can’t eat it without getting really sticky fingers). When it came to shopping we learned the value of bargaining early on when we bought four peaches for $5 at a corner store and later bought four peaches for $1.25 at the grocery store. My husband got so good at these negotiations that he talked them down to half price on several occasions. In spite of their penchant for earning profits from tourists, Turks are very warm and friendly. We were spontaneously invited to drink tea with two men after they exchanged our money. On a bus ride a Turk insisted my husband sit in a vacant seat and then helped him stop the bus at the right juncture. On several other occasions we chatted and joked with Turks who were trying to sell us goods. The culture reminded me of my Latin roots and I got the feeling that Turks openly welcomed people (paying or not) into the Turkish family.
A few days before our departure I decided to try a Turkish bath (spa). We had seen advertisements with photos of men and women piled high with foam and being massaged as they smiled in bliss. I figured it was worth exploring. And it was. For the next couple of days I felt like I was floating in a soft haze of relaxation (which begs the question, what was really in that foam?).
My first trip to the Mediterranean or Syden had been all that I could have hoped for and really much more. It wasn’t just the sun and sand and swimming – it was the breathing space. Being away from the daily grind gave me perspective. I had time for leisurely contemplation and slowly I was able to come in balance with the fulcrum of my heart. That was truly the best take away from the vacation, well that and my tan.