Well here we are again. This chapter contains the tale of my Wild Turkey Adventures travelling with Hakim and a mixed bunch of desperados. Let me introduce the cast:
Hakim - our intrepid Aussie/Turkish paraglider and tour guide extraordinaire, the man who is never less than cheerful no matter what the provocation.
Selin - Hakim’s gorgeous wife and translater No.2.
Grant – a Canadian pilot whom some of you will know from when he lived in Melbourne, a man with a very relaxed approach to being anywhere at a particular time and a passion for tavla (backgammon).
Fedja - Grant’s Canadian buddy, an immigrant from Bosnia several years previously with some hair-raising stories to tell.
Rick - who only lasted a couple of days before injuring himself and leaving the tour, poor luvvie.
Gary and Rita – Gary flew whilst Rita was unofficially in charge of our cultural sightseeing, courtesy of her Lonely Planet guidebook and enthusiasm to see old stuff.
Neil – in between flying he showed a remarkable ability to sniff out a beer in the least likely of places. (You’ve gotta watch the quiet ones…)
Archie – started out looking normal enough but soon developed a strange obsession with the intricacies of Turkish bathroom plumbing.
Ioan – a man with a remarkable capacity to engage in conversations completely unrelated to anything going on around him, not to mention his ability to find obstacles on launches that looked perfectly clear to the rest of us.
Steve – our multi media guru: digital still camera, video camera, lap-top computer, CD burner, the works. The lights dimmed all over town every time he plugged in.
Peter – an Aussie ring-in currently living in Sweden who filled Rick’s vacant seat. Didn’t even let it get cold mate!
And lastly yours truly – ever so happy to see old friends, meet new ones, and to dust off the paraglider on exotic shores.
Let the tale begin.
Well diary, my flight from Rome was uneventful and it was so nice to stumble out of the customs area to be greeted by Grant’s smiling face. It’d been 18 months since I’d seen him and we were both grinning from ear to ear like idiots. We were collected by a man from our hotel, and deposited there about half an hour later. Grant’s friend Fedja had arrived earlier that day and we found him enjoying a drink at one of the bars down the road. Introductions all round followed by a number of relaxing beers.
I spent the next day sightseeing with the boys. Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and much walking around of the general area followed by a feast of a lunch. Grant and Fedj stayed a further night in Istanbul and I caught a Turkish airlines flight to Kayseri, Cappadocia where I was to meet up with the rest of the Wild Turkey Adventures crew. Completely failed to see Ioan who I knew was on the same flight as me, until we were waiting for our luggage at Kayseri. We located the stranger collecting us and embarked on a bizarre journey to the Gamirasu Hotel. Little English was spoken, no-one was telling us anything anyway and so we sat on a minibus for over an hour, were off-loaded somewhere in the dark into a private car and then drove for another half hour when we eventually stopped at what turned out to be our hotel. Unfortunately I had a fully developed migraine by this time, helped along considerably by being dehydrated and hungry, and I only lasted long enough to say hello to everyone before collapsing into bed.
DAY 1 - CAPPODOCCIA
MON 26 AUG
Woke up and discovered that I had indeed turned back into a human being during the night. Started the day with a fabulous breakfast (good food was to be the theme for this hotel) and we drove into Urgup for water and various supplies. Spent the rest of the day driving up and down a few hills and confirming again and again that the wind was too strong everywhere. Visited the folk at a ballooning shop that Hakim knew from previous visits and made a date to catch up with them the next day. Checked out a street market, climbed up inside carved rock chimney castles, and finished up by visiting an underground city. It had been inhabited on and off for hundreds of years at a time by various groups since the birth of Christ. 8 levels deep, 4 were open to look at. Our guide was a real character, rather short with a somewhat disconcerting habit of bending over and running headlong down the small dark tunnels connecting one area to another. Couldn’t help but think of the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
DAY 2 - CAPPODOCCIA
TUE 27 AUG
Up at 4:45 (not pleasant) to see the balloons, however it made for great pics and was a lovely experience to watch the sunrise. Decided to check out a ridge we’d seen the previous day and conditions were looking much better for flying. The fitter and more enthusiastic were able to climb to the top, but no prizes for guessing that I opted for halfway. Very soft sandy soil, quite steep, and I was having trouble keeping my balance.
Waited for the wind to pick up (which it didn’t) and eventually opted for an extended sleddie to the nominated paddock at the bottom, as did Archie, Neil, and Ioan. Archie decided to climb back up again, and the rest of us went with Hakim for breakfast back at the hotel. On the way back with breakfast for the others we got a phone call saying Rick had crashed and injured himself.
We picked up our pace and arrived to find Jandarma (the local police), an ambulance, a leg broken in 2 places, and an apparently undamaged glider draped over some very tall, big ugly rocks. We were all relieved to find Rick relatively ok as all things considered it could have been to be far far worse. Waved Rick off in the ambo with Hakim, and the rest of us made our way back to the hotel.
Having established that Hakim seemed to have everything under control we took a van and dropped Neil, Archie and Ioan in Urgup to find a bar, and the rest of us went sight seeing. No-one was interested in flying at this point and it was a nice way to bleed off a little of the tension. Cappadoccia has a beautiful, wild, barren, alien landscape. Don’t know how the people continue to manage to scrape a living off the land, as it looks very marginal. Lots of dry scrub, lots of rock. The main form of transport is tractors. Much sightseeing was done, climbing up to the top of rock castles on the outside and taking photos, climbing up to the top of other rock castles on the inside and taking photos etc etc.
Finished the day by forcing ourselves to enjoy more good food and rather a lot of beer and then following it up with playing traditional instruments and singing, along with a lot of bad dancing on our part.
DAY 3 - CAPPADOCCIA
WED 28 AUG
Loaded the van with gear and headed back to Kayseri to fly the mountain near the airport. The only hiccup was that I’d left my boots behind at the hotel. So, tiptoed carefully around the rocks hidden in the grass at the launch site, had cold feet for over an hour in the air, and then landed in a paddock with lots and lots of little thistle bushes. And that’s not mentioning the double, triple and quadruple checking I was doing for power lines. There is no rhyme or reason to the power lines in Turkey, they are just simply everywhere, running in every direction across everything. Each flight of the trip was an aerial survey of potential power line hazards. Fortunately we all managed to stay clear of both power lines and the army’s soccer field (hi Barb) whilst keeping an eagle eye out for the light aircraft using the airport. Nice to get high, but frustrating that the conditions weren’t going to let us go anywhere – downwind was over Kayseri and there was no way any of us were going to risk coming down in the middle of the city.
DAY 4 - MERSIN
THU 29 AUG
Hours and hours of driving and we finally arrived on the south coast at Mersin, to a very average looking hotel. Unpacked quickly, loaded the paragliders back into the vans and headed off into the hills with a couple of local pilots to Arslankoy. The trip took more than two hours and we were surprised to be greeted with a large sign on the outskirts of the town welcoming us to the “Australian-Medex Paragliding Memorial Friendship Woodland”. Where ever possible Hakim always let people know of our arrival beforehand as we were 10 pilots, 2 spouses, and often one or two extra people in the vans so not exactly a small group, but to be greeted by a memorial woodland was a little over the top. But wait, there’s more… we arrived in the main street to the sounds of live music playing, a large crowd of people, and banners strung across the road including an Australian flag. Overwhelming to say the least and it was to turn out that there was still more to come!
Drove up the top of the local site on a trailer on the back of a tractor. Steep and rocky take off. Made the mistake of persisting in taking off whilst still suffering the effects of the Sultan’s Revenge (Turkey’s version of Bali Belly) and stuffed up, falling down the face of the launch. Completely and utterly my fault, and my first paragliding injury. Lucky me. Landed on my hands badly spraining my left thumb and the 3rd and 4th fingers on my right hand. Extraordinarily painful. Sat shaking and sobbing whilst some of the guys un-harnessed me and packed up all my gear. Nothing seemed to be broken (although I have to confess I never did get x-rays) but my left hand swelled to a spectacular size and was later to turn to a very pretty shade of blue, purple, dark grey and a strange greenish colour. (And don’t even ask me about dealing with a doctor who doesn’t speak English when I don’t speak Turkish and who’s manipulating my hands to ascertain if they’re broken whilst I’m sitting there willing myself not to faint. Not exactly a memory to treasure.) Just to add insult to my injury, those who flew had lovely early evening boaty flights down to the town.
After being checked over by the doctor I met the rest of the guys in the local meeting place / square next to the school where we were then led away to an official dinner. A flattish open outdoor area with plastic tables and chairs, some sort of town restaurant I think. Everyone was very pleasant, kind and attentive, and the food was good and followed by yet more live music and Turkish folk dancing. Many of the guys took the opportunity to try to learn the dance, coincidentally taught by a number of very pretty young local girls. We were accommodated that night in a variety of private homes.
DAY 5 - MERSIN
FRI 30 AUG
More celebrations the next day! It also happened to be Turkish Independence Day. First there was breakfast at the restaurant again, rolled pancakes filled with savory potato, yum. Then a big ceremony in the square. Speeches, presentations of ceremonial wreaths, including one for us. More folk dancing with young girls in costume, then off to the sign at the entry to the village for a tree planting ceremony. Back up the hill in the tractor to watch all the boys take off in good reversing conditions to have lovely flights of approx 1 hour in the valley. One of the local guys got off early forward launching, but the other was much later and had lots of trouble. Looked like neither knew how to reverse launch. I consoled myself with taking photos as I watched everyone else having a very good time, the bastards.
The nominated landing spot built by the town was a little dodgy – a small circular playing field surrounded by a three story building on one side, trees on another, power lines on the third, and a steep drop off of about 10m on the fourth (upwind) side. A little tricky, requiring accurate judgement and after Ioan’s rather unique approach and arrival on the ground most gave it a miss and opted to land nearby in a much less interesting paddock. More speeches and presentations in the official landing area. We finally finished our visit to Arslankoy with a drive through the local plantation forest, and a trip to their spring water trout farm where we had lunch with various local officials. Bathed my hand in the icy cold water to reduce the swelling and nearly fell over laughing at the look on Selin’s face when she dropped her phone in the deep end!
We were all stunned, overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed by the incredible generosity of the people of Arslankoy. A small impoverished town (at least to my Aussie / European eyes) they hosted us with great generosity and warmth, put us up in their own homes and allowed us to pay for nothing. I think it would be fair to say that we all left feeling quite unworthy of the attention, wishing that there was something we could do to help the town, and discussing some possibilities.
Finally back in the van and on the way to Mersin, only to arrive at hotel to discover they’d sold Steve’s, and Gary and Rita’s rooms. Packed their belongings and stored them in the laundry! A few words were said about that.
A couple of girls from the village met us at the hotel and we had a fabulous meal on a boat restaurant - which then surprised us all by leaving the dock and cruising the harbour. One of the girls had a bad reaction to a bee sting and the drugs taken to treat it and fainted. Another opportunity for Hakim’s first aid skills. And diary, there were to be so many opportunities …
DAY 6 - MERSIN
SAT 31 AUG
The boys took off to check out another site and I had a rest day with the girls. I was having considerable trouble just feeding myself as both my hands were bandaged, so handling the Carbon wasn’t looking too feasible. Got picked up by a local pilot who took Selin, Rita and I to a multi-story apartment complex with a swimming pool. All 100m from the sea. Gave us the use of his holiday apartment and we had a lovely afternoon by the pool. Drove to another local pilot’s house for afternoon tea (at 6pm) and the guys were already there. They eventually ‘fessed up that they’d had short flights in difficult conditions and I hadn’t really missed much. Hmmm.
DAY 7 - SIDE
SUN 1 SEP
Basically spent the whole day travelling, and then over nighting in a tourist town called Side. Gary and Rita were keen and checked out the local Roman ruins after dinner, the rest of the guys wandered around the shops and bars for a while, and I eventually found an internet café and cleared my overflowing account.
DAY 8 - KAS
MON 2 SEP
Oh Diary, more driving! Everyone was getting tired of the travel and nerves were wearing a little thin by now. We arrived in Kas mid afternoon to be greeted by Hakim’s sister Artejay at the hotel.
Too windy to go flying from the local site but the guys as Skysports suggested we try the sand dunes about 45 mins away for a bit of dune bashing. When we finally got there after an hour of driving and a few wrong turns the wind was still way too strong. Walked down to the water which was a couple of hundred metres further on from the dunes – didn’t seem too far when walking down hill, but was painful on the return journey. The water was warm and lovely. My first dip in the Mediterranean ocean and I loved it. The guys mucked around taking videos, Fedja having some inexplicable urge to run in the ocean with his helmet on – no explanation offered, looking like an extra in a corny 1950’s sci-fi movie. The area was reminiscent of Australia 30 or 40 years ago. No way we’d be allowed to trample all over coastal vegetation and dunes like that now.
DAY 9 - KAS
TUE 3 SEP
Breakfast and then up to the hill. A cleared launch with a couple of tarps over the rocks, oh joy. First flight after my accident. Hakim kindly helped me untangle lines and so forth as it was a little difficult managing my gear and nothing had been sorted since it was hurriedly packed, but I managed to launch cleanly. Very strong wind in the air, ridge soaring only with my into wind speed down to 5km at times, usually around 10-12km. Flew out along the coastline, crossed over the inlet, flew over the islands and landed on the concrete marina. Looked a bit tricky but actually was very easy as there was heaps of room and the strong headwind made for a slow approach with a gentle step onto the ground. Oh and did I mention that it was beautiful? Blue skies, improbably deep blue sparkling water, white beaches, picture perfect coastline dotted with little islands, and a very pleasant 30ish degrees.
Wind strength continued to increase and we declared the afternoon to be personal free time. It was clearly not going to be flyable, and we all wandered off in various directions to the beach, internet, local shops and bars. Ate our evening meal at 7pm. Felt like it was the middle of the afternoon as eating times always seemed to end up being around 9 or 9:30pm. Apart from always being tired by the time we ate it slowed down the night-time socialising even for the most enthusiastic.
DAY 10 - KAS
WED 4 SEP
Another morning flight, setting off a little earlier as we weren’t sure how quickly the wind would pick up. I decided to fly early which turned out to not be such a good choice as the wind didn’t increase as much or as quickly as the previous day, and I had a scratchy ridge soaring flight grasping at every little bit of lift I could find. Landed after only 40 mins and joined Ioan, Neil and Grant as we watched the rest of the guys having a fine time getting high and flying around over the town. Oh well, dems da breaks.
Talked to the guys at Skysports about a nearby inland cross-country site, grabbed some food from their café (the best chicken rolls we found in Turkey) and headed off. Technology is a wonderful thing – as we were driving they sent Hakim an sms of the launch site gps coordinates. Needed them too as the directions were of the usual dodgy standard: we got within 400m at one point but on the wrong road as the summit was still above us, drove deep into the wrong valley and could clearly see the launch on the other side but with no roads of any description between us and it, and eventually back tracked to the road that seemed most promising to us. Turned out we were right, but we still had to persuade the wood truck blocking the road to stop loading and move out of the way!
Finally got to the top a little before 4pm. Rocks, rocks and yet more rocks to launch from. Am missing all the lovely smooth, grassy, astro-turfed sites around Melb. The Pines is a rocky launch? Hah! I don’t think so. All the guys eventually flew, launching with varying degrees of finesse except our trusty Turkish guide Hakim and me your faithful correspondent. I was tired and not concentrating properly, kept stuffing up and finally decided the best thing to do was to call it a day.
Aaah, but it turned out it wasn’t the end of the day by any means. Hakim and I left the top of the hill at 5:45 and were to spend the next 4 hours driving up and down the valley retrieving pilots. We had assigned a flight direction, Hakim issued maps and a general instruction to follow a particular main road as it meant we’d be heading in the right direction for Kas as we collected people. Well folks, you know what paragliding is like – nothing is as simple as it seems. Turkish maps are a lot like Turkish advertising: works of fiction, it only being a matter of how inaccurate the claims… Our main road was gravel for most of its length and deteriorated into little more than a local track at points. It was a wonder any of the guys could see it from the air and not all of them did.
Ioan was collected first by the side of the road, shortly followed by Grant in one of the many tiny villages – nice and easy thank you gentlemen. Hard to think of these little clusters of houses by the side of the road as villages but they all seemed to have a little outdoor place of some sort for the local men to gather and drink tea together. Ioan and Grant opted to do exactly that with the locals whilst Hakim and headed off with a guide from the village to find the mountain track that we were fairly sure Archie was walking down on. In the meantime we kept getting plaintive radio calls from Neil wondering when he was going to see us. Despite being told to stay where he was he starting walking anyway, which turned out to be a good idea as he wasn’t on the main road at all and we would have spend even more time finding him. Fortunately we caught up with him on the way back to collect Ioan and Grant. Ok now, four down, three to go. Shouldn’t be too hard.
Fedja and Steve had landed in the same area and after waiting in the village and many phone calls to Hakim were taken to someone’s house where they were fed and looked after. We got directions from the locals, headed off in the dark, became uncertain, backtracked and got more directions, set off again and then Hakim casually mentions that the van’s fuel gauge has been sitting on empty for some time with the fuel warning light on and that he had no idea at what point it was likely to run out. Oh joy. Drove and drove and drove, in the dark, stopped, rang Steve and asked him to give us gps co-ords and then discovered we were less than a kilometre away.
Ok now, only Gary left. We’d been fobbing off his phone calls for some time as he’d inconsiderately flown further than everyone else (about 18km straight line from takeoff) and there was no point worrying about him until we’d got all the others. Only 6 kms from Fedja and Steve, you’d think it’d be easy wouldn’t you? Still took us about 45 mins, more wrong roads, more back tracking, new gps co-ords and eventually we pulled into the driveway of a small farmhouse. Gary had also been fed by his family despite all attempts on his part to refuse. Still smiling, but looking a little stressed from the effort of spending four hours with a group of people who spoke absolutely no English, and all he could say was hello in Turkish. We followed one of the sons in search of fuel, eventually taking some from the household supplies of the second home we stopped at. On our way at last!
Arrived back in Kas after 11pm, scoffed down food as fast as we could with most of us stumbling into bed around 12:30.
DAY 11 - OLUDENIZ
THU 5 SEP
Woke up this morning with another bout of Turkish belly, this time worse than the first. Not attractive. Most of the others opted for a morning flight before leaving Kas. Wished I could have joined them but it was completely out of the question. Eventually gathered everyone up, loaded the van and headed off to Oludeniz on a lovely coastal drive that just went on and on and on.
Although Hakim had warned me that Oludeniz was a tourist town I still wasn’t prepared for it. Unlike Side which had been full of Germans, Oludeniz was full of British people. So much so that many of the shops and restaurants priced their products in pounds and were surprised when I wanted to know what it was in Turkish Lire. All the restaurants advertised English breakfasts even to the extent of specifying whether they had HP sauce. The shopping strip is a site to behold, predominately bars, tacky gift shop crap, more bars, and approx 10 separate tandem paragliding operators, including the other SkySports shop.
I don’t think I’d be overstating the case too much to say that Oludeniz is a paraglider’s mecca. It doesn’t actually have a separate identity as a village, is only open during the tourist season, and basically consists of shops and hotels with swimming pools. Not exactly authentic Turkey. However it has a lovely beach and a kilometre or two inland just happens to have a 2000m mountain called Babadag. The south launch is at 1700m above sea level, and the north launch (which also has easterly and southerly launchable faces) is at 2000m. So high that one or both launches are often in or above the clouds. Makes for spectacular flying, and straight out and straight down takes approx 30 mins.
When we arrived at the Lemon Tree hotel where they cheerfully informed us that we couldn’t all be accommodated and a few of us were to spend the first night 3 hotels away 100m down the road. After we sorted all that out the van headed up the hill minus me (the Turkish belly drugs hadn’t helped yet). The girls decided the only sensible thing to do was to go to the beach, so I set off with Selin, Artejay, Jonja and Rita to watch the action from the sand.
Based on chatting with some of the local pilots we guestimated that there are approx 20,000 tandem flights each summer season, certainly the sky is constantly full of gliders. The operators all have their preferred landing spots along the beach front, many of them laying logo emblazoned tarps on the broad footpath. It soon became apparent that the favored landing technique is to approach along the sand, parallel to the footpath, land on the edge of the sand concertinering the wing neatly down onto the tarp and avoiding the trees. I was to discover when I returned a week later for the SIV course that I can spot land over and over again when it means that a very nice man wearing a yellow Sky Sports tee shirt will fold and pack my paraglider for me for the princely sum of 2,500,000 Turkish Lira (a little over $3 AU). Heaven indeed.
The boys all launched uneventfully and had lovely boaty sleddies down to the beach taking around 30mins to land. Gary decided to raise a little interest amongst those of us watching loyally on the beach by landing tail wind, mirroring exactly Steve’s own landing approach from the other end. Silly me assumed that they’d set it up to video each other going for the same spot from opposite directions.
DAY 12 - OLUDENIZ
FRI 6 SEP
Loaded the bus and up to the top of Babadag with Hakim. The Turkish government charge everyone 8,000,000 TL to enter the mountain. This is not a flying fee, but an access charge. Obviously there are substantial costs in road upkeep, but it still looked like it was one hell of a money spinner for them. 1 hour to get to the top, and I spent most of the trip choosing not to look at the view as we drove up the steep winding dirt road, always so close to the edge… A couple of the boys took off, and Steve rattled all of us by injuring himself launching. He reversed and as he turned stumbled a little on the very steep and rocky surface, reached for his brakes only to discover one was tangled around a riser, and then fell down the face as his glider slipped sideways. He tumbled, bounced on the road, tumbled some more and ended up against the peak to the right of the north launch. Fortunately only cuts and scrapes to himself, but 6 or 7 rips in his wing, including a somewhat shredded looking wingtip, and 3 broken lines. Poor Hakim had yet another occasion to the break out the trusty first aid kit.
I forward launched (with some trepidation as I could still count on one hand the number of times I’d done this with the Carbon) into cloudy conditions. Poor visibility but made sure I could see the ground at all times. Only took a minute or so and I broke out into sunshine and clear skies, and what can I say but wow! Flying over Oludeniz is beautiful, everything looks just perfect, and it’s a fantastic feeling to launch from 2000m for ‘only’ a sleddie and fly for 30 mins. Looked around the bay and lagoon remembering that I’d be back in only a week to do the SIV with Jocky. Decided that thinking about that was not good for the nerves and put it out of my mind for the time being.
Wasn’t sure what it would be like landing, but turned out to be very easy as the beach is deceptively large and there’s actually heaps of room. Was approached by a woman when I landed and was surprised to discover that I’d been videoed by her. She explained she was from Cloud 9 bar, where they video takeoffs and landings all day (live), replaying the tapes at night. No charge to go in and watch yourself, they’ll even rewind the tape on request. Very clever bit of marketing catering for the free flyers, and of course it’s pretty easy to sit there for an hour or two and consume a few drinks.
We all had a huge fit of laziness in the afternoon and decided to stress ourselves to the max (not) by hanging out on the beach, sunbathing, swimming, watching the tandems landing, etc etc. Aaah, the simple pleasures of life.
DAY 13 - OLUDENIZ
SAT 7 SEP
Dawn flight, left at 5 pm and I took off last around 6:30. Hakim drove me, Ioan, Grant, Fedja, Steve (using Hakim’s wing), and Selin and Artejay came along for the view. Last to launch, I was very lucky and saw the sun rise over the mountains behind me whilst flying. The others had launched too early. Such joy to have the sky to myself and land on an empty beach. Packed up slowly and walked back to the hotel and waited an hour until breakfast started at 8:30.
Later in the morning Steve collected his wing from Skysports, where they had done an excellent job of repairing it. Very impressive work. We were back up the hill again before lunch and this time flew to Butterfly Valley, a narrow valley accessible only by boat and surrounded by canyon / cliff walls approx 200m high. It looked impossibly small to fly into, but actually turned out to be quite straightforward. Swooped in between the trees, huts and teepees and landed on the beach to the applause of a small group of onlookers.
The place was Nirvana, like a hippie paradise from the 70’s. Packed our gear, had a lunch in the café under the grapevines, played backgammon, had a beer, swam in the warm blue water, lay in the sun, and finally caught the 5pm ferry back to Oludeniz. Boarding involved walking out into the water and climbing up the ladder into the boat. Fortunately some of the crew kindly carried my paraglider on. A bit of a swell on the half hour trip back with the boat rocking around, but more than made up for with the beautiful ocean views. Disembarking was an adventure – as I stepped down with the glider on my back my foot went straight through the fine pebbles past my ankle and being rather short we were both about to go for a swim. Fedja came to the rescue and held the bottom of the glider up out of the water whilst I regained my balance and staggered up onto the beach. My passport and all the money in my pockets was wet but fortunately I’d remembered to hand Fed my mobile phone.
I’d have to say it was one of the best paragliding days I’ve ever had. A beautiful dawn flight from a spectacular location and then followed by an easy cross country flight into a little piece of heaven on earth. Many of you have heard me say it before, but it really was one of those perfect ‘good to be alive days’.
DAY 14 – PAMMUKKALE
SUN 8 SEP
Hit the road at a reasonable time and reached Pammukkale early afternoon. It’s sole claim to fame is the ancient Roman natural marble spring pools – truly remarkable, but other than that a basic town with little to recommend it. Checked out the local site overlooking the pools, but the wind was way too crossed to contemplate flying. Also looked at a bowl below the marble pools where Fedja, Grant, Peter and Steve opted to stay with the hire van and see if they could fly. The rest of us went with Hakim to check out the pools themselves, some of us going in to swim in the mineral waters whilst Gary and Rita walked around the ruins.
Even though the pools are horribly commercialised, it is still a special experience swimming there. You are literally skimming over 2000 year old roman columns that have fallen in the water and been left. One section is very deep, around 5 m, and its possible to swim under and around the columns. Very relaxing and I was glad I’d opted for it rather than trying a scratchy little flight clambering up the steep sides of the bowl we’d been looking at. As it happens it was an even better choice than any of us realised…
The boys found the wind weak, switching and generally unpredictable. Only Fedja managed to take off, flying for less than a minute. Turned out that negotiating the track with the van was more difficult than the flying as it was narrow, the ground soft, and if for example the driver were to be distracted by the antics of one of the passengers… it would by very easy to drive off the edge and bog the van. Oooops.
Hakim – what a man. Yet another opportunity for him to display his legendary calm in the face of great provocation. The short story is that we piled back into the green van, found the boys, hooked up a makeshift rope and were able to tow the white van out. Very lucky it was that simple. Made us horribly late for dinner at the hotel, well after 9pm. The food had been sitting out for some time and I think we were all pretty careful with what we ate. But alas for poor Archie, not careful enough.
DAY 15 – PAMMUKKALE
MON 9 SEP
We awoke to an overcast day with no wind. Not promising. Archie woke up feeling sick and was to get progressively worse during the day - that Turkish Belly bug is damned vicious. We all went our various directions in the morning and then headed off in the afternoon to see if we could rustle up some paragliding. The site was about half an hour away in the van, on top of a large, flatish, partially cleared hill with radio towers. A promising site with lots of room, generally clear, take off possible in two or three directions. Apparently 90km distances have been flown from here but it wasn’t going to happen this visit.
The wind was still very light, but coming through in steady cycles. Once in the air it took heaps of concentration and determination to stay up scratching in close and low to the hill until finally hooking that one thermal with the strength to take me up. Eventually got up to 2500m under a nice big not too dark cloud. Gary and I were the only ones left in the sky by this time so we decided to head back towards Pammukkale. The decision was made more as an exercise in seeing how far we could get as we were flying into wind and the ground was rising to meet us as we approached the edge of the shelf bordering the valley. Alas it was not to be, each of us landing next to the main road, about a kilometre apart.
We drove into Denizli that night. Hakim had been invited to bring all of us to the local paragliding headquarters before going out to dinner. HQ turned out to be a rather groovy former shop that was the local adventure sports club. A rock climbing wall in one corner, paragliding and climbing mags everywhere, a small café area where drinks and snacks could be ordered, and a very comfortable lounge area at the back complete with a computer for internet access. Very impressive.
After dinner at a good restaurant about half a kilometre or so up the road, we returned to the club for coffee and birthday cake. Yep, Steve was 21 again and the local pilots had ordered a cake for him. He was surprised, we were impressed, and the coffee was great. Turkish hospitality is marvellous and makes our Aussie welcome look a bit shabby.
Chatting to the local guys, it seems that the Turkish paragliding scene has none of the structure that we take for granted in Oz. There is no training syllabus, no instructors as such, and as far as I know no issuing of licenses. People wanting to fly approach the local club to see if the club will take them on, and then undergo a form of apprenticeship with an experienced pilot. This pilot guides the novice through basic training / flying experiences until they head off on their own. Exactly what it taught, and at what point the student is on his own seemed very vague. It certainly explained the skill gaps we saw in what were clearly experienced pilots.
DAY 16 – PAMMUKKALE
TUE 10 SEP
Another late start due to dodgy looking weather. Drove back to yesterday’s site, where Hakim left us on top of the hill as he and Gary did the van shuffle. Naturally it started to pour rain and everyone got thoroughly soaked, including all the gear. The rain drops were so big they actually stung, and the lightening and thunder was most impressive.
When Hakim returned we piled in and drove to another potential site, stopping for food on the way. We sat at a little café eating and playing tavla to the sound of thunder in the background. Not promising. Drove through what looked to me like a gravel mine or depot, and halfway up the hill behind it. Having had rather too much experience with rather nasty steep rocky sites, I opted not to fly. The storm hadn’t moved on, the wind was very light at that point, take off was a roughly graded road with insufficient room to lay my wing, and I decided I didn’t need a 150m sleddie that much. As it happened the general consensus eventually was not to fly and instead we visited the nearby sulphur caves. Beautiful and extraordinarily smelly as you’d expect, we amused ourselves afterward eating icecreams and watching the turtles in the pools in the surrounding gardens.
The highlight of our stay in Pammukkale (not) was dinner one night at a trout farm and restaurant run by monks. We’d been told by Hakim that there’d be no alcohol (ok Diary, no problem there) and that the place shut at 10pm (hmmm, a bit early ‘cause we were always running late) but just to top it off, as we arrived and piled out of the vans the power went off! It was dark. And cold. And outside. Then there was the sound of the generator firing up, and dying within seconds. And then starting again, with no success. This was to continue for two hours. We eventually ended up eating at a long table with plastic chairs (they love plastic furniture in this country) with a gas lamp each end. The trout was lovely, the salad and bread very simple but tasty and I received a handy lesson from Fedj on how to eat bony fish successfully.
DAY 17 – BOZDAG
WED 11 SEP
As a tourist area I can’t say that Bozdag has anything to recommend it. Flying wise the cross country potential is good, but during our visit it was marred by poor visibility due to haze and a wind direction that was less than ideal. Not a site for the inexperienced. I only flew there once, the afternoon we arrived, and spent the whole flight looking at landing options. Conditions are certainly getting marginal when the somewhat larger cleared area created by the junction of two dirt roads becomes a viable landing spot. As it happened I landed in a tiny cleared block not much larger, surrounded by trees on all sides with a square concrete shed of unknown purpose in one corner. About the size of your average back yard, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to get in under normal circumstances but it’s amazing what you can do when the pressure is on and the only other choice is tree tops.
I’d unclipped from my wing as it had settled on top of a bush taller than me (yes I know I’m short, but it’s all relative) and it was going to be awkward to get it down. To my surprise people appeared out of nowhere. 3 or 4 men took the wing down for me, someone picked up my harness, some children grabbed my helmet and flight deck (with my flying instruments velcroed to it) and they all marched off between the trees! I was standing there wondering what the hell was going on and thought that it might be a very good idea if I followed my equipment. The short story is that I ended up being driven into the nearest village and dropped off in the centre of town outside the café – the boys club as we called it. Only the local men are usually seen at these places, drinking endless cups of chai (tea) and barely even talking to each other for hours on end. I packed my gear smack in the middle of the main street, dodging the occasional rickety old car, and then waited drinking tea with the old men. After establishing that I couldn’t speak Turkish they sat there saying nothing just looking at me, occasionally walking over to prod at the paraglider in it’s bag. It took Hakim an hour to come and collect me in the van and it seemed like much, much longer. Fedja had landed within a kilometre of me, Pete was at the main roundabout 3 or 4 km further on, and the others were scattered along the valley behind us.
I was fascinated by our hotel when we eventually arrived. It seemed to have been built in the late 1960’s or early 70’s and reeked of days of faded glory. A ski lodge, it was large with huge rooms and clearly well fitted out for its time including the empty swimming pool. The highlight was the circular restaurant with its revolving floor. A disco glitter ball still hung from the centre of the ceiling with coloured spot lights spaced around the edges. It must have been a sight to behold when the party was in full swing. We were all feeling very sociable and indulged ourselves eating and drinking generous amounts. Persuaded the management to turn the floor on whilst Ioan was off making his regular mysterious 10pm phone call and cacked ourselves laughing when it took more than an hour before he noticed there was something wrong with the room.
DAY 18 – BOZDAG
THU 12 SEP
Neil, Gary, Rita, Selin headed off to Effeses to go sightseeing. Good idea, should have gone myself as I ended up deciding not to fly anyway as did Archie. Hakim flew for once and Ioan demonstrated yet more spectacular launching.
Archie and I were in charge of the cross country retrieve, which was a classic case of the blind leading the blind if ever there was. Fortunately we eventually managed to find Hakim and then everything got so much easier. Steve landed in a head-high corn field, Pete was at one of the many local boys club as usual, and Fedja hitch hiked and arrived in style in a battered car. Most interesting and a good time was had by all.
DAY 18 – BOZDAG
FRI 13 SEP
This was the last day for me and Peter and I didn’t fly ‘cause I needed to do some serious packing. Pete was heading back to Kas as his flight back to Sweden left from an airport in that general region, and I was returning to Oludeniz for Jocky’s SIV course. Steve made my day by giving me 2 CD’s of digital photos taken during the trip. We’d all been downloading our raw photos to his laptop every few days or so, and he burnt it onto the CD’s for everyone to take home. Drove around with Hakim collecting the boys from various spots around the countryside and then he dropped us off in town to catch a bus. Now that was a hell ride. The short story is that I arrived in Oludeniz at 4am, spent the rest of the night sleeping on the sofa in reception at The Lemon Tree hotel so that I’d wake up bright and sparky (not) for the first day of the SIV. And that folks is a whole other story…
The rest of the Wild Turkey Adventures gang drove back up to Istanbul with Hakim, stopping I think for a night or two in his family village. No-one tells me anything so if you want to know what happened there you’re going to have to ask them yourself.
So dear Diary, here are some of my impressions of Turkey:
Turkey needs good bathroom designers! The bathrooms at Giramasu, the cave hotel were the best by far. Others have been average sized showers with a toilet and basin shoved in as well. The Kas hotel didn’t even bother with a door and simply hung a shower curtain across the opening (gives you an idea of the size of the space). Not exactly great for audio privacy when you’re sharing… However its very handy to be able to sit on the toilet to wash your legs and feet whilst showering, and check out your appearance in the mirror should you feel the need. That is if the mirror is actually hung low enough so that the shorter amongst us can look in it without standing on tiptoe… Now I understand why the toilet paper is supplied in a covered wall holder – to stop it getting wet.
TURKISH TRAVELLING TIMES
Turkish estimates of travelling times exist in their own space time continuum and seem to have only a distant relationship with time as we know it in Australia.
Not far, close by 10 – 20 km, ½ hour travel
10 km away 25 km, 1 hour travel
10 mins ½ hour plus
½ hour away 1 – ½ hours travel
1 hour 2 hours travel
2 ½ hours away 4 hours travel
4-5 hours 11 hours travel with 2 stops
An exaggeration? 'Fraid not! Hundreds of kilometres of winding mountainous roads often not sealed which would take our 40kmh average down to less than 20kmh. Very tedious after a while as people became tired and irritable.
Generally very good. Nearly everyone suffered from the Sultan’s revenge at some point on the trip. Archie the worst. Like food poisoning, it strikes some and not others. The food that knocked Archie out didn’t effect me, yet I got sick twice on the trip. Generally I have a strong stomach and suspect in both instances it was the water in the watermelon and some of the spring water I drank that was my undoing.
The kids were like kids everywhere, running around yelling and playing with each other and us. Many hilarious instances trying to teach them some English words and them laughing at our dreadful pronunciation of our two or three Turkish words. The majority of women in the countryside wear the Muslim headscarves and very modest clothing that covers all but their faces. I couldn’t help but be aware that I was in very different place than I was used to and made an effort to dress in a way that I hoped wouldn’t be too offensive. Whilst it seemed that many Turkish people are dark haired, often with dark skin, I was surprised at the variety of eye colour. As an outsider it was the most obvious indicator to me of the centuries old mixed history of the Turks, perhaps also because the blue, green and hazel made such a vivid contrast against the tanned skin. And are Turkish men attractive? Mmmm, oh yessie yessie Diary.
Spectacular, challenging, and Oludeniz and Kas alone make the trip worthwhile. Do yourself a favour and get someone to show you some of the photos. Whilst some sites were not suitable for very low air-time pilots, plenty of good flying is available for novices through to the most experienced.
I loved Turkey. The people are delightful and all over the country they went out of their way to make us feel comfortable. Touring with Hakim was heaps of fun. His unflagging enthusiasm and good humour kept us all going. I was impressed by how well organised everything was and the only thing that didn’t go to plan during the trip was the weather. No surprises there.
So would I do it again? Yes, without hesitation. If Hakim continues to run this trip I’ll certainly join him again, maybe 2004 - who knows. And is this an unashamed plug for a friend of mine? You bet!