Friday, 10 May 2013

Biding our time in Okluk

While we are still in Turkey, I am reading Alexander's Path, by the late Freya Stark, whose travel writing I have a crush on.
Her hero, Alexander the Great
The nomadic Miss Stark 
Miss Stark was a superb traveller, known as a kind of Freya of Arabia. She was also an impressive classical scholar. She came to Turkey in 1954, at the age of 61, to try to figure out exactly which route Alexander and his army marched when they left Halicarnassus (now Bodrum) to meet up with his commanders in  Phaeslis (south of Antalya) during an early military campaign.
She had a pretty hard time of it. Roads certainly weren't what they are now, nor was transport much improved since Alexander's time. She travelled by jeep where one was available, and by taxi (ditto), but often by packhorse or donkey - she rode well, and often much further than her guides wished to go. It goes without saying that a woman with an itinerary of her own making was not usual in Turkey at the time, and she was regularly thwarted by male intransigence. But she was philosophical, and an Englishwoman. "One of the chief blessings of travel," she wrote, "is that sameness is not its attraction; the pleasant and the unpleasant days are almost equally agreeable to remember, once they are over." If only I had more of Miss Stark's personal fortitude.

Enki at anchor in Okluk
The neighbourhood, looking south-west
Freya Stark has kept me company these past six days, and I do like company. Alex hasn't been up to it.  When he put his back out on Sunday morning, he hunkered down with his old familiar, mind-twisting pain, and it's only today, now that he no longer looks like a bent fork, that we're able to contemplate moving on from this anchorage.

It's been a fine place to be holed up, honestly, though you'd have to call Okluk a backwater. Miss Stark put it in the proper perspective for me: "A good traveller does not, I think, much mind the uninteresting places. He is there to be inside them, as a thread is inside the necklace it strings. The world, with unknown and unexpected variety, is part of his own Leisure; and this living participation is, I think, what separates the traveller and the tourist, who remains separate, as if he were at a theatre, and not himself a part of whatever the show may be."

The pier attached to Turgut's restaurant in Okluk
Speaking Turkish is a prerequisite for understanding the show in Okluk, or anywhere else. I don't have enough Turkish, but I do have a kayak which is a social ice-breaker. I met a Yorkshireman called John, who has spent three winters here on his boat Simone - he suffers from back pain too, and when he found out that Alex was crook, he came across with a bag of books. He gave us the rundown of Okluk's characters, who he'd invite on his boat, and who he'd close the door on. Small places are like that.
We asked him about the bay one around from here which is marked off-limits on the chart. Oh, he said, that's reserved for the use of the Turkish prime minister. It's got a permanent police guard. But the current PM doesn't use it much because his wife and daughters prefer the high life at Bodrum.
Thunder is banging around in the hills, and we'll be heading out soon to eat at Turgut's outdoor restaurant on the other side of the inlet. It's where the show goes on each evening in Okluk, and tonight we get to watch and learn.

The place to eat
One last word from Freya Stark though before I put her to bed. In 1952, she cruised with the British consul in Smyrna (now Izmir) and his wife along the Lycian coast in a small boat called Elfin. "No part of the world can be more beautiful than the western and southern coasts of Turkey", she declares in the opening sentence of Alexander's Path, so you know where she stands on the matter. But how well can you know a country when you travel by boat? I've often wondered, and she obviously did too. "A country looked at from the sea is like the sleeping Princess, the unknown," she writes. "From the land it is no longer enchanted, but varied and human, a foundation for friendship and living..." I tend to agree with her. We need to get ashore more this year.


  1. great stuff from Freya.

    sorry to hear about Alex's ordeal.

  2. Yep, he does it tough - but he's built tough too. He's back on deck now and we're a good way further north. Can he man up for a half-day of ruins-stomping at Ephesus though? No mule-riding involved.