Jeep Safari: Saklikent, Xanthos and Patara

Another beautiful morning in Kas – it has been fantastic weather since I got here week ago. Yesterday was a very full day consisting of a jeep safari to Saklikent Gorge, Xanthos, and Patara, all about 45 kilometers west of here. The jeep picked me up at the Xanthos tour office in the morning and I joined 4 others, plus our guide Nico, on a bumpy, rocky ride along the coast and up the foothills of the Taurus mountains to Saklikent (meaning “hidden place”), a narrow, steep gorge slicing through the mountain rock face for 16 kilometers.

Nico, our guide, was a real piece of work. A Greek originally from Athens, but apparently having living everywhere around the world except Greece for the last 20 years, was the most conceited man I have met in a long while. Physically, he looked like that 70s male model Fabio, with the same long blonde streaked hair which he constantly ran his hand through. Every sentence was punctuated with “man”, as in “This canyon is beautiful, man”, speaking like a stoner out of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Maybe it was his 7 years in Vancouver studying herbal medicine that did it to him … Anyway, the guy managed to insult all of us, some several times, over the course of the day. I heard him say to one of the people that he had to leave North America in ’97 because it was just so politically correct he couldn’t stand it … However, I have to acknowledge that he did give us more information about the sites than the other local guides that I have had for day trips in the past – he does know his stuff. And he could be humorous, but OMG, what an ego.

Anyway, we walked along a long wooden bridge running along the canyon wall and down into the mouth of the gorge where it became apparent that the water was running too fast and high to enter any farther. On the rocks there were the remains of rickety old metal and wood platforms that apparently used briefly to hold a riverside restaurant that had been built by people who did not realize that a rushing glacial river would simply tear the pilings away … and it did. Two men were intent on dismantling one metal foundation, using a blowtorch without any eye protection (this being Turkey, where safety is an unknown word). Nico decided reluctantly that the river was too dangerous for us to enter so we spent a bit of time playing around on the rocks before heading back to one of the riverside restaurants for lunch.

I do love the way the Turks have chill-out pads waterside wherever possible. The restaurant had wooden platforms out over the river, with padded seats and back rests, and low tables on which to eat. We had an excellent meal of fish and meatballs with the usual begging animal accompaniment of cat, dog and duck. The whole begging animal thing here is hard for me, because I do love cats and dogs, and hate to see them skinny and starving. Although I must say that the animals here are mostly fat and sassy with shiny coats so the restaurants along the south coast must feed the beasts.

After the nice lunch, we clambered in the van again and were off to Xanthos, formerly the capital of the Lycian League (formerly as in 5th and 4th century bce). Here the ruins are on a slight rise about 10 kilometers from the sea, overlooking tomato greenhouses in the valley below. The most famous bits of these ruins are the two gigantic freestanding tombs next to the theatre built to satisfy the vanity of local dignitaries. One is called the Harpy Tomb because of its carved frieze of harpies carrying off children along the top; a bird’s nest could be seen right underneath its stone cap. The other looked like the other Lycian rock tombs I’ve seen, except that rather than being carved into a cliff face, it is standing on a tall pillar. All these rock tombs were designed to look like wooden temple buildings, for some reason to which I’m not privy.

Next on the agenda, because we missed out on the canyon walk, was a mud bath in the Xanthos River, the properties of which are supposedly medicinal. Nico took us to “his special spot” which “no-one else knew about” (except the local workers who had set up camp there), and we spent some time folicking in the mud and river. I did not do too much frolicking because, although it was a beautiful day, it was a bit too cold for me. I did put on a facial mud mask, just to experience its “healing properties” … (still waiting for the miraculous ten year loss to happen …).

After playing with the mud, we were off to Patara, formerly the port of Xanthos, now a vast ruin site and enormously long beach. Wow, what a beautiful place! This jeep tour, according to Nico, usually only goes to the beach, not the ruins … but because he wanted the best for us, he would also take us to the ruins. This was a good thing, since there was a howling wind on the beach and it was impossible to sit or walk on it anywhere except behind the windbreak of the restaurant, where there was already a small crowd of people from another tour group huddled. Patara Beach is 16 kilometers of sand and also a nesting ground for the Caretta Caretta turtle.

The ruin site was fabulous. We spent some time in the upper reaches of the theatre from which the whole site could be seen. To the left the remains of what must have been a fast flowing river at one time were evident; the land there is now a swamp. And to the right the hills, some looking as though they had been shaved bald as a result of a lightning strike and fire two years ago, and others still lush and green. The wildflowers and grasses were so lush and tall that they almost hid the many grazing goats, sheep and cows in the fields. Along with the ruins of the first parliament building, we also walked around the forum, now sinking into the swamp land and partially flooded. But fabulously beautiful. Really, the place brought tears to my eyes …

A funny local dog hounded us to throw things for it and we spent quite a while tossing stones for the dog to fetch. She was absolutely dying for attention and followed us back to our jeep when it was time to go and ran along behind us for a long, long time before giving up. Since we were all famished, a quick pit stop at a local market to fill up on chocolate bars, cookies, and chips was made, and, before arriving back at 7:30, a stop at Kaputas beach for swimming. Really, a great day and what a gorgeous place this is.

See pictures here.

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