What did you eat for breakfast on the morning of September 19th? I bet what I ate was better.
I was the sole guest at Selene's Pension at Lake Bafa. I was hoping that didn't mean I would be the sole diner at their restaurant, but no such luck. It's starting to be low season. It's also Ramadan, and perhaps not as many Turks are traveling as would be otherwise. And Lake Bafa is a bit off the beaten path.
At the advice of Tariq, the manager of the Bodrum hostel, I phoned ahead for accommodation. I was thinking of finding something when I arrived, but Tariq wasn't sure a telephone would be easy to locate on arrival, which turned out to be a good call (no pun intended). Turkey has these little telecomm centers in addition to pay phones, which have regular home telephones hooked up to a meter. You make your calls, the attendant reads the meter and tells you what to pay. Handy dandy. No phone card needed, no scrounging for change to feed into a machine. I had inquired at the bus station earlier about the schedule, so returned to the same agent to get my ticket. "Bafa Lake or Bafa Town?" Umm... I found another call center and called the pension again. My call was only 50 kuruş, but I was trying to save the few coins I had for the dolmuş bus at the other end. Handing the call center attendant a ten lira note, he told me, "For you, no problem," and I got a free phone call.
Most travel in Turkey is done by bus, whether it's a couple of kilometers, or several hundred. Big buses, mid-sized buses, small buses, mini buses, and some scary buses are everywhere, all the time, and usually seem to outnumber cars. Dozens of different agents are competing for the traveler lira, and anyone approaching the rank of offices at an otogar (bus station) will be asked from all sides where they are going in an attempt to lure them in for a sale. Or big city names are called out. Izmir is a major destination on the Aegean coast, and invariably there was a tout at each bus station going, "Izmir, Izmir, Izmir. Izmir, Izmir, Izmir." The Bodrum bus station has a posted sign advising travelers to not let themselves be bullied into a ticket purchase.
Here's a pic I took of the agent offices at the Marmaris otogar.
And then there's the dolmuş. There's no equivalent in America. Dolmuşes are buses, sometimes just a big passenger van, that run along a route, usually from point A to point B, which is posted somewhere on the front. You can hail it anywhere along the way, and when you want to get off, you let the driver know. You pay your fee when exiting, ask another passenger to pass it up to the front for you, or an attendant will collect it on larger buses. It's a very efficient system for getting around, although a little challenging when you're a foreigner and not familiar with the routes and companies. When in doubt, just hail and ask the driver if he stops where you want to go. But like San Francisco's MUNI, if a dolmuş is full, the driver will just pass you by.
Long distance Turkish buses are always staffed with an attendant in addition to the driver. My guidebook tells me they are called muavin. The muavin will collect fares and inspect tickets, but more importantly hands out water, tea, soda, snacks, and will drizzle scented water on your hands so you can freshen up. All treats on a Turkish bus are free. The muavins are invariably wearing white shirts and ties, both standard neckties and bow ties. Well, at least they do if they are over eight years old. The eight year old was wearing a t-shirt, and was only slightly bigger than his two liter bottle of orange soda. Lots of orange Fanta in Turkey.
For all the beverages they hand out, Turkish buses mysteriously do not have toilets. To compensate, frequent stops are made. I don't know what you do in an emergency. I routinely refused drinks to avoid having to find out.
On the bus from Marmaris, right outside Bodrum, the driver pulled over to a jandarma post (a branch of the police; think gendarme). One boarded the bus, collected everyone's ID, including my passport, and took them outside for inspection. A few minutes later they were all returned and we were on our way. It seemed a routine thing, but I couldn't figure out why it was where it was. Seemed a random place, but maybe it's there because Bodrum is a port town, receiving both international and domestic ferries. The same thing happened on the way out, except my passport was handed back immediately after a cursory glance.
En route to Bafa, I had just accepted a cup of tea when we passed the city limit sign. We pulled over, and I was the only person who got out. Kind of in the middle of nowhere.
The muavin pointed me back in the direction from which we came, so I grabbed my gear and headed over. The pension is located 10 kilometers away along a different road, and the owner told me to catch either a dolmuş, or to call him again for help with a taxi. Evidently there's a taxi driver in town who will take me there for 10 YTL, And sure enough, there's was a guy waiting at the crossroads.
me: "Dolmuş?" (a dolmuş would be cheaper)
him: "No dolmuş."
Okay. WIth the aid of pen and paper he told me he'd take me to the lake for 10 YTL. He must be the guy, even though his taxi is a completely unmarked Murat 131 from the era of the cassette deck. There's even a cassette poking out of it, and who knows when it was last played. I completely missed a photo opportunity on the way in, when he had to stop for a cow who was wandering down the middle of the street.
My room at the pension was a cheery little bungalow with ridiculous sheets and a shower that didn't like to work in the mornings. The landscape is rugged and rocky, massive boulders piled up to form Mount Latmos. A really good hike would be completely around the lake, but that would be over 60 kilometers and take at least two days. The lake itself is ringed with coves, and in some of them the water has ceased to move, creating rather odoriferous areas where the ground feels like your walking on a sponge. In some other areas, the water is moving, and the ground is like a gigantic litter box, covered in small, dry, lightweight pebbles. I didn't spot any gigantic cats, but flamingos were in the water. Moving in for a closer look into one the stinky areas, both of my feet broke the spongy surface, right into sticky, black mud. Getting out involved splattering mud everywhere, and almost destroying one of my sandals. I cut my walk short just to go back to the pension and clean my feet.
The remains of a ancient town, Heracleia ad Latmos are scattered all around, even on islands in the middle of the lake. The modern town in its midst is Kapikirı. I say modern only because it is significantly younger than Heracleia. Most income seems be be derived from farming and handicrafts that the village women try to foist onto tourists (I resisted the temptation to pay them just to go away). Livestock hangs out on the street – horses, cows, donkeys, chickens. A young boy playing soccer on the street said hello to me, and before I knew it, he was off and leading me on a tour of the town. He brought his younger brother along, and they spent the entire time holding hands, except for when we had to hop over the rock walls. He always made sure his brother got over okay. I was left to fall on my face (but I didn't). He only spoke a few English words, and even though he got that I didn't speak Turkish, still bothered to offer explanations of what was what. He even drew something on the ground for me, but I didn't get what he was trying to say:
Practically at a running clip, we made our way through the back fields where there are the remains of a roman bath, a theater, and the city walls. He also pointed in the direction of the Temple of Athena and Agora on the other side of town. He showed me a stone fashioned into a pestle, and mimed crushing olives with another large rock. He dropped a small rock down a ground well to show me how deep it is. Popping back out onto the main street from the fields, they waved goodbye. I gave them each a lira.
There's also some stone tombs carved into rocks on the shore. The number of them visible at any time varies depending on the water level of the lake, which right now is low.
Selene's Pension is run by two sophisticated brothers, and I had an interesting conversation with the girlfriend of one, and German girl who works with primates. She used to work at an orangutan sanctuary in Indonesia, and had lots of interesting (and sad) stories from there and elsewhere in her studies. One good, and not sad, story involved an orangutan who couldn't figure out how to open up a grapefruit, went up to her, shoved the grapefruit in her lap, and made some grunting noises. She showed him how to break the skin with a stick, and a couple of days later he was self-sufficient in grapefruit consumption. To lead a happy life, everyone should be able to open grapefruit.
Other than dogs barking at me, and consuming elaborate Turkish breakfasts, it's pretty sleepy in Lake Bafa. A nice kind of sleepy, since the scenery is beautiful. But there are huge humming clouds of bugs, mostly non-biting, but that doesn't stop them from landing in any food served at the outside restaurant. I've been consistently mosquito-bitten throughout the Mediterranean, and I think a couple of other insects contributed as well to the assorted bumps. Thankfully they are mostly confined to below the knees and on my arms. I probably could have been more liberal with the bug repellent, but sometimes after I had a nice shower to clean up after a hot day, slathering repellent all over my clean body seemed wrong. I learned too late to just put on the chemicals. Despite the swarms, I almost stayed another day to enjoy wandering around the landscape some more, but part of my mind had already made the decision to leave. Also, being the only guest in a hotel and having the owner hang around to cook dinner just for you is a little awkward, no matter how good the food is. A call to the Murat 131-driving taxi driver, and I'm on my way out.