Anatolian Express XV: Bodrum, Gümüşlük & Yalıçiftlik

Sunday, June 8, 2014

I rolled into Bodrum on Friday after a three-hour trip from Marmaris. It was easy traveling on a little (one-buttock seats) but uncrowded bus. The weather was sunny and warm, and we drove through a nice new highway that took us through the mountains. As was the case with most of the trips I've taken during this past month, the ride was considerably shorter than my guidebook, published just seven years ago, indicates. It's testament to the degree to which Turkey's infrastructure has been developing in recent years.

From the bus as we pulled into Bodrum

This isn't the first time I've traveled to Bodrum. As was the case with some of the other spots on the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts that I've been hitting this week, Bodrum is filled with memories from earlier visits, mostly from the 1990s. The most recent time I was here, however, was right after I'd completed my PhD in 2007. As is the case now, I was taking a celebratory trip to Turkey back then. Unlike now, my traveling companion was a surly adolescent, my then 14 year-old daughter. Either way, of course, Bodrum is a very fun place.
So fun, in fact, that one of the best songs named after a city in Turkey is about Bodrum.

What would a trip to Bodrum be without Mazhar-Fuat-Özkan?  
After staying in a slew of funky little hotels over the past three weeks, I decided to splash out a little bit for Bodrum. It was a pretty simple calculation to make. Bodrum's more expensive generally, and in places like this the cheaper your locale the crappier you're treated. Why not spend a little extra money and have a great location and a nice big room with a minibar?

Of course, 'splashing out' is a relative term. Some of my favorite sleazy motels in the United States cost the same ($70) that I'm paying to chill out here alongside the Aegean.
I've paid more to stay in worse places


Over the course of a month of self-financed travel, things obviously get expensive after a while, which is why I've generally been paying less than half of what my current digs cost. At the same time, however, it's too easy to get caught in the vortex of budgets that, in the long run, are nevertheless very affordable to me now. So why not spend a little extra at the end of the trip and visit Bodrum in style?
On Friday, I got into town relatively late in the afternoon. I didn't do too much--just had a quick bite to eat, then walked around town and went swimming at a beach in town. Normally I try to avoid municipal beaches--god only knows where Bodrum's sewage goes--but I really felt like swimming and was too lazy to travel to one of the nicer beaches elsewhere on the peninsula. We'll see if any consequences arise from this decision further down the road.
On Saturday, I went out to Gümüşlük, a spot where I spent some time with old girlfriends back in the day. I swear I wouldn't know anything about where to go in these types of places without these former partners having shown me around, as my solo travels over the decades have generally been to dustier, less romantic spots. Gümüşlük is one of many nice little spots on the Bodrum peninsula, and it takes about thirty minutes to get there by minibus.
Breeding ground: Rabbit Island in Gümüşlük
It hadn't changed a bit since my last trip there in 2007. It's still filled with leathery exiles--and their younger peers--from Istanbul grousing about the AKP, only their complaints have since taken on the bitter edge of futility. Today folks were talking about rumors they'd heard that Deniz Baykal, of all people, might be the opposition candidate for president. There are more foreigners than was the case in previous years, but it's still a very chill atmosphere. There's very little of the crowds and noise that you get in Bodrum. The beaches aren't spectacular, but it's a sweet little place. There's a little island off the coast called Tavşan Adası ("Rabbit Island") where the animals have been breeding for years. If the water level ever dips and a land bridge is created, I fear Anatolia will eventually come under rabbit rule.
Onions and garlic for sale
Out by the island there are also some cool underwater remains of an old Greek village that was, like the others I've talked about, abandoned in 1923. The water was too wavy to swim out there today, but I remember snorkeling out there before and seeing the ruins of old houses--including the remnants of a pretty cool-looking mosaic--on earlier trips there. On the way back to Bodrum, my green-eyed dolmuş driver spoke in the nasally accent that I hear a lot in west Anatolia, where many people are the descendants of Muslims who were forced to move to Turkey during the population exchange of 1923.
 On Sunday I went to a place I'd never visited before--Yalıçiftlik. It's a small and mellow resort-type area filled mostly with tourists from Turkey. By Bodrum standrads, it's what Turkish speakers would call salaş--funky, laid back, not terribly pretentious. After getting to Yalıçiftlik by dolmuş, I sat down at a small restaurant and had a nice fish lunch. Afterwards, I was totally stuffed, and sat reading on the beach for a couple of hours before taking a couple of nice, long swims in the sea.
There was hardly anyone else in the water. When I'm in the sea, I can spend hours just floating on my back, treading water and swimming back and forth. If I get tired, I just hold by breath and spread out my limbs, taking in the scenery around me. Even in places where the beaches are crowded, once you get out of the shallow water--there aren't a lot of strong swimmers in Turkey--it's pretty easy to get away from folks and just chill out. While I floated about in the sea, I thought about the fact that the seaside part of my vacation is ending soon, as is this trip more generally. But summer hasn't even started yet.
I found myself, even amid all of this great green mountain scenery and turquoise blue water, kind of sort of starting to look a bit forward to getting back to Montana and doing some work. And, to tell you the truth, this seemed like a pretty good sign. I think that if, by the end of your vacation, you're starting to feel like you're ready to get back home, then maybe you've managed to benefit from your time away.
Bodrum at nite
Bodrum has a wild nightlife, but I haven't really been partaking in it. I'm not really one to head out to foreigner-filled resort discos (plenty of Turks come to Bodrum in the summertime, but the domestic season hasn't really started yet). In the late evenings, I've been hanging out on the hotel terrace, eating watermelon and drinking rakı while I read and write in my notebook. The hotel staff is pretty friendly, and when I asked the night dude at reception for a plate and fork for the melon and two glasses for the rakı, he also brought out a bucket of ice with tongs. It was a nice touch, and much appreciated.
From Bodrum I'll head to Istanbul, where several days of crazy rain have generated some wild photos that have been circulating across the interwebs. Who knows what I'll find when I get there?
Anyway, it's time to move on and get back to the grandiose imperial capital--the City of the Sultans, as my erstwhile colleague Thomas Goltz likes to call it. My trip through Anatolia has done me good, but now it's time to spend a few more days in the corrupt old city of my earlier youth before returning to the US. And since a big part of any trip to the City of the Sultans now constitutes at least some part nostalgia for me, at least during this stage of my life, how about another MFÖ song? It's one of my favorites.

I've always liked this tune...

For now, however, I need to bade farewell to the south, the sea and this part of my summer. It's time to get ready for some new adventures. 

More pictures from Bodrum can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.
Like the Borderlands? You'll love the book! Order your copy now at the OUP website.  

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