Anatolian Express XIV: Marmaris and İçmeler

Thursday, June 5, 2014
On Wednesday morning I got up early-ish and had my final breakfast in Fethiye before hitting the road for Marmaris. Fethiye had been fun. I'd like the place where I was staying, especially as they had a nice veranda that had a view of the harbor and the hills beyond. I'd gotten into the habit of drinking rakı and eating watermelon there at night. Of course, people in Turkey would usually include white (feta) cheese as well, but I guess two out of three wasn't so bad in this instance.

The trip to Marmaris ended up taking about three hours on a little bus. We traveled through bright green valleys and attractive mountains not unlike those I'd seen between Antalya and Fethiye. The bus pulled into Marmaris in mid-afternoon, and within an hour or so I was installed at my hotel and ready to check out the town.
Marmaris is hardly my favorite spot in Turkey. I'd stayed here once before, in the summer of 2000, with a Turkish woman I was dating at the time. The town is quite the tourist trap, although it's still outpaced considerably in this regard by dozens of little places dotted across Turkey's southwestern coastline. Nevertheless, Marmaris seemed like as good a place as any to put down my bags for a couple of days and bag some rays on the beach.

Traveling in this part of Turkey, as readers of the Borderlands may have guessed already, is considerably different from the experience that once encounters in places like Sivas, Malatya, Urfa or Mardin. Whereas there were very few western travelers at all in these other places, western Turkey is packed with folks from Holland, Germany, the UK and Russia, especially. In fact, towns like Marmaris are really overwhelmed by tourism, which has drastically changed the region since the 1970s. 

As a particularly foreign-looking foreigner who speaks Turkish, my experiences are pretty different from those of other tourists in a lot of ways, but these differences narrow in a place like Marmaris. In Urfa, for example, I was seen as quite exotic, and one some days spent literally hours talking to people. Here, there's no time--everyone is working as hard as they can to grab as many tourists as possible and get them into their cafe, restaurant, excursion boat, barber shop, souvenir/trinket place or other place of business. When I respond to people's entreaties in Turkish, they laugh a bit because they assume that the few words I've said are the only words I know. But even when they do realize that I speak the language, there's no time to talk. With so many tourists around, and such fierce competition among businesses, everyone's got to keep their eye on the ball lest they fall behind.

For tourists, it can feel like a hassle hearing the constant choir of 'Yes, please!,' 'Just have a look!,' and so on. It's easy to forget how hard these people have to work just to survive. Most of the individuals working in places like Marmaris are not locals, but have rather come from elsewhere in Turkey to cash in. To their friends and relatives back in Adana, Antep or wherever, the folks working here might appear to leading a charmed life. They're on the coast, living in one of the most cosmopolitan and glamorous parts of the country.

I wonder how many of these workers actually feel that way, however. Long after the tourists have gone to bed, shop employees are shuttering their businesses at the end of 14-hour days. Those dudes who stand outside their shops all day long bantering with tourists must be totally exhausted. I know I would be.
Newsflash: tourists, such as this attractive bunch, often feel hassled in places like Marmaris
For all of the in-your-face nature of these dudes, they're in many ways invisible. I don't have a single photograph of any of them, at least not from Marmaris. And why would I take one? I find their pushiness annoying and try to avoid them. Yet these are the people that just about every foreign tourist who comes to places like Marmaris ends up having the most interactions with, to the extent that such experiences can even be called interactions. 

All of this notwithstanding, I do have to admit that I'm enjoying myself here. I especially enjoy swimming in the sea. I absolutely love the buoyancy of salt water, and sometimes float for hours on my back, looking at the mountains in the distance--with the occasional furtive glance back to my chair to make sure my bag is still there.

This afternoon I went to İçmeler, a rather charmless suburb of Marmaris with decent beaches. I wasn't really looking for charm, though, but rather clean water. I took a twenty-minute ferry ride from Marmaris, then spent a few hours lazing on a chaise-longue.

Having grown up spending my summers on Lake Michigan, I've made a lot of mental comparisons between the beaches in Michigan and those in Turkey. In Michigan, the beaches are totally undeveloped--you can walk for hours and not see a single house. Instead, it's just lake, beach, sand dunes and forest. In Turkey, by contrast, most of the best beaches have been snapped up by hotels and restaurants, leaving just a few stretches of (often) grubby territory for the public. I'm aware of how unfair this situation can be, even as I participate in it and help perpetuate it by spending money in these places.

I guess that at the very least I can say--and it is the least I can say--is that I recognize how incredibly fortunate I am. I'm not what most people would consider wealthy--I don't have a car and I tend to live pretty simply on a day-to-day basis. But that I have the money to take a month-long vacation across Turkey like this--let alone travel to dozens of countries as I have done over the past two decades--is just mind-bogglingly and incredibly lucky. While I've worked really hard, especially in the last few years, to get to where I am, everywhere I look in a place like this I see people busting their asses every day just to keep their heads above water.

So keep that in mind if you're ever lucky enough to be traveling in Turkey and you find yourself getting annoyed by the dudes shouting 'Yes, please!' at you. As irritating as they can be, there can be worse things in life than being the potential spender whose attention these folks are trying desperately to attract.
More pictures from Marmaris can and İçmeler can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.

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