We celebrated New Year’s Day in Finike, a small town on the southern coast of Turkey, with a walk to Limyra, the ruins of an ancient city located between a couple of rural villages.
It was just our second day in Finike, and after a week in Istanbul, we were eager to take a long walk of the kind we like best: quiet roads, open vistas and a few discoveries. We had the added pleasure of being accompanied by a friendly and adorable dog for much of our explorations.
A few people here in Finike have asked us how we found out about this place. Apparently we are unusual for foreign visitors because we didn’t arrive on a yacht. Interesting to note that the person who is responsible for us coming to Finike is in fact a yachtie: Justine, writer of The Tea Chest Blog. Justine’s posts about Finike made the town and its surroundings sound so enticing, we decided to book a place for a month.
Before I go on, I just want to pause to say Justine is exactly the kind of blogger I most appreciate: someone who combines valuable information with her own distinctive point of view. She’s also wonderfully helpful. I wrote to Justine for some extra information about Finike, and she responded not just quickly, but warmly. She’s been so generous with her time and knowledge, and really helped us to settle quickly into Finike.
Finike is not as popular with yachties as Kaş, which lies further south and west down the coast. Finike’s marina isn’t as large as the one at Kaş, either. Right now there are 30-odd yachties living down at the marina, many repairing and renovating their boats, getting ready to sail again once they can figure out where to go. Covid has stopped a lot of people from traveling altogether, and the yacht travelers are finding they’re no longer welcome to land just anywhere. To me it seems a little strange, especially if people arrive after a lengthy voyage that’s far longer than any quarantines countries impose on arriving visitors. But governments and health authorities just want to be ultra-careful, I guess.
In addition to its marina, Finike is known for beaches, resort-type hotels, and for the Lycian Way, a long-distance trail that crosses southern Turkey. At this time of year, we weren’t expecting to lie around and get hot on a sandy beach, rousing ourselves only to run into the water and cool off. But winter is a great season for hiking, with daily high temperatures of just 18 to 20 degrees centigrade, and the idea of walking through the Turkish countryside to see ancient ruins certainly did attract us.
And what a varied countryside! Mountains rise steeply on three sides of Finike, dominating the views in this small town. They’re sparsely covered with growth, so you can see the dramatic folds and peaks that change as the sun progresses across the sky. The rock itself is striking, ranging in color from white to deep red to reddish-brown. It’s a beautiful contrast to the blue sky arching over. The sky, too, is variable this time of year. It can be a clear, bright blue, or put on a dramatic display of thick white and charcoal cloud rolling in across the mountains to shadow Finike’s harbour and long, gracefully curved coastline.
The winter solstice was less than two weeks ago, so the sun rises late – it’s just beginning to get light about 7:50 AM, not only because of the season, but also because we are at the western edge of Turkey’s single time zone. What with waking up in what still feels like night, lingering over morning tea, doing our exercises, eating breakfast and packing sandwiches, we didn’t get out of the house on New Year’s Day until almost 10:00. By the time we did get out, the morning was bright and warming up nicely from the dawn chill. We set out from our apartment at the northern edge of town and headed along a partly-finished road towards the orange orchards.
The central government has imposed lockdowns every weekend in December in its efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus. The lockdowns aren’t terribly severe: You can go to food shops, pharmacies and a few restaurants if they’re within walking distance of your home, between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. We’re luckier than Turkish people of our age, who are supposed to stay home altogether during the weekends.
This weekend, the lockdown was prolonged by an extra day, starting the evening of Thursday 31 December and lasting until 5:00 AM Monday. We weren’t too surprised to encounter a police care almost as soon as we left the apartment building; we figured they were patrolling to make sure no one was breaking the curfew.
When the car pulled up, we saw two men in the front seat and a policewoman in the back. The driver leant towards us; he was young, polite and tightly masked. He was friendly, returning our greetings – “Günaydın” (“Good morning”) and “Multu yıllar” (Happy New Year). He asked where we were going, and Alan told him “to Limyra,” the Lycian ruin about 40 minutes’ walk from our house. After making sure we were going by foot – not by car – he smiled and waved us on.
The first part of the walk was through land that’s clearly in a transitional state. Most of the land around here is still agricultural, with extensive orange groves, some pomegranate and kumquat trees, and lots of white plastic tunnel-shaped greenhouses filled with cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines. But as we left our apartment, we passed through land that was clearly farmed at one time, and is now fallow. We assume it was sold for development some time ago – certainly long enough that the land has been taken over by tall waving bullrushes, abundant wild grasses and herbs. Some of the tracts have been shallowly excavated here and there, possibly for foundations that simply haven’t been put in. We often see herons and other stork-like birds browsing in the marshy areas.
Alongside a lot of these wild tracts, you can see apartment buildings in various states of construction and abandonment. Several building projects are in progress around our apartment building, with fresh concrete slabs and new posts being poured around rebar-filled cores. A little distance from our place is a series of what I call see-through buildings: several poured-concrete floors stacked up on concrete, but lacking the brick infill between posts that makes up the building’s walls. Some of the projects have clearly been abandoned for a while; we figure that coronavirus probably stopped the funding for these.
About 20 minutes after leaving the policeman, we arrived at the start of a long straight dirt road running up to the foot of the mountain, with huge orange orchards stretching out to either side. The fruit hangs heavy, abundant and brightly colored; much of the crop looks ripe and ready to pick. There wasn’t much going on – no farm machinery at work, no pickers or ladders in sight. The few people we ran into were either hand-pruning trees or simply relaxing, sitting on plastic chairs with their faces upturned to the sunshine.
As we reached the foot of the mountains,we spotted the first indication of Limyra: a squared-off doorway carved into the rocky hillside above the road. It was the first of a number of tombs we’d see later in the day.
We turned towards where we assumed most of the ruins were, and passed a couple of small houses old-style houses lifted on stilts above the roadside. Two dogs lay under the high porch of the second house. One barked at us, but the other, a small black-and-white female with a long body and amusingly short legs, trotted across the road with her ears perked and her tail wagging. She circled my legs, jumped up and nosed my hand. I gave her a few strokes, and she ran to Alan for more attention. Confirmed: We were friendly. She decided to accompany us on our explorations, and stayed close to us for the next couple of hours.
We soon reached an amphitheater built at the foot of the mountain. It was first built in the second century B.C.E., and renovated in the second century C.E. after being damaged by a severe earthquake in 141 or 142 C.E. It’s in remarkably good shape for so old a building, especially one that’s been through two major earthquakes. There’s not much left of the decorations that must have once covered it, but the bit of decoration we saw on the next-door public bath is graceful and gives some idea of how handsome the amphitheater must have been.
Climbing the steep seats/stairs of the amphitheater gave us good views of Limyra’s more extensive ruins further down the road, as well as the greenhouses all around us. There are some beautiful wildflowers at this time of year – mandrake, a plant that I saw for the first time in Catania, Sicily, back in October, and some lovely poppy-like flowers ranging from deep purple to a soft lilac-like pink. I looked these up later; they are poppy anemones.
The ruins are closed this weekend because of the lockdown, so we’ll come back again another time. A man who glimpsed us in the amphitheater stationed himself by the front entrance, telling us the place was closed. Then he offered to let us in, but we decided we could wait until it’s really open, and told him we’ll come back another time.
We walked back along the road, intending to head further to the rock tombs, but then we spotted a way across the little stream dividing us from the eastern part of the ruins. So over we went, into a field with curly-horned sheep, turtles wandering about and some spongy, boggy bits we managed to skirt by walking along some ancient fallen-down walls. It was certainly picturesque with all the ancient masonry and clouding skies.
The dog was having a wonderful time. Accompanying us along the road, she was decorous and careful to stay close. But once we crossed the stream and entered the field, she went mad, racing around on her short legs. She streaked over to a group of sheep and began chasing them. I was embarrassed; she’s not our dog, but I was afraid the owner of the sheep (the farm is very close by) would not realize that. Later of course, I realized this dog is most probably well known to the people who live in the area.
After our short explore, we headed back to the road, in search of the rock tombs we knew lay beyond the first one we’d seen. Sure enough, after just a few minutes walking east, we came to a hillside with several of the tombs. They’re easy to spot; their neatly cornered openings, pediments and sometimes carved columns are still distinct after 2,000 years.
A short scramble up the hillside took us right up to the tombs we’d seen from the road, and a couple more that had been hidden by the fold of the hill. We weren’t up very high, but the air was fresh there above the road, scented with wild oregano. The dog leapt gracefully from rock to rock on her short little legs, much faster and more easily than us. She found the quickest path up and accompanied us as we walked up to a higher rock ledge, above the tombs. We were stopped by an old wire fence enclosing what looked like a derelict shepherd’s camp. The metal posts supporting metal beams were rusty and leaning, and the plastic that had once served as a roof hung in rags blowing like curtains in the breeze. The most recent visitors were clearly the curly-horned sheep; their pelleted dung lay thick on the ground between the rocks, feeding a rich growth of herbs and wildflowers.
We had our packed sandwiches up there, looking across the wide swaths of orange groves that lay between the rock-tomb hillside and the buildings of Finike lining the coast. The sea was gleaming in the sun, even with the approaching clouds. I broke off some crusts to share with the dog as the muezzin called out the dhuhr prayer time.
On the way down, I stopped to look into the tombs. The bodies that had lain there 2,000 years ago were long gone. Treasure hunters probably broke the tombs open first, and after they made off with jewelery and other grave goods, animals likely took what was left. I thought of the people buried here, and the many many more who lived here and were buried more modestly, generations on generations. Ways of making things, growing things, cooking things — these all passed from parents to children to grandchildren, and are still passed today. What I see as we walk around this valley are lives that still carry within them the vestiges of those lives lived so long ago.
As we headed home, we had one of those encounters that travelers always love. A couple about our age were sitting in their garden, enjoying the fresh air and sun. They called out to us, and we exchanged greetings. They asked where we’d been, then invited us for tea or coffee. We politely declined – it was time to head home for a shower for one of us, a nap for the other – but it felt so good to receive the friendliness and return it. I wondered, though – how are we ever going to accept these kinds of offeres? Would we put our masks on once we were within 10 feet of the couple? Would we sit far away from them to drink something and converse? Would it seem rude to them?
I suppose we’ll find out sometime soon how to socialize with people here. Everyone is so friendly – this wasn’t the first offer we’ve had – and I do so want to meet and talk with people. After all, that’s one of the best parts of being in a new place.