Before we left the states I made a comment to a friend that knowing Will and I, I wouldn’t be surprised if we went to the beach the first weekend we were in town in Turkey.
Apparently I know us well.
After our first wild adventure into the Alley Saturday night, we laid out our swimsuits and bought some sunscreen so we were ready for our first real outing to a local beach called Yumurtalik.
Still operating without wifi or cell phones we made arrangements with our ride for an 11:00am pickup, with plans to spend our Sunday lounging by the Mediterranean ocean (who gets to do that on a random Sunday?? So awesome!).
Our driver was a new friend and fellow JAG named Lindsey, who I now consider a seasoned Turk. She has been here for about a year, and from what I can tell, long enough to know her way around and learn to drive in the madness that is Turkish traffic. It is scary stuff folks!
Driving In Turkey
After a few minutes of being on the road, I hesitantly asked Lindsey about the rules and law on Turkish roads, because from my point of view there seemed to be few…if any. She informed us that road signs and lanes and such, are more just suggestions. I don’t think she stopped at at stop sign, however it seemed stop lights were actual reasons to stop and allow someone else to go. Cars wove in and out of the “lanes,” although in reality there usually isn’t even painted lines, so lanes are of more of a personal definition according to each driver. And everyone drives fast. I’m not even sure I saw a speed limit sign during our entire 45 minute drive to the beach. And because the average Turk pulls so far up at stop lights that they can no longer actually see whether the light turns green, it is customary and considered a courtesy for the driver(s) behind you to give a friendly toot or three to let you know when it’s turned green…just to let you know it’s safe to go 🙂
along the road it’s not uncommon to see horse drawn trailers and buggies, and often you will see tall trailers filled with people riding in lawn chairs being pulled by tractors. We wondered if these were the Turks version of public buses.
On the way to the beach it would be easy to think you were in a third world country. Lots of trash, and LOTS of run down buildings, but if you looked past these things there was a lot of beauty to be seen. Ever so often you would see a spread of farmland and lush greenery with a little stone house in the center much like you might find in the Italian countryside.
Arriving at the beach it was crazy. Lindsey told us there were times she had been there and had the entire place practically to herself, and in fact she had never even seen as many as a third of the amount of people that had decided to spend this particular Sunday there. You couldn’t go two feet without running into someone, although I’m happy to say even with the crowd, it didn’t really feel crowded…if that makes any sense.
We had a group of 8 so we secured two umbrellas and some lounge chairs (about 15TL – $7.5ish) each for the day and settled in. Looking around we saw women covered in a large range of “swimsuits.” From full head to toe, medical scrub looking suits, to suits that looked straight out of the 1920’s, to modern bikinis similar to the one I was wearing. Although the population here is something like 99% muslim, there are varying levels to the religion, thus the vast expanse of coverage you will see.
As I mentioned before, kids rule in Turkey, and the beach was no different. There were kids running around and swimming at will. Many of the younger Turkish boys were completely naked running around in the sun. And while we floated in the water, we realized we made excellent targets for play as the kids, and even some teenaged locals had a grand time of swimming by splashing as much as possible to try to get a reaction out of us. Apparently it is a fun pastime for them to try to get attention.
One of the hardest things to look past here is the trash. There are just piles of it everywhere. As an avid recycler…like, someone who gets serious anxiety throwing something plastic or paper into the trash, it’s heartbreaking and maddening to see what could be some stunningly beautiful places, swimming in trash. As we were going down the road there was a van in front of us (with the door open – Turkish AC?) and every few miles wads of trash would just flow out of the windows and doors. They don’t recycle here, and apparently don’t use trash cans often either. Oh, and based on the sheer multitude that we stepped on on the beach, cigarette butts are not considered trash.
So enough of all this trash talk, lets talk food. On the beach men and children walked around with overflowing trays of bagels and flatbread (apparently this is popular beach food here) balanced on their heads! We realized later in the day, while there were a few birds here and there, there were no seagulls. Those guys’ bagels wouldn’t have lasted two seconds if some of the seagulls that frequent US beaches had a go at them.
Just up from the beach there was a boardwalk of sorts with lots of restaurants and shops. We walked up to grab some lunch later in the day and stopped at a small kiosk and ordered a round of “doners,” which are sandwich/wraps similar to a gyro made with meat that has been cooked on a rotisserie. When Will and I studied abroad years ago he practically lived on these things so he was excited they were back in his life.
We also stopped at a produce stand to grab a few grapes. I am a sucker for fresh produce, and I could not believe the prices. I was able to get 1.5 bunch of white grapes, 2 big plums, 3 figs, 2 red bell peppers, and about a pound of baby okra all for 4.6TL, about $2.15.
I wish I had the nerve to take my camera out into the water to capture a photo looking back on the beach and surrounding area. Looking out at the ocean it could be possible to forget that we were at a beach halfway across the world, but from the water you could see the mosque in the distance, hear the general roar of Turkish being spoken across the beach, hear the foreign music (although we did hear a surprising amount of American top 40 hits), prayer calls, and political announcements blasting from the vans driving down the street, and see the cement buildings packed in tight surrounding the beach. It was really beautiful…and unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Will and I are plagued by blurry photos, which is my fault. I love my 50mm lens, but I’ve got to get better about using it correctly so I can set it up better and hand it off to friends to snap photos of us that are actually focused on us.
These are our friends Sarabeth and Nick. Sarabeth trained with Will at COT and JASOC and happened to arrive in Turkey the same day we did. It’s always a great part of the experience to make new friends at each base, but I’m really excited to already know someone here. Can’t wait to go on many adventures with these two!
We determined that if, or when family visits they will need to take all of their preconceived notions of how things are or should be…and leave them in America. This place is really amazing if you can throw everything you know out the window and look at it with open eyes and accept it for what it is.
This place is definitely different. We keep saying it’s kind of surreal to think we actually live here, and it really is. It’s a different world than we’ve ever known. And it’s awesome in it’s own way. Never in a million years would I have guessed we would be spending a Sunday, lounging by the Mediterranean ocean in Turkey, but I’m so, so glad that God gave us this experience. In some ways it feels like this is what I was meant to do in life. There isn’t much that makes me happier than exploring a new place, taking pictures, and writing about it to look back on for years to come. To me this is life. This is living.