Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cold Turkey

High in the Taurus Mountains is a veiled treasure, an astounding location where dreams and reality collide in a brilliant display of winter sunshine. Following the bumpy single lane road for 50 kilometres through the densely forested foothills where boar and stags rove freely to the top of the highest peak in the area was as challenging as it was rewarding.

The early spring thaw hadn’t yet begun in earnest, so although the approach was clear of ice and mud the mountains were still deep with packed snow. They glistened in the crystalline air with the glaring clarity of Technicolor against a black and white backdrop.

We headed out early on a midweek morning, expecting to be on top of the mountain enjoying lunch after a brisk hike to the observatory on the peak. With its Russian built telescope and pollution-free viewing position the platform is ideal for indulging in scene gazing, and promises a breath-taking spectacle. Neither the vista nor the food at the restaurant disappointed, though there were the usual farcical incidents thrown in we had a great stay on the summit.

The rugged peaks of the 'Toros' mountain chain run the entire breadth of Turkey’s southern coastal border, from the Mediterranean to the edge of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where they meet the steppes of Asia.

Dotted amongst the high jagged peaks are many fashionable resorts with an endless diversity of wonderland scenery. As more of the slopes in Western Europe become crowded with tourists, people are discovering the southern region of Turkey is about more than fabulous beaches, ancient temples, nightclubs, amazing scenery and fresh local produce, there are also spectacular winter sports areas.

Named ‘hidden town’, the charming resort we chose to visit, nestled in an isolated spot deep in the majestic landscape of this scenic snow-capped region, is one of many areas throughout the country gaining renown as exciting alternatives to the crowded Alpine trails. At over 2400 metres, or almost 8000 feet, the end of the line for the chairlift is still more than 1200 metres below the highest of the mountains in the range.

Though I’m not keen on exposed heights, I didn’t want the ladies to lose their nerve either, so I suggested they ride together while I went solo down the steep slope. It only takes five and a half minutes, but the 745-metre cable is suspended above a treacherous looking valley and looks across to the distant glacial ridge, which allows for the sensation of a longer trip.

As the chair swings out beyond the edge of the cliff and one is left dangling high above the crest of the mountain that vertiginous sensation takes the breath away and the suspension of disbelief is shattered, however, it also gave me the opportunity for some great photos.

The pristine water of this mountain reservoir halfway down the slope is where my home drinking water is bottled, its source being the streams that direct the melting snow from the neighbouring mountains of course. The perfect spot for a picnic on a spring day, this emerald lake is situated off the beaten path amongst the woodland pines. Above and beyond its own natural beauty the location also offers a panoramic view of Antalya spread out like a magic carpet around the bay at the base of the mountains.

Like giant Lego shapes or a child’s building blocks, these mountains have been chiselled and chopped into massive slabs of pure marble used for housing materials. The size is extraordinary and it’s difficult to grasp the scale without realising that those tiny little figures in the distance are actually huge bulldozers and dump trucks that would dwarf most usual lorries.

One of my Turkish friends said she thought the quarry was ugly and an eyesore in the natural landscape of this otherwise unspoilt terrain. Marble is a rock with specific mineral qualities and is in great demand locally and abroad for it’s beauty as well as functional properties, and this rock mine will undoubtedly provide many jobs which are extremely important to the manufacturing industry.

Weighing the environmental damage against the economic necessity and maintenance of a decent standard of living becomes a balancing act that requires negotiation and compromise. Although it isn't pretty to see such incredible natural formations destroyed, with so many mountains available and so much need for housing in the area it becomes an understandable necessity to create substantial foundations for the growing population of this region, and it does provide a way to incorporate environmentally harmonious material into the architectural design of the region.

A few days earlier there had been a theme party at one of the café nightclubs near the aquarium, and the local crowd turned out in hippie garb to get into the spirit of the age. A couple of Turkish film stars turned up for a photo session (though admittedly they were in formal attire and had popped out of the Latin dance club across the small lake) and everybody wanted in on the act. We even hit the local gazette in full psychedelic splendour as the paparazzi clamoured around snapping at the hippy version of a red carpet. With a live band doing their best to replicate the feel of those lost heady days, a special reduced price on drinks for our group, and a contest for best-dressed hippy, the party lasted long into the night.

Sundays there is a notable regional market in an otherwise sleepy village in the foothills. We went for a stroll and breakfast in a tree house a few weeks ago and enjoyed pomegranate juice and some of the best flat breads I’ve ever eaten. Tortilla style wraps were filled with pretty much anything you wanted, you only had to ask and it was all brought out from the massive open air griddles to your chosen tree house, of which there were many dozens scattered throughout the woods. I opted for a traditional style breakfast at the suggestion of my hosts, which included pizza-dough thick wraps with eggs, cheese, meats and vegetables cooked into them, salads and a selection of sauces, and of course plenty of sweet black tea.

Thanks to the supportive turnout of the community it was another great night in the old town when we headed out for Billy’s speak your mind comedy and poetry gig a couple Saturdays ago. I threw together a short set after the hysterically outspoken Scot had done his thing and local mountain guide Turkeman told a harrowing tale of avalanches, then we all went dancing to live rock music in a traditional Ottoman building near the marina.

I met a friend for lunch one afternoon near the famously steep and slippery 40 steps that run alongside the ancient city walls, and was surprised to discover this remarkable and somewhat concealed marina was nearly as busy with tour boats in March as I’d seen them mid-summer.

We enjoyed a leisurely walk around the cobbled passageways and alleys of the old town and after a couple glasses of a fine regional wine decided to take the longer but less steep route back past the old clock tower through the central pedestrianised shopping district.

Overall, winter hasn’t been too bad here; with temperatures ranging from 12 to 24 degrees (the 50s-70s Fahrenheit), and only occasional brief flooding of the roads around the city as the tremendous storms lash the coast from the sinister clouds that gather as thick disapproving eyebrows over the mountaintops. Most days the sun has shone and the cafes were doing a steady trade while at night the torrential rain would batter the city accompanied by the rumbling peals of thunder and flashes of frightening bolt lightning that illuminated the craggy peaks of the Taurus Mountains.

As you probably know from previous posts, my upstairs terrace looks out over the nearest of the weather-beaten and wrinkled mountains, and they almost cast a shadow across this protective basin. As the sun descends beneath behind their rocky tops on a winter day and casts beams of kaleidoscopic light across the valley the evening cool settles as the snow on the jagged pinnacles.

A great place to live and work, this city and its inhabitants are among the nicest anywhere in the world – with the Mediterranean climate and the facilities of every large city right on the doorstep, why would I be anywhere else?

I hope your winter has been as fruitful and interesting as mine, with events and courses, visits to scenic and fascinating locations, nights with good friends and days out with some wonderful people.

Although season has been chilly, it certainly hasn’t been nearly as unpleasantly cold as other places I’ve lived, and has been as mild as can be expected in northern latitudes, giving me another reason not to quit cold turkey.

But, the world is ever-changing, and sometimes opportunities come along that demand attention; often we have to take a chance and delve into the unknown of the future with ambition in order to uncover our capabilities.

Turkey has become a friend, a lover, a compatriot and guardian, however new treasures and discoveries await and only time will reveal knowledge of what destiny keeps hidden.

I'm simply grateful for the fresh water and food I eat, the friends who keep me company and the many wonders I've seen. The natural world is my home not a place to be conquered - it belongs to us all and we must do what we can to heal and not harm.

The fresh water we drink comes from the springs beneath the earth that rise up to form lakes, the air that we breathe needs a healthy filtration system too and that requires forests and jungles, and the ground where we grow our food, it too needs minerals to keep it healthy, just as we do.

All of life is connected, and all of life is contrary, let's work for that healthy homeostasis in nature. Both the organic and the social must be in balance and as spirits in this material world we must guard the only means of life that we have to ensure its lasting health and beauty.

So, as springtime colours the world and blue skies and sunshine push the threatening clouds away again till the end of the year, I will be dreaming of the future and living for the present – the gift of living on the only planet we have. Let’s take care of it and remember Earth is the source of everything we need to live.

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