The “Blue Voyage” on Turkey’s Riviera

by Donald Crane, professor of political science in international studies

I spend quite a bit of my year overseas-usually about two months-and most of it is work, not fun. But I would like to share one trip that is my all-time favorite-maybe because there’s no way to turn this one into research, no writing, no heavy reading. Only relaxation.

This is what the Turks call Mavi Yolculuk-the Blue Voyage. It was originally a Turkish urbanite idea, an escape to the beautiful coves of Turkey’s southern coast on the Mediterranean Sea with a group of friends, but like all good ideas, it rapidly became part of international tourism-we know quite a few people who fly in just for this trip.

We arranged our trip with a group of friends,Turks and Americans, and booked a 30-meter wooden boat, called a gulet, for a week. Converging at the scenic small coastal town of Göçek on Saturday afternoon, we met in several rounds of excited greetings at a seaside restaurant before boarding our home for the week, the Orsa 6.Trooping toward the pier, we passed our cook,Yusuf, loading up supplies at the yacht service-beautiful ripe tomatoes, eggplant, fresh bread, lamb chops, watermelon, and of course, gin and tonic. Boarding in the afternoon heat, the first thing that the deckhand, Mehmet, offered us was a cold Turkish beer while we chatted with the owner, Haluk Bey. Soon we had sorted ourselves out into the five cabins, changed into tee shirts and swim suits-our uniform for most of the week, and were anxiously waiting for Captain Dursun to finish loading fresh water so we could get out of what now seemed the noisy, hot port for a cool swim.

Shortly,we were motoring out of the harbor, headed into Fethiye Bay, searching for the first of many small coves that we would explore over the next week. Noting our impatience, Captain Dursun didn’t make us wait too long, and picked a spot on a small island, mooring Mediterranean-style with the anchor out in the center of the cove and backing in to tie up to a pine tree close to shore. As we maneuvered in, a contest broke out to guess how deep the water was.You could see the bottom easily through crystal-clear water, little schools of fish flashing around between us and the rocks-twenty feet? Thirty feet? Finally, as we dove in, it seemed like even more than that, and the perfect temperature, refreshing but warm enough to stay in as long as you cared to.

We quickly settled in to a terribly stressful life-tough decisions had to be made constantly through most of the day. Swim, or nap? Or a bit of light reading, perhaps? Or just watch the scenery and enjoy the breeze as we moved around several times a day from one spectacular place to another? Fortunately, some options were easy to settle: the cook set out a wonderful Turkish breakfast of toast, feta and other cheeses, tomatoes sprinkled with dill and drizzled with a bit of olive oil, olives, cucumbers, and eggs if you wanted them. Around noon, the galley would start emitting wondrous cooking aromas, and a simple but well prepared Turkish meal would emerge-perhaps sautéed eggplant slices in a yogurt sauce, green beans cooked with olive oil, a plate of Turkish meatballs, called köfte. In late afternoon, tea would appear, with tasty Turkish salty snacks and pistachios. A bit later, gin and tonic time would arrive, followed by dinner. If we were lucky, or rather if the crew had been lucky with the net they set out the night before or their spear gun expedition that afternoon, the meal would be fresh seafood,Turkish white wine, and again lovely vegetable dishes with couscous.

In order to survive the culinary assaults, we had to swim, hike, and sightsee constantly. Fortunately, Fethiye Bay is loaded with ancient and not-so-ancient sites, from Cleopatra’s Bath to Lycian tombs, ruins of towns from two thousand years ago, or ones abandoned only in the 1920s from the forced population exchanges between Turkey and Greece. Our captain-surely half mountain goat from his winter occupation of gathering produce in the hills around his town-led us to scenic overlooks several hundred feet up.

In several days most of us had forgotten what day it was, a useless piece of information anyway, as time was calculated by cycles of sun and mealtimes. Midweek was the 4th of July, remembered only by our British friend, who conspired with the cook, and after dinner a “4th of July Jacko- Mellon” emerged from the galley-a Turkish cantaloupe carved with a face, sparklers stuck in like so many birthday candles.The cake baked in the galley oven to join this celebration, however, had turned into hard rubber. Our cook didn’t have the slightest idea how to make a cake (something found in Turkey, but not in village cuisine), and our friend was equally ignorant on the subject of his stove.

But then the dreaded countdown began toward having to leave this behind.The last night turned into a party, the music probably louder than other boats in the cove preferred, people trying to dance in the small afterdeck.The next morning we moored one last time close to our port of return, for one last swim.The next set of travelers was waiting at the dock as we returned-we were jealous.

For more information on Blue Voyage cruises and tours or to explore more of Turkey’s coastal region, visit www.bluevoyage.com, www.exploreturkey.com, or www.turizm.net/bluecruise/today.html.