“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”
Our hotel on the Cukerbag Peninsula in Kas, Turkey was perched on a southern slope overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean Sea and the small Greek island of Meis (also called Kastellorizo). On a bright, sunny morning during our stay, my husband and I woke up early, ready for an adventure we had booked in town the day before.
After a quick breakfast, we hiked up the hill to the road where a Xanthos Tours safari-type truck picked us up at 8:15. It stopped at several other hotels picking up 11 other passengers then we drove about 45 minutes up hills and down through valleys filled with greenhouses until we came to the coastal fishing village of Ücegiz.
We each bought a liter of bottled water, changed into our water shoes, then listened to a sea kayak orientation - first in Turkish, and then in English. The English was for us, a couple from the north of France, a German guy who was an industrial engineer living in Oberstdorf but originally from Stuttgart and a German woman from Berlin who was a social worker. The rest were Turkish speakers. The average age of our co-adventurers was mid-twenties, with us being the outliers by a few decades. We didn’t care and the others didn’t seem to mind either.
When given a choice, most people chose to go in double kayaks, but we asked for singles, as did the Germans.
Before we launched, we put our backpacks into a small boat that would follow the group. Our kayaks had 2 nice features: 1) a neoprene hatch that could hold our water bottles and camera and 2) leashes on the paddles that you could hook onto the lines on the kayak.
A young kid, who was the assistant to our guide, took the lead. The guide took up the rear so he could keep an eye on stragglers. At about 10 am we took off from Ücegiz and headed across the bay to the island of Kekova. The paddle took about an hour. The water was warm and the sun' s heat was eased by a warm sea breeze. We passed many boats on the way. Kekova is popular with glass-bottomed boat tours because of a "sunken city" near its coastline.
When we reached a small bay on the island, we landed and our guide gave us a short history lesson on the Lycian ruins nearby. (In ancient times, Lycia was a geopolitical region in Anatolia in what are now the provinces of Antalya and Mugla on the southern coast of Turkey.) We had about half an hour to explore and take a swim.
From there, we paddled along the island coast close to the remains of the partially sunken ancient Lycian settlement, Dolchiste. Its ruins were partly overtaken by the sea due to an earthquake that occurred during the 2nd century.
After that, we crossed the bay to the town of Kale (also known as Kaleköy or, in ancient times, Semina). It’s the only Medierranean town in Turkey that is inaccessible by road. The shore is lined with fishermen’s restaurants and “meyhanes” (Turkish tavernas). We left our kayaks in the harbor and were served lunch at one of the open-air restaurants. It included a bufe of mezes (appetizers) and an entree of chicken shish and rice. We finished with a glass of tea.
After lunch, we had about an hour and a half to explore the town. The two of us walked up through the cobblestone streets of the village between white stone houses and then continued on a steep path to the remains of a "kale" (castle) that crowned the hill. It was built by the Knights of St. John from Rhodes. We wandered around a Lycian necropolis with many interesting sarcophagi.
Our guide told us that many Russian Orthodox pilgrims come to visit this region, especially the Church/Museum of St. Nicholas (the legendary Santa Claus), a little further along the coast in Demre. The saint was the Bishop of nearby Myra and his remains were buried in Demre during the 1st century AD. Though some of his bones were later stolen and reportedly taken to Bari, Italy, that whole affair remains controversial.
When it was time to leave, the wind was up, and our guide handed out skirts for the kayaks. We had an energetic paddle back to Ücegiz, where we arrived at about 3:45. The town had many booths where elderly women in kerchiefs were selling hand-made summer dresses. They were triangular in shape and most were of a sheer fabric (swimsuit coverups I would guess). We had half an hour to relax in Ücegiz and we bought a couple of biras to bring back to the hotel for “5 o’clock,” then we all boarded the truck for the drive back. After it dropped us back at the hotel, we skipped dinner and crashed for the night. We were tired but it was worth it.
The Kekova region of the Turkish Mediterranean was declared a Specially Protected Area in 1990 to protect the natural, cultural and geographic richness of Kekova Island and surrounding coast. Paddling there was not only a fun and scenic outdoor adventure, we learned something about the ancient world.