When we last left off, we had spent a couple of days stuffing ourselves with Turkish breakfasts, baklava, and döner in Istanbul before heading to Fethiye to finish gearing up for our trek along the Lycian Way. Following a couple of days in the pretty coastal city, we set off for our attempt to hike the full 540km trail along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
What is the Lycian Way?
The Lycian Way is a roughly 500km long trail along the Southern coast of Turkey. It hikes through the lands of the ancient Lycian people who lived in the area in ancient times. They had a democratic system and were fairly wealthy due to their position on the coast and access to trade routes. Their land was eventually absorbed by Alexander the Great and became a province of the Roman Empire.
Along the path of the Lycian way you visit several ancient Lycian ruins, see stunning coastlines, and climb some small mountains. Nowadays the area has a lot of agriculture so you will see lots of bee farming and a seemingly endless number of tomato greenhouses. The route is never far from civilization as it passes through villages almost daily, which makes the hiking easier as you rarely have to carry more than a day of food.
The route is rarely more than half a day’s walk from a road where you can take a dolmuş or hitch a ride to the next town. Once in that town, you can generally find a hot meal, soft bed, and a warm shower. Indeed, we only ended up wild-camping about a third of the time, opting to do so mainly when we were rewarded with solitude and a view.
That doesn’t mean that hiking the Lycian Way is easy; on the contrary, many days have you climbing from sea level to 1,000m in a single day over rocky, uneven, and at times, exposed terrain.
Adventures in Navigating the Lycian Way
When we were in Fethiye we weren’t able to find any decent topographic maps, but as the trail is marked with red and white markers throughout we weren’t too worried. We did get our hands on Kate Clow’s guidebook, downloaded the Trekopedia Lycian Way app which has a GPS track of the trail, and downloaded the area in Maps.me.
For the most part, the trail was easy to find but there were definitely sections that left us scratching our heads. There are several occasions where the markers will disappear, change colours, or go off in multiple directions (presumably leading you to somebody’s restaurant or hotel). In a couple of cases, they lead us to a fenced off property where we had to decide whether to backtrack or duck the fence.
The GPS tracks in the Trekopedia Lycian Way app aren’t too bad, but there are sections that are out of date and the app was probably designed for the first smartphone invented because it’s very clunky. Through some combination of the Trekopedia App, Maps.Me, and red and white waymarkers we made it, but not without some confusion at times.
The book though, is really only useful for a rough overview of the route. Kate Clow spends more time opining about how villages have “lost their rural charms” (I think she means that people are less poor now?) because “horrible new villas with pools” replaced crumbling old farmhouses. How dare people try to make a living catering to tourists? Such is the cost of progress, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of rural charm along the route. We ran into many goats, chickens, cats and dogs, cows, and small rural villages. If you’re planning to do the hike you can probably save $30 and not purchase the book.
Weather and Ghost Towns
On our first day when we arrived in Ovacik we were surprised to find the town pretty much boarded up. Hotels were closed (and pools were green…eww) and phone numbers in the guidebook for pansiyons weren’t answered. We eventually found a room in a hotel that was closed where we were the only residents for the night but it was a bit frustrating. This would be a theme for the rest of the trek.
Most suggest that you hike the Lycian Way outside of the summer season for stable weather and to avoid the sweltering heat. This was the advice that we followed. It was spring in Turkey, and already it was very hot so I can’t even imagine how hot it would have been in the summer so this is good advice. The downside of this is that many of the tourist towns are boarded up and closed for the summer.
We had many occasions where we stayed at a hotel that was actually closed or said to one another “this would be a fun place if it wasn’t a ghost town”. Many of these towns have extra excursions you could have done during high season – kayaking, scuba diving, island trips, etc. It would have been nice to be able to take a rest day doing one of these activities so that frustrated us a little bit.
Unfortunately, we had weather issues as well as it was an unusually rainy April. We ended up having to skip sections to avoid spending whole days in the rain and got behind schedule while we waited for the skies to clear up.
In the end, we hiked a cool 300km from Fethiye to a pass where we had intended on trying to summit Mount Olympos (Tahtalı Dağı) as a nice way to end the trek. However, once we reached the pass it was completely covered in snow. We considered attempting the summit anyways (we’re Canadian after all!) but we met a group of 5 Turkish guys and 3(!) of them had been injured attempting to the summit.
Taking that as a clear sign as we didn’t want to get hurt before Nepal, and a little tight on time to get there before monsoon season, we opted to end our hike a bit earlier than planned.
While a complete thru-hike would have been ideal we felt we got the experience we were looking for on the Lycian Way. It was a truly great experience to do nothing but walk, sleep, and eat every day without any other cares in the world. We also appreciated having less “stuff” with us every day. On the trail, we each only had 20 or so items each with us but once we were reunited with all of the stuff that we’ve been carrying for the last year in Antalya, we started to feel overwhelmed. In the end, it’s incredibly freeing to just carry only what you really need and/or a few things that truly spark joy.
We were also cleaning up the trail as part of the Groundskeepers program. Having seen a decent amount of the world now we recognize how lucky we are to live in Canada. Our national parks and natural areas are (for the most part) clean and unpolluted.
Groundskeepers was a program that resonated with us as we felt it was a good way to travel responsibly and not only clean up our own waste but leave the trail better than we found it. We’re obviously huge fans of the great outdoors and we do whatever we can to help keep the wild, wild.
So we packed some garbage bags and cleaned up along the way. We, unfortunately, didn’t have time to pick up everything we saw, but we cleared out a lot of plastic water bottles that had been left along the trail (take a filter bottle people!) and stopped to clean up several beaches. In total, we packed out 56 pounds of trash. Not bad!
Pamukkale Dreams Come True
Initial readjustment to non-trail life uneasiness aside, Antalya was insanely beautiful and we found the people to be very friendly. We enjoyed some great restaurants, coffee, and the fattest, sweetest street dogs we’ve ever seen before catching a bus to Denizli to see the “cotton castle” travertines of Pamukkale. Seeing the snow white pools filled with turquoise water was a dream of Thea’s for a long time.
Despite being the most popular tourist attraction in Turkey, the town itself is pretty boring I’m assuming that’s because most people come as part of a group tour from bigger cities. Because the travertines were getting damaged by the volume of visitors the government has reduced access to some of the pools so it is difficult to get that famous shot of the snow white salt pools filled with sky blue water but they are still a sight to behold.
Nevertheless, we were delighted to discover that the site is huge and includes an expansive set of ruins as well. The travertines are only part of the Pamukkale story and the ruins were actually one of our favourite parts of visiting the site. You also get an amazing view of the nearby, snow-capped mountains as well as access to a museum with some well-preserved, fascinating artifacts. We were entertained for hours and stayed almost until the place closed.
Pamukkale How Could You?
It’s a very good thing that we stayed until closing in the first visit there because the next morning, Phil tripped leaving the breakfast room at the hotel and an X-ray the next day in Denizli confirmed that he had broken a metatarsal bone in his foot that required a cast for the next 4 weeks.
While not an overly serious injury and one that should heal up
quickly, it does put a serious damper on our Nepal trekking plans. We had survived 300km of roller coaster, rocky and uneven trails on the Lycian Way but one step was all it took to stall our plans.
While we have trip insurance, it only covers travels that have already been booked so we could fly home to Canada until he heals, but the trip back wouldn’t be covered since we hadn’t booked anything in Nepal.
We should get the medical expenses reimbursed which weren’t too expensive, although they were somewhat bewildering at times. An X-ray was only $6cad while a plaster cast was $60 for example. All in, about $100 didn’t seem to bad. After that, we took a long but reasonably comfortable bus ride to Cappadocia. Well, comfortable for at least one of us….casts don’t exactly make travelling on buses and planes an uncomfortable experience.
We were a little entertained by the way people were interested in the injury. For instance, the bus driver handed Phil his phone so that he could speak to his son about the cast. “My dad is driving the bus”, and “Get better” he told him in a somewhat awkward, but sweet exchange.
Onward to Cappadocia
We carried onto our original plan of seeing Cappadocia which still impressed despite not being able to hike to some of the amazing sights. We managed a mostly driving organized tour, ate in some of the great local restaurants, and made plans to see the balloons launch at sunrise only to be thwarted by April snow!
Indeed, the white stuff fell for 3 days straight thereby grounding all the balloons to the dismay of many tourists. Despite missing the highlight of seeing the balloons launching, Cappadocia was enchanting and a great place to spend some low-key days. Thea even got her hamam on!
Back to Istanbul
Istanbul sucks when you’re on crutches, to put it bluntly. Those narrow, steep, uneven cobbled streets that we loved initially proved challenging with a foot in a cast. We did manage to see a whirling Dervish ceremony which was divine, and Thea got to take in the gorgeous flowers in bloom at Gulhane Park while Phil waited on a bench. At least it was a bench with a nice garden view.
Travelling in Style (sort of) to Nepal
This being the first time either of us has ever taken air travel with reduced mobility, we appreciated the extra help Philip received for navigating through the Istanbul, Sharjah, and Kathmandu airports. They provided a wheelchair and a worker would help us get through security, customs, and embark and disembark which definitely eased the stress of air travel.
Kathmandu No Can Do
Kathmandu is another city that’s pretty terrible for navigating on crutches, and it’s not exactly famous as a place you want to spend a lot of time. So we only spent a few days there getting our bearings before heading to the more tranquil town of Pokhara.
We did manage to reconnect with one of the travellers we met during our Antarctica cruise and caught up over Sherpa beer and momos which was really cool!
It’s well known that the roads in Nepal can be pretty treacherous, so it took us a gruelling 7-hour bus ride to go just 200km from Kathmandu to Pokhara, but was it ever worth it. The streets are easier for Phil to navigate and there are so many cute cafés with lake views that we can lounge in, it’s making the slower pace of travel seem alright.
We decided to try to find an upside of down and used the opportunity to do a yoga/meditation retreat, which is something we might not have done if we were able to go trekking as planned. While Thea got her butt kicked with daily Hatha and Vinyasa classes, Philip enjoyed some gentle stretching and meditation. We stayed with a nice family and got to enjoy some delicious local cuisine. The week there just flew by despite it being a program geared for relaxation (except of course the vinyasa part, that style of yoga is never relaxing).
The end of the retreat marked three weeks of Philip having his cast on his foot and the Turkish doctor said that he may be able to get the cast off then. So we went to the Pokhara hospital feeling optimistic only to have our hopes crushed by a new X-ray showing that the bone wasn’t healed enough to have the cast removed.
The Nepali doctor said it would take another 3 weeks so with the monsoon season quickly approaching we made the tough decision to part ways for the next couple weeks.
Thea is off to do the iconic 15 day Annapurna Circuit trek while Philip will get some more RnR in peaceful Pokhara. We’ll likely have to put the Three Passes trek that we had originally planned on hold but we’re still holding on to a sliver of hope that we can at least hike to Everest Base Camp together before monsoon season hits. Hopefully the bone finishes healing soon, in the meantime, maybe Phil will become a Zen Master!