Getting to Olympos, Turkey, our final destination, was turning out to be a real doozy.
This sleeping spread-eagle business on the cold green floor of the Kharkiv, Ukraine, airport, catching a 3 a.m. flight with unknown airplane food washed down by cheap red wine, and arriving in Istanbul at 5 a.m. was turning out to be more than we’d hoped for. Sleeping on benches as Istanbul airport announcements blared screeching last calls for departing flights, getting questioned by security while jackhammers chiseled through sections of airport floor, all led me to have a heart-to-heart with my disillusioned self: “Kip, you’re gunna have to earn this trip.”
And then, somehow, through my fuzzy haze of no sleep and bloodshot eyes, I was able to deduce we were finally landing in Antalya, Turkey, just shy of 3 o’clock. I shook my partner in crime, Rach, who was conked out and drooling in the windowseat next to me.
“We’re here,” I said. “Now only three more bus rides.”
As Rach and I exited the plane, the sun was beating down in a blaze of fury enough to make a camel weep. We scooted to the indoor section of the small airport via shuttle, where we fetched our bags and headed for the mess of buses waiting for us outside.
There were lunatics everywhere screaming this way and that. “Istanbul, Istanbul!” “Cappadocia, Cappadocia!” “Otogar, Otogar!”
I approached a man standing near a bus labeled “Otogar” whose skin was so tan and vibrant it appeared to be lacquered in olive oil. I had heard you could get by with English and if not English then Russian, so I asked in both languages if the bus was headed to Otogar, our first destination. He let out an enormous grin, held a thumb up, and simply said “yes please.” Even though the response wasn’t appropriate, I couldn’t help but flash him a thumbs up, smile and counter his “yes please” with another of my own.
Our compass was ultimately pointed to the town of Olympos, southeast of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. This would require a ride to the main bus station known as Otogar, a transfer at Otogar to Olympos, a drop-off along the top of a cliff, and then a 10-kilometer bus ride down to the town of Olympos. One wrong move, one missed bus, would result in disappointment – and even worse, less time for sloth-like lounging in Olympos.
From Otogar, we bulleted down the road and barreled through turns like a Greyhound on speed while Turkish instrumental string music twanged a melody in an attempt to soothe our nerves. High snowcapped peaks loomed in the distance as the bus motored along, past fruit trucks, through pine groves and down rip-roaring hills overlooking the Mediterranean.
What really got me, though, was the driver.
Swerving through traffic with a bill in one hand, an espresso in the other and a cellphone in the remaining fingers is what these Turkish bus drivers do best. They were pros at the art of risky driving while multitasking and everything in between. I sure as hell couldn’t have done it. Some need drugs for their fix, others gambling. This guy needed a bus, a full tank of gas and an open road.
After 45 minutes of riding the thin white line between beauty and veering off the highway, we screeched to a halt at the top of a cliff-top dirt road 10 kilometers above Olympos. There were some scattered benches to enjoy the view and a small store that sold ice-cold Cokes.
We sipped Cokes and sat on a bench, taking in the view. The place was dreamland.
There were scattered houses sitting atop small green hillsides among olive and citrus groves, goats feeding on patches of sundried grass. The Mediterranean’s glassy surface shined in the distance. This area was life brewed down to its bare elements; it was nothing more and nothing less than you needed.
I began to feel gooey and sentimental, contemplating retirement and how dandy it would be to live out my days down here with a loved one, maybe a kid or two, possibly some animals, when a honking horn cut through my daze. It was time for a third and final bus ride down to Olympus below.
Bayrams (the owner’s name) Treehouses is settled in a sleepy valley between two towering rock walls a couple hundred meters from the Mediterranean. The wooden bungalows built off the ground lend a tropical beach vibe to the place. Numerous couches are situated under shady overhangs, lazy hammocks are strewn throughout, and a fire pit filled with driftwood blazes at sundown.
For $21, you’re provided with a cushy bed in a six-person dorm. For those who have that romantic someone to snuggle with, you can opt for a private room for about $10 more.
Bayrams also dishes out a free breakfast buffet of coffee, tea, local olives, assorted veggies, bread, spreads, and thick omelets the size of dinner plates. Dinner is also a free buffet, blowing my mind with fresh fish, chicken, soups, salads, breads and pastas. A tiki bar manned by blonde Aussie women who have traveled everywhere besides Mars dishes out frosty brewskies for $2.50.
There are about ten places to stay in Olympos, all the same style as Bayrams. However, after scoping out most of the other accommodations in a day’s walk, Bayrams reigned supreme with best layout and closest proximity to the beach. You have to buy a $4 pass for the beach, by the way (which allows you five trips), due to the fact that the path to the beach meanders its way through ancient Roman ruins.
When push comes to shove, Olympus offers a view of ancient Roman ruins (no touching of course), rock climbing, boat cruises, swimming, diving, fishing, kayaking and hiking.
We ordered our needs like so: stuffing our faces, swimming in the Mediterranean, reading in hammocks, hiking, stuffing our faces, sipping on a cold brew around the bonfire, and falling asleep to the sound of a calming river, which flowed just outside the hostel grounds.
Our last day, we zigzagged up a rocky point along a trail tunneled through lush foliage toward some ruins. Crows eerily cawed along a stone pillar. We spotted half-crumbled ancient doorways and touched smooth rock walls. We paid tribute to the ghosts of our elders and continued up a rocky bluff providing us with a panoramic view of the translucent blue Mediterranean far far below.
Absorbing the view in the silence of the earth, I had another heart-to-heart with myself.
“Kip, you earned this one ole boy.”
During our stay at Bayram’s, I befriended the owner’s nephew who ran the place. He told me he had been working here at Uncle Bayram’s since he was just a kid. When I asked him how much longer he would work there, he replied without hesitation and a sparkle in his eye, “Probably forever.” I could totally see why.