Victoria W. Kuhr, written 2013

I wax nostalgia. No, that is an understatement. I bleed nostalgia. I remember the first feeling upon seeing Big Ben and Parliament in London or standing at Prague castle and reveling in the sight of the city below; the first time I had perogies in Poland or swam in hot springs in Greece. Every country I’ve visited has a defining emotion associated with it, something that sums up the experience. All it takes is a small reminder and a memory comes to life. This moment was no different. Lounging in an outdoor restaurant, my coworker ordered tap water in her darling British accent; water, a simple two-syllable word triggered my thoughts back to July. Instantly, I felt the heat of the sun sizzling my skin as I recalled the unbelievable sight before me.

Here we were, surrounded. My friend Jon, a tall lanky 6’4” bloke with broad shoulders, sandy blond hair and intense blue eyes, had read about this village in his research on Turkey. Rolling hills peppered with abandoned stone houses stood before us, to the sides of us and behind. We had found the ghost village of Kayaköy, just outside the tourist city of Olüdeniz. Situated along the Mediterranean, this former Greek Christian village was inhabited until roughly 1923, when a population exchange between Turkey and Greece forced the non-Muslim inhabitants to return to Greece. Never repopulated, the ghost village is now a UNESCO historical site, where the two Greek Orthodox Churches serve as the most important and best-preserved remains of the town.

No clear path where we were standing, the two of us took off climbing over broken stonewalls, and in between rooted plants. Wading through sharp, spiny bushes whose burs clung to our shoes and socks, we wandered up wrecked staircases into the ruins of stone homes, while snapping pictures from all angles. Pausing, before us was a panorama of hills dotted with hundreds of crumbling houses overgrown with brush. People within the last 100 years called this home, and now all that remains is a badly damaged and abandoned village; a once lively place now ghostly quiet.

Weaving our way up the hill we came across a sign we knew well from our planning process but that had evaded our actual daily activities. The sign read: Likya Yollari. We had linked up with part of the Lycian Way, a 500km footpath that extends along the cost of Antalya, on the southern border of Turkey. The fork in the road prodded us to make a choice, but happenstance had already decided for us, hike the trail.  Following the dirt path, we ascended up the mountainside until we reached a peak where an intact church stood. Here we stood taking in the 90-degree view of where we had hiked, the ghost town to the left and the blue lagoon of Olüdeniz in the distance to the right. The crisp clear freshness of the turquoise water was calling us on this scorching hot day, while the arrows of the Lyican Way egged us on towards the lagoon below.

Reaching the end of the trail we stood on a rock cliff mere yards from the sea peering through the transparent water to the sandbar below. The sun danced on the water’s surface enticing us for a dip. Feeling burnt and sweaty, it was a pleasant and welcomed call, but a wading-in point was just out of reach. Instead, we took a rock. Sitting at the water’s edge, we posed for our second self-picture, using the vibrant green and blue colors of the landscape as our backdrop. No other humans in sight, it was just the lagoon and us. 

Turning to face the climb back, I quickly felt irritable. Not only did I not swim in the sea, but the prickly burrs doggedly coated the inside of my shoes, while sweat stung my eyes. We were in a landscape with no trees to provide shelter from the blistering sun and I had an overwhelming urge to make a beeline for the car. Without stopping and refusing the last of Jon’s water, my inner astrological goat kicked in, mixed with a bit of the Taurus bull. I was being stubborn and all I wanted was to get away from the blazing sun. Understanding that, we started the hike back to the air-conditioned car, turning around to take one last view of the stunning blue lagoon before disappearing over the mountain.

A few hours, and a short but much needed sugar-recharge later we made the quick walk into Olüdeniz for dinner. The town encompasses a compact two block pedestrian-only street, equipped with bright flashy Las Vegas-style lights. Crammed along either side of the lane are shops and restaurants aimed at enticing the British tourists’ who flood the small seaside escape on holiday. Prepared for this English-speaking contingent, some restaurant signs call out “Full English Breakfast” or “Italian, Chinese and Mexican Food Served Here,” while every shop littered in between appeared to be a tattoo parlor pleading with tourists to ink their memories so they’ll never fade.

It was a warm Turkish evening, so we picked one of the least offensive looking restaurants accompanied by sheltered outdoor seating.  As we sat at our small square table, we attempted to order tap water from our waiter, but were failing miserably. Neither of us could understand what the problem was. Our waiter, to the best of his ability, was trying to comprehend what we were asking, as we each took turns saying ‘water.’ Failing at speaking English in Turkey, we respectfully tried the Turkish word for water, su. We both sputtered out the simple, one-syllable word thinking we might just be crazy since our waiter still had no idea what we were asking for. He turned to fetch someone who might be better equipped at interpreting our foreign drawl, when Jon leaned over the table and comically said “wah-tur” in a perfect British accent. A click of recognition brightened the waiter’s face, as he understood. We had been pronouncing ‘water’ as Americans not emphasizing the ‘t’ as the Brits do. It was the British accent the staff was accustomed to hearing, and according to our waiter, American visitors were scarce. Laughing about it we were struck by the comical relief of simple miscommunication.

Having successfully ordered the rest of our meal sans errors, our conversation switched to political views and religion, personal values and traditions. Heavy topics easily treaded between us, a quick reminder of why we get along well. On a tired but happy high, we finished our sugary sweet Baklava, as Cat Stevens played overhead. Exiting the restaurant, Jon commented that he wasn’t surprised we get on well because we shared the same values, a true statement I thought. Content, we walked away from the flashy lights of Olüdeniz towards our hotel, stopping only once to search for the big dipper under the bright starry night.

Jolting myself to the present, where my British co-worker sat drinking her tap water, I realized the significance of great memories. It is not necessarily where one travels, or what magnificent sights are seen, but that in the end, I wax nostalgic for how it all made me feel.