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Saturday, 25 July 2009

Reflections on a vacation ....Watney's Red Barrel.

It is the last night of our vacation in Turkey and self and RHB are practicaly alone, wandering the echoing marble corridors of the International Comfort Airport Hotel in Antalya. We parted from our friends a few hours ago, envious and scared - envious that they were going back to Kas, and scared that we would never see them again as they head out into the certain death that is Anatalyan traffic. The hotel is magnificent, and would normally be way beyond affordability for us, but the Credit Crunch hits here too, so prices have dropped. It is still not the type of place we are comfortable in, and not just financially. On check-in, a porter who is way better dressed than I have been in years, picks up our bags before we can say anything, loads them onto a ludicrous wheeled golden contraption that looks like the frame of a covered wagon, and pushes the thing fifteen paces to our room. He snatches the card key from me, and slides it down into the lock. The next few minutes are entirely atypical of our time in Turkey. Firstly, I try to hold the door open for him while he tries to do the same for me, and no courtesies are exchanged during the process. Next we get involved in a minor tussle as we both grab for the bags, similarly without the smiles and good humour we've become accustomed. Then he follows us into the room. He looks expectantly at me. I suddenly realise that he wants a tip, so I flip up my t-shirt, looking for my money belt. It has slipped down into my shorts, and takes some retrieving, but after providing him with only a momentary glimpse of my crotch, I fish out a couple of coins, amounting to about 0.75 of a Turkish lira, and give it to him with a big grin and a mumbled "trisha's green" (which is my pathetic attempt at "Thank you" in Turkish). In return, he stages a look at the tip I have given him as if he is a failed actor rehearsing "Look of Utter Disgust" from the "Crap Actors Manual" and walks out of the room. We spend the next few hours lolling on the bed, half-watching and half-dozing through the first television we have seen for months, fascinated by the "Fashion TV" Channel, and wondering why Sacha Baron Cohen bothered parodying it.

After a sleep, we swim in the hotel's ridiculous marble pool while feral cats drink the chlorinated water, then wander the corridors, surreptiously slurping the few bottles of Efes beer that we earlier bought from a gas station. Occasionally we catch glimpses of hotel staff, or hear doors bang behind us, but as we walk down long corridors, eating sesame sticks and with our wet flip-flops slapping on the marble, the place seems completely empty. On the second floor, there is 'Nightclub Starburst', empty, chairs stacked untidly across the dance floor, gold lame curtains everywhere. Posted, as it is, on a lonely spur of the airport road, the hotel feels competely remote - a kind of hot weather version of the hotel in the movie "The Shining". It is the perfect place for us to reflect on our vacation.

Our base was the town of Kas, about 180 kms west of Antalya. Kas is definitely a holiday resort, but at this time of year, the heat (which averages between 32 to 38C) and the fact that it is a three hour drive on perilous coastal roads. combined with development restrictions in the town, mean that it it mostly Turkish people who stay there. Nestled among 3000ft mountains, the local beaches are mainly pebble, and the lack of casinos, nightclubs and rave bars possibly add to a disinclination to visit the place on the part of exactly the type of people we have come here to avoid. Of course, the perptual irony of tourists commenting on "how nice it is that there's no tourists here" is noted, discussed and sometimes ignored throughout our holiday. In the foothills behind Kas, there's still enough "real" life, in the form of small villages and agricultural towns to get a flavour of what the local people are actually like when they're not trying to sell you a fez.

Red fertile soils, heat, steep valleys studded with sharp, sharp rock, and the wall-of-sound of cicadas are the backdrop to practically all our activities. It is different enough from everyday life in the UK that just 'being' would constitute enough of a holiday, but Western as we are, we feel a ceaseless need to "do". In our case, we consider ourselves slightly atypical tourists, in that our "doing" consists of hiking, biking, swimming and kayaking rather than the shopping, drinking and tourist-guided excursions to rug factories that are the mainstay of many Turkish holidays.

But there's still a risk in how we choose to holiday, in that landscapes, even spectacular landscapes are just dirt and rocks and trees. Climate zones, weather and cars are repeated round the world - in many ways the landscape is Arizona, or Nevada, the car we hire is the same Toyota we left in Canada, and CNN is ubiquitous. My cellphone reaches England instantaneously, our bank cards (mostly) work in the ATM's, and Kas has about six internet cafes all featuring Google as the search engine. The risk in our case is what really makes a place different are the lifestyles, opinions and habits of the people, and how they live with the landscapes, and despite my party's differing style of tourism, in our ceaseless quest to import the things we "do" (whatever that involves), we could still miss this.

On our last day in Turkey, in Antalya, the point is illustrated. We have driven to Antalya to await our flight, and are all regretting it. Antalya is horrible - tower block hotels, pink-facia nightclubs, road markings. Nevertheless we need to eat, so we find a restaurant by the beach, and sit at an empty table. A menu is lying on the table and my friend picks it up.

"Looks good" he says "They have 'pide', Nel!". This is a bit of a holiday 'in-joke'.

Nel looks at the menu and there are all the dishes we've grown accustomed to 'pide', menamen', 'kebap'. The waitress approaches our table and hands us four menus, but these are a completely different menu from the one we first picked up - its all cheeseburgers, steaks, chips, and it is half in Russian, half in English. We are momentarily puzzled, and dismayed, so my friend enquires:

"What's this?" he asks, pointing to the original menu we'd picked up.

The waitress looks wary - "Turkish menu" she says.

We all grin widely "OK! That's the one we want!".

She smiles broadly, we all try our version of "Trisha's green!" and order. In a moment of sentimentality (rare among the Liverpudlian culture I come from - NOT!), I reflect on my travelling companions proudly. We may well be tourists, and we may well have sought out our Western European "doings" in coming here, but we have not missed the point.

1 comment:

JoeyMac said...

First off, you have to stop commenting on the obvious self ironies in your posts, otherwise what are your eager readers supposed to put in this 'leave your comment' section? Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip. :)