We finally made it to Turkey
For the last three years, our cruising plan has been to sail through Greece and onto Turkey for the winter. But at the end of the season, we have usually found ourselves in Italy. This year, through sheer determination, we made it all the way to Turkey (yeah!!), and Berkeley East is spending the winter in Didim, a small town on the west coast of the Aegean Sea.
While we reached our goal of Turkey, we did not get there as planned, and we did not end up in our expected winter destination. As usual, things changed the moment we arrived back at Berkeley East. First, our departure from Sicily was delayed because of weather when gale force winds, torrential downpours of red mud and hail all helped us enjoy a few extra weeks in our beloved Italy. To make up the time, we decided to go through the Corinth canal rather than around the Peloponnese as originally planned, but this turned out to be a nice change, as we visited places we might never have gotten to. With visa restrictions, we thought we had to make a quick dash to Turkey in order to get out of the European Union, however through the advice of friends, help from a yacht agent and mucho dinero, we managed an extended visa and ended up spending most of the summer in Greece, where we visited over 26 islands, the North and East coasts of the Peloponnese, and iconic sites on the mainland like Athens and Delphi.
Expectations and the unexpected
Every year, we have expectations of our planned cruising ground, assumptions that are created by guidebooks, movies, and other people's perceptions. And every year, we are surprised by our travels. For instance, every region we have sailed in has notorious seasonal winds. In the Caribbean, it was the Christmas winds; in France we had the Mistral; in Croatia, there was the Bora; and this year in Greece, the devil was called the Meltimi. Most years, these winds have not been a major problem for us. We have had to stay in port a bit longer than anticipated, and have always had a few days and nights of very high winds at anchor. The Meltimi winds this year proved to be more challenging. During July and August in Greece, the strong north winds blew constantly, causing discomfort in just about every situation; sailing, at anchor, at docks, even walking. We expected to sail casually up, down and around the Greek islands. And while we tried repeatedly to do so, good sense finally prevailed; we had to accept the unexpected and move north to south, and west to east, never circling the islands.
We also had a vision of beautiful Greece, with lush islands, clustered white buildings trimmed in blue, over looking clear, aqua waters. While we found this on some of the islands and it is gorgeous, it was not the norm. A lot of the islands actually look and feel very Italian. And the summer months in Greece (especially in the famous Cyclades Islands) are so dry and windy that the quintessential beauty is often masked in a shroud of dust. Again, our views of Greece changed.
People always ask us about Greece, the financial crisis, the country's stability, violence, protests, etc. And to be honest, with all the negative US news about Greece's dire situation, we were uncertain about what we would find there. No horrific expectations, just concern. And while Greece clearly has financial challenges (don't we all) it did not impact our travels. We found the Greek people to be hard working, friendly and industrious. On the islands they are removed from the government and its issues, but they have been affected by the reduction in international and Greek visitors. As one taxi driver put it "it was a lot cheaper with the drachma, it is too expensive for Greeks to travel with the Euro." Which is why many of the islands we visited were not as crowded as we had expected.
This season, we also spent a month cruising the southwestern coast of Turkey. Unfortunately for us, our arrival in the country coincided with our president announcing plans to attack Syria. As we cruised along, a few hundred miles from Syria, we began to feel the military presence building. We could see and hear warships and submarines passing by. While we never really felt we were in any eminent danger, we decided to head back to Greece and then further north in Turkey, just in case. Along the way, we got our first tastes of Turkey, and while we enjoyed our time there, this area has a lot of international tourists and did not give us a good look at Turkish people and their culture. Again, it was not what we envisioned of Turkey. We look forward to seeing more of Turkey next year.
Since taking delivery of Berkeley East seven years ago she has spent all but seven days in the water, so we decided to give her a well-deserved rest on land this winter. In October, we had her hauled, put inside a hanger and started some projects on the deck, hull and rig. Hauling a 35-ton boat out of the water is always exciting, but this time we also had to remove the 75-foot mast, so she could go inside the building. The team did an outstanding job hoisting the mast out with a large crane in 20+ knot winds.
Then they picked her up with a travel lift, transferred her to a motorized trailer and ultimately squeezed her in to the hanger in a space far too small for our comfort.
But now BE is sitting high and dry, close but safe to her neighboring boats. And if we miss her, we can watch her via a web cam in the hanger. By spring she should be rested and refreshed for another exciting season in the Med. At this point, her destination is unknown.
It was getting close to the end of our cruising season and we wanted to see a little bit of Turkey before taking Berkeley East into her new winter home. We had been told that the southern Aegean coast was heaven, but we needed to go north, so we started in the middle and moved slowly North towards Didim. What we found was not at all what we expected of Turkey. Everywhere we looked, we saw contrasts and contradictions.
Marmaris was a modern town full of British tourists on holiday. The harbor side was lined with non-descript restaurants, nightclubs and gulets (traditional sailing vessel), lots and lots of gulets.
For just 20 Turkish Lira (about $10 US Dollars) one could hop on a gulet from 10 am until 4 pm, visit beaches and have lunch. One particular gulet played Celene Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" from the film "Titanic" every day, at eardrum-shattering volume, as it left the harbor with passengers lined up to pose on the bow like Kate Winslet did in the movie. Everyone was having a blast and it was cute, the first time. But this town is also a cruiser's dream, with huge anchorages, marinas, boat yards, marine stores and workshops. A boat can pull into Marmaris and just days, or even hours, later have repairs completed, new canvas made, whatever one might need. We quickly discovered that Turkey is clearly much more modern than we expected and far less conservative than we realized.
Bodrum is also a modern city, but with historic sights to balance out the new city. The disparity here is between the partying and the praying. Some people pray five times a day in Turkey and the prayer is announced with singing over loud speakers, beginning just before dawn. But it appears that the Turks are also big partiers and some coastal towns, including Bodrum, have discos that rock until the wee hours of the morning, often stopping just in time for the 5:30 am prayer. We wonder how they sleep.
As we traveled about, we saw more and more paradoxes:
Dramatic green mountains covered with boxy white holiday homes.
People in conservative clothes surrounded by casually dressed tourists.
Pride in the Turkish flag, yet four out of five vessels fly the Stars and Stripes (to avoid a large luxury tax).
A delicious meal of lamb cooked in a traditional clay pot can be followed by coffee at Starbucks.
Strict anti-pollution regulations for boaters, but endless fish farms impacting Turkey's beautiful bays.
Nearly 74 million people in Turkey and more boats than we've ever seen, yet still a sense of peace and isolation. We spent our last boating days of the season at anchor in a bay called Paradise, a fitting end to our brief introduction to Turkey and a good place to start again next year.
Last year we went to seven different countries; this year, just two. But getting settled in Greece and Turkey this year has been more challenging than all seven countries last year combined. Greece was very strict with their rules and regulations, still they are pussycats compared to the requirements and procedures of Turkey.
Most of the time, when we enter into a new country, we go to the port police and work our way through the process. And that is exactly what we did when we arrived in Didim, Turkey. But after a few English - Turkish exchanges, an agent was called in and we were told that the agent had to help, meaning we had to pay the agent to help. Three hours, and mucho Euros, later, we were finally officially allowed to stay in Turkey for 90 days during the next six months. Berkeley East, however, was still not legal, as we had to wait for the lighthouse permit since she was over the 30-ton limit. Apparently, in Turkey, heavier boats use the lighthouses more than lighter ones.
Once the lighthouse permit was issued, we were reminded that we would need to get a "Blue Card" if we planned to cruise south of Didim. The Blue Card scheme is designed to protect Turkey's marine environment and it tracks how often boats empty their toilet holding tanks. Upon registration for our Blue Card, we were asked how large our holding tanks were and how many people could occupy our boat. This information would determine how often, according to the Blue Card scheme, we had to bring Berkeley East into a pump out station. Too much pooping without pumping can result in a very foul fine.
The next step was money. In most countries since we've been cruising the Med, we've been dealing in Euros. But Turkey is not part of the European Union and they trade in Turkish Lira. What is somewhat confusing though is that the ATM machines in Turkey dispense Turkish Lira, Euros and US Dollars. The question was which button to push, US Dollars because that is the bank you are drawing from? Or Turkish Lira because that is what you need? It turned out to be the latter and for $500 US Dollars we got 1,000 Turkish Lira. We were very excited that our money would go further in Turkey, or so we thought.
So since we were now legal and flush, we needed communication. Internet in Turkey is simple: go to the phone store, buy a router and a sim card, and poof you have internet for five devices. Unfortunately, a phone connection is not as easy. After much discussion with fellow cruisers, we learned that Turkey requires international telephones to be registered. As we discovered first hand, this registration takes about four hours and involves a trip to the phone store for a sim card, a visit to the tax office to pay a tax, a stop at the police station for residency documentation, and a return to the phone store for the final paperwork. You can just buy a sim card and it will work, but without registration it will stop functioning in two weeks and the phone will not be able to be used in Turkey ever again. The Turks are tough on telephones.
So with all the essentials, we can now cruise and travel in Turkey. We have much to learn about this unusual country and with 4,500 miles of coastline; it could take quite a while, which means we need to get yet another official Turkish document, a long-term visa.