The Post-Backpackers

This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, June 08, 2011 was originally posted on June 12, 2011.

DAYS 6-7 (PART 1):  “The [Lonely Planet] description doesn’t make it sound good,” Jeff told me, flipping through the pages about our next destination, as we sat in one of two minibus shuttles that took us on the hour-long ride from Antalya — one of Turkey’s southwestern coastal main cities — to the popular beach town of Olympos.  We simply decided to go there without much thinking ahead, based on it being a “place to go” — plus my Turkish friend Izge back home had recommended it to me on Facebook. 

Lonely Planet: The former hippy-trail hot spot has gentrified considerably in past years and is today overcrowded and institutionalized… But love it or hate it, Olympos still offers good value and an up-for-it party atmosphere…  Be extra attentive to personal hygiene while staying at Olympos.  In summer in particular the huge numbers of visitors can stretch the camps’ capacity for proper waste disposal beyond its limit, so be vigilant in particular about where and what you eat.  Every year some travellers wind up ill.

In the transport van, it was evident that we were in fact heading not to a pleasant Turkish beach town, but a commune for the young backpacker set we’d both grown out of.  In the van was a neo-hippie dude with a beard so long it was braided into a tail.  In front of him was a thirty-something Aussie couple, in which the bloke was traveling with a skateboard of all things.  (Seriously? A skateboard?)  Also, there was a group of really young Australian backpackers — one of them inevitably named “Gaby” (which is usually the case) — and a few of them were even wearing those trite backpacker pants, the loose kind that you see on almost every young Australian farangi on Khao San Road in Bangkok.  I reckoned they were all probably on gap year after high school, traveling from Aussie commune to Aussie commune to drink amongst their own kind.  You know the type these days: 1991ers.

“You want to check out this place?” Jeff proposed, showing me the description of the adjacent town, a 15-20 minute walk down the beach: Çirali (pronounced shur-RA-luh).

“The description says it’s for young families and post-backpackers,” I said.

“Post-backpackers.  That’s me!” Jeff exclaimed.  “That’s us.”

THE ORANGE MOTEL IN ÇIRALI was our base of operations for the next few days, a peaceful and reasonably-priced collection of bungalows near the beach (breakfast included), on a plot of land with orange trees and hammocks everywhere.  This is a serene scene — until you are sleeping in a hammock and an orange falls and almost hits you on the head, or right onto your balls. 

Tired from the constant traveling, Jeff and I took it easy that first day in the mellow beach town, swinging in hammocks, passing out in reclining chairs on the beach, and going for a swim, amongst the handful of beach-goers, both local and foreign.  Some Muslim women laid out on the beach, fully covered; one other woman showed off her fake tits.  We also ate a lot of seafood from the nearby seafood restaurants, most showing off their fresh fish at their entrances. 

“This place is sexy,” I told Jeff one evening when we discovered a whole strip of dimly-lit eateries on the beach further down the coast of Çirali.  “All of them are sexy.”

“You got a date with Jeff Wong, son!” he said, goofing around.  “This place is sexy, son!”

“That guy is definitely not sexy,” I said, pointing to this fat old guy wearing no shirt at his dinner table.  Despite that overweight eyesore, the man-date was a good time with good food, good conversation, and a bottle of wine — away from the adjacent town of “backpacker hell.”  In lieu of the word cheers, we simply clinked our glasses with our phrase of the year: “Deed it, mayne.”

HOWEVER, OUR DAYS ON THE BEACH weren’t all R & R; there was history to be learned at the nearby Olympos ruins, located in a designated historical park between Çirali and the backpacker town of Olympos.  (In fact, you have to walk along the beach and through the entire path of the historical park to get from one town to the other.)  Way before Olympos became a hippie haven in the 1960s, Olympus was a city of the Lycian empire 2100 years ago.  In the first century A.D., the Romans took over, but in the third century it was pillaged by pirates and fallen into disrepair.  In the Middle Ages, Olympos was used as a trading port by the Venetians and Genovoise, until it fell into disrepair again in the 15th century. 

Each of Olympos’ inhabitants left their marks, which now lay in ruins: Roman baths, Hellenistic walls, the Genovoise Castle, and the Roman temple, with its big imposing gateway.  “It’s like the the Jurassic Park gate,” I said.  “What do they have, dinosaurs in there?  Or King Kong?”

In Olympos’ Lycian hey-day, the citizens worshipped not a big ape but Hephaestus, the God of Fire.  It is theorized this might have something to do with the nearby historical site of Chimera, 7 km. down the road from Çirali, where we hiked to one night.  We went when after the sun had set, with flashlights in hand as most people do, because Chimera is a glowing eternal flame that comes out of rocks of Mount Olympos.

“It looks like someone is having a bonfire,” Jeff commented when we arrived after our hour-long hike under the moonlight.  “It just looks like a campfire.”  He had almost forgotten what we were hiking to see, only to realize that these “campfires” were the anti-climactic, yet still impressive sights to behold.  We weren’t alone up there; there were other groups around each of the several natural campfires, including the band of Aussie gap year kids we rode the minivan with.  It wasn’t hard to find another campfire for ourselves, not too far away from them.

“Imagine if you were here back then,” Jeff said to me as we sat around one of the eternal flames.  “I’d be scared shitless.  I would totally believe that Chimera [son of Gaia, the mythological fire-breathing beast that is part lion, part snake, part goat] in in there.  They had no concept of methane gas.”

“We definitely should have brought marshmellows,” I joked.  (Really, we should have.)

“[Or meat.  Can you imagine if we brought food up here?]  People would come up here and see a couple of Asian dudes cooking…”

“We could set up a hibachi.”

“And sixteen plates of different kinds of kimchi.”

We ended our visit there with “the ol’ reach around” (no homo) where I’d reach my hand around my camera to take a photo of us and the fiery beast

OUR OTHER EVENING BY THE BEACH wasn’t as fiery, at least by the power of nature.  “We should get drunk tonight,” Jeff suggested.  “We really haven’t gone out this week.”  Walking around Çirali, it was mostly dead; the high tourist season hadn’t exactly hit yet.  So we walked to the edge of town, down the beach and through the ruins to Olympos where we thought it would be more lively.  It wasn’t, also because it wasn’t the high season yet.  To our surprise, most of the strip of backpacker bars were empty.  In fact it seemed the entire town was dead.  A guy I’d met there when looking up diving tours named Apo (“A. P. O., like Army Post Office,” he said) informed us that his bar, the Orange Pensiyon, was alive the night before — but it seemed like it was going to be an off-night. 

With that said, we walked the farthest we could, all the way down the road of modern-day Olympos, to the big Kadir’s Yörük Campground and Pensiyon of Treehouses — a gated community (literally gated) of mostly Australian backpackers, complete with an “Australia” sign at check-in, a volleyball court, and of course a bar.  And as much as we frowned upon the backpacker life we’d left behind, it was really welcoming to see that this backpacker bar was the only place that had anything lively going on, and with not just Australians — some young traveling Turks were there as well.  A nice young Turkish girl sat beside me and struck up a conversation. 

“I’m Bourga [sp],” she introduced herself.

“I’m Erik,” I said.  “Erik, like the fruit.”  (It was rapidly becoming my thing to say in Turkey.)

“Ha, I was just thinking it was like that, but how would you know?” 

I told her about the passport guy when I landed, but she got distracted by another conversation with someone else.

When the bar closed, everyone was led to the “club” downstairs, which was a scene that made Jeff laugh; it was a totally gated off, generic backpacker party, complete with a bonfire and shitty beers.  Not that we minded after a few drinks, feeling the vibe and watching the young backpackers get their groove on.  We waited for the DJ to inevitably play that “Americano” dance tune that everyone in the world knows by now, and eventually it came on.  Good times ensued.

“Should we do shots?” Jeff asked me.


We ordered at least two shots of raki that I remember; the rest of the evening was kind of a blur.  “It’s not so bad if you just shoot them down,” Jeff said, overcoming his aversion to anise for the time being.

Needless to say, it was a rough trek back to Çirali, the village of the “old people,” around three in the morning.  The park gates had officially closed at 10 p.m., and somehow in our drunken stupor, we proved that we had to pass through by showing the night guard our Çirali hotel key.  I’m sure the walk back through the ruins was a wobbly one, plus the stroll down the beach and across the stream to Çirali wasn’t pretty either.  It took us close to an hour to walk home through the dark with only my iPhone light to guide us, but we managed.  I guess if you have “backpacker” in your past, you can always survive a night out like that, even if you think you’re already over it.

Next entry: Pirates Of The Mediterranean

Previous entry: Lost? There’s A Turk For That.

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Comments for “The Post-Backpackers”

  • The Turkish Ç is pronounced “ch” not “sh”—the ? is “sh”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  04:28 PM

  • You’re good at powering through!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/13  at  08:27 PM

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This blog post is one of nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Jive Turkey," which chronicled a trip through the Eurasian country of Turkey.

Next entry:
Pirates Of The Mediterranean

Previous entry:
Lost? There’s A Turk For That.


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