Hellespont: Race day arrives

Steve left at 5.30 for a light breakfast before heading to the wharf for the 6.30 boat across to the start line – 800 staters for the race!.

I stayed and packed and made my way to the finish line. It was quite the scene.

Many Turkish families gathered to cheer on their sons and daughters.

It was hard to see the swimmers arriving. Some were being swept by the current past the finish line – adding a difficult swim back to finish.

I was hoping Steve wasn’t amongst those unfortunate swimmers.

I saw Vanessa. She was beaming. She’s had a great swim and came in under one hour. A really great time.

I couldn’t see Steve and started to worry. Not another swim like Hong Kong!

Finally Hussein, our local Swim Trek guide, came and found me. ‘Steve arrived about 10 mins ago. He came in around 1hr 5″. Then George arrived around 1hr 15. All three had great swims and were jubilant.

They all wore their Hellespont finishers medal with pride.

After photos and watching the last swimmers arrive (or not! – as some were pulled out) we had a beer before racing back to the hotel to change for our flight back to London. When booking we made a mistake with dates and booked a day early.

Steve was lucky he got to do the swim!

We had time to watch the award ceremony – we were hopeful Vanessa would get a medal.

The young Turks won the first 3 major places, and then they did the age groups starting with the eldest – for a change – and unbelievably “Stefan Maitland” was called out as the bronze medal winner for his age group. Third. Wow. We all cheered and Steve was a bit knocked out!

Then Vanessa won Gold in her age group!

What a day.

With Simon Murie, owner of Swim Trek and “foreigners” organiser for Hellespont.

From there to the airport for our flight to London. Talk about a busy day.

Looking forward to a change of pace and weather. It was very hot in Turkey but London will be cooler.

Bozcaada : an island to visit

A friend suggested a visit to Bozcaada – an island about 2 hrs from Canakkale.

As we had arrived in Canakkale a day earlier than we were meant to, so decided to go.

We caught the ferry down. We were told it took 1hr but it took 2hr. Mind you, it was pleasant sitting on the deck looking at the Gallipoli side of Turkey slip by.

We arrived into a blue harbour dominated by a castle with a small beach area in front with lots of umbrellas and sun lounges.

Making our way away from the harbour we found some local markets. I love markets in foreign countries. There are so many similarities but differences as well. Especially the cost! The tomatoes were about $1 a kilo. They looked magnificent.

The local crafts were beachy and not all mass produced and there was a very good book barn with its own cat sleeping amongst the books.

Coffee was under shady trees at the markets alongside lots of locals playing a version of Mahjong. We made our way up the leafy laneway and found some great restaurants, coffee shops, little boutiques and Greek style housing.

It was getting hot so we hailed a taksi and went to Asyama Bay. It’s water was aquamarine and soft sand was covered in little rattan umbrellas that swayed and bobbed in the breeze.

Renting an umbrella and two deck chairs for the day was 35TL – about $A8. There was also an excellent set up to have a shower and little cabins to change clothes.

Swimming in relays so one of us could mind our bags, worked up an appetite so we chose one of the restaurants along the narrow road above the beach.

I had stuffed zucchini flowers and a green salad and Steve enjoyed kofta.

Back to the beach for more swimming and snoozing before heading back to the town for the ferry. There was just enough time for an ice cream. And to see another bride!

We got the free ferry across to the mainland – 1/2 hr. Then a small local bus back to Canakkale. It was quite long about 1.5hr but interesting as the locals hopped on and off with their shopping and we meandered through villages.

If going to Bozcaada perhaps go down on the ferry at 9am and back on the free ferry and bus. Unless they put on a fast ferry!

Our new swim trek friends Vanessa and George are at the same hotel. They’re swimming Hellespont as well. In fact Vanessa won her age group a few years ago.

We had some great Turkish food and then a beer on the roof top of our hotel looking out across the water they’ll be swimming across in two days time.

Ephesus: a look back into the past.

We slept well but the call to prayer at 5am and the local roosters crowing made it an early start.

Breakfast of ripe tomatoes, an egg and delicious fruits in the lovely garden was a good start to our day. It’s such a healthy breakfast.

We got a ‘taksi’ to the top gate and started our tour. We decided we wanted to move at our own pace and had an audio guide – which is always a good way to go.

Amazing view of the ancient city

There were a few tour groups there but not enough to bother us. It got very hot as we moved around so we hovered like cows under any available tree as we listened to history being brought alive.

What a story is Ephesus. It’s truly amazing to see. The Temple in Agrigento Sicily was great, as are the Roman forum, the Parthenon, Pompeii – but this is altogether amazing. A walled city being rediscovered. The way people lived was described and you could see evidence of the houses, the spa, the latrines, shops, library, amphitheatre, workshops. Everything.

This was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. It was on the Silk Road which made trade so important. It was ruled by Roman, Greek, Byzantine and taken by the Arabs who destroyed it.

We walked for around 2 hours and exited along the promenade of trees to the car park.

Back to Selcuk and the bus station to plan our trip to Canakkale tomorrow when sadly Betty leaves us. It’s been wonderful having her along on this swim trek adventure but she’s heading home to LA.

We returned to yesterday’s restaurant for lunch as it was so good.

Then the Ephesus museum gave respite against the middle of the day heat. It’s a wonderfully curated museum with many examples of the items people of Ephesus used in everyday life – pottery bowls, utensils, weapons, coins along with statues and busts of famous people.

The carpet men of Selçuk.

Walking back to our hotel we passed a carpet Emporium. It looked good and quiet so we went in and met a very nice man who explained the techniques of weaving – .they are keeping these traditional ways of weaving alive as they are a centre for weaving workshops. It was so interesting.

We got talking about styles – Kilams, wool on wool, wool and cotton, silk.

I started thinking about our house and where I could put a Turkish rug. We have one already but to buy a beautiful one here and get the story would be special.

Betty has a kilam hanging on her wall at home. She’d bought it for $US259. She had a photo of it and the master historian was able to explain the meaning behind the symbols.

We ending up loving a hall runner. It has stripes, running water and tree houses – which really appealed as Steve is about to build one for Oliver! It also has tied off fringing which indicates it’s a dowry rug.

So we bought it – to be shipped home. Hopefully it arrives. But I did feel confident. The men were not at all pushy. – not like when we’d been in Istanbul! We accepted their hospitality and had drink with them.

We had another BBQ in the garden at Paradise. Such a great day, our last with my wing woman Betty.

From Kas to Ephesus

Our last breakfast was more a series of goodbye hugs than food. Hard to grasp that it’s all over!

Those not leaving early went for a last swim and arrived back for final goodbyes.

The staff at the Hotel Linda were great. It’s a good place to stay with a group like ours though there’s no shortage of hotels in Kas.

I left a note and small gift for our friend Yves who arrives at the end of the week. We met him through swim trek a few years ago and have stayed friends every since. He took us to Vanuatu last year (check back here for posts on that trip.)

Into the van with Steve and Betty for our 5hr trip to Selcuk – our base for visiting the world heritage site of Ephesus. I’ve wanted to visit here for ages so this is our chance. A change of tempo! No swimming just walking in the heat no doubt.

Our driver Ali from Wilsue travel had some French and enough English to make communication good. We were going to get the bus but decided as we were 3 we would cut some time and get a car transfer.

We made one stop for coffee and made it to Selcuk by 1.30.

The scenery along the way was great and it was interesting to see the huge areas devoted to growing produce. Large covered areas growing all sorts of veg and fruit.

We did a detour winding up the road just before entering Selcuk . We wanted to visit Holy Mary’s house now a Chapel. History tells us that Jesus had asked his St John to take care of his mother and when he moved to Ephesus she came with him.

We arrived at the top and and walked the path to the Chapel. It’s touristy but really very simple. We took the holy waters, saw the wall of prayer intentions and wondered if history was correct. Several Popes have visited the area which seems to give it authenticity.

Our small hotel – the Ephesus Paradise – came highly recommended by Booking.com

It was perfect. Lovely old style house. Big rooms, aircon! , nice manager and a lovely garden to have a drink and the house BBQ dinner in the evening.

Also close to the things we would visit.

We headed out for lunch – we’re getting used to delicious Turkish mezze plates and salads and the Efes beer is easy to drink on a hot day.

Discovering Selcuk was easy. We found our way to St Johns Bascillica – set in a walled area overlooking the town toward Ephesus. It’s being reconstructed stone by stone – it would have been one of the biggest churches in the world.

We climbed further up the hill to the fort. It is also being restored and the walk up and back was a little rough walking over slippery marble. The views were magnificent and the breeze cut the high temperatures.

Outside the gates we met (yet again) a man selling ‘ancient coins’. He identified us as Australians and sent up the cry “Aussie Aussie Aussie” – they truly love Australians here.

We headed down hill towards the mosque and were rewarded with a photographer capturing a bride and groom on the entrance steps. She looked beautiful. And so composed in the heat.

Entering the mosque not only did we have to cover our head but cover our body in a a long and very hot robe.

We were given some free information on discovering Islam and Steve struck up a conversation with a lovely young man – a former Turkish AirForce helicopter search and rescue team member.

By now it was nearly 6 so made our way back to the Paradise Hotel, a cool shower and enjoyed a drink in the garden. We met fellow guests from Holland. The tall man sported a freshly broken leg! He had slipped on the steps at the St Johns Bascillica. I thought they looked dangerous!

He’d had to visit the small local hospital. Luckily it was a clean break and he didn’t need surgery- well not yet. He had a cast and was waiting on his insurance company to get home home. End of holiday.

Tomorrow at Ephesus we shall be extra careful!

Day 5. Last day in Turkish Paradise

The heat was fierce as we walked to the boat on our last morning. We were a little later than usual and we felt it.

Ten minutes on the boat and we were ready to jump in.

We swam a short distance and came to a cave opening. Eoin went in with the torch. Five at a time we followed. It was dark, eerie somewhat scary. But looking back out the water was blue.

The water colours here are amazing aqua, turquoise, cerulean, aquamarine, azure. When they invented paint charts they got the blue colours from the waters here.

We swam along as a group and found a tunnel. Diver Diana was the only one to swim down and through. She has the scratches to prove it.

Nearly 3 km later we swam into a gorgeous blue bay and boarded the boat for our usual tea ceremony.

Waiting for lunch gives a chance to relax and chat but some, notably B1 & B2, got back in the water for more swimming. A few butterfly strokes, a bit of backstroke a dive or two. Boundless energy.

Once again a delicious lunch. And then siesta time. After lunch activities include Noirin giving Eoin some Pilates instruction. Some muscle work. It was interesting to watch that’s for sure. Eoin is a Brad Pitt type ( in his younger days) and was putting on quite a show. Sweetie Helen, fish spotter Ali and I watched. Mmmm

The energetic took to diving – off the top of the boat, the walkway, the front of the boats. Screams of laughter and encouragement led to a competition and videoing session. All was good until ‘they broke the boat’.

The ropes holding the walkway with the shower pulled away. Mustafa, Zeynap and Effie came running and the show was over. No more silly antics!

The last swim on a trek is always rather special. We cruised along. Everyone was very pleased they had made it to the end.

The traditional swim trek awards were made. Each swimmer gets a tailor made comment on something noticed about them during the week. I got the ‘Blogtastic’ award, Steve the Jolly Swagman, Betty the American Nightingale, B1 the Clown Prince, B2 the arrow ( swims so straight!) Noirin Drama, Rachel the most improved , Pam the Mother, And so it went. Lots of laughs. Steve spoke for everyone to thank the boat crew, Mustafa, Zeynap and Effie. He did it in Turkish!

And we all sang Happy Birthday to Zeynap.

It was bittersweet saying goodbye after a week of fun swimming and making new friends.

We did the ‘fit the smallest person into a bathing cap trick!’ Poor Betty was lifted into a water filled cap. Then it broke!

The last afternoon saw us having a cocktail, visiting room 211 for a G & T and finally heading to Pebble Beach for dinner.

With our singing nightingale Betty.

Sunset at Pebble Beach Steve, George and Vanessa

What a way to finish! Magical.

Special thanks to our wonderful guides Eoin and John. They made a team from 16 swimmers from different places with different abilities.

And to our fellow swimmers – thank you.

Day 4: Swimming Greece to Turkey

Around day 4 we all start to get a little tired ! Lots of swimming, sun, dinners out, talking , walking, not to mention the odd Gin & Tonic. It all adds up.

In fact, instead of Swim Trek, Ali and Helen call it Gin Trek! Love it.

Sensibly, Swim Trek have built in a rest half day. Knock us out with a big swim in the morning, great lunch, then an afternoon off.

Perfect.

Our goal today was to swim from Greece to Turkey. See the map above.

Looking out from Kas, in the distance you can see an island. It’s actually a Greek island and we are going to swim from it towards Kas. Two crossings from island to island then along the coast to a lighthouse.

We set off at 8.30 and the conditions were perfect. Calm waters. Barely any chop. We motored across from Greece.

Pink group first, then the mighty orange group followed by the yellows ( the fast swimmers!) The idea is we all catch each other and finish together.

Off we went. We touched the rocks of Greece and set off. It was perfect.

The swim went according to plan and we all more or less finished together. What an exhilarating feeling.

But not everyone rested!

Free diver Diana gave B1 a lesson on how to free dive. She’s amazing in diving deep. Pam lost her googles overboard and Diana was the only one able to go deep enough to rescue them.

Today we had not only a beautiful lunch but a beer ! No swimming this afternoon.

Eoin produced a brochure for a spa not far from the hotel. Who was going to have a Hamam? A Turkish spa treatment! Yes said 9 women.

Something to look forward to.

After arriving back at the Marina, Betty and I walked to the Friday markets. Good idea, until we got a little lost and walked further than we should in the searing heat. Finally we found it and were impressed by the variety of beautiful coloured fruits and vegetables.

I bought a Turkish towel and some Turkish delight and we made our way back to the hotel to prepare for our 3pm spa Hamam.

Four of us left together Sth African Pam, US Betty, Irish Noirin and myself. The others were coming later.

The spa was in a modern building near the marina. We were greeted and shown to the change room and then into the sauna wrapped in striped Turkish towels. Ten minutes was more than enough for me.

Next was the wash room. Two marble slabs awaited Pam and I. Onto the slab in the buff and the exfoliating began. She had on what looked like a pair of Brillo gloves. It was harsh! Then came the cream wash and lots of buckets of water. Next was the bubble treatment.

Not us! Photos from the brochure.

A large bag was filled with water and then swung around and emptied onto you until you were covered with bubbles. The massage continued until ……… I felt her grab my ankles and pull. Wow. I was as slippery as an eel and flew along the marble slab. I thought I’d end up on the floor. Then she pushed and back I flew the other way. This happened three times. I screamed I’m not sure why! But it was fun! And scary.

Next step was being helped up and sat next to the fountain and having containers of water sloshed over my head.

Next Pam & I were shuffled out under a bucket of icy water which was tipped all over us. Brrrr.

Recovery time on a lounge wrapped in a towel was a treat from the trauma.

Next up a great massage and face mask. Much more restful though she found my poor aching swimming muscles.

What an experience. When in Turkey try a Hamam. You will be refreshed and entertained all at once.

An hour of recovery time at the hotel before regrouping and heading off to a beach bar for dinner.

Last swim day tomorrow

Ancient Treasures by the Sea

Our usual start to the day then a slightly longer Boat run to our swim spot.

We were swimming another coastal route ending at the remains of old city.

Notice all the little blue fish

Stunning swimming made over 3km seem easy. Fish darted around us as we swam along at a fairly leisurely pace and we in our group we have three eco warriors. Tiny Betty dived quite deep to pick up a very large water bottle. Only problem was it was full. How she swam back up with it remains a mystery! My hero! Or heroine!

Then B1 and Pam did a clean up – swimming to shore, gathering a few water bottles discarded in the water and on the pebbly beach.

Our stop for lunch was in front of the remains of an ancient city. The walls of the city remain and some of the houses and even some tombs by the waterline. A group motored over to explore the area and climb up the hill to the highest part of the remaining wall.

It was very hot and a swim was needed at the end to cool down. Some discarded clothes and walking shoes and swam back to the boat.

Lunch was delicious. This time BBQ fish. And several salads. We are so spoilt. I’ve forgotten to mention the afternoon tea after our last swim. Platters of the best fruits and Turkish tea.

There were fun and games today. Effie the boat owners son was showing all his tricks. He can dive down, lay horizontally facing up and blow out air rings. One….. then a second and with perfect timing they join to one circle. Amazing. Others had a go but no one could match Effie.

Our second swim was along the prettiest coast line. Lots of fish, underwater rock formations, rock shelves and caves and after 2.5 km ended at a narrowing inlet to a sandy beach. So beautiful.

Meet my orange group swimmers: next to me, USA Betty, George from NY, Lesley, Helen and Alison all from England.

Steve’s yellow group: B1& B2 Jeff & Barry, NY Vanessa, Aussie Janty and Steve.

As we headed back to Kas, Mustafa dipped a fishing line in. He held the reel to his ear and phoned the fish telling them to jump on his line!

Lo and behold they listened.

Lots of cheering and smiles from us all. Three more fish followed. Tuna for dinner for Mustafa and the family.

Me holding George’s little black bear ! He’s well travelled.

We all enjoy getting back to our hotel at the end of a long salty day. Another 6km today and it’s catching up with us. It’s very tiring!

We all spend time in the aircon until it’s time to head down to town for another delicious Turkish dinner. This time grilled chicken and lots of green salad!

Our evening was over and tomorrow one big 5km swim a crossing from a Greek island into Turkish water arriving at a lighthouse near Kas.

The orange group enjoying a drink break. Our boat. So big and comfortable.

Day 2. Perfect Day Perfect Swims

We’re getting into routine. Up, dressed, sunscreen on, breakfast – which includes fruit, yoghurt and lots of vegetables and cheeses – we would consider lunch but here it’s breakfast. And delicious.

Then the walk down through the town to the boat. It’s a very different atmosphere in the morning. Very sleepy. All the party people are still asleep.

US swim buddies Zippy Bazza and the Silver Speedo, now B1& B2 keep up the banter of jokes and everyone is starting to relax and get to know each other. They are an interesting talented bunch of people. And some seriously good swimmers.

Taking advantage of our swim instruction from last night we all worked on our stroke as we swim along the coast. Especially Rachel! She has improved so much already. Ali, our fish lady, is a keen fish spotter and keeps us informed.

But it’s the bat cave that gives a thrill. In we go with the wave behind us. It’s a deep cave with enough light to spot the bats flying around above us. I don’t think they enjoyed being disturbed.

The 2.5km swim finishes in a perfect bay. While lunch is prepared we scatter around the boat, chatting or reading or taking an extra dip.

Today – yet another delicious selection of salads this time with little beef patties. It’s such a treat.

More rest on the sunlounges. Mustafa points out a turtle which gets a few back into the water. John gives Rachel another swim lesson. Effie plays around with Eoin. Altogether we very restful.

We tackle a 3km Swim in the afternoon but it’s easy swimming, especially compared to yesterdays 7 island crossings – which are always a little tougher to swim. Check out the map of the crossings.

By 4pm we are back at the Marina and into the restaurant to order ‘takeaway’ Turkish style. (We’re going to pick it up later on our way to the amphitheater ) Of course that involved a beer and lots of chat.

Tonight John, our guide, suggested a visit to the amphitheater, right on dusk to enjoy the view It dates back to 1st century BC. It is magnificent right by the sea. It’s hard to imagine enough people living in the area to fill it.

We climbed to the top, the cheap seats and enjoyed the view and the food – though B1& B2 went off for their own dinner. A boys date? We wondered. Swim Tactic talk? Planning their song for the concert perhaps ?

Yes, John wanted us all to perform. As night fell the stars came out. And I’m not talking in the sky. John first. He performed a Ballad followed by Irish Eoin who sang a traditional song and was quickly joined by Noirin who has a strong lilting voice. Next the Aussies. Not shy, but unsure what to sing. After waltzing Matilda we offered up Kookaburra Sits in an Old Gum Tree. For those who don’t know- that is a fun Aussie song about our famous bird. It comes with a strange second verse.

The concert continued with the USA’s B1& B2 who sang up a storm along with Betty who provided the real talent. She followed up with a ‘hand on heart’ performance of America the Beautiful.

Others sitting in the amphitheater either left or decided to join in. A trio of Young Turks got going with a traditional song followed by a hip swivel song and dance and dragged Betty in to join them.

The English were hesitant but warmly encouraged and the South Africans had us drumming.

The night was in full swing. What the locals thought ? We didn’t care. We were having fun.

Day 1 Swim Trek Kas.

An early 6am start for an orientation swim set us up for a great Turkish breakfast. We scrambled down some rocky stairs to pebble beach – a narrow cove with pebbles of all sizes. And three tents set up with sleeping bodies. We were way too early for them.

We waded in and set off at a comfortable pace. It’s hard to tell who the fast swimmers are at this stage! Except for College boys!

After breakfast under the purple bougainvillea our swimming party headed off for for our first swim.

The boat is amazing. So big and comfortable. The best we’ve had.

It takes a while to settle down and find a rhythm. My orange-cap group of 6 swimmers kept together often led by crocodile-eye George or my wing-woman Betty.

Video session time came around and, although I don’t think there’s much hope for change, I did the swim for the camera.

Lunch was prepared by Zeynap while husband Mustafa barbecued the chicken. Delicious. Best swim trek food ever. About 6 different salads and grilled chicken.

Following lunch it’s rest time and there’s plenty of room on deck to stretch out. Comfortable blue mattresses.

We are very well looked after by Zeynap, our Captain’ s wife and their son Effie. He’s 15 and obviously loves playing around with Eoin our guide.

We swam along the gorgeous coast line around 2.5km in the morning and a 7 Island series of crossings in the afternoon. Quite a challenge for the first day. Around 6 km!

We had a drink in the evening to prepare ourselves for the video analysis! It’s scary seeing yourself on the big screen. My video followed the two College boys, Zippy Barry and the Silver Speedo. They were zippy with perfect strokes and I was ……. well not so zippy and not so perfect. But John the guide was kind and others didn’t laugh. So all is good and I’ll try to take the comments on board when I swim tomorrow.

So a good dinner in the village and off to bed!

Kas Turkey. Let the swim Begin

Getting to bed at 2.30am doesn’t make it easy to get going in a new place – but we were up and enjoying breakfast on the terrace of the Linda Hotel by 9am.

Most of our fellow swimmers had arrived. It’s always exciting to meet the people we’ll be sharing our swimming week with. There’s 16 all up and two guides.

John we met in Montenegro a few years ago and he’s great, and the other is lovely Irish Eoin who is on his fourth season. He has the biggest smile and a beautiful accent!

These guides move from location to location over the summer season. They have to love it because it’s very full on for them. They look after all aspects of the trip including us. But on this trek they don’t do the lunch! Lucky them.

We were a little apprehensive meeting some of the others. There are 7 who went to Milos in Greece last year and got on so well they are repeating it.

Swimming attracts a certain kind of person. The love of swimming is the first thing – being relaxed and happy is another and this group looks great.

It’s a bit like a new class at school. There are the jokers, the shy, the quiet, the caring, the mothers, and encouragers but no complainers thank goodness.

Betty, our friend from our Galapagos trek let it be known I write a blog! So people are worried about how I describe them. I promise to be kind!

We had ‘instruction’ time followed by a ‘get to know you’. It’s interesting hearing a little about each person. There are some who are taking up a challenge, those who are pushing themselves after health issues, some getting away from busy jobs, reenergising after relationship problems or simply choosing a holiday involving exercise.

There are two guys from the US who are great friends, great stirrers and fabulous swimmers. They swam for College in America. Currently getting medals at Masters swimming. Enough said!

Zippy Barry and the Silver Speedo are going up keep us on our toes both in the swimming and the stirring department. Then there’s Alison – the fish; Noirin – a surfer girl from Ireland; Lesley – a swim teacher from England; New Yorkers Vanessa and George; South Africans Pam and Adrian; English Diana, Helen and Rachel; another Australian Janty – but no Germans this time!

Dinner in the village was absolutely awash with holiday makers. It had a great atmosphere – restaurants packed with tourists both local and from afar. Seafood featured on the menu. We ate well and cheaply and made our way home up hill!

Tomorrow the swims begin.

Scenes from Kas! Not bad at all.