Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Nicola Hobbs

The first thing I must ask is why this entrée is called a Turkish flat bread when it takes on the appearance of a bloated fish?

My first visit to Turunc, one of the small fishing villages sprinkled along the Aegean coast of Turkey, arouses so much curiosity from the land which straddles Europe and Asia, the melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures. Stereotypical ideas of camels and dusty paths, oasis filled voids and bearded tradesmen, magnificent mosques and scantily clad belly dancers fuelled my imagination of Aladdin’s land. Thoughts of magic lamps and flying carpets that my upbringing had led me to believe were forgotten in this façade of modernism, this cacophony of people, this jumble of cultures.

I look around and, despite being nestled in this archaic taverna for the majority of the searing morning, trying to avoid the red-tomato-oops-spent-too-long-in-the-sun look, for the first time notice the pine clad mountains that surround the exquisite bay of Turunc. Like an eagle sheltering its hatchling, the striking elevations of land which stand proud against the dazzling azure of the sky, provide a safe guard against the booze fuelled streets of Marmaris, half an hour’s rocky sea taxi ride up the coast. How these green, leafy creatures survive the roasting heat of the Turkish rays I will never know. I’ve been here less than 72 hours and already I’ve produced enough sweat to flood a small island!

Opposite these magnificent mountains lolls the mysterious Mediterranean, the gulf of crystal water, a turquoise paradise, almost certainly full of young holiday makers wee, too excited to make it to the nearest toilet. The Romans knew this ingredient of the Atlantic as the centre of the earth, the Turks themselves used it to trade their olive oil and vine leaves with Africa, Europe and Asia, now it is home to a surprising array of boats resting in the makeshift harbour. Water taxis: ramshackled and neglected are waiting to ship care-free tourists to neighbouring bays, unsuspecting holiday makers enticed by Turks fully qualifies in persuasion and seduction but, judging by some of the sailing I’ve seen tonight, not so expert at navigating boats. Fishing vessels: a hint of fish odour clinging to their wooden planks are sprinkled amongst these cabs of dilapidation, which in comparison look like vintage artworks overpowering the fishing dinghies sleeping in wait of their early starts to get the winning catch of the day. Ice cream boats: a cheeky money making scheme, consisting of selling cheap iced Turkish desserts; creamy, velvety delights, light but yet gluttonous, perfect for a 3o’clock’ snack, to boat trips and beach goers at highly inflated prices. Freezer boxes strapped to home made sea craft, much like those monstrosities you make at team building days out of branches and barrels, supply this source of sweet – but pricey – delights. Overshadowing all of these traditional Turkish transport trades are the yachts: the swans of the sea, graceful and affluent, the multi million pound liners, docked for the weekend like well groomed puppies to a post, waiting for their owners to return after their experience of belly dancing, mud bathing or fine dining.

Holiday makers flood the vacant ocean edge, the white English roses, pink didn’t-put-on-enough-sun-screeners and tanned equatic regulars, a neapolitan of foreigners, a German flag of travellers, a mosaic of skins frisking in the waters of the Aegean. As soothing and comforting as the ocean sounds, I’m quite happy with my marble floored hotel pool, swimming so close and personal to nature really isn’t my cup of tea.

Talking of tea, although Turkey isn’t the sand-duned, desert land I had imagined, a lot of its traditional values are still around, tea being one of them. A shot glass of what is served to me as ‘Elma Cayi’ waits patiently on my table for me to sample, a goblet of obscurity, a shadowy urine colour, murky and yet surprisingly appetising; it’s worth a taste. Mmmm… sweet, fresh and appley yet mellowed; time-honoured tea. It reminds me of my waiter, a well matured fellow, his Turkishness revealed in his wrinkles. He is quite a small man, slight and delicate, but not feeble; a true reflection of the Mediterranean diet. His muddied golden face, profoundly lined, much like a walnut in a pickle jar, exposes the hardship of his youth. He is dressed smartly – ironed charcoal slacks, crisp white shirt, all topped off with a crimson fez, much like a squashed cherry on a lanky, out-of-date cream cake. He watches my expression change from perplexed puzzlement to amazed delight with my second tipple of this traditional pleasure, apple tea. I’m soon given a top up. Attentive and welcoming, I’m quickly realising Turks act very much like long, lost friends.

Another Turkish belief still thriving among the contemporary and maybe slightly more rational principles of tourists, is the Nazur Bonjuk, or Evil Eye. It’s hung in primitive houses, pinned to diapers and if I recall rightly, my taxi driver had one dangling from his mirror. Available in bracelet, amulet, broach, bead and earring form it is presented for purchase in all gift shops and by the looks of the jewellery on the females on the table next to me, I see even the normally sceptical English have fallen under its spell. Thought of as an element of defence against evil enchantments and an indestructible source of protection, personally I think it’s total baloney. On second thoughts, it might shield me from all the souvenir store owners lining the village streets, enticing me in with yet more apple tea so I can see the goods they’re selling for ‘as cheap as chips’ or ‘Asda price’. Do they even have Asdas in Turkey?

 Shopping’s scary stuff here, where the expectation of bartering and haggling can put off even the most qualified of bargain hunters. Small knick-knack shops litter the side streets much like rubbish in an alleyway; these don’t cause too many problems, prices of humdrum magnets and ugly ornaments are handwritten on scraps of paper pinned to boards. It’s elderly ladies that run these mostly, although Turkish women themselves aren’t a force to be messed with, most coming from tough manual labour backgrounds they’d put Popeye’s muscles to shame. It’s the designer clothes and chic accessory shops that you have to watch out for, not selling genuine goods but decent, imitation fakes. Here, young men in their tight white shirts revealing rippled abdomens, lure designer addicts into a paradise of labels and famous names. What happened to homemade olive oil soap, sugar swathed Turkish delight and traditional weaved baskets? Oh well, I’m sure my sister would prefer a pair of ‘Chanel’ sunglasses to a bunch of vine leaves and some olive oil (which would lay unused at the back of her kitchen cupboard until she moved house) and at only 10 lira (about £4) a pair, I think I might treat myself to a matching pair of ‘Gucci’ ones.

An amateurish business card left craftily on my table by my crinkly waiter advertises his brothers’ (I’m sure everyone is everyone else’s brother here) simple but pleasant apartments. It reads, ‘Turunc, the jewel of Turkey’ and I would have to agree with this statement. Maybe not if your idea of a jewel is a whopping 24 caret rock, Elvis Presley style,  but I do believe its distinctive flavours, original folklores and old world charm make it a true little gem.

Deafened by the ear piercing loud speakers that convey the call to prayer; the nightclub of religion, faiths DJ, I am immediately awoken from my moments pondering to return to my hors d’oeuvre, my bloated-fish looking flat bread, to find it as flat as a fritter – did it take a ‘Rennie’ whilst I wasn’t looking? Much like the land of Turkey I suppose, forever changing and moulding to fit in with society whilst still maintaining an essence of its roots. So that answers the big flat bread question, but where did all the camels go? Why did the merchants get rid of their beards? Have all the belly dancers died out? Do flying carpets and magic lamps really exist? Maybe I haven’t found all the answers just yet but I have found a place with boundless diversity, a place of mystery and fun, a place of apple tea and flat bread, a place I long to return to; a Turkish delight.