spring in aegean turkey

Turkey and Greece – as I remember them

It is two years since we left Turkey and there are days when the memories rise up thick and fast and I yearn to go back and do it all again. We were so lucky to live there at the time we did. It gifted us some beautiful bittersweet memories.

spring in aegean turkey
Kirazli village turkey in spring
I remember Kirazli in the Spring, when the first of the cherry trees burst into blossom and the last of the snows on Gul Dag caught the pale pink of their blush and glowed too; in the sunset, in the dawn, in the waking warmth of a high speed spring after a hard fast winter of soba smoke and cold hands in the olive groves.

My neighbour would take the young goats in graze in the edges of the pine forests. Slowly she would meander along and the goats trailing behind her would stand on their back legs to reach the highest, sweetest, newest buds on the branches, hovering stilt legged and precarious. I saw a gold statue once of a goat doing the same thing, a gorgeous thing of black and shining metal on copper with lapis lazuli and shell. It’s in Phillidephia now, it was in the British Museum before that. But four thousand years ago it was made in Ur, far to the east of here, close to the root of here. Nothing has changed in four millenium, not really, certainly not for the goats.

poppies in kirazli
Phil’s poppies
It’s poppy time in Kirazli right now. I know that, I can still feel it, across all the miles. They will be blooming in the disturbed soil of the verges and in the edges of the vineyards. Blood smudges of drenched red amongst the multiple shades of green.

In the cemetery at the village edge they grow on the graves, driving up through the pale dirt and crying their hearts out under the shade of the yew trees. They were blooming like that the day returned to Kirazli after my husband’s funeral, eight long years ago. I think I should have buried him there, and let the poppies bless him every spring.

He took this photo, his last spring in Kirazli. I just make it more vivid with new software. He would have liked that; the instant results from apps on tablets, the software revolution we sit in the midst of. Thanks to him I notice how marvellous these things are, how they make fresh and enticing the old memories, rewrite them again and make them new.

In the blessed bright days of winter we would explore. Before the crowds of summer and the tour groups playing follow my leader through ancient thoroughfares we would have the most beautiful sites to ourselves.

Priene was a favourite. Sitting above the flat plain of the Mendares delta it is bijou and beautiful. There is a sense of idealism about it, its history is one of wonderful ideas, and it is laid out in convenient, classic style. Up tight against the flanks of the mountain it is a joy to photograph and its pine fringes and long views give it a romantic appeal; one senses Apollo is loitering nearby, ready to seduce some comely nymph and just out of sight Artemis is having a refreshing bath with her maidens in a secret pool.

dillek milliipark
Dillek Millipark
There is a sadness now in the seas between Turkey and Greece. When we lived there they were a playground and summer was all dreamy cruises along the sunlit coasts where rare lillies grew in the sands and on the way home, laved by sun and lightly salted by a day in the sea, there was the hope of dolphins in the sunset.

The quiet beaches we loved so much have been made silent in a sorrowing way. Before they were peaceful now they have been marked with death and the sad crisis of the refugees has made the Aegean again a sea of bodies as it has not been for millennia.

This too shall pass, this too must pass and the cliffs and the coves and the opal waters will not be threaded with fear and despair. Let this pass.

fishing boat samos
Samos Fishing Boat
We took our holidays on Samos, nipping across the strait between Turkey and Greece thanks to the blithe insouciance of our British passports. Fancy a few days away, okay lets go, no visa hassles or bureaucratic blocking for us!

We would pick up a car in Vathi and drive the smooth freshly tarmacked island roads, marvelling at them compared to our pot holed tracks in Turkey. Back then the Euro funds were flowing in and tiny islands had beautiful roads from end to end.

We saw Greece change over the years. We saw when the infrastructure started to fail; you could telephone Athens but not make a call to your neighbour. We saw the ferry schedules slashed and the supermarkets get less well stocked and the businesses close. But for all that Greece remained beautiful and the islands were picture postcard perfect and the days when we would explore ancient churches on remote headlands and paddle in the waters where Pythagoras bathed are happy memories.

Funnel weed
Funnel weed
I remember the perfect diving days. I remember the moment I took this photo. It was a day in late summer, diving with my friends at Active Blue. The last of the tourists were clumping the beaches in their little groups, the sunbeds were more empty than full and we were doing a cavern dive so it was a Tuesday.

Not being a huge fan of caverns I asked Emin if I could stay outside the cave mouth; I wanted to photograph some bristle worms – not glamorous, actually vicious little predators, slow moving and downright painful if their bristles get into your skin but vivid in colour and extravagent in costume, like a centipede going to Mardi Gras.

Emin agreed and after the descent from the dive boat he led the group into the narrow slit of the cavern and I hovered outside with the high walls rising above me, straight to the surface. The sharp rock faces were patched with Coralline algae in shades of purple and rust. The Corallines are encrusting species of calcareous algae; they cover rock in a hard skin a few millimetres thick. Bristle worms climbed amongst the coloured rocks and clung to the surface, looking like gummy worms from the pic n’ mix, all juicy colours and long fat bodies.

After photographing the worms I retreated to the tumble of rocks outside the cave entrance and waited patiently.

I breathed easily, ten metres down, nicely level in the water, rising and falling gradually as my buoyancy fluctuated with the air in my lungs. Above me the surface was dark blue, shaded from the hot autumn sun by the high cliffs at Adukale whilst below me the rocks glowed pearl with the extravagant frills of Funnel weed (Padina gymnospora). Delicate curls, like pencil shavings clustered together into pastel bouquets this delicate algae is found in shallow waters growing on dead coral heads and in patches on reefs. Also known as Curly Algae and Fan Algae it has a chalky appearance due to the presence of calcium carbonate on the upper surfaces.

I remember breathing out, slowly sinking down in the water as my lungs emptied, falling towards the garden on the rocks. I could see every ring growth in the weed, the delicate bands of time. The funnels swayed in the current and I was entranced by their dance, their wide open welcoming curls and I knew I could float there until my air ran out, just fascinated by the feel of their life in the sea.

I hovered, relaxed, with the clicks and tweets of the sea around me and the slow tickle of my bubbles against my face. That was a good day, there were so many good days there, under the sea, sometimes I wonder what kind of idiot I was to leave!

Ozel reef dive

Diary of a diving day…

Underwater lessons - Emin teachin bouyancy control
Early morning – I’m lying in bed waiting for the alarm to go off. My internal alarm woke me up a few minutes ago and I’m watching the sunlight on the pine forests and the mosque minaret and thinking “I need a gallon of coffee” and “I can’t face breakfast” but I have to eat before I dive. Looking out of the window at a cloudless deep blue sky and a few hints of morning mist hanging over the orchards on the valley floor I see the wind has finally dropped and its going to be a good diving day. I still get nervous before diving, but that’s a good thing, it means I don’t take it all for granted.

We check our dive kit and run through Nick’s kit list because he always forgets stuff (pointless exercise, he forgets his dive boots which were next to his dive bag!). The dogs are sulking because they see the dive kit being packed and know they aren’t included on this trip. In the village the farmers are revving up their tractors ready for a day of grape picking once the dew has dried on the fruit. Mother next door is rushing the goats out of the gate and shouting at her daughter to hurry up with the grape trays.

The village restaurants are already busy when we leave the village, gearing up for the busiest day of the week serving Sunday Breakfast well into the afternoon. As we pass the turning to Ephesus I see the first tour bus of the day creeping up the steep road to Meryamana Evi. At Aqua Fantasy hotel just below the dive centre the pools are still empty, all solid blue and inviting, and the slides are bubbling away waiting for the guests to finish breakfast.

Mid morning – We meet Serhat, the newest dive instructor at Active Blue, at the gates of Ephesus Princess and he kindly helps us carry our kit down the hairpin bends to the beach. Pamucak bay is flat calm today, the lodos wind has blown itself out and the water is glassy clear. We meet today’s fellow divers, a visiting dive master from Germany with 400 dives under his weight belt, a newly qualified open water diver and an unqualified guy from Switzerland who will be supported on this, his first open water dive, and is very laid back about it.

With the help of the interns at the dive centre we load the boat and head out for two boat dives, both of them are easy dives and are only a fast ten minute rib ride away. Emin is leading the dives today and Nick and I are diving with the visiting dive master whilst Emin closely supervises the less experienced diver and the novice.

On site at Pamucak Reef. The dive site is an outcropping of rock with thermal springs just to the left of Pamucak Bay. It drops from an easy 6m to a healthy 33m at the north end where it gives out onto the flat silty bottom of bay. Today we’re not going deeper than 15m, skirting the edges of the reef, looking for octopus and grouper as well as visiting the cracks where the hot thermal water seeps into the sea. Emin gives the dive briefing and Nick, the visiting dive master and I descend and wait at the drop off at 7metres as Emin wrangles the less experienced into the water and nurses them under.

The dive goes well, the new dives don’t gobble too much air and it’s an easy 45 minute dive in clear water before we surface, take the rib over to the next dive site at Kamil cavern and change tanks for the second dive.

I love Kamil cavern, its shallow sunlit waters are wonderful for photography, which is what I am mainly interested in, and the light through the surface brings out the colours in the fish and the weed and the sponges reaching up from the rocks. Makes it easy to photograph!

Kamil is another easy dive, I barely use air there because it is so shallow and I won’t go anywhere near my decompression limits so I can dive again in the afternoon.

Lunchtime – Back at the dive centre we rinse and hang our kit up, grab a quick lunch and spend a few hours giving guidance and briefings to tourists on the Try Scuba excursion. Here people get a chance to see if they like scuba, they get a full safety briefing, get fitted with their dive kit and are gently encouraged under the water for a twenty minute session in the shallow waters off the beach. Scuba isn’t for everyone, no matter how good a swimmer you are you may not like scuba because of a strong gag reflex or a you may just feel terrible breathing underwater so Try Scuba is a great way to see if it’s for you. Serhat is handling the majority of the try scuba excursions this summer and he is sweet and encouraging and patient and he rarely fails to get people under the surface.

Mid afternoon – Tagmac, the dive centre owner, wants to place a marker buoy at a new dive site and Emin has one young boy to take on his first open water dive so we kit up again and take the rib to an outcropping of rock just east of Pamucak reef. Whilst Emin teaches and Nick and Tagmac do enthralling boy stuff with ropes and knives I fin around the new site, discovering new overhangs and fascinating rock shapes and curious fish. I hang in the water watching Emin and the young lad he is teaching slowly descend through shafts of light, the boy is spreadeagled in the water, holding onto Emin’s hands and slowly drifting down. It is an extraordinary beautiful sight.

Back again on the beach we pack up our kit and catch the little hotel tractor and trailer up the cliff to where the car is parked. The sun and the sea salt and the compressed air you have breathed underwater make you lethargic and relaxed and laved by the light. It’s an amazingly relaxing feeling. At home we throw out kit in the pool and dive in ourselves to get the salt off, rinsing the kit with fresh water and hanging it to dry. We then normally sleep for two hours!

We dive with Active Blue Dive Centre at the Ephesus Princess and Aquafantasy hotels out at Pamucak beach. You can can contact Tagmac, the owner, by email through his website at Active Blue

Kamil Cavern Kusadasi 1

A beautiful day of diving in the Aegean

Some days it all comes together on a dive; the shallow caverns, swimthroughs and underwater rock falls swarm with fish, the light is just right, the camera behaves and your buoyancy is perfect and you can hover in the blue light and take pictures that really look like what your eye sees. Sunday was one of those days, a flat calm early summer sea, clear water and perfect diving conditions here on the Aegean.

We’re diving with Active Blue Dive Centre out of the Ephesus Princess hotel in Kusadasi, these pictures are taken on Pamucak Reef and Kamil Cavern which are easy dive sites accessible by a short boat trip and on this occasion we were diving with a visiting dive master, a newly qualified open water diver and an unqualified novice on his first real dive.