Initially, our plan for Turkey was to travel eastwards towards Iran, bypassing the Aegean and Mediterranean coastline altogether. Thanks to a bureaucratic mishap experienced by Alicia (my travelling partner) in Hungary, that was no longer possible and we had to extend our time in Turkey by a few days.
We decided, then, to head for the beach. Bypassing the resort towns of Bodrum and Marmaris, we took another seven-hour bus trip from Selcuk to the town of Fethiye, hugely popular with backpackers thanks to the ‘blue cruises’, 4 day-3 night sailing cruises that arrive and depart daily from Fethiye’s harbour on the Western Mediterranean.
12 Islands Cruise
Not keen to spend 3 nights on a boat, we booked ourselves onto the popular 12 Islands day trip as soon as we arrived. The boat was quite large and the group mixed – there were a couple of Turkish families on holidays from Istanbul, some backpackers and older Australian tourists, and of course the ubiquitous British package tourists. Stopping in four bays to swim, and on one island, it was a pleasant day out – at least, until the storm rolled in.
Unlike everyone else on the boat, who were hanging over the edge with their cameras, I have no photos from the trip back to port, because I was terrified we were about to be hit by lightning or capsized by a ferocious storm.
We saw the sky over the mountains darkening, and it was clear the weather was about to change although we still anchored at our last stop of the day. Forty minutes later we headed back towards Fethiye, and the wind picked up and the sea began to swell.
A couple of months before I left home, I went out to the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland on a day when the wind was at 35 knots, the very limit of what the boats go out in. It was a rollercoaster ride out to the reef, the waves literally throwing us from our seats and almost everyone on board was ill.
The wind on the 12 Islands Cruise was nothing compared to that – but the reef boat was also considerably larger than a Turkish sailing ship. But it meant that I knew what being on a boat in a storm was like, and I didn’t particularly want to be caught in this one.
The Hills are Alight
The skipper switched off the engine and the crew put the sails up. ‘Sailing time!’ they announced happily. I wasn’t the only person on board looking nervously over at the mountains and the bruised sky.
The entire thirty minutes the sail was up was torture for me. They didn’t get the engine going again until we started to see lightning strikes over the mountain, and then even the skipper looked a little concerned, looking over his shoulder frequently as if we were being chased.
And we were.
By a thunderstorm that we watched come across the water towards us. The lightning got more and more intense, and at one point a huge flash set a section of the mountainside alight. The fire grew larger and larger as we watched, until it was put out by rain.
I, of course, was picturing us on fire.
As we entered Fethiye’s harbour, the storm hit. The temperature dropped at least five degrees instantly, and it started to rain. The boat docked in port and Alicia and I raced down the gangplank as lightning struck near by and thunder cracked instantly.
We ran about like idiots in the pouring rain looking for the man who was to drive us back to our guesthouse, and the entire time I was terrified we were going to be struck down and killed by lightning until someone pointed to all the masts in the harbour.
‘It will hit there first,’ he said calmly.
Oh. Yeah. Needless to say, I wasn’t at all upset when we returned to the guesthouse to discover my daytrip to the Greek island of Rhodes for the next day had been cancelled, especially when I saw the tiny hydrofoil sitting in the port.
Boats and I have never gotten along. How I’m going to manage to travel in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, where boats are the primary mode of transport, is beyond me.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.