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Discovering Dalyan - I'm in the Midst of a Love Affair... with Turkey

Dalyan Turkey

My name is Rachael and I am a traveller. There is an innate need inside me to explore, discover and understand the world. It has always been there and it probably always will be. My mantra for years has been that the world is a small place and there is much to see; I must keep moving. There are very few places in the world that I have been to more than once. Admittedly, there are quite a few that have left me thinking yes, I could live there, or that I would go back one day, but it is rare that I ever have.

Then, out of nowhere, something crazy happened. In the summer of 2013, I was looking for somewhere that my Mum and I could spend a few days in the sun, a place with a bit of culture, a few sites to see and a nice beach; a place that was inexpensive to get to and with decent budget accommodation. Well, the unthinkable occured. They always say that it happens when you least expect it. They always say that you’ll find it in the most unlikely of places. My eyes were opened and my heart was touched, and now the truth is, I am in the midst of a love affair… with Turkey. I never ever thought that I would find my “one true love” and “settle down” but then along came the beautiful little Turkish riverside town of Dalyan.

The Charming Town of Dalyan

I have been very fortunate over the years to have seen many amazing places; the incredible skyscraper like mountains of New Zealand’s Fiordland, the volcanic vistas of Guatemala, the incredible spectacle of the Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak, the vastness and emptiness of the Sahara Desert; really the list goes on. But nothing could have prepared me for the almost indescribable majestic beauty of Dalyan. Amongst all of its rustic appeal, its fascinating culture, delicious food and charming customs, I found its people. Nowhere else in the world have I been so welcomed, accepted, looked after, remembered and loved as I have in Dalyan. The people there are a credit to this wonderful country, so it is no surprise that it was love at first sight and there really was no turning back.

Dalyan is a small town in the Muğla Province, located on the southwest coast of Turkey, between the popular tourist destinations of Marmaris and Fethiye, about 25 minutes from Dalaman airport. The town sits on the banks of the Dalyan Çayı River and most of the travel done around the area is by boat; many, many, many boats! Dalyan means “fishing weir” in Turkish and the river that runs between the Mediterranean Sea and Köyceğiz lake is laden with Bass, Mullet and Sea Bream. Fishing is a big industry in Dalyan. Some people fish in the river or the lake, many take their boats out to sea and free dive to catch fish and other sea creatures by spear. All of the restaurants in Dalyan serve fresh seafood daily, from Prawns and Sea Bass to Octopus, caught locally. Aside from fishing, the region around Dalyan is a productive agricultural zone, once known for cotton, now pomegranate fields dominate the surroundings, alongside vegetables and citrus fruits trees.

Köyceğiz Lake

There are three overwhelming things you notice about Dalyan when you first arrive, other than the usually glorious weather. The first is the outstanding and unspoiled beauty around you. It is truly incredible. From the centre of town, your eyes are treated to the view of craggy mountains jutting out from the horizon, providing the perfect backdrop for some of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see. Reeds banks line the windy river as it makes its way through the town, filled with terrapins and kingfishers. The river itself sparkles all day long. At night, the moonlight dances on the gentle waves and the stars blanket the town like a canopy of magic and wonder.

Reflect on Köyceğiz Lake

Turn right from the town and the overwhelming beauty and peacefulness of Köyceğiz lake is breathtaking. It is so vast, so clean, and so sparkly, surrounded by the local mountains and the famous reed beds. You would think that you were in the middle of nowhere if it weren’t for the occasional boat taking people to either the local mud baths or the town of Köyceğiz itself. Swim in the lake and you may even be joined by one of the many Nile river turtles that have made their home there. It is the perfect place to forget yourself.

Iztuzu Beach in the Autumn

Turn left and the Dalyan river delta will take you past the towering Lycian Tombs of Köyceğiz, around the edge of the town and through the Special Environmental Protection Area, past the very top of the Kaunos Ruins up in the mountains, towards the stunning Iztuzu Beach. You can get to one end by road, but the best way to visit the ever popular ‘Turtle Beach’ is by boat, as the sandy mass juts out into the Mediterranean between the river delta and the sea. The beach earned its nickname as it has become a conservation area for loggerhead turtles who nest on the beach year after year. Looking back towards Dalyan from the beach, all you can see are reeds and mountains, the small town seems insignificant as it is swallowed up in the majesty of its incredible surroundings.

Iztuzu Beach

The second overwhelming thing you notice is the fact that Dalyan is not what you would expect of a tourist resort in Turkey. The centre of the town, the part most frequented by tourists, is actually quite small and lies on the epicentre of the river. Market Square, home to the local Dalyan Mosque and a statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, is surrounded by cafes and restaurants, situated between the end of Atatürk Boulevard and the Dalyan river. You can sit at one of the establishments and just watch the world happen around you. Locals happily interact with visitors, the town’s dog population will lie in the sun, children will be play in the little playground on the square after school, the boats will come and go from the shore and you’ll hear that magical call to prayer five times a day.

Dalyan's Turtle Roundabout

To your right you’ll see the turtle roundabout, a proud reminded of the town’s association with loggerhead turtles down at the local beach, and to your left, the main street, Maraş Caddesi. It only takes about five minutes to wander up the main street, filled with restaurants, cafés and street sellers. It is so interesting that even the main street, so obviously catering to tourists, is still intertwined with local life. Maraş Caddesi is also home to the local primary school, the post office and the Kaunos Market where local men go to drink tea and play games. You can walk further around the river, to the edges of the town where you can find quiet little cafés and more riverside restaurants and hotels among the locals’ homes, but the hustle and bustle of local life is in the centre.

Being the protected area that it is, the council has imposed building restrictions in the town which prevents locals and businesses from building over a certain height. Most of the town is no taller than two storeys, maintaining its small, local and more traditional feel in comparison with its touristic counterparts. There are no chain hotels or restaurants, every business in Dalyan is either owned or run by the Turkish people and I hope that Dalyan never ever sees a McDonalds or a Starbucks!

Sunset over Dalyan

The third thing that never ceases to overwhelm me about Dalyan is the kindness and generosity of its people. This really applies across the board in Turkey, but for me, it is on a completely different scale in Dalyan. Unlike Marmaris and Fethiye, you are rarely hassled in Dalyan. Of course, you will be invited in to the various establishments in the town, they all have their hosts outside to entice you with their menus and their charm, but if you politely decline, they simply wish you a good day, or joke around with you. Nothing is expected of you as a tourist in Dalyan, other than to be pleasant and friendly.

I mostly travel to Turkey alone and in the many times that I have been to Dalyan, I have made some of the best friends I have. Many of these people have become like my second family. If you embrace their culture, you are respectful of their beliefs and their ways and you openly care about their town and you are polite, kind and courteous to them, you will be rewarded tenfold with the affection and accepting nature of the locals. You may be thinking, sure, but they just want your money. Of course there is an element of this, Dalyan’s economy is mostly dependent on the tourist trade, but it is not just down to your wallet. I have been invited into their homes, to their weddings, fed and watered by families. They check that I have eaten properly, they make sure I can get back to where I am staying when it’s late, in fact, most of the time, they’ll even drive me back themselves. If I haven’t been to see someone for a day or two, I get messages asking if I’m ok, where am I, what am I doing? I know that I could ask anything of these people and they would bend over backwards to try and help me, and not because they want anything from me, just because they care.

Dusk in the Dalyan Mountains

Yes Dalyan is stunningly beautiful and yes it is a town full of charm and tradition, but it is the people there that entice me back time after time. I do travel to other countries around the time I spend in Turkey, and maybe one day I will feel like I can say goodbye to this charismatic and quirky little place and move on, but it would be like cutting off a finger; it would hurt like hell, because to me, Dalyan and its people are a part of me now and probably always will be. It has me trapped and I can’t escape it, it’s in my heart and I think a lot of the time, I’m in the heart of Dalyan too; it sure feels like it!

Last week was devastating for Turkey. On Wednesday the 17th February, Ankara was yet again hit by terrorists; a car bomb was detonated close to the parliament and government buildings during rush hour, targeting a Turkish military convoy. Sadly, this atrocity was followed by a bombing the very next day in the city of Diyarbakır, another roadside bombing that killed 6 soldiers and injured another. These latest attacks in Turkey come just four months after the deadliest attack of its kind in Turkey’s modern history. On the 10th of October, 21 days before the country’s second general election of 2015, two bombs were detonated outside Ankara Central railway station, attacking a peace rally, protesting against the growing conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The death toll was 102, and more than 400 people were injured.

As I thought about writing this piece and why I refuse to give up on my love for Turkey, it became very clear to me that it was important to understand what is actually going on in there at the moment. Yes, there have been an unprecedented number of attacks in Turkey in the past year, but when you actually stop to ask why, it is not as scary as it might seem for us. When we think of terrorism, we immediately think of ISIS and Syria. We assume that the war in Syria is responsible for the the attacks in Turkey; with the two countries sharing a border it is assumed that Turkey is massively affected by the war. But, the vast majority of attacks in Turkey over the past year, including the bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, have been as a result of the Kurdish-Turkish conflict and they have been political.

The Kurdish-Turkish conflict is an armed conflict between the Republic of Turkey and various insurgent groups such as the PKK, YPG and TAK, who took responsibility for the recent attack in Ankara. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party, (PKK) was founded on the 27th November 1978 and has been involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces ever since. Full scale insurgency did not begin until 1984 when the PKK announced a Kurdish uprising and a ceasefire was agreed in 1999, only for conflict to resume in 2004. Since 2011, more and more Kurdish militant groups have joined the fight, Turkish military have also carried out attacks on Kurdish areas in the southeast of Turkey and in Iraq and the conflict has become increasingly violent. There is said to have been over 40,000 deaths as a result of this conflict since 1984.

What’s it all about? Land and oil. In the aftermath of World War I, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Sèvres Treaty between France, Italy and Great Britain marked the beginning of the partitioning of land. The Kurds were promised some land, which was predominantly located in parts of Syria, Iraq and Iran, but left out the SE corner of Turkey which was where most of the Kurds lived. The Kurds made claims on the land but essentially the proposals were not endorsed by the treaty and Iran and Iraq claimed the land that was supposedly rich in oil. The plans for the state of Kurdistan were never implemented because the Sèvres Treaty was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and the Turkish borders of today were made official in 1926. So in the late 70s, some Kurds began to feel hard done by and eventually we saw an insurgency in the SE as they started to fight against the Turkish and inevitably, the Turkish began to fight back. The difference in the past couple of years, is that the Kurdish attacks have moved into other areas of the country.

The point that I am trying to make is that millions of tourists have been flocking to Turkey every year for decades and mostly unaware of the troubles brewing politically, because until now, the tourism industry has been unaffected by it. It has taken a treacherous and horrific war in Syria to bring light to these ongoing issues as many Kurds also live in Syria. Over the past two years, tourist numbers to Turkey have slowly been dropping due to the unrest in Syria, so close to its border with Turkey. But people tend to see a country from afar as an object; that bit of land is next to this bit of land, so this bit of land must be dangerous too. What people forget is that Turkey is enormous. To get from the southwest coast to the southeast border with Syria would take over 2 hours by plane. The distance from the popular resort of Marmaris to the Syrian border is 1300km; that’s about the same distance as Paris to Budapest and France and Hungary are nowhere near each other. When Paris was attacked would you still have considered travelling to Budapest? Probably!

Of course it would be irresponsible of me to say that there is absolutely no danger to you if you are in Turkey, but it is fair to say that you would be in no more danger there than you would be anywhere else in the world today. Firstly, we need to remember that attacks in Istanbul are not a new thing. There were two attacks in November 2003 leaving 57 dead and 700 wounded. 2010 saw Taksim Square bombed, injuring 32 people, it happened in 1999 too. People have still enjoyed this amazing city since then. Ankara was hit in 2007 in a suicide attack leaving 9 dead and 121 wounded and it happened again in 2013 when the US embassy was targeted. What we have to remember is that each and every one of these attacks, including those made in the past year, were administered by Kurdish militant organisations, or those closely affiliated. They have all been politically motivated attacks as part of an insurgency which has been happening in Turkey since 1978.

The whole point of terrorism is to kill the few to scare the masses. Turkey is not at war, it is in the midst of an insurgency, a political movement, which it has been defending itself from (or attacking) for decades. Terrorist attacks are rife all over the world at the moment and any events that lead to the deaths of innocent people are going to make the news. In my article Tourism and Terrorism, I spoke of the growing trend of news agencies glamourising terrorism and war to gain readership. It is the worst part of any tragedy that makes the news. A newspaper or news channel is not going report on how 98% of a country is peaceful and continuing with life as normal. When have you ever heard a reporter say “and today in Turkey, the sun is out, children are playing in the street, people are going to work, trains are on time and no flights have been cancelled”?

In the uncertain times that Turkey is currently facing, it breaks my heart to think of my second home and my second family suffering because of it, especially when it really doesn’t have to. Dalyan would not exist without its tourist trade. In the winter months, the locals get on with their lives, but it is a different place. Shops and restaurants are shut up, the streets are empty and people seem to hibernate after the long summer season. How devastating it would be, if this was what Dalyan was to become all year round? And it’s not just Dalyan that is suffering, the tourist trade all over Turkey is feeling the burn of terrorism.

With Russian sanctions against the tourist trade in Turkey, along with security concerns, the tourism industry across the country will be hit hard in 2016. Over 1300 hotels in Turkish resorts have been put up for sale as they fail to make profits, Antalya has 410 listed, Muğla has 349 and Izmir 203 properties currently looking to sell. British owned properties are reporting a huge fall in rentals too. It is only a matter of time before the restaurants and bars feel the hit.

While I know that I can’t single handedly save the tourism industry in Turkey, I for one feel a huge responsibility, now more than ever, to promote it and to support it. I was in Dalyan at the time of the deadly attacks in Ankara in October, and other the aftermath being shown on televisions all over the town and a great feeling of sadness in the local community, we were completely unaffected by the event. Life in Dalyan went on as normal, people continued to travel, locals continued to work, and tourists continued to enjoy their holidays. I don’t see why it has to be any different right now.

Turtle Hospital - Iztuzu Beach

I will be travelling to Turkey in May and am taking the opportunity to carry out an exposé on this fantastic area and everything it has to offer tourists. I will be launching Roam the Earth’s new YouTube channel and interviewing locals about life in Dalyan, I will be compiling lists of all of the fantastic local sites that are on offer to be enjoyed alongside the town’s top eateries and bars and I will be reporting on all of the fantastic work that is done locally for charity and cultural events enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. I am hoping to meet with the local Imam to get his take on recent events and the clash with ISIS in Syria and I will also be speaking to the many Kurdish people who happily work alongside the local Turks. I hope to share as much information as possible about Dalyan and the South West of Turkey and to show that it is safe to travel there and is a part of the world that every traveller and holiday maker should embrace, enjoy and feel safe in.

The Lycian Tombs

I will be posting more information about the exposé over the coming months and I really hope that as a reader, you will come back to my blog and find out more about Turkey, Dalyan and its people. I could bet a million pounds that anyone deciding to visit Dalyan will find themselves in the midst of their own love affair with Turkey.

Kaunos at Dusk

If like me, you have had amazing experiences in Turkey and you have plans to return this year, please feel free to share this article, to comment below, on Facebook and Twitter, or to get in touch by email with your own stories.

Why not read some of our other blog posts?

Is it safe to travel to Turkey?

The Dalyan exposé will run for 3 weeks in May and will include a lot of exciting articles every day and videos on our YouTube channel with interesting interviews with business owners and those who work in tourism in Turkey. We'll also be tackling safety issues and what terrorism means for Turkey and the beautiful riverside town of Dalyan.

Follow us:Twitter (@ukroamtheearth), Facebook (@RoamtheEarth)

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