For those of you who are new readers to my blog and don’t yet know about the Dalyan Exposé, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to one of the most beautiful places on earth, Dalyan, a town that sits on the mediterranean coast of Turkey. I first came across Dalyan by accident in 2013 and immediately fell in love with its beauty, majesty and hospitality. Since my first meeting with Dalyan, I have returned ten times! This is completely unheard of for me. On one hand, the area has much to offer a traveller. You can find everything and anything you want in Dalyan; tranquility, culture, history, natural beauty, mountains, rivers, lakes, an amazing beach, good food and great Turkish hospitality. But it was not just all of this that brought me back to Dalyan again and again, I also fell in love with its people. It is really the true friends that I have made along the way which entice me back several times a year. I call them all my Turkish family.
To give you a little background about the exposé, after hearing about the troubled times that my friends out there were anticipating, and seeing for myself the effects that terrorism and the war in Syria was having on the tourism industry in Turkey as a whole, I decided to use the platform I have to help in any way I could. The exposé began as a small project. I had decided months ago that I would return to Dalyan in May and thought that it would be a great opportunity to write a few articles about the town and a few of its locals and their businesses and try and promote Dalyan as a tourist destination. Word caught on fairly quickly and before I knew it, the exposé was a full on media trip!
I am extremely pleased to say that the project has had an overwhelming amount of support from all areas of tourism in Dalyan and in particular, from the members of the tourist board DOKTOB (The Dalyan, Ortaca and Köyceğiz Association of Hoteliers and Tourism Operators). The President of DOKTOB, Yücel Okutur and his wife Fulya who owns and runs the Dalyan Resort Hotel, invited me over to Dalyan last week to begin researching the area and to put a start to some of the interviews we had lined up between us. I express my gratitude to both Yücel and Fulya for their hospitality. It was an incredibly interesting week and now the Dalyan Exposé, which had already become a much bigger project than I had anticipated, is huge!
The last article I wrote about the exposé, ‘Dalyan Exposé - News’ told my readers what to expect in May. Well, it has amazed me how much more there is to write about now! I will be redoing the brochure in the next week or so to reflect that, but I wanted to share with all of you, what an interesting week I had in Dalyan last week and what more you can expect from the exposé without giving too much away! Let’s call this a taster!
The Beach Road and Radar Hill
Thanks to my good friend Faye, an expat living in Dalyan, we had a car for the day and decided to utilise that by spending the first day I was there driving down to Iztuzu on a photograph expedition and to set up a visit to the Turtle Foundation. I now have fantastic photos of Sülüngür Lake, mountain goats, some frisky tortoises, Iztuzu Beach and the stunning view of Iztuzu from Radar Hill (thank you Faye for driving up the most unmade road in the world!).
The reason I wanted to mention our trip down to the beach is that we stopped in at the Turtle Hospital and had a chat with a professor from Pamukkale University who invited us in for çay (of course - Turkish hospitality!). He spoke not a word of English and I not a word of Turkish! Enter Faye to save the day! Roughly translated after agreeing I could come to the hospital in May and speak to the students there, it materialised that a number of rehabilitated turtles were to be released back into their natural habitat during the early weeks of May. So after many displays of glee, I will be going down there to film them releasing the rehabilitated turtles back into the wild.
The School of Tourism
After meeting everybody in Dalyan, my first stop of the week was the School of Tourism. Not only was it fascinating to learn about how the school system works in Turkey, it was incredibly interesting to see how tourism plays its part across the community and indeed the country’s economy. I initially met with the school’s principal, Ilhan Küçükünal and he explained to me how the school system works in Turkey. He then went on to explain how the Dalyan School of Tourism is instrumental in the country’s EU integration project and about the programmes that he has been running with students from the school in Dalyan and all over Europe to train them in hospitality. All of this will be covered in my article about the school.
Students aged between 13 and 16 from Dalyan and Ortaca are specifically trained in hospitality alongside their everyday curriculum. Many of them go on to study tourism at universities across Turkey, many make their way to Muğla University, where they hone their skills and then segue into their careers in a chosen field, be that cooking, waiting, hotel management or as tour agents. I was fortunate enough to watch a class of students taking an exam. I can confirm that the student’s künefe cooking skills are second to none! (Tasty!!)
The School of Tourism is integral to the community and their school’s lunch programme is a fine example of this. Each day, professional chefs and students from the school prepare 2000 carefully planned meals, which are then distributed, at the government’s cost, to children across the region. Not only will I be including this programme in my article about the school, but I will be creating a video for my YouTube channel which will explain how this programme works and how the children of Dalyan, Ortaca and the surrounding areas benefit from this scheme.
The Dalyan Mosque
My next stop was a visit to the Dalyan Mosque where I met with the Imam, Mr Mehmet. In May, he will be sitting down with me to be interviewed about his journey to become an Imam, the history of the Mosque, the rebuilding of the Mosque and to shed light on the real Islam. We hope to put to rest any incorrect assumptions about Islam and the differences between Islam as a religion and those who practice extremism.
Mr Mehmet is a wonderful man, it was such a pleasure to meet with him and I feel quite humbled that he is so behind this project. On our initial meeting, he gave me a tour of the Mosque and the areas surrounding it, explained some of the history of the building and about the rituals a Muslim must go through before entering the Mosque to pray. He explained why divisions must be in place between men and women and how that works during prayer. He also showed me where the Mosque had been renovated last year and why that had to happen. Then, unbelievably, he invited me to the top of the minaret, a place where I am sure few people have been before. Well, after 74 steps up a very narrow spiral stone staircase, before me was a view of Dalyan that I had never seen before! I am not sure what I expected to see from the top, but suddenly, Dalyan became even more stunning!
As you may know, Friday is holy day for Muslims and their afternoon prayer on that day is the equivalent to a Christian’s Sunday Mass. Imam Mehmet invited me to attend Friday prayer and to film the whole thing, which I gratefully accepted. While I couldn’t understand what he was preaching about, it was truly fascinating to experience what happens inside that building. Mosque is always something that we shy away from. As travellers, I think many of us are intrigued to see the inside, just as we would be with a cathedral or a church in any European city or town, but there has always been the feeling that we wouldn’t be welcome. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel very privileged to have been invited to prayer and while I was segregated from the praying community, and covered of course (I was the only woman there), nobody seemed to bat an eyelid to my being in there.
While I am not sure it would be appropriate for any visitor to watch prayer, it is important to know that anybody is welcome to visit the Mosque outside of prayer time, so long as your intent is respectful and out of interest. There is a large box to the right of the main entrance where women can find scarves to cover their hair and of course, everyone should remember to cover their knees and their shoulders at all times.
Meeting with Mr Mehmet again is something I am really looking forward to. He appears to be a very forward thinking man and can clearly see that it is important to promote Dalyan as a tourist destination and Islam as a welcoming and kind faith. Most imperatively, like many of us, he understands that both of these things go hand in hand. Of course, we are not all ignorant, but so many people are, a little understanding can go a long way!
Thanks to my following of the School of Tourism’s lunch programme, I was fortunate to meet with Dalyan’s Primary and Junior School Principal, Mr Adem Aydemir. It was a chance meeting as the School of Tourism asked him if I could photograph and film the children eating their lunches prepared by the chefs at the School of Tourism. It was clearly fate that he invited me in for a Türk çay afterwards! If you have been following my blog for a while, you will know that one of my most popular series is the ‘Wacky Wednesday’ articles, where I write about some of the most unique things you can experience all over the world. I had a few ideas about how to integrate the ‘Wacky Wednesday’ series into the expo and amazingly, Mr Aydemir was a source of research for two of my ideas, Children’s Day was one of them.
Being the local school principal, Mr Aydemir is one of the main organisers of the annual event in Dalyan. The holiday/festival is celebrated nationwide and he was more than happy to explain the history of the event to me and of course Dalyan’s involvement. Children’s Day is a national holiday in Turkey and always falls on the 23rd of April. It is the only day across the whole world that is exclusively dedicated to children. If you happen to be in Dalyan on the 23rd of April, I implore you to visit Mosque Square and enjoy the spectacles that will have been prepared for months in advance. I don’t want to give too much away right now, but I can promise you, it sounds like a day not to be missed!
The other fantastic reason to speak with school principal was his own personal involvement with the wonderful and wacky tradition of oil wrestling. Originating in the town of Edirne, on the Turkish border with Greece and Bulgaria in the 13th century, oil wrestling has become a staple sport in Turkey. Following a 15 year hiatus, last year oil wrestling returned to Dalyan and it is there to stay!
There was much to learn about oil wrestling. Mr Aydemir told me how the sport originated, its history and the practicalities, rules and procedures surrounding the sport. Yes, essentially it is a group of very buff Turkish men trying to fight each other while covered in olive oil, an attractive spectacle to some just based on that, but actually, when you know more about it, oil wrestling is an art form. Again, I don’t want to give too much away at this point, you will have to come back and read about it all in May. However, what I would like to say, is that I have very been invited to visit the local league at the beginning of May, to meet with the wrestlers and see how they practice (and hopefully witness an oil fight myself!), as an ex-champion will be visiting the local league. So, my article on oil wrestling has just become very real!! Expect lots of great photos!
Many of you who already have an interest in Dalyan will probably have heard about the new Dalyan Ferry. Up until this year, if you wanted to visit ‘The Other Side’ of the Dalyan River, perhaps to explore the ancient city of Kaunos or to visit the town of Çandır, you would have to hire a man to row you across, or drive all the way around Köyceğiz Lake. Well, now you can drive to the Portakal hotel on the edge of Dalyan and the new ferry will take you and your scooter, car or truck across to ‘The Other Side’. This initiative is going to open up tourism to various other towns on the other side of the Dalyan River, none more so than Çandır.
Çandır is a very traditional Turkish town. It is home to the Kultur Evi, a traditional Turkish home and organic farm, but also to a brand new Mosque which was officially opened this weekend. Yücel Okutur, president of DOKTOB was instrumental in the building of the new mosque and invited me over to Çandır to see it before it opened. Like the Dalyan Mosque, it is well worth a visit, the decor inside is truly spectacular. Another fantastic reason to visit Çandır is to learn about the area’s agriculture. Dalyan and the surrounding areas are fast becoming solely organic. With a slow in tourism and the world’s interest in superfoods and pomegranates (Why? Pomegranate juice is delicious!), farmers are having to think twice about how to grow the agriculture industry and organic seems to be the future.
I visited an organic citrus tree plantation, owned by the Dalyan Resort Hotel, and it soon became very clear why their food is so delicious! Home grown organic oranges, lemons, grapefruits, dates, olives and pomegranates make their way from the plantation to the hotel. I tried the grapefruit, I tried the oranges (amazing!) and their pomegranate juice is some of the best I have ever had. I am yet to visit the Kultur Evi, but I know that the house is open to tourists and I hope to make it over there in May and write about it in my article about Çandır, and if you are in Dalyan, make sure you head over there too and buy some of their wonderful produce!
Olives and Iztuzu Beach
One of the most memorable moments of my visit to ‘The Other Side’ was being driven up the side of a very steep mountain in a 4x4 (I was holding on for dear life!) by Mr Arif Yalılı, land owner and proprietor of the Caunos Restaurant. Mr Yalılı owns the fields of citrus and pomegranate fields that you walk by on your way to Kaunos. He also owns an olive tree plantation at the top of said very steep mountain! So, the olive trees are beautiful, that’s a given, but in a country of 85 million olive trees, I was a little confused about why we had defied death to get up there to see these particular olive trees! A little walk later and I realised that it was the view we had come to see.
Clambering over a few rocks, we had the most stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea and of the little bay of Ekincik. Beautiful, a fantastic photo opportunity. But apparently there was more to see. I clambered over a few more rocks and Mr Okutur said “there is a seat for you here from nature”. I could see him pointing at a few slabs of rock around a corner and thought that his English was quite poetic. I clambered a little further and then I had to stop in my tracks in astonishment.
The steep drop down the side of the mountain was a case for astonishment in itself, but the view was possibly the most incredible thing I had ever seen. I had an unobstructed view of the Mediterranean Sea, the whole of Iztuzu Beach, the entirety of the Dalyan Delta and all the way back to Dalyan itself.
It was incredible!! I placed my backside on nature’s seat and spent quite a while staring in wonder! Then I managed to grab my camera and try and do the view some justice. It was another truly privileged moment. I am sure that not many people have made it up there before. For a start, I wouldn’t want to drive up that mountain in any kind of car, I am also not sure I would ever be able to find Arif’s olive plantation on my own. It is clearly a place that only he and a few others can get to and it kind of puts Radar Hill to shame! So, my lovely readers, I think you will just have to imagine that you are there through my photographs, though they are no substitute for the real thing!
A visit to Muğla University wasn’t originally on my ‘to do’ list, but Mr Okutur expressed an interest in taking me over there and so how could I refuse? On one hand I decided it would be an interesting tie into the School of Tourism article, being a place where many locals go on to study tourism. But it soon became apparent from speaking with Yücel, that the University plays a large part in future projects in Dalyan, which I will come to in a moment. It should also be noted that Muğla University now looks after Iztuzu Beach and are taking over the running of the Turtle Hospital from Pamukkale.
From a personal point of view, I found the visit to the university fascinating, just to be able to see a university in Turkey! Honestly, it is not that different from where I studied for my undergraduate degree. I met with Professor Doctor Masur Harmandar, the university’s Rektor (the equivalent to a British university’s vice-chancellor) and Professor Doctor Yusef Ziya Erdil, the Vice Rektor (our deputy principal). The Rektor had to leave for another meeting, but I was well looked after by Prof. Dr. Erdil for the day. He and I spoke about the history of the university, curriculum, departments, the students, how the university is placed within Europe and their many outreach programmes, and also about the university’s projects for Dalyan with DOKTOB.
Again, as with everything, I don’t want to give too much away at this point (you will just have to come back!) but everything they have planned for the future of Dalyan and for the entire Muğla province is extremely positive. Prof. Dr. Erdil is an extremely intelligent and well educated man and it was a real delight to speak to him about everything, from tourism to agriculture! We were provided with a chauffeur for the afternoon (yes, I felt very important for just a while!) and we were driven around to various points of interest within the university. This included the research centre where some very exciting projects are unfolding with regards to agriculture, including pine honey, truffles and flora and fauna local to Muğla.
My last official meeting of the week was with environmental activist Murat Demirci. It was an absolute pleasure to steal an hour of his time to hear about what he has done for the community of Dalyan and how he has helped to save so many natural areas that surround the town. Murat, alongside the members of IKUP (Save Iztuzu Beach Platform) and Kaptan June, was responsible for saving Iztuzu Beach from privatisation and from having a huge and commercialised sea turtle hospital (think Disneyland) built on the dolmuş side of the beach just a few years ago. Murat and his environmental activist friends from Dalyan, also camped out at Yuvarlakçay for 11 months alongside local villagers, to stop them building a power plant up there. But they are stories that can wait for now!
The main reason I wanted to meet with Murat was to discuss the upcoming Eco-Trail that he has devised which will create hiking and cycling trails that will connect the Lycian Way, which begins in Geyikbayırı, 20km from Antalya and ends at Ölüdeniz near Fethiye, to the Carian Way, which is slightly broken up but essentially begins in Marmaris Bay and extends out to the Datça peninsula and then north up past Bodrum, ending in Alinda, near Karpuzlu. Mr Demirci hopes that the Eco-Trail will be open and running by September 2017, as there are still some obstacles in his way, but hopefully, if these obstacles are overcome (more about those in May), it could be open a lot sooner than that.
Yuvarlakçay and Köyceğiz
On my very last day, mere hours before flying back to a cold and rainy Manchester, we took advantage of a hire car yet again and drove the scenic route to Köyceğiz, stopping at Yuvarlakçay along the way on another photo trip. As much as I love Dalyan, after such a busy week, it was quite nice to escape! Yuvarlakçay was as cool and as beautiful as ever, I will be returning there in May to visit a couple of other establishments, and Köyceğiz was even quieter than Dalyan at this time of year. It was quite relaxing to enjoy the unspoilt views of Köyceğiz Lake while watching amusingly at expats on three wheeled scooters while eating balık ekmek and pide.
So, that was my research week and what a week it was! As you can imagine, I have quite a lot of work to do now!
Messages of Thanks
I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to Yücel Okutur and DOKTOB for flying me out to Dalyan and for endlessly introducing me to new ideas about the area, for accompanying me to Çandır and to Muğla University and to both Yücel and his wife Fulya for hosting me at the Dalyan Resort Hotel for the week. Also a huge thank you to Imam Mehmet for his time and warm welcome at the local Mosque, to Mr Arif Yalılı for taking me up his spectacular mountain, Mr Adem Aydemir, junior school principal, for taking the time to talk to me about Children’s Day and Oil Wrestling, to Professor Doctor Yusef Ziya Erdil, for his time at Muğla University, and also of course, to Mr Murat Demirci. I would also like to thank Mr Ilhan Küçükünal, principal of the Dalyan School of Tourism for his time, and to all of his staff who welcomed me into their classrooms and kitchens.
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.