Didim, Altinkum: A magical journey somewhat tainted by erratic driving, continual "salesmen," frequent wisps of cigarette smoke, screaming children (mostly Brits) and sticky, stuffy night temperatures. But when I say tainted, I exaggerate - these things though noticeable only served to highlight the charming and alluring experience Didim had to offer; a summer adventure, if you like.
Even as I sit now, at home, some 3000 miles away I am still unsure as to whether Turks drive on the left or the right side of the road. Continual swaying from left to right and jerking from front to back is perfectly normal - infact the locals are un-phased, barely move a millimetre while on transport and outside seem to know when it's time to make a swift exit from a vehicles arbitrary path. With all drivers adopting this highly deadly method of controlling vehicles (yes, even the 30-something, attractive, woman on a scooter, with her two children perched beside her seemed quite relaxed when taking a 90 degree bend at at least 40 mph) it means as a tourist every journey is spent literally upright, on the edge of your seat and hawk like to ensure nothing is missed. However, I must be fair – this applies only to road vehicles: the boats are far more relaxed. Naturally perching has its benefits, and since the Dolmus journeys were so cheap - less than 2 Lira to virtually anywhere in Didim - it would have been criminal to avoid them purely for safety reasons.
The most memorable of these bus journeys was that to the Temple of Apollo. I boarded the small white bus at the area known as "third beach," the area I think of as housing the elegant hotels of Didim Beach Resort - one a grand square surrounded by gardens, and boasting several posed statues of men and horses, statues that would not have been out of place in Ancient Greece (yes, I am aware of my faux pas in alluding to Greece.) The first few minutes of the journey seemed familiar: a fairly straight road before a sharp left turn, followed imminently by a right turn, past the modern and somewhat out of place supermarket, Migros, the field with a depressed and probably baking cow, sharp right onto a car packed street of beeping, hollering and swerving, before finally descending into Altinkum's centre: Dolphin Square. Beyond that it was all new. The journey seemed to be a zigzagging through the main town and provided a profound insight into just how huge Altinkum actually is - it's not just a promenade from which restaurants, fast food cafes and clothes stalls are in abundance but a modern, thriving town for the local Turkish communities. It must have taken around 15 minutes to exit the hustle and bustle of the town before embarking on a rural journey of winding, climbing, dipping and bouncy gravel roads.
There is no denying that this part of Turkey is barren. Hot, dry temperatures in the summer mean that greenery is withered and sparse. The natural ground is uneven, a dusty gravel littered with rocks. Infact, arriving at 3 o'clock on a Monday morning made Altinkum seem like an abandoned shanty town: isolated but for the stray dogs wandering and what appeared to be derelict, empty buildings. This impression, it couldn't have been more wrong. In the daylight and particularly on this journey it was clear that some of the buildings had a certain grandeur lacking in Scotland and every building, every roof, was environmentally equipped with a solar panel. However, the people of Turkey, of Didum, do not need luscious green hills, they have an architectural feature that Scotland can only dream of and as the bus followed the road sharply to the left, behind a row of orange tiled buildings the enormous, beautifully carved columns of the Temple of Apollo rose to touch the sky. The bus stopped, the driver pointed and I clambered down into what appeared to be a deserted and yet carefully arranged gravel car park - the Temple of Apollo no longer visible, no cars or buses or people, only a strange calm.
No bus, no barrage of salesmen, no swirls of cigarette smoke, no children; only glorious sunshine, heightened by a bright blue cloudless sky. And so for a few hours I was able to absorb myself in a slice of magical, rural, Ancient Turkey, to lose myself in the mystery of archaic carvings, fallen
columns: I embarked on an incredible adventure into the past.