To advance our way west by northwest along the Mediterranean coast we took a gulet –a traditional wooden sailing boat– named the Alaturka 2 from Olympos to Fethiye; a standard voyage also known locally as the Blue Cruise. Our mode of transportation went from land or air to ship at sea for 4 days and 3 nights. I didn’t think of it as being on a “cruise” but as soon as I stepped on board it occurred to me that I had, in fact, signed up for my first cruise. And despite some breaks in small walks or stops in small towns, I was bound to life on a boat with limited access to the variety of activities and things taken for granted being on land — I couldn’t just get up and go for a walk — and I would be with the same 16 people for the entire time.
The gulet was 25 meters long and our cabin turned out to be the best available; at the stern, it was a corner cabin and had 2 windows (3 including the one in our private bathroom) which were at right angles to each other giving cross ventilation. An awesome benefit given the usually stuffy nature of boat cabins. And as long as the boat wasn’t moving, the sound of the water lapping at the stern was a constant reminder of the beautiful turquoise Mediterranean sea that surrounded us. The crew consisted of Captain Suleiman, Mourak, the cook and number 2 in command, Only (his nickname, and a great one at that!), the all-round ‘do it all’ crew-member, and Osman, Only’s number 2 man and ship trainee.
There were 16 passengers consisting of 3 Americans, one person each from Argentina, the U.K. and New Zealand, and the remainder were all Aussies. It was a great group of folks and I really enjoyed getting to hear about Australia as it’s a country/continent) I’ve wanted to visit since picking up a National Geographic book about it while in grade school. It just looked so cool and I remember thinking, “I’ve got to go there!” And since we will be traveling there it was great to get some resident advise on what a visit of a few weeks might look like. The group demographics included a family with two young children, three siblings traveling together and one other married couple. The kicker was that we were by far the oldest passengers, probably by at least 10 years; the guesstimated median age was likely around 30 years old. We certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least and we all got along famously, but it was quite unexpected and a bit sobering for Cindy and I to admit to each other we were way on the highest end of the age range.
I had heard there would be an opportunity to paraglide along the cruise and I didn’t give it a second thought until Ulundeniz harbor came into view with several paragliders soaring thousands of feet overhead. At 6550 feet, Babadag Mountain makes this one of the world’s best places to paraglide. We continued sailing towards Ulundeniz and as I watched them appear in the sky one after another and land gently on the beach it didn’t take much convincing to break my budget and spend about $90 for the totally gonzo experience of jumping off a cliff for what looked like an easy and gentle ride down.
Eight of us, or fully half of the passengers decided to partake in this opportunity. We were met on the beach by a rep from the gliding company who said they’d completed over 140,000 sorties. We rode up the mountain together but since there were only 6 pilots (who control the glider from behind you on the ride down), the father and son team waited at the top until the rest of us made our way down and two more pilots could be sent back to the top to bring them down. My ears popped 2 or 3 times as we ascended the mountain in a van for what seemed like a long ride. When we got to the top or take off point we were assigned pilots and a take off order very rapidly, I assume to mitigate the chances of anyone chickening out. The flight deck was concrete and curved downward so you couldn’t really see where the edge of it was located.
The sails were un-bagged and as I helped unfold mine I watched the other sails with pilots and passengers in line before me instantly billow up with the cool adiabatic wind that rose from the sea below. Before I took off I saw Tom from our boat already in the sky hundreds of feet from the tarmac and perhaps 50 higher from where I was standing! I expected to have to take a running start but I bearly took a couple of steps and the next thing I knew I felt like I was floating thousands of feet over the mountains and sea. It was hard to get any points of reference as I was so high above the earth and we were moving through space so smoothly. The air rushed by my ears as I tried to keep track of Tom and his orange sail to have some point of reference. In time, the ground grew closer but quite slowly.
The flight lasted about 20 minutes and the landing was as seamless and smooth as the take off. The landing runway was a pedestrian pathway parallel to the beach or on either the grassy area next to it, or the sandy beach on the other side of it. My pilot, Ebo, instructed me to stand up as we landed and the next thing I knew I had gently landed on sand, again taking one or two steps once on the ground. Ebo had been taking photos of me with a camera attached to a telescoping wand which, of course, they tried to sell me once back at the office. But as I noticed my bald spot had gotten bigger it was one hard-sell as I didn’t need to know what I can’t see anyway!
This is the only activity I’ve done probably since childhood that did not require signing any indemnity waiver or document. And I found out later that the brochure says, “If you don’t land, you don’t pay”. I wondered if that included refunds if you pay ahead of gliding.
The boat was anchored right next to the Blue Lagoon –the same one which served as the locale for the movie starring Brooke Shields– and when we got back, we were witness to people jumping off a 25 foot cliff into the water. Only, our man-friday crew member, feigned fear as he ultimately dove off the cliff. I’d had enough adrenaline rush for the day so I was content to watch.
The only drag about the Blue Cruise — or our room, actually– was that it was situated next to the engine room which was pretty loud. Although the yachts are sailboats, they all motor. The first day, the captain started motoring at 6am and the second day he started up at 5am. After the 5am start, I took my blanket and pillow and stretched myself out on the long seat at the bow. It was windy there of course, so I pulled the blanket over my head and went back to sleep quite soundly as we plowed the Mediterranean, or as it became, the Aegean Sea.
We landed in Fethiye two days ago and tomorrow we leave for Pamukkale, meaning “Cotton Castle” in Turkish.