Completely unintentionally, we were up and out quite early (at least for us). Part of that was the lack of breakfast with our (super) budget room. We were kind of lazy, and instead of finding somewhere that sold breakfast, we snacked on dried fruit and a (wooden) punnet of strawberries (5TL). I really wanted some bananas, but after I realised that I wanted bananas and had made the decision to stop at the next banana stand we saw… we didn’t see any more. It was amazing that they suddenly stopped after being every few hundred metres…
We were treated with a glimpse of the castle in Anamur before we left town. I would have made more of an effort to visit, however, we were off to see quite a special castle today.
We were back onto that same horrible section of highway again. Alright, horrible may be an exaggeration, but it was definitely the worst section of major road that we had experienced in Turkey. It was very slow going up the narrow, steep and winding road. The other drivers were exceptionally aggressive today, taking great risks to overtake, and forcing other cars to take evasive action to avoid collision.
The road followed the coastline, which was beautiful and dotted with the occasional beautiful little cove and small town between the sections of mountains. But the proximity to the steep cliffs made us feel a little nervous – especially as there was very little in the way of protective barriers. It did make the few sections of new road that were open feel like luxury.
Lunch was quick (and cheap) in the town of Kizkalesi. No surprises that it was yet another kebab, however today it was Adana style, with minced meat cooked on a sis and with a nice spicy sauce.
We stopped in Kizkalesi because we wanted to visit the The Chasm of Heaven and The Pit of Hell (Cennet Cökügü and Cehennem Çukuru). How could you not with a name like that! After paying the 10TL ($5) entrance, it was 300 hot and sweaty steps down to the Virgin Mary church that sat at the mouth of a giant cave. The church felt eerie, though I can’t say why.
You could feel the cool and damp air emanating from the dark hole, which was a welcome relief from the heat. Inside was very cool and you could even see your breath, which was perfect after the heat outside the cave. It was another 150 slippery wet marble steps down into the dark (and amazingly cool) cave to the end. We could hear the sound of a roaring river, but leaving behind the light of the path towards the sound we couldn’t see anything – the walls seem to meet the floor. Legend says it’s the River Styx carrying the dead to the underworld…
There were a few stalactites, but nothing particularly impressive. What was impressive was the cavernous domed ceiling, which according to the sign it was about 70m high!
Strangely, the walk out felt much quicker (even though it was much, much harder) – we were both sweaty messes by the time we reached the top. I was shocked that none of the Turks seemed to have the slightest sweat (even if they were bent over and panting).
The Pit of Hell was only a very short walk from the car park. There was a small viewing platform that extended over the 120m deep hole in the ground. It was not very exciting, sadly…
After getting so hot and sweaty visiting the caves, we went to the beach for a swim. But, it was not just any beach – this one had a castle floating just off the shore! There was something magical about the way it looked out there. I know it is just an ordinary castle built on an ordinary little island, but it looked extraordinary.
I wanted to swim across the 500m shallow strait, but logistically it was easier for us to hire a dolphin-shaped paddleboat and pedal across. It was very windy, with a fair bit of chop and current in the water, so it was probably for the best that I didn’t attempt to swim as it’s been a while. We were about three-quarters of the way there and my legs started to burn, which I blame on the awkward position I had to sit and pedal, rather than on my lack of condition.
After we made shore (and had the boat moored by someone from the paddleboat company), we made our way around the castle, through the thigh deep water to the entrance. It was a small castle, but in pretty good, mostly original condition. Amazingly, it was free, too! It was possible to climb up the towers and to walk along the tops of the walls. Unfortunately, the towers had become a bit of a makeshift toilet and the stench was disgusting.
From the top of the towers, there was a great view out over the water to another castle on the mainland. I was having one of those Xzibit moments, imagining him saying to me, “Yo, Dawg. I heard you like castles…”. Yeah…
There were also some very basic remains of mosaics from the floors in the centre of the castle – just not as nice as some of the ones we saw in Ephesus.
Before leaving, we took a quick swim on a small beach on the island, which we had to ourselves. The water was nice, but with the wind and the current and the rocky (but smooth) floor, it was a little hard to fully relax and enjoy.
Returning the dolphin-boat was more of a challenge as we were constantly fighting with the current and the wind.
Just before we left town we took a detour to see Adamkayalar, which are some Roman-era (between 400BC and 300AD) carvings on a cliff. Oddly, the last line of the Lonely Planet description was to “not visit alone” with no further explanation… I was waiting by the car for Risa and I heard a loud crashing noise. I looked around to double check, but we were the only ones there. It happened again, and I realised it was just the sign catching wind – though I wasn’t able to feel the wind. Walking away from the car my phone randomly started playing ‘Witching Hour” by XXYYXX… It was starting to feel more than a little spooky!
Getting to the site we followed some random spray painted arrows. They started out blue, but it looked like someone re-sprayed them in the same grey colour as the rocks… we were a little confused as it was hard to tell if they were still arrows, or if they had tried to erase them.
The trail down was down steep rocks. In some places steps had been cut into the rock making it a little easier (and clearer). It was not ideal to be doing in thongs (flip-flops).
Looking out at the view of the valley below was SPECTACULAR. So much more than The Pit of Hell, and more than yesterday’s canyon, too. I’d even go as far as to say it was grander than some of the famous canyons in Australia.
Eventually the (barely legible) trail flattened out and we caught our first glimpse of a rock carving. The first is of a soldier, with his wife, daughter and dog. There was a powerful interpretation on the sign in the car park “The most striking relief shows the dramatic scene of a soldier leaving his wife and daughter. The soldier, who may not have returned, is immortalised in this relief. Looking closer, a small dog can be seen approaching the soldier and the girl standing on front of the soldier’s sitting wife. Standing on his two hind legs, the dog symbolises loyalty and reflects the unity of this family”.
I thought I saw a Buddha carving, but it was just a Roman laying down in a toga. There were a few more in this style, which was said to depict the deceased on a funeral bed.
The carvings were quite incredible. Some of them were life size, others were about 50%. And the best bit? We didn’t see a single other person, and not a single shop or other tourist market. I doubt that many will ever visit this area, which is both good and bad.
The drive to Mersin was some of the worst yet. But this time it wasn’t due to the condition of the roads, but rather due to the traffic that was unbearable and stressful. Making things worse, my phone suddenly stopped working on the Turkish Avea network. It seems that the networks ban foreign phones after a week or two of being connected – though we’re not really sure why. Without a network connection, we had no way of searching for a hotel for tonight. We tried driving by the seaside hoping to find some advertising for a cheap pension, but no luck. We called the two hotels that were listed in Lonely Planet – one didn’t answer, one was the wrong number (we later saw that the hotel was closed).
We found a phone shop and they cut the SIM card cut to fit Risa’s iPhone 5 and we were back online again, at least for another week to ten days until they blocked us again.
We drove out towards where the hotels in LP were, since they were both on the same street. The stress levels increased on the narrow roads, horrible drivers and random one way streets. It was 8:30PM when we finally found a hotel and we were exhausted. We were elated at finding a 60TL hotel (Hotel Star), which was 30TL cheaper than anything that we could find online. We later realised the bed wasn’t super clean (looked like body hairs on top of the sheets), the towel was still wet and the room stank of smoke (much like a Japanese hotel room)… Still, we couldn’t beat the price (which also included breakfast!).
We went out for dinner and left camera at home again (so it’s only photos from Risa’s phone), as the town looked pretty rough. By the time we left the hotel at 8:45PM, shops were rolling down their shutters – the town was closing up. We were shocked!
I tried tantuni kebab again after not having the best experience with it last night. I ordered the meat with yoghurt and it turned out to be the best Kebab I’ve had in Turkey! It was smothered in yoghurt and flavour, just the way I like it. They had an ayran fountain, serving up frothy cups of mildly fermented yoghurt, which is normally quite tasty, but tonight it was a little extreme for my tastes. Plus I’d already had a huge serving of yoghurt with dinner.
We also had an awesome desert, partly because I was still in a good mood from a successful dinner. For the first time I treid künefe, which is a kind of deep fried cheese, with a honey sauce and coated with pistachio. I was truly in cheese bliss now, even if it cost more than our combined dinner at 14TL ($7).