Friday, March 5, 2010

Finike, Turkey Winter 2009-2010

Storms, animal rescues and camel wrestling

Since arriving back in Finike, via southern Cyprus, for our second winter season on 7th November, life has been a constant whirl of social activity. We know that you think we are sipping cocktails in the cockpit every afternoon but in reality we have so much to do that we rarely sit still for any time at all. The winter timetable was in full swing when we arrived, and we'd already been nominated in absentia for several responsibilities. Not a problem at all, as this is what makes for a fascinating community spirit. Small English villages could learn a lot from this, bringing like-minded people together in a low-cost social gathering, using only a small communal room, keeping everyone's spirits up throughout the winter gloom. In Finike one can partake, or avoid, as you wish, the following :
Keep fit, yoga, pilates, film night, art class, french lesson, quiz night, turkish class, games night (cards, backgammon etc), coffee morning, music club, topic night (with a wide range of topics to learn about), local walks, badminton, volleyball, concert trips, weekly BBQ's and boule. Phew, this is why we get so few boat jobs done in between.

We arrived in Turkey just before the four day festival of Bayram Kurbani, the muslim festival of sacrifice. Every family sacrifices a goat or sheep in commemoration of the ram sacrificed by Abraham in place of his son, a proportion of the meat being distributed to the poor. For weeks before there were many markets filled with nervous goats and sheep – just like our turkey farms before Christmas, but much more public, often by the roadside. Apparently A&E departments are full of people injured during the amateur slaughtering in the household. Can you imagine how many vegetarian families there would be in England if you had to do in your own turkey in the garden?

Turkey is a muslim country so it is a welcome respite from Christmas decorations and Jingle Bells and it is a normal working day. So Christmas was another opportunity for community events to be organised by the marina dwellers and shore-based ex-pats. We had an international Christmas eve carol concert (most Europeans celebrate 24th rather than 25th), arranged for a Turkish family to be taught to cook christmas dinner for 40 at a Turkish restaurant, a boxing day treasure hunt, christmas and New Year's party. Steph's mum came out to join us for 2 weeks over Christmas and entered fully into the spirit of it all, even playing the electric organ for the carol service.

We were invited to Jo and Graham's apartment in Finike for a sumptuous feast on Christmas day. They were really generous hosts and great cooks. We had a really superb day of total gluttony.

Like the whole of northern Europe, it has been a particularly bad winter here. The storms have been more numerous and severe than previous years. Locals tell us that 5 years ago it would be unusual to have more than 10 days rain in the whole winter. Parts of the Turkish coast (Olympos, Adrasan) had already washed away before we even arrived. A December storm undermined much of the promenade and decimated the orange harvest. The steep streets of Finike were like gushing torrents. Now we know why the kerbs are a foot high.
During one storm we unexpectedly had a sustained hurricane force gust for about 30 minutes. 7 genoas were unfurled around the marina, and several shredded before anyone could get to them. One of these was on a large gulet, chocked up on the hard-standing in the yard. The marineros were swiftly on the case to lower the flogging sail before it destabilised the gulet from it's supports which would have caused a devastating domino effect on other yachts around the yard.
In this same storm we experienced a hailstone storm of biblical proportions. We really feared for our perspex hatches and solar panels and the noise was deafening. All around the clear windows of sprayhoods were shredded by high velocity frozen golf balls. A couple of days later we hired a car, which was nearly new, but had a totally dimpled roof and bonnet from the force of the hail.

We've had a few days when the easterly winds have caused a swell to reflect off the beach into the marina, causing the yachts to dance around on their lines and roll a fair bit, but we never felt in any danger or real discomfort – we just remember how bad our experience was in Vibo Marina, Southern Italy, where I was unable to get off the yacht at all during the storms. We are very happy that we weren't tempted to take advantage of cheaper mooring fees and go to the new Alanya marina. The intrepid cruisers who spent the winter there suffered from storm surges, pontoons breaking up and cleats tearing apart – amongst many other calamities on their building site marina. When we were there in May during the rally we observed a small but annoying swell or surge even in normal winds and thought it must be uncomfortable for the winter. We never thought that this new marina would be breaking up! If anyone is thinking of going there, make sure you look at the pictures in the liveaboard magazine before you pay any money!! The cruisers that spent the winter there enjoyed a really pioneering spirit with a lot of parties, so it wasn't all bad.

One consequence of the storm was that masses of timber, fruit and rubbish were washed down the mountains and rivers, then pumped back into the marina by the enormous swells. It did appear that you could walk across the marina, and greatly confused the local marina dogs. We fished out three very exhausted doggies one after the other (don't they talk to each other ?), and then Stuart rescued a baby turtle who couldn't come to the surface for all the flotsam. It took a week for the marina staff to pile the detritus high on the quay, using just pitchforks. They were very happy to have the firewood apparently, and didn't seem to mind the hard work.

In February a bus trip took us to Demre about 20 miles away (home of the church of St Nicholas, see last winter's blog) for a day of camel wrestling. Yes, that is what I said. Camels were used until relatively recently before the main coastal route was linked to the villages, as they were needed for carrying supplies over the rough terrain. Now they are kept solely for wrestling, and travel all over Turkey to partake in this strange ritual, dressed up to the nines in their finest colourful scarves, blankets and trinkets.

A female camel is first paraded up and down to get the males 'going', and they are then all fired up for fighting with other males for the right to mate – which unfortunately for them they don't seem to have the opportunity to do! The camels lock feet and necks and try to bring their opponent to the ground. They foam at the mouth in a revolting manner, inflate their tongues and quite often try to get off their leashes and make a run for it through the crowds, flinging camel spit through the air.

The crowd were protected from the camels by a single piece of flimsy plastic tape, which of course the camels  completely trashed within seconds of the start.

It was a fascinating insight into this local event. The men sat in men's trucks, and the women and children in others. Camel sausages were on sale (a reminder to the contestants of why they might want to take the opportunity to scarper!) as well as whole chickens on a donor kebab spit.

The weather has turned lovely and springlike again now, and our local walks have recommenced. The beautiful spring flowers are already out, and the sea is sparkly blue under a cloudless sky.

Our sea swimming persisted until just into the New Year year, and we have already dipped our feet in to test the water again after the storms. This is when are very happy to be in the Med. No matter how severe the weather, the winters are mercifully short, with plenty of pleasant days in between.
We have less than four weeks to go until the end of our contract here, then we are making an early break to get around the Turkish coast and north as soon as possible to Istanbul, through the Bosphorous and into the Black Sea before the northerly strong meltemi winds start to blow. We are really looking forward to swinging to our own anchor again in numerous bays, after our busy year in ports and marinas of the eastern Med last year, which I will be writing more about in the weeks to come....

Key to photos: shopping for goats for Bayram Kurban; Christmas carols; Jo and Graham host Christmas dindins; hail on the pontoon; rescued turtle;  flotsam; camel wrestling; Karen and Sheila swimming on New Years Day.