A bay spread out beneath us in a wide arc, the hill behind it punctuated with the mouths of caves near its summit. In a niche along the coastline, a half-ruined white dome peeked out from a grove of olive trees with giant, gnarled trunks: on the water nearby sat a small boat, a white net just being flung out from its stern.
It was almost absurdly picturesque, like the foundations of Western history reduced to a particularly vibrant postcard. But that was precisely why we had decided to come on the so called Blue Voyage. Turkey may seem like an odd place for Americans to select for a cruise -the sunny beaches of the Caribbean are nearer to home, and the ports of western Europe might seem like a bigger cultural bang for the buck.
But for me, the Lycian coast of Turkey ,where the Aegean turns east and becomes the Mediterranean, has it all: temperate weather, unspoiled villages, sparkling turquoise seas dotted with islands, and a history as complex – and as eerily present today – as that of any place on earth. The heroes of classical Greece roamed these seas, along with the satraps of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great’s armies, Mark Antony and Cleopatra,the apostle Paul and the servants of the Ottoman Sultan. Evidence of their presence is all around you. And then, of course, there is the food, a cuisine that is Mediterranean at heart but amplified with the warm, aromatic spices and delicate flavoring of the Middle East.
The most common vessel for the Blue Voyage (which was given its name not, as you might suspect, by a tourist bureau but by a linguist exiled between the wars in the now trendy resort city of Bodrum) is the gulet, a wooden -hulled motor sailboat modeled on the distinctive cargo craft that have sailed these waters for hundreds of years. Our group of seven had chartered the larger option, a schooner, because it had somewhat bigger cabins and more deck space for lolling.
And loll we did, in the sherry joy of being on the sea – diving from the deck into spectacularly blue, limpid water that plunged to ten feet only a yard or two from shore; watching dolphins play tag under our bow; passing a trio of giant sea turtles in the protected bay at Kaş; falling asleep to the slap of waves against the hull, awakening to the creak of the boat as it left the night’s anchorage; or simply lying in the sun, half reading, as we made a slow but steady progress to one vague destination or the other.
The ever-changing scene and the constant scene of history just around the corner, kept lassitude at bay. Island were packed so thickly along the undulating coast that it was often difficult to tell whether we were sailing between mainland and an island, between two islands or just between two out croppings of the mainland. Because there were no coastal roads linking Lycia to the rest of the country until the 1980s, villages and towns were few and far between, but we frequently slid past stone ruins of ancient buildings,for the most part ignored by the locals.