|

Lost in an Aegean dream

by Hugh and Midori Paxton

Herodotus, the so-called Father of History, made a few rather extravagant claims in his time (his time being the 5th century B.C., which is when he wrote the world’s first history books).

The Ionian Greek’s accounts of Himalayan marmots* pursuing and devouring camels and of giant ants that prospected for gold are just some of the “Histories” that earned him the less complimentary title bestowed by jealous peers: “Father of Lies.”

But Herodotus was a damn fine storyteller. He obviously listened to a lot of other storytellers — and he got a lot of things right.

His ridiculed claim that the sun changed its position when one sailed up the West African coast has since been re-examined and is generally accepted now as evidence that Phoenician traders circumnavigated Africa before anybody in the Ancient World even knew the continent was a continent. That’s why the sun was in the wrong place. The sailors thought they were going south but in fact they were going north after rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

And when Herodotus described the Aegean coast as enjoying the finest climate in the world, and being the most beautiful, he certainly wasn’t stretching the truth, as this column can confirm after visiting Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula.

Turkey as a whole is packed with interest, mainly because it forms the meeting point between East and West and has for millennia witnessed armies waltzing about, religions rising and falling and civilizations doing much the same. Everywhere I checked on my predeparture maps seemed superabundantly endowed with ruins, temples, fortresses, religious sites, ancient cities and/or battlefields.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Bodrum region. Bodrum town itself is dominated by a looming Crusader castle that started life as a looming Turkish castle (after the Crusaders cleared off it did time as a looming ruin, a jail, and now offers a looming but eclectic mix of skeletal galley slaves, torture chambers, dizzying turrets and a maritime museum bulging with amphora, glassware and other salvaged items from the countless number of ships that over many centuries decided to sink just offshore.

Bodrum is overlooked by a Roman amphitheater that was also used by the Greeks, and in the center of town is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — the Mausoleum of Halicarnassos. This Wonder isn’t quite as Wonderful as it used to be, but overall Bodrum’s past and present put on a fine show. Though in all honesty it took me some time to notice it. As I shall explain a little later.

Times change. A century ago if you irritated the Ottoman Empire you either had your head chopped off, were forced to eat your severed genitals or could choose to be sent into exile here. Istanbul had no use for the place, regarding it as remote and provincial, and villains who published seditious works of literature were confronted with their just punishment — crystal-clear water, first-class seafood, a coastline that came with a Herodotus endorsement and an ideal climate very conducive to writing more seditious literature.

No wonder the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Who’d want to eat their own genitals if they could instead take in a few rays, eat cheese and grilled sardines, pop a cork and watch an Aegean sunset?

Now tourism has noticed what the Ottomans failed to pick up on, and resorts are blossoming along the coast, yachts are setting sail for and from its harbors, and there is a pleasant level of hubbub. Not enough to disrupt the atmosphere, blight the environment and get in your face; just enough to add vigor and interest and ensure that both locals and tourists coexist in an atmosphere that says “fun.”

A word, however, of caution. Some of the resorts are too nice.

Our place was a case in point. For the equivalent of a trifling $600 per person, the British tour company Thomsons had hooked up with the beachfront Aegean Dream in Turgutreis village near Bodrum to offer a fortnight package. The package was positively bloated. All inclusive of flights from London Gatwick to Bodrum, breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, midnight snack (four restaurants, one Turkish, one seafood, one Italian and one international), all drinks alcoholic or otherwise, a host of activities ranging from water slides to archery contests, boules tournaments, cabarets, belly dancers (of course, you can’t have a Turkish holiday without some supple lady wiggling her cellulite at you; it wouldn’t be right), a kiddies club, library, cinema, sauna and . . .

With all that hedonism on tap, many of the Aegean Dream’s visitors simply succumbed and failed to break free of the Aegean Dream’s decadent gravitational field.

I met many a shrimp-pink poolside lounger leisurely ingesting cocktails and finger snacks while reading a John Grisham novel (why do people always read John Grisham novels when they’re on a beach holiday? They’re awful! And more to the point, why aren’t they reading my novel, “Homunculus,” a grisly black comedy set in wartorn Sierra Leone, laced with mindless violence, voodoo, atrocities and very reasonably priced both at Kinokuniya or from Amazon.com — or check homunculus.us instead) who hadn’t even mustered sufficient strength to stagger the 500 meters to the local market (which sells acres of lush fruit, vegetables and John Grisham novels, but has, carelessly in my opinion, failed as yet to stock up on my novel, “Homunculus” — very reasonably priced, etc.).

That was a long very weirdly structured sentence. My apologies. Hope you’re still with me. I won’t do it again.

Anyway, for the first week at the Aegean Dream, I, too, was seduced by the Siren song of the Aegean coast. Without noticing it.

Then, while sitting in a Turkish bath, somebody asked what I did for a living.

“I’m a travel writer,” I boasted.

“Can you recommend anywhere?”

“The seafood restaurant’s great. Third floor. The library sucks. It’s full of John Grisham novels and doesn’t have any copies of ‘Homunculus.’ I haven’t tried the banana boat yet. But people say it’s a lot of fun. The International restaurant’s got really good salads and . . . “

“No, I meant can you recommend anywhere that isn’t in the resort?”

“Not yet.”

The vicious truth struck home! I’d have to leave the Aegean Dream and do some traveling. And some writing.

Next month, The Japan Times’ Nature Travel columnists actually do their job.

* Marmots are very small.