[dropcap size=small]D[/dropcap]espite my exhaustion, I couldn’t close my eyes and go to sleep. Above me were millions of stars in the inky-black sky, and below me was the Mediterranean Sea, gently rocking me to sleep on the front deck of the gulet, a two-masted traditional wooden sailing vessel.
We were in Turkey to walk the 300 miles of the Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya, and somehow we ended up on a boat. But I wasn’t complaining.
My husband Warren and I were challenged to do this walk six months earlier by a friend who’d heard about it while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. She knew we’d be up for the adventure, and she was right; we said yes with very little research.
In the months leading up to the hike, we trained with daily walks of at least an hour over any hills we could find. Two months before the hike, we spent eight days walking The West Highland Way in Scotland, wild camping the whole way. Even though we’d been walking trails for the past couple of years, it was our first time to camp along the way. It was harder than we thought to carry all our gear and save enough energy to set up camp every night, but also more rewarding than we imagined.
In our 40s, we were later-in-life adventurers, but we were working hard to make up for lost time.
We ended up on the boat in Turkey thanks to the same friend who suggested the hike, Sherry Ott. She’d met Osman, the captain, on a press trip a couple of years before and reached out to him because his boat was directly on our path – halfway along The Lycian Way route in scenic Kas, Turkey.
The night Sherry arrived in Kas to finish the last two weeks of the walk with us, we stopped for a visit on Osman’s gulet. He offered to follow along the coast as we walked, giving us a hot meal and a comfy place to sleep for next four nights of our journey. After wild camping for two weeks and escaping from a severe midnight storm on the coast, we were open to something a little more luxurious.
Just like the first two weeks of the walk, we continued to wind along the coast, into pine forests, and over rocky cliffs. The Mediterranean Sea was never too far away, though sometimes we felt far away as we climbed rocky hills or walked for hours through grassy pastures occupied by only shepherds and goats. Villagers offered us fresh grapes from their vines, and we pulled juicy pomegranates from the trees as we passed by.
In the afternoons, we met up with Captain Osman at our agreed-upon spots and he motored us out to the gulet in the dinghy. We swam in the turquoise waters, drank ice-cold beer, and enjoyed meals of fish and chicken cooked by Osman and his crew. As night fell, we brought our heavy blankets up to the front deck and made our beds among the cushions. While the waves rose and fell, we counted stars until we fell asleep, then woke as the sun rose.
After four days of this idyllic existence, we had to say goodbye to Captain Osman because the coastline became too dangerous for him to follow. We were back to wild camping again, and not too happy about it after the ease of the past few nights on the boat. But the walking was especially spectacular that day, and as we walked uphill in the late afternoon we came to a lighthouse surrounded on three sides by water. We set up camp just below the blinking light, marveling at our dramatic views of both sunrise and sunset. The transition back to wild camping was made a lot easier by this stunning location.
The next morning we heard a loud blast shortly after we began walking. The sea was to our right, and we could see several military ships plus the top of a submarine. Our first worry was the fighting in neighboring Syria, but we weren’t anywhere near the border. A coast guard ship zoomed across the sea, and we saw evidence of missiles being fired underwater. Nothing sunk, but every so often we hear the blast and see the water pop from a missile fire.
We’d apparently stumbled into a war games scenario.
When we got to the next village we were told this happens a couple of times a year. Non-military boats are restricted from the waters as the Turkish military goes through maneuvers. We felt privileged to be able to see it, especially in the context of the current political climate between Turkey and Syria.
The entire Lycian Way was both stunning in the scenery – mountains, sea, and forest – as well as rich in history. I kept imagining robed, sandal-wearing people treading the same rocky paths as we were in our hi-tech fibers and waterproof boots. We walked through ruins from thousands of years ago, sometimes walking right over tombstones in the path or exploring fortresses long since overtaken by the stinging shrubs and thorny brush. One night, we made camp in the ruins of a church from the sixth century, sharing a fire with a fellow walker and telling stories until late into the night.
We saw the eternal flames of the chimera on Mount Olympos, discarded sarcophagi littering remote beaches, and the underwater city of Aperlae. We stood on windswept rocks, ancient churches, several coliseums, Roman aqueducts, and even a temple to the goddess Leto from the 6th century BCE. It was breathtaking.
Our biggest difficulty throughout the entire walk was in the poor and missing trail markings, and even though our guidebook said a GPS wasn’t necessary, we disagree. In such a remote setting, often far away from food, water, and flat ground for camping, it would be easy to get lost, especially in the mountainous areas. And we did. Landslides, the harsh sun, and even modern road works have obliterated many trail markers, and there are no detailed ordnance maps to help visually find the way. This walk was a challenge both logistically and physically.
We ended our walk at the ancient city of Phaselis, the last ruin on the trail. We’d camped the night before on a beach, waking up to waves lapping at the shore about 20 feet away. It took just a half hour to walk to Phaselis the next morning, right at daybreak. These are the dramatic ruins of an ancient city, complete with a main shopping street. We arrived before the guard came on duty and slipped inside, sitting on a big rock wall and laying out our breakfast. As the sun rose we enjoyed our bread, cheese, and olives, on the wall overlooking the main street, imagining people doing this same thing for hundreds of years. It was a spectacular end to our walk through history.
The Lycian Way was our longest hike to date, and it showed us we can do more than we ever dreamed. We also mastered teamwork, going with the flow, seizing opportunities, and knowing when to call it quits. In fact, you could call it a down-and-dirty form of marriage therapy if you like, because those skills will come in handy in the future whether we’re negotiating a new trail or our relationship.
Go in spring or fall (we went in the in fall). Otherwise it is too hot and there is no spring water available. You run the risk of snow on the mountaintops if you go too early in spring or too late in fall.
From Fethiye to Antalya on the southern coast of Turkey. The walk can be done either way, but we did it west to east. You can fly from Istanbul to Antalya and then either start your walk west or take a minibus (dolmus) to Fethiye and walk east back to Antalya.
The walk can also be done in portions. We recommend the same 4-day boat/hiking combo we did from Kas eastward toward the ruins of Simena at Kamilik Burun (click here for information on booking Captain Osman’s Selin-3 boat for a private charter). Another great walk is from Mavikent to Adrasan over 3 days, going along the lighthouse and through some beautiful forested area along the coast. This is also the most well-marked portion of the entire trail because it begins and ends in holiday resort areas.
Here’s a list of all the gear we took, including our beloved Big Agnes Fly Creek ultralight tent. We wish we’d packed a GPS as the trail is not always well marked.
The walk goes from village to village and you can stay in guesthouses called “pansyons,” but there are several portions of the trail without them. The accommodations are rustic. Wild camping is allowed and good water is plentiful through fountains at every mosque and at various points along the way.
The trail is a combination of ancient routes and is 300 miles or 509 km long. We took 30 days for the entire trip, enjoying a day off every week and a longer break midway through. Walking straight through, a fit person could do this in three weeks. Read about our daily summaries from the trail.
Betsy Talbot and her husband Warren are the authors of, Married with Luggage: What We Learned About Love by Traveling the World. Learn more about adventurous relationships and teamwork at Married with Luggage. Check out their daily trail summaries and photos from this walk at Hike the Lycian.