Kurban Bayram

Two weeks ago was Kurban Bayram, and after jewelry class on Sunday night, Jeremy and I embarked on our bayram adventure in Antalya. Kurban Bayram- a Muslim holiday- literally means "sacrifice holiday" and is symbolic of Abraham's obedience to God, when asked to sacrifice his son Ishmael. His son was substituted in the nick of time by God, who put a ram in his place. For this reason, people sacrifice animals during this time, to be shared with people who are less fortunate, or make donations to charity instead. Turkish people I've spoken to have a variety of different opinions on the holiday. One that I heard again and again was that people should make monetary donations instead of slaughtering animals, since many people who do make animal sacrifices are not knowledgeable about how to properly butcher an animal. When we set off for the airport, however, thoughts of sacrifices and rams were far from my head, which was filled instead with thoughts of the sea and ancient ruins in anticipation of our trip.

Hadrian's Gate, Antalya

We stayed in the charming old neighborhood of Antalya for one night, before taking off for Olympos the next morning. Travel was smooth and transportation was prompt and comfortable. We got on a small bus to Olympos and watched the scenery as it turned from sea to suburbs to lush green hills. We passed small towns along the way and saw a pen filled with sheep and rams for sale, waiting for slaughter. It reminded me of a pumpkin patch at Halloween, or a parking lot turned into a pine grove for Christmas back in the United States- a place where city folk can get a piece of the country and tradition to bring home. I tried to imagine the process of going to select a sheep to sacrifice (not too big, nice and plump... much like my criteria for pumpkin selection) and felt thankful that all I've ever had to carve into for the sake of celebration is a pumpkin's flesh.

Orange groves everywhere!

We continued to roll through the hills and passed a honey vendor, whose goods were displayed on a simple wooden shelf- a spectrum of golden tones of amber and orange, like the stages of enlightenment. I tried to soak up this beautiful image, but he disappeared as we went around the next bend. We switched buses after stopping at a roadside restaurant for çay and gözleme, and continued our journey down into a valley or orange groves, protected by craggy peaks. The bus driver let us out at Orange Pansyon, after Jeremy remembered his Turkish and exclaimed “Burada, lütfen!” (“Here, please!”). The entrance of the pansyon was a courtyard lined with elevated lounging areas, dotted with picnic tables, hammocks, and a fire pit in the center- a backpacker’s dream. 
The remains of Olympos

We spent the afternoon exploring the ancient ruins of the city of Olympos, which lay casually around the seaside, some hidden down small paths, and some along the small lagoon that ran to the sea. The partial structures stand like a memory, only a hint of what there once was. The lush and mossy surroundings give it a fairytale air and when coming upon a house with mosaic pavements teeming with lichen, the heart flutters with the freshness of discovery and it feels like you are coming upon them for the first time. Walking along the same streets as ancient peoples and wandering through their spaces- It’s as close to time travel as we’ll ever get.

View from atop the Genovese castle
We made our way to the shore and climbed up the remains of a Genovese castle, presiding over the coast and I made a mental note to research the link between Italy and Turkey a little more.

Naturally occurring campfire
That night, we went to visit the flames coming from Mt. Chimaera, a mountain whose natural gas stores leak through holes in its surface and combust. The mountain is linked to the myth of the chimaera- a fire-breathing monster collaged together from a lion, goat, and snake. Seeing the flames lapping up the air, I immediately felt sorry that we hadn't brought any marshmallows (what poor foresight on our part!).

The next few days were like being at summer camp. The wonderful thing about the Orange Pansyon is that it provides breakfast and dinner and that their eating area is set up with long communal picnic tables, which makes it easy to meet and mingle with the other guests. We made some Turkish friends that we caught up with every meal to share in the small adventures of the day and to trade English and Turkish expressions like “hair of the dog”, which in Turkish is “çivi, çivi, soker”. Luckily, we made one friend who spoke English extremely well and acted as a translator for much of the time. I was amazed at how much I picked up, just being surrounded by language and being forced to gather the few words I knew. Little by little words became sentences. Two words expressed a thought or enough of one that it could transmit meaning. I felt the puzzle pieces finally coming together.

In true camp fashion, we also took part in daily activities. The first day, we set out on a sea-kayaking excursion with a group of Turkish folks staying at our same pansyon. It turned out that they were a group of fun-loving teachers, also getting out of the city for Bayram. We walked our kayaks down to the lagoon that cuts through Olympos, watching the frogs scatter this way and that with each footstep. When the water was deep enough, we climbed in and glided past the remains of the Roman baths, past the Lycian tombs, around the island of algae and reeds, and to the seashore. We crossed the sliver of pebble beach, got into the sea and started paddling towards the Genovese castle. And here began a comical domino-like, slapstick sequence of kayak flips that earned our group the title of “the slowest group I’ve ever seen” from our patient guide. Jeremy and I managed to stay upright, deciding it would be best not to meddle, since people who tried to help the overturned kayakers ended up flipping over themselves. 

Countless flips and 40 minutes later, we were on our way. The water was a deep cobalt and extremely calm. Our destination was a small beach called Pirate’s Cove, where we hung out, swam and grilled fish and vegetables for lunch. We pantomimed conversation and filled Turkish words between the cracks. The others were so welcoming and inclusive- wonderful traits that are embedded in Turkish culture.
Pirate's Cove, Olympos

We paddled back at dusk and made it back right as it became too dark to see. That night, we gathered around the picnic tables in the pansyon for dinner and shared stories from the day. We lingered to chat and play cards, while the TV reported on the numerous accidents and hospital trips caused by amateur Bayram butchers. Later, people sang Turkish songs by the campfire and drank wine. The valley around us was so peaceful. It really felt like a place where time had crawled to the side of the road and taken a 2,000 year nap.

The next day we went on a long hike to find "The Lost City"- a group of ruins on the Lycian Way someone told us about at the pansyon. We climbed a trail up behind the Lycian tombs in Olympos and continued our journey skyward, following the white and red flags that let us know we were going in the right direction. We never did reach The Lost City, but we did find some other ruins, before we decided to play it safe and turn around before nightfall. 

The Lost and Found City, Olympos

Lycian Tomb- Olympos

It was hard to leave the tranquility Olympos and the new friends we'd made, but after 3 days, we had to break the spell and go back to Antalya. The rest of our vacation was equally amazing with trips to various Roman ruins, a scrub down at a hamam, some of the most delicious Turkish food I've had here, and even a run-in with a gladiator. He let Jeremy off the hook after he complimented him on his form. Spending the week in beautiful Antalya has only whetted my appetite for future travels around Turkey.

Antalya waterfront

Roman Port of Antalya

Ruins at Side

Aspendos- Roman Theater

Just one second, please.... "Hello, 911?"

The remains of St. Nicholas


  1. This captures our amazing vacation so well! Ms. Varlet - teacher extraordinaire, future world famous photographer, and magician with words.

  2. What an amazing trip. I love the pic with Jeremy and the gladiator, by the way. Whatever doesn't work out perfectly in Turkey, at least you have these amazing vacations built into your life right now.


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