Trekking on water from Kaş to Kekova

The gentle slap of the oars against the placid waters, secluded villages harboring cities of ancient Lycia, counting stars as you drift off to sleep... These are the rewards of sea kayaking at Kekova.

For travelers eager to avoid the madding crowd, it is important to get off the main roads, plunge into places where no one has perhaps set foot before, and get as far away as possible from the world of motor vehicles. Trekking, for example, is one of the best ways of losing oneself in the sinuous curves of nature. And as one of Turkey’s most popular sports in recent years, sea kayaking, which could perhaps be defined as trekking on water, is ideal for discovering the matchless coasts where mountain and valley meet the sea. Turkey’s most suitable coastline for sea kayaking is the stretch between Kaş and Kekova. Two- and three-day camping tours in the secluded coves formed by the long, slender island of Kekova, which stretches out parallel to the coast, are becoming more and more common. And while the more difficult week-long tours to Kaş and Kekova from the Dodecanese at Fethiye may appeal to fanatics, the shorter routes are tailor-made for beginners like myself.

According to certain sources, the earliest examples of sea kayaks were designed thousands of years ago by peoples living in such northern climes as Alaska, Greenland and Siberia. The sea kayak, which formed a waterproof ‘skirt’ around the waist of the person who sat inside the enclosed cockpit with his head sticking out of a round hole, was actually a seafaring vessel. Its advantages over the open canoe were its greater storage space, its design that facilitated progress along a straight line, and its greater comfort for longer distances. Tours of a few hours to expeditions of several weeks are possible by sea kayak today. I had no more than a few hours’ rowing experience when I joined one of the kayak tours leaving from Kekova. Our tour began 19 kilometers from Kaş in the village of Üçağız (ancient Theimiussa). Following a short briefing on shore, we jumped into our fiberglass kayaks of lollipop red, yellow and blue and headed for the open sea. Only, of course, after we had learned how to balance our craft as we got in, and how to maneuver it forward and backwards.

Cottoning on to the rowing technique after a few attempts, I fell in line behind our group of three or four and began to progress by sure ‘fathoms’. Actually, the trick is to use the oars like levers to propel the kayak forward. But if you don’t want to ruin the palms of your hands, be careful not to row too zealously! Otherwise you’ll tire out before you know it. Leaving the placid cove of Üçağız, we head for the inland sea known as the ‘Ölüdeniz’ or Dead Sea between the mainland and the island of Kekova. There are three outlets to the open sea from here, which explains the name of the settlement, Üçağız (Three Mouths), going back to antiquity. We will pitch camp that night at the home of a family of Yörüks, or pastoralists, deep inside a cove formed by the Sıçak peninsula. After rowing for a few hours, we make our way to the open sea through the strait that divides Kekova from another island, Topak, and break briefly for a snack in one of its coves. The waves here are sizable and the rowing is becoming more difficult. When we return to the sheltered waters of Kekova following the break,
I realize how much their placidity facilitates our job and makes this region perfect for sea kayaking. The Soğuksu, formed by a stream that empties into the sea here, is a charming canyon that extends inland for 100 meters. After relaxing here for a bit, we start rowing again to reach the property of Ramazan Kaplan and his family. Having rowed steadily for four hours now, I need to budget my last shreds of strength carefully. When we finally reach the tiny landing that seems to recede further into the distance the closer we get, we don dry clothes, grill the big bonito Ramazan Bey’s children have caught off the pier, and have ourselves a feast of fish, salad and flat bread baked on a sheet of hot iron. Because we have pitched our tents and spread our sleeping bags on the roof of the house, we drift into slumber gazing at a dome of sky teeming with constellations and galaxies. The next morning we wake up to a pink sunrise. There is another village worth seeing in the vicinity. The destination of our morning walk is the ancient Lycian city of Aperlai on the back side of the peninsula. This enjoyable
15-20 minute stroll, along which we encounter the road signs of the ancient Lycian Way, promises a charming, restored rustic house overlooking the village, an ancient harbor in shades of turquoise, and Lycian sarcophagus-type tombs. A peerless panorama for those keen to meander through an ancient jigsaw puzzle.

I have to confess that my hands ached all night long, but somehow the happiness hormone excreted by my brain provided just the proper antidote. My advice to novices like myself: get in a little rowing practice beforehand. Our next destination is Kekova, where we will see the ruins of the sunken city before changing course for Kaleköy. Some tours may also prefer to overnight in the coves on Kekova island. Within a few hours we hit the Kekova coast. The ruins of the sunken city are discernible all along the northern side of the island facing Üçağız. Although the history of the region remains shrouded in uncertainty due to a lack of detailed scholarly studies, the city is thought to have been inundated following an earthquake. After stopping for a brief dip at Tersane cove, we leave Kekova behind and head for Kaleköy.

Built over the remains of the ancient city of Simena, Kaleköy is one of the few settlements in Turkey that is accessible only by sea. When a person experiences the peacefulness of this village, which rises like an amphitheater from the seashore all the way to the fortress on the hill, he is convinced that cars and roads are the root of all evil. Best of all is to take a few days at the end of your kayak tour to purge your soul at one of the bed-and-breakfasts here. Savoring the taste of Kaleköy, which is one of the Mediterranean’s most photogenic villages and, I was astonished to learn, is visited by some one hundred thousand people annually, is only possible either in the early morning hours, or after the daytime tour boats have departed. And when you climb to the top of the hill where the ancient acropolis once stood and a medieval castle was later erected, the waters where you rowed so diligently for two whole days will be spread before you like a map of the sea. A few more hours of rowing remain for the return. My hands still ache and my skin isn’t as soft as it once was, but hey, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained!’