Afternoon Swims in Marmaris - A Mediterranean (Ghost) Town
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
We had a blast in Izmir - but we kept moving the whole time. With an African safari on the horizon, we wanted a couple weeks of more, well, laid back time before leaving Turkey. Enter Marmaris, a beautiful beach town on the country’s Mediterranean coast - outstanding decision.
From Izmir to Marmaris - and a Refugee Stop
Leaving Izmir, we decided to chase the weather, as fall was just around the corner - ideally catch a couple weeks of “beach weather.” In a somewhat arbitrary decision, we looked at places A) in southern Turkey, and B) driving distance from Izmir. Right at the juncture of the Aegean and Mediterrean in southwestern Turkey, Marmaris looked like it’d work.
Intercity bus transit works pretty smoothly in Turkey, so we booked tickets for the five-ish hour trip through the rolling hills of coastal Turkey down to the Mediterranean coast - most impressive bus experience of our lives. Neither of us had ever been on a bus that had actual refreshment (unfortunately non-alcoholic) service. But, 20 minutes after leaving the Izmir bus terminal, the co-driver(?) pulled a minicart out, worked his way down the aisle, and offered everyone complimentary drinks and snacks. It’s the little things in life!
But, this bus ride reflected a darker side of the current situation, as well. As we began the descent out of the highlands down to Marmaris and the Mediterranean coast, we pulled off to the side of the road. Looking out the window, it was clear we’d reached some sort of security checkpoint.
After a couple minutes, a guy in fatigues came on the bus, requesting passports. We grabbed ours and handed them over. As Mr. Authority Figure flipped open Jenna’s, he handed a few 20-dollar bills back to her (emergency cash she’d forgotten to remove). Nice start - get arrested for trying to bribe a Turkish official… Fortunately, he quickly flipped through our passports, handed them back, and kept working down the aisle.
After a few minutes, seemingly satisfied, the guy left the bus, and we continued on our way. Chatting with some neighbors who spoke English, we asked if this had something to do with Turkey’s long-running fight with Kurdish separatists. Nope. Apparently, it’s to make sure the refugees from the Syrian war don’t leave their designated areas.
It’s one thing to watch these stories unfold on the news. It’s another to experience how a country enforces its refugee policy. Surreal.
A Pleasant “Ghost Town” Vibe
We pulled into the Marmaris bus terminal - just on the outskirts of town - and caught a cab to our apartment. The city unfolds along a stunning bay, but it’s far smaller than Izmir. And, unlike Izmir’s rocky coast, Marmaris has miles of sandy beaches along its waterfront.
In normal, non-COVID times, these beaches and the Mediterranean climate make Marmaris a travel mecca for partying Russians and Brits. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a Union Jack or cyrillic-language sign. It seems like every other beach bar either caters to drunk Brits or drunk Russians. And, this general drunkenness leads to plenty of football (soccer) / national pride-related fights.
Fortunately for us, the city was essentially empty of tourists from both places. The tourist season was wrapping up, and even during peak time, numbers were obviously down due to travel restrictions. So, we use “ghost town” in a tongue-in-cheek way - plenty of locals and Turkish tourists strolled along the beaches, drank in the cafes, and generally enjoyed life in Marmaris.
We did as well - just without needing to deal with a bunch of belligerent drunks singing “God Save the Queen” or “Kalinka Malinka.” [Self-awareness aside: Chipp fully recognizes the irony of this situation. On more than one occasion, he’s certainly been the drunk American…].
Afternoon Swims - a Nice Work/Life Balance
We wanted to relax and work for a couple weeks, and Jenna found us just the place to do it. She found a great, second-floor apartment - balcony in the front overlooking the street, and one in the back over the building’s garden. Two blocks from the beach and in a quieter part of town, it was the ideal place to get some work done in the mornings then stroll out for an afternoon dip. And, that’s exactly what we did.
Every few days, we’d swing by the grocery store for some breakfast supplies. Have breakfast and coffee at home. Work until early afternoon. Stroll down to the beach for a bathtub-like dip in the Mediterranean. Get a big late lunch out somewhere. Come home and relax or, when necessary, wrap up work. Perfect.
Once again, there’s something to be said about the beauty of routine.
Alcohol, “Sea Material,” and a Drake Remix(?) - Cultural Curiosities
We’d be remiss to not throw in some stories about weird linguistic/cultural experiences in Marmaris. Not really relevant to anything beyond Chipp’s entertainment, but here’s a great sign from a corner store a block from the beach: cold drink, tobacco, alcohol, and sea material - just some of our favorite things!
A far stranger incident occurred while crushing some delicious doner sandwiches. Sitting in this Turkish cafe, we were both somewhat surprised to hear Drake blasting out of the place’s speakers. This cognitive dissonance became ever stranger when the call to prayer echoed out from the surrounding mosques. It’s hard to put into words how odd this all seemed. In Turkey. Listening to a Canadian rapper. With the Muslim call to prayer booming in the background. Couldn’t have made this up.
Exploring Old Town Marmaris
For lack of better terms, we stayed in the “new town” of Marmaris. A couple miles down the coast from the harbor and historic city center, our area had more of a relaxed beach vibe. Seeking a laid back couple weeks, this worked well. But - wow - the old town is absolutely incredible.
Marmaris itself sits at the top of a protected bay. In the heart of the city, a peninsula juts due south out into the bay. The old town sits on this peninsula. While most of the waterfront gradually slopes up towards the surrounding cliffs, a rocky crag makes up this piece of land. And, the old town climbs - in narrow, winding alleys - up and around this crag. But, we didn’t know this.
On an afternoon stroll, we found ourselves aimlessly wandering through the city’s bazaar. Fairly quickly, we had no sense of direction. Walking out from the covered roof of the bazaar, we saw a narrow path between old buildings leading up a hill. And, a sign said something along the lines of “this way to a bar with a great view.” We like bars. We like views. So, we followed.
Turns out, the old town grew up and around this peak (makes sense from a protection perspective, as the city’s castle sat just below it). Terraced gardens, beautifully restored stone houses shaded by olive trees, boutique hotels, and hidden cafes now ascend from sea level - but good luck remembering the labyrinthine routes to find them! As we blindly followed these narrow paths, basically flipping coins at forks and alternating between climbing and skirting the slopes, we realized pretty quickly that we’d probably need weeks to gain confidence getting from Point A to Point B in this area.
Unfortunately, when we finally found said bar, it was closed (apparently more of a late night spot). But, the seed had been planted. If we go back to Marmaris in the future, we’ll absolutely stay in one of these hillside, old town places - if we can find our way there!
A Coastal Stroll to Icmeler
While Marmaris sits at the top of its protected bay, the little beach town of Icmeler “guards” the mouth of the bay about four miles to the southwest. When in Marmaris, the stroll along the path to Icmeler is an absolute must.
With steep, pine-covered slopes on one side and rocky beaches on the other (no sand between the two towns), this path skirts the coast. It goes up and down just a bit, but it’s pretty much a leisurely, sea-level stroll. And, the lush pines create a shaded tunnel the length of the trail - providing much needed protection from the hot Mediterranean sun for our pasty skin.
Leisurely stroll or not, four miles is still four miles. Coated with a decent sweat, we walked into Icmeler ready for a drink. Even on the back-end of the tourist season, plenty of places were open. We found a streetside cafe, ordered some bathtub-sized beverages, and enjoyed that we-“earned”-these-drinks feeling. And, if we left it at that, we could’ve chalked the day up as reasonably healthy. But, the cafe's “bar snack platter” was calling Chipp’s name. Fast forward through a plate of deep-fried everything, and any semblance of a healthy afternoon went out the window.
We still needed to walk back to Marmaris, though, so that somewhat offset this calorie bomb of deliciousness. This return stroll - at a more subdued pace than the brisk clip out - also found us swimming off a little private dock. Backtracking, we saw a little staircase hidden behind some trees that we’d missed walking to Icmeler. Ready for a dip, we walked down the stairs and found an awesome stone dock - hidden from the path above it. What a place to swim - perfectly clear water, steep slopes rising above us, and no one else in sight.
Backyard Clementines and Jenna’s Favorite - Kevin the Cat
With all the cool things we saw in Marmaris, one of the best “little pleasures” happened to be right in our backyard. The apartment where we stayed had a big garden in the back, filled with all sorts of different fruit trees. It’s pretty nice, every time you leave home, to grab a clementine right off the branch.
And, this garden had another resident, someone who’d truly make Jenna’s time in Marmaris. As we’ve discussed, Turkey’s full of cats, and Marmaris is no different. But, to this point, they’d been anonymous cats. Enter Kevin the Cat (so named by the mom and daughter living next door to us), the excitable little guy constantly bombing around the garden and climbing up the different fruit trees.
Every time we left the apartment (while Chipp would look for the perfect clementine), Jenna would find, pick up, and squeeze little Kevin (jury’s out about whether he liked this treatment). Not growing up in a cat household, Chipp has slowly come to accept that this sort of “forced affection” is just par for the course for (crazy) cat lovers!