Goodbyes

We’re at the final days of our time in Turkey at Iztuzu beach, and it’s a bit of a strange feeling. Because all the volunteers live and work at the center 24/7, it was inevitable that we would become close. From Halime and Suleyman who basically juggle the Turtle Hospital to the volunteers with whom we’ve spent weeks getting to know on night patrols, I’ve realized that it will be difficult to say goodbye.

Although it’s only been two months, these friends, between the Duke students and the Turkish volunteers, have become such close companions of mine. I mean, this was of course expected, especially due to the fact that we would spend these weeks with one another almost every hour of the day. However, I like to attribute this closeness to our desire to get to know one another. We made it a habit to get to know one another on night patrols, which lasted entire nights, when one person would share their entire life story with others. Once they shared from the beginning to present, the group would ask questions to fill in the gaps of whatever else we didn’t know. In addition to life stories that would get deep at night, we would spend the entire day playing Settlers of Catan, Hearts, Uno, and even made up a few games of our own.

Most of the people who decide to come to DEKAMER to aid in conservation of sea turtles stay for about four weeks, so throughout the time that we’ve been here, we’ve had to say a couple goodbyes to friends from all over Turkey and Europe who also very quickly became our close friends. A few weeks ago, we said goodbye to two Turkish girls who lived with us in our small room that bunked eight people. As Merve and Irem waved us goodbye and climbed into the car that would take them to the bus stop or airport, I got a sinking feeling realizing that in a short while, we would be thousands of miles apart. Today, I got the same feeling with a volunteer from Italy who became our little sister. Seeing tears in her eyes as she walked out of DEKAMER broke my heart. While the thought of leaving has been in the back of my mind for at least the past week, the realization didn’t hit me until we were altogether in a group hug, saying our last goodbye to our Italian sister. I’m expecting the same feeling as we leave behind the rest of the friends that we’ve made.

The bright side is that everyone at the center has grown so fond of each other that the possibility of keeping in touch and visiting each other in the future is on the table. Erin, who is another Duke Engager, and I are planning to visit some of our friends who live in Istanbul next year, and we have invited some of our friends to come visit us at Duke as well. Even if we don’t have the chance to see each other in Turkey or the States and our relationship continues through WhatsApp group chats, I am greatly thankful for the opportunity to meet so many cool people who all happened to share an interest in saving some sea turtles along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

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On the Completely Unattainable Goals that I Set for Myself and then Unsurprisingly Failed to Achieve

When I first came to Turkey, I wanted to do a few simple things on top of the normal duties of a DEKAMER volunteer. I wanted to learn to speak conversational Turkish, write a research paper on turtles (which I have never studied before in my life) and publish in a Duke journal, and write at least ten poems. I have accomplished, at most, 20% of any of those goals and, hint, I wrote two poems. For a long time, I must admit, I had a knot in my chest. Always, in the back of my mind, I felt the pressure of accomplishing these goals. This thought weighed on me as we learned and reflected an enormous amount about both loggerhead turtles and the impact of conservation. I couldn’t shake it as I, along with my peers, spent night after night finding and protecting over 500 loggerhead nests, taking the overall nest viability on this beach from 15% without our efforts to almost 90%. And this knot twisted and tightened as we traveled to incredible historical sites, had fascinating and deeply thought-provoking conversations with Turkish volunteers about culture and our differences and striking similarities, and made a manual for new volunteers in order to help their transition and improve the organization and efficiency of the center. Why was I so incapable of making the most of my time in Turkey?

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This slightly absurd mental battle continued to rage in me until one night patrol while talking to a volunteer from England. He is a smart and ambitious university student, just like any of us. Yet he didn’t feel this discomfort that comes with the assumption of future regret. Furthermore, he didn’t feel the need to do way more than he could ever reasonably expect to do in his short stay in Turkey. Instead, he was just enjoying the heck out of the opportunity to come to a beautiful place in a foreign country and make a measurable difference doing something he loved. And slowly the knot loosened as I remembered the obvious. I am a college student who has time, energy, and some knowledge to offer to an organization like DEKAMER. But I also know far less than any employee or Ph.D. student here because they spend their lives working with loggerhead turtles and conservation and I do not. I also am not some linguistics genius who can just pick up a language in a few months in a center where the major language is English and by only practicing in my spare time. And most importantly, none of these facts are a problem because, while I like that I try to always make the most of my experiences, my time isn’t quite as valuable as I sometimes like to think it is. So was this trip a failure or a waste of time? Not even remotely. In fact, it was pretty darn close to being mükemmel, which is Turkish for “perfect” (20% conversational here I come).

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We have hatchlings!

This season's first hatchlings

This season’s first hatchlings

Two days ago, afternoon patrol consisting of Jess, Elda, Aydin and Ahmet found our first hatchlings!

Hatchlings in the nest

Hatchlings in the nest

To start, a brief introduction about the mating, nesting and hatching process of loggerhead sea turtles. When female sea turtles reach sexual maturity around 25 to 30 years old, they return to the area where they were born to mate and lay their eggs. Here at Iztuzu Beach, the mating season last from April to May, nesting season last from May to August and hatching season last from July to October. A female sea turtle lays multiple times a season and she lays between 50 to 100 eggs each time. The eggs usually incubate for 60 days before the hatchlings emerge from the eggs. An interesting fact about hatchings is that the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the sand. On Iztuzu, if the sand temperature is above 29.9 Celsius, the hatchlings will be female. If the temperature is below 29.9 Celsius, the hatchings will be male. In a nest, approximately 80% of the hatchlings will be female and 20% will be male.

They are tiny!

They are tiny!

This year, as our nesting season started earlier than usual so we were expecting hatchlings weeks earlier than usual. However, with no sign of the hatchlings a few days after they were supposed to hatch, the decision was made to excavate the nest. As they started to excavate the nest, they discovered hatchlings! Unfortunately, the hatchlings were having a little trouble climbing out of their nest and were not as strong as we would have like them to be. Thus, a decision was made to bring the hatchlings back to the center for a few days until they regained their full strength.

It has been extremely rewarding to be able to view the season’s first hatchlings, especially since our time here at DEKAMER is quickly coming to an end.

 

 

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Market!

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the weekly Saturday market in Dalyan last week. Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed— huge rows of tents and tables displayed a myriad of neon colors and signs. Salesmen approached me from all directions yelling prices and other irresistible deals. I made the mistake of expressing interest in a Kobe Bryant basketball jersey. Immediately a salesman jumped towards me and put the jersey on me before I could react. I was somewhat interested in the jersey and proceeded to see if I could lower it to a reasonable price. Initially the man asked how much I thought the item was worth. It was obvious that he was just trying to gauge my price range. So, I started low. “30 lira,” I said. The man looked astonished and scoffed—a well practiced act I am sure he used on every customer. “120 Lira,” he said. The game began. I immediately handed back the jersey and began to walk away. But, the man wouldn’t let me give the jersey back to him. He urged me to talk to him, and I could already sense his urgency for a customer. Now I had the upper hand. I kept walking, until he grabbed my arm, still urging me to stay and talk. I stopped for a split second to hear “60 lira. Final offer.” Wow, I was surprised. He had cut the price by 50% in a mere few seconds. However, I still felt like I could push the salesman a little more. I firmly held to my original offer of 30 lira. The man began to make a fuss, shouting, “60 lira is a great price!” Still I held to 30 lira. I walked away once again, as the man shouted lower and lower numbers. Until, “Fine 30 lira.” I couldn’t believe it. I felt a sense of victory! Then, I realized I hadn’t eaten all morning and was extremely hungry. So, I decided that I would rather spend the money on food and was soon snacking on bananas and Turkish delights.

At the market with Nina!

At the market with Nina!

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The day began with all of 9 of us cramming into a van for the 3-hour drive to Pamukkale. Half the group had come directly from night patrol so everyone passed out pretty quickly. We were woken halfway to enjoy an incredible Turkish breakfast consisting of eggs, tomato, ekmek, olives, and various other foods. We capped the breakfast off with Turkish coffee and were on the road once again. We arrived in Denizli around 12:30. The first place was Laodicea, the ruins of an ancient city built on the Lycus river. We spent an hour there admiring the ancient architecture and the restoration process taking place.

Laodicea

Laodicea Ruins

We had a tour guide from the local university take us through one of the Seven Churches of Asia, a place not usually open to the public. Afterwards we were extremely hot and thirsty and so we found a nice restaurant to eat lunch at. We had kebabs and drank orange juice while preparing for the main part of the trip, Pamukkale.

 

Pamukkale was unlike anywhere I have ever been before. Translating directly to “cotton castle”, the name was extremely fitting. It felt like we were on a different planet. Pools of turquoise set against chalk white rocks, it was truly a site(sight?) to see. We spent 2 hours playing in the pools and walking around the ancient city set at the top.

Pamukkale

Pamukkale

We explored the ancient byzantine city Hierapolis. A massive site consisting of two amphitheaters and numerous museums, there was enough there to spend our whole day. Unfortunately we only had a few hours though and so we had to choose carefully where we visited.

Pamukkale

Pamukkale

After this we went to a vertical market that only sold towels and linens. We entered what appeared to be a tower that seemed to go up forever. It was busy and overwhelming yet mesmerizing and unique. Denizli is famous for its Turkish towels. We purchased some and then went for dinner on the top of a mountain. We took a cable car up and observed an amazing view of the city. We enjoyed traditional Denizli kebab and then returned home to Iztuzu.

Denizli at night

Denizli at night

View of Denizli

View of Denizli

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Ruins of an Amphitheater in Heirapolis

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The group hanging out in one of the pools

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Danger of a Single Story: A DukeEngage Reflection

“That is how to create a single story – show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” –Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Danger of a Single Story”

 

Our freshman class was asked to read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah before arriving at Duke. Her novel and her TED Talk, “Danger of a Single Story,” critically address the danger of flattening the cultural complexities of a family, society, or even an entire continent into a single image perpetuated by a single group of people. She recalls examples of this phenomenon, like when her first American roommate was bewildered by her fluency in English and her preference for Mariah Carey over “tribal music,” or when she visited Mexico and couldn’t help but conjure up media portrayals of the “abject immigrant.”

 

At the time, I believed that I fully understood and internalized the lesson that Adichie was trying to portray through her book and her TED Talk. I thought that there was no way that I, an accepting, well-intentioned, open-minded Duke student could fall victim to the Danger of a Single Story, but I had underestimated my own naivety.

Turkish and American Kankamlar goofing off after some educational tours

When I told people that I was going to Turkey for 2 months, the responses ranged from perplexed eyebrow raises to damnations of an entire subcontinent, all stemming from mass media portrayals of political unrest. I assured my friends and family that I would be fine, that Turkey was not what the media portrayed it to be, but time and time again, I developed this holier-than-thou complex that shrouded my own internal bias and preconceptions about Turkey, that hampered my ability to recognize my own prejudices. Again, I thought to myself, there was no way that I, an accepting, well-intentioned, open-minded Duke student could fall victim to the Danger of a Single Story.

 

Only after some reflection a few weeks into our program did I recognize that I was guilty in the question of a single story. I was slightly ashamed, because, like Adichie, I was overwhelmed by the media portrayals of the Middle East, and, subconsciously, the first image that I conjured up when I heard “Turkey” was the barren deserts and hooded men displayed on the news. I had homogenized an entire subcontinent’s experiences into a single image portrayed by a single group of people.

 

I was taken off-guard by the similarities between the Turkish volunteers and the American volunteers. I was surprised to find that our Turkish colleagues had group chats on WhatsApp. I was surprised that they dressed in similar clothing as us. I was surprised that, all in all, we shared more commonalities than we held differences. I bought into the Single Story, and I allowed it to skew my preconceptions of Turkish people, society, and culture. In Adichie’s words, the Single Story had “robbed people of dignity. It made our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasized how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Visit to the ancient ruins of Laodecia

In times of rising xenophobia, and in light of yesterday’s Istanbul Airport bombings, it is imperative to keep the Danger of a Single Story in mind, because Turkey is not the homogenized image of barren deserts, hooded men, or terrorist attacks displayed on the news. Turkey is the curious schoolboy staying up to the wee hours of the night to watch us on night patrol. Turkey is the vestige of the ancient Roman Empire we visited in Hierapolis and Laodicea. Turkey is the shop owner that helped Nick when the ATM swallowed his debit card, and the airport worker that translated for Edeline when she was lost in the airport with no mode of communication. Turkey is the laughter, kinship, and camaraderie that I’ve experienced with my American and Turkish cohorts alike. Most importantly, I now understand that Turkey is not a Single Story, and in Adichie’s words, “when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

 

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Ancient Cities and Fancy Rocks

It is so amazing and confounding to be in an area of the world with so many remnants of its history. Having spent the first 19 years of my life in the suburbs of Midwestern America, my exposure to local history extended just to our small – 2 room Native American museum consisting rarely of more than a few artifacts and mainly only of cheap souvenir moccasins and coloring books (Obviously this shows some insight on how much the Midwest prioritized Native American history). Even when traveling throughout the U.S., most historical sites are less than one hundred years old, with the most impressive artifacts all confined to museums. For this reason, I found it very special just to be standing by part of a two-thousand-year old building.

Yesterday we had one of the most amazing days on the trip so far. After working for almost a month straight- we were able to actually procure the entire day off for our full group of DukeEngage students. To take full advantage of this, our wonderful advisor Connie planned a day trip to the city of Denizli for us, where we would see ancient ruins, amazing carbonate hot springs and even have a chance at buying some Turkish towels. For me it was just dumbfounding that one city could have so many amazing things, and that we were able to successfully see them all in our limited time.

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Pamukkale or “Cotton Castle” located right below ancient Hierapolis

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The group getting breakfast on the way to Denizli

Denizli is unique in being situated between two ancient cities, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Both were founded in a similar time and underwent a great chain of rulers and communities throughout their histories. I will mainly focus on Laodicea, but Hierapolis has an equally interesting history, a big destination in ancient times for its baths and their medicinal properties.

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“Syria Street” in the ancient city of Laodicea on the Lycus

Laodicea was the first place we visited when arriving in Denizli. After we had been walking around the ruins for a bit, we were very lucky to be let into a closed off section, the Laodicean Church. It’s amazing how much more powerful a ruin can become once you have learned more about it. This was curtesy of Nina’s social skills with a very kind Masters student from Pamukkale University excavating the ruins. Laodicea was one of the early locations of Christianity in Turkey. While I have never been religious myself, I have always found religion fascinating, and particularly seeing a sight that most of been at the very start of Christianity was impressive. Upon reading more up on Laodicea, I found that the reason that it was one of the first areas in Asia to take up Christianity was due to the transport of about 2000 Jewish families to the region by Antiochus the Great.

Seeing the Greek lettering and Christian Crosses scattered throughout these rocks was so distinctive in Modern day Turkey. The Republic of Turkey is now 98% Muslim, but the region of Anatolia has fostered so many different ethnic groups and societies throughout its age – many of which are still somewhat present. When we visited a museum in Hierapolis, we saw carvings of roman gods and coins in scripts representing many past cultures of Turkey. I was surprised that I recognized the design of a few of the coins, and realized that I had seen the Ottoman Turkish coinage before in my grandfather’s coin collection. I used to look over his coins 10 years ago, yet I never put the pieces together on what they were until now – halfway across the world in a small Turkish museum. There are so many markers of the past along the Aegean Coast. In a few weeks we hope to go to Ephesus, and see an even more extensive set of ruins. I have really valued these chances to see more of Turkey. Though Dalyan is a wonderful city, it is obvious that one can’t get a true understanding of Turkey’s rich past without a good amount of wandering.

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A carving from the Laodicean Church

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Statue from Hierapolis

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Tours at DEKAMER

It’s been amazing to get to spend time with and learn about loggerhead sea turtles. I know we’re living in a center that specializes in caring for these sea turtles and educating people about them, but I never imagined the range of activities we would get to participate in.

We give tours of our eight healthier loggerheads at the center two out of every three days. We mostly give tours to people from the UK, with the rare American visiting once or twice a week. The center also gets a lot of visitors from Germany, the Netherlands, and Turkey, but other volunteers give tours to these visitors because of the language barriers.

It’s really interesting to hear what questions people ask about the turtles. The kids often come in asking to see the “baby turtle,” wanting to know which ones are girls, or letting us know that they have a toy turtle named Mr. Swimmykins and he is exactly like the turtles we have here. I love having kids on the tours because, while it’s hard to forget how cool these turtles are, the kids always help to get me even more excited about the turtles.

While people have a wide range of reactions to the turtles, they are pretty consistently shocked to see how big they are. Our biggest turtle is Dogan, weighing in at 52 kilos. Everyone also tends to get excited when the turtles come up to breathe, making it seem like they’re saying hello.

Some people are happy just to hear what we have to say about the turtles, but others ask really in depth questions, such as “what is a loggerhead’s resting heart rate?” or “what is the maximum speed a loggerhead can swim?” These questions always catch me off-guard (they’re definitely beyond the scope of questions I would come up with on a family vacation here), but they’re also helpful in getting us to learn more about the turtles themselves. Because, somehow, these questions tend to get asked multiple times over the course of the week, so we look up the answers and are able to turn around and actually give answers to them the next time they are asked.

I expected to learn about the turtles mostly through our patrols and our time talking to the more permanent staff at the center or the PhD students who come to stay and work with us sporadically. But it’s cool that these tours have motivated us to learn facts about the turtles that we might not have encountered otherwise.

The main DEKAMER area where we keep our healing loggerhead turtles and give tours.

The main DEKAMER area where we keep our healing loggerhead turtles and give tours.

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Turkey Through the Lens of an Ancient City

On two out of every three days we are quite busy here at DEKAMER. Whether it be cooking, giving tours, or patrolling the beaches looking for turtles to tag or nests to protect, there is constantly a job to be done. However, on that third day after a full night of beach patrol, we are free to do anything we want and in a country so beautiful, yet so difficult to access from the United States, these days are to be valued greatly. On some of these days, I must admit that rather than immersing ourselves in the culture or going somewhere that we will remember for the rest of our lives, we go to the beach. That is not to undersell Iztuzu Beach on which the center is located. It is difficult to overstate how infinitely gorgeous that beach is. But thankfully, on many other such “third days” we realize our incredible circumstances and truly do look to use our free time in the most valuable possible way. One such example is our day trip to the ancient city of Caria, later called Kaunos. I realize that there has already been a blog about this trip, but I will focus less on the details of our time there and instead on cultural inferences that one might draw given the historical context of our trip.

A panorama of the beach, lake, and mountains at sunset

A panorama of the beach, lake, and mountains at sunset

Kaunos was originally a Carian city created in the tenth century BCE and occupied until only about five hundred years ago. As much as I love learning about its history, I will refrain from delving into too many facts to avoid stepping on Wikipedia’s toes, but there are two pieces of information that I will share. The first is included in the post solely because it is incredibly interesting to me. As one approaches the city by boat, there are massive tombs carved into the side of the cliff, likely created before the actual founding of the city.  In these tombs lie the bodies and what remains of the belongings after centuries of thievery of a particular Assyrian king. It is difficult to give an in-depth description of how magnificent and downright confusing these tombs are as they are about one hundred feet up a side of sheer rock face and are ornate as they are apparently hard to reach. Not much is known about the creation of these tombs and most of what is known was information garnered from Herodotus’s Histories, written predominantly as an accumulation of stories Herodotus heard in his many travels. However, according to this text and justified by my mind not being completely blown by the feat, centuries ago, these tombs were not hard to reach at all. In fact, the river on which we lazily floated, only three meters deep at its deepest point, once filled the entire valley taking these Assyrian builders and slaves right up to the point on the cliff where the tombs still stand. The second piece of information, an extremely brief timeline of the cities rulers, I include as it created, in me at least, a bit of understanding about Turkish culture that I would not have otherwise had.

(from left) Izzy, Alex, me, Erin, and Edeline on our way to Kaunos.

(from left) Izzy, Alex, me, Erin, and Edeline on our way to Kaunos

A view of the cliffside tombs from our river boat

A view of the cliffside tombs from our river boat

In the early days of Kaunos, or more accurately Caria, the city functioned as a port for the Carians (Herodotus coincidentally being the most memorable Carian from a modern prospective). The city was then taken by the Persians, but participated in the Ionian revolt to overthrow the Persian leader Xerxes I and later joined the Delian League of Greek states, formed to prevent another Persian invasion. The Delian League did not work out so well and the Persians again occupied Caria (it always amazes me how similar this story of successive Persian invasions interspersed by the formation of an ineffective “league” is to the story of WWI and WWII and the rather unfortunate League of Nations, but that discussion is for another time). This created a Persian character to the city which was then shifted more to the Greek end of the spectrum when the city was conquered by Alexander the Great. This is also around the time when the city was renamed Kaunos. After that, it was a part of the Roman empire leading to the creation of the notable Roman baths in the city, and finally Kaunos was taken by the Byzantines accounting for the large carvings of crosses in the originally very much non-Christian temple. All of this to say that the city of Kaunos has, over the course of history, been pulled in many different cultural directions.

A picture of a portion of the former city center of Kaunos with the ruins of the Roman baths in the foreground and the temple in the background.

A picture of a portion of the former city center of Kaunos with the ruins of the Roman baths in the foreground and the temple in the background

But today, all that is left of Kaunos is a slowly crumbling, though still quite impressive, pile of stones fiercely guarded by a barbed wire fence to keep out any visitors unwilling to pay the 10 lira entrance fee. So why did this story and seeing this city give me any amount of cultural insight? Ever since I arrived in Turkey I have been attempting to work out the identity of this country. It is physically in two different continents. It is often looked to by the West as a haven of Western culture in the nebulous collection of decidedly villainous countries that all seem to run together called the Middle East (in case this must be clarified this description is not actually even remotely accurate). Yet, despite being one of the strongest economies in the region, it still faces repeated denial from the EU. The food all seems similar to Greek until you pick up the döner kebabs or the köfte. There is even a part of Istanbul modeled after Manhattan called Maslak in a city known for its Ottaman influence. So what then? Am I to conclude that Turkey is a country torn between cultures with no true identity? At least from the perspective of an American who has been in one city of this massive country for only four weeks, that description is decidedly incorrect. Instead, I would identify the Turkish identity as… drumroll please… Turkish, with any other descriptor being a grossly inept oversimplification of its beautiful uniqueness.

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While we spend most of our time in here working at DEKAMER, during our spare time we sometimes go into Dalyan. Dalyan is a nearby town located about 25mins away from DEKAMER. To get to town, we hop onto the public bus that runs every hour from Iztuzu Beach to the town’s center.

As this area of Turkey is a popular holiday destination for both Turkish and Europeans alike, Dalyan, like many other nearby towns, has many aspects of a typical tourist town. For example, there are countless restaurants lining the river and multiple travel agents selling tours to nearby tourist attractions such as Kaunos, the nearby mud baths and Fetiye, just to name a few.

The town's maın mosque

The town’s maın mosque

However, there are also many distinctly Turkish aspects of the town, and I have to say the seamless integration between the tourist and Turkish aspects of the town is the reason why I enjoy my trips into Dalyan so much. For instance, the town’s main mosque is located right in the town center. Thus, it is common to be strolling through town or enjoying a meal at a restaurant and start hearing the sound of the Muslim call to prayer coming from the mosque.

The saturday market

The saturday market

Another good example is the weekly Saturday market, which I visited this Saturday. While one side of the market is catered towards tourists with stores selling everything from cheap leather belts to Turkish delights, the other side of the market is more aim towards the locals. It is here that the locals buy their weekly groceries with merchants selling an extremely wide variety of seasonal produce. It is also in this section of the market that I bought the sweetest box of strawberries for 5 lira from a cheerful fruit seller. The strawberries were so sweet that all six of us who went to the market that day each bought a box for ourselves.

An  array of spıces

An array of spıces

Buyıng strawberrıes

Buyıng strawberrıes

The same can also be said for my favorite restaurant in town, a sandwich shop located right next to a travel agency. The exterior of the store is quite plain and easy to miss. Yet, it is here that you can find the tastiest meat sandwiches in town. Furthermore, as the shop is attached to a butcher shop, the meat is always fresh. I have tried many of their sandwiches and I must say my expectations are always surpassed during every visit. Lastly, their prices are considerably lower than neighboring restaurants, with almost all sandwiches costing below 15 lira.

There are still many areas of Dalyan and its surroundings that I have yet to discover and I can’t wait to explore them in the next few weeks.

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