Flight from Athens to Kos (Kalymnos) to Antalya.
Out of frame wave the crowns of ‘Old World sycamores’ that follow the rivers and waterfalls braiding over boulders and cobbles. Centuries-old Lebanon cedars stand tall and proud on inaccessible slopes. In the further distance pine forests lead to the ruined old city lain down scattered in the forest, while in the background the Sivri Dağ (pointed mountain) watches over us.
Flashback to the start...
The Antalya they told me about
The identity check spews me out in Antalya’s airport hall where I am exposed to the increasing sight of stray luggage. First I see an orderly graveyard of suitcases. Then they become more crisscross until the cases are so stacked on each other that they form a pile which escalates into the hall’s corner where a suitcase tower of Babel reaches for the roof as the pieces crush each other in a bid to stay stable.
Thus the baggage handling crisis of last summer shows. This crisis arose when Covid19-restrictions ended and people overwhelmed vacation infrastructures. Lately the usual volume of lost luggage has come to finish it off and fill in the most important passages. So I slalom between around a hundred recently lost luxury boxes in which probably still some people somewhere believe. A sign directs us, freshly-landed people, to the very unconvincing promise of the baggage pickup.
Three women speak half-Turkish, half-West-Flemish. One of them talks about the new round of plastic surgery she anticipates (of the kind imaged on the left), a popular reason to come to Antalya. The next woman carries a stressed-looking chihuahua dog which she calls Chanel. The trio’s loud repetitive conversation centers around calling local people "A**HOLES". I discern that during their last routine visit, they paid too much for something… didn’t ask the price… looked like tourists with too much money. "Oh god, the bags are there!" I see the Turkish man thinking. Now he can also stop listening to the conversation.
I got to move now so I stride past people in jogging pants and flipflops who remind me of the other popular reason to fly to Antalya: the five-star resorts that endlessly line up along the sand beaches, east of the city (Lara). There, often-not-so-five-star guests maintain a constant flow of food, drinks and smoke through their body. For this they reside in gold foiled prisons which are arranged in larger-than-life buildings. You don’t have to check Antalya’s statistics to quickly realize the tourist population comprises mostly of Russians and retired Germans, sporting the possibly dying aesthetic of babyboomers which is often called ‘kitsch’.
I’m told that an average day has 76.000 tourists hanging out in Antalya. And in a year there are 13 million tourists around the city, a scale Europe only knows from the Mallorca and Canary Islands business. Since 1985 the astronomic number makes Antalya one of those industrialized monster-destinations that – on the other side of the medal – have brought many small European tourist destinations into a state of lost glory and neglect, making them prey for ruthless logging, hunting and construction interests.
I hurry out of the building, into the night, under the eyes of big billboards that advertise beach vacations. There’s a beach, a man and a woman, both scantily dressed and looking athletic. The people around me look unlike the picture.
The Antalya I have to deal with
Tourists slowly but surely stampede to the east as if they're blown by the Zephyr. I look to the west. I take a good look at the mountains that rise straight from the sea. I'm coming. But standing inbetween us buzzes a brawling metropolis.
I blink left but no one seems to notice. On the right, two cars honk as if I don't see the invisible blinkers which legitimize their shooting onto the big street. But the flame is short and heat not even a breath.
Square, 20x20m, white, regularly spaced, balcony-rich towers pass by on the assembly line by my sides. What's the mean monthly rent here? €350 + €20 (utilities) for a 45m² single-person studio? How much does an average person in Turkey make per month? €378? No, that can't be?
The car next to me has a Russian plate. The driver seems an atlethic guy. Third time I've seen one here. I heard about Russian refugees looking to escape conscription to war in Ukraine. But also lots of people from the rural areas arrive here every day. It's been going on since the 1940's when the average life expectancy was half of what it is now: just 40 years. But soon Antalya's population number started doubling every 10 years, despite urban fertility getting pretty stable. Immigration and fertility elsewhere made sure that today the metropolis easily has 2.000.000 people living in it.
The whole of Turkey (86+ million inh.) features 25 million registered cars which take around 6.500 lives yearly. I don't know how the traffic numbers are for Antalya specifically, but probably hellish like the traffic that I am going through right now.
At least no one's screws are coming loose.. Not like at home when someone honks, there they mean it. But there sure is a screw in my tire. A wheel station fixes it and changes my tires. €5 lighter, I start to feel people around me drive less an less like it’s the last day of their statistically 80-year-long life. “No Google Maps, I can’t drive through like the big garbage trucks”. I drive around to make it over a river. I am really getting into the Konyaalti district, named after rocky sea cliffs, so I can put my car by the side of the road. When I go off again I'm €0.25 lighter, but a sweet kilogram of mandarins richer.
The Antalya they didn’t tell me about
The city keeps fading out as I take my wheels more into the mountains where I'll join the Austrians. The roads swing into the forests, ever closer to the ruins of Trabenna and the village of Geyikbayırı (= Turkish for ‘deer slopes’).
Everybody had been coughing on the plane, and I also start to feel something. By the time I arrive in the nighty mountains and meet the crew, I am sneezing and coughing. The new impressions, the culture, the far-off place – the furthest I have ever been.. Wow, are they solid for some intense fever dreams..