The flock flew south to Muğla (moo-lah) for Republic Day. If you compare Istanbul to the States' NYC, Muğla might resemble our Florida Keys (if you do me a favor and imagine they're not islands). The small province is a shimmering collection of beach towns where the locals have nothing to do but bask in their paradise and welcome their ephemeral tourist friends.
On our first morning, we took a water taxi to the town center where we were immediately stopped on the dock by a talkative Turk. After ten minutes, our new friend Yusuf invited us on his boat for a tour of the local coastline. When we asked how much, he said, "pay me if you like... if you don't, don't!". Yusuf was quick to show us how lucky we were; he grinned big while holding out his license as an official national tour guide. He sped around the islands and cliffs to a swimming destination with an arched rock formation protruding from the water. After jumping off the boat and taking a lap through the arch, we ate lunch on the boat and were given a short sailing lesson.
When Yusuf dropped us off near our cottage, we agreed to meet later at Fethiye's famous fish market. We met at the entrance and Yusuf escorted us past swaths of aggressive fish mongers to his friend who gave us a discount. We devoured calamari, shrimp, bass, seabream, and some unidentified small fried fish while discussing our day and plans for the next. Yusuf called another friend and arranged a deal for us to go paragliding in the morning.
Sure enough, a paragliding shuttle bus arrived on our street on Friday morning. We were driven to Ölüdeniz, a nearby town with a clear-blue lagoon and a two-thousand-meter-high mountain used primarily for paragliding. The scariest part of the entire experience was being driven up the mountain on spiraling roads with no guard rails. At the summit, we were assigned pilots and given instructions on how to take off: "hold this strap and run." With my pilot, Ibo, on my back, I took one step and one leap before being lifted into the sky. We flew two kilometers above the sea for about forty minutes, at which point he exclaimed, "time for action!" and spiraled down like a rollercoaster for a dizzy landing on the promenade.
Although the experience was more peaceful than exhilarating, it was certainly tiring. The rest of the day consisted of naps and an unambitious (but tasty) dinner in town.
Since the region was apparently a popular tourist spot for the English, it was easy to find a proper English breakfast. We quickly became regulars at a restaurant on our street, where we sat and talked to the chipper Turkish manager and his son over English breakfasts every day. On Saturday, breakfast was followed by another boat trip to one of the region's most popular destinations: Butterfly Valley. We were offered a daylong boat trip with a grilled, family style lunch included for fifty liras (about seventeen dollars) per person. We jumped on the deal and began our voyage.
About thirty minutes in, we stopped for a swim at Blue Cave, an alcove and cave with small rocky shores. We then continued to the destination. As we arrived, the captain grilled us fresh fish that he had caught on the very same boat and served buttery Turkish rice and a salad on the side. We were given about an hour to explore afterwards. In the summer, the steep valley is home to millions of butterflies. They weren't present at this time of year, but the picturesque beach and verdant hiking trail were well worth the trip. We trekked through a dense forest and picked fresh fruits we called "loranges" (they taste like lime-ish oranges). The midpoint of the hike was a rocky waterfall at the seam of the valley which we climbed before returning. A quiet boat ride back to town afforded me a moment to process the excitement of the past seventy-two hours.
We quickly changed clothes and then took a taxi into central Fethiye to find a sports bar. Gerard, the resident Australian, had to see the Rugby World Cup in which Australia was playing New Zealand. Unfortunately, the Aussies lost. Nonetheless, a lively night ensued that culminated in a show-stopping karaoke performance of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want it That Way".
We slept in on Sunday before our inevitable English breakfasts. When we finished eating, we only had enough time to say goodbye to our favorite island dog, Dost, and relax on the beach. We cleaned up and squeezed into our final shuttle to the airport at dusk. Before we boarded the plane, Yusuf called. I thought we had left something valuable with him. No - he had simply called to say, with unabashed Turkish sincerity, "I hope I have made your lives a little brighter".