Monday, July 30, 2007

marmara, the pit-island of near future

please forgive me. it is already the end of july and i am still supposed to write about marmara island. even hürriyet beat me to it.

i have a meager excuse. before/during/in the aftermath of the elections, i concentrated on my turkish blog. see today's other post in english, if you are interested in a precis of what i wrote.

in today’s hürriyet, the marmara island was represented as “oases of peace amidst olive orchards” (*). that is a fairly accurate description – “fairly” because, although the island is comely and relatively well covered with green, the western part is sliced off like a chunk from a block of white (feta, if you are more familiar with the greek version) cheese. “marmara” means “marble” and the stone from the island’s quarries has adorned architectural masterpieces the world around since time immemorable.

however, although marble was mined in marmara since time immemorable, the island was still whole (as i used to sail past) in the early 80s. nowadays, at least 10 percent of the mountainous bulk that juts out of the marmara sea is gone! shaved off!

either there have been built too many architectural masterpieces since turks have learned to trade, or we had too little of an island to start with. heavens willing, in 20 more years, we’ll have left none save a flat pit (**). so, go and visit while it is still there.

unless you want to acquaint yourself at first glance with the sorry sight of an amputated island, avoid the northern part, especially saraylı, which unfortunately, is one of the main ports of arrival and marble export. a ferry leaves from barbaros village near the town of tekirdağ and about two hours later, drops you amidst an armory of the kitsch-est sculptory you can ever find; or the worst way to exploit marble or an insult to even post-modernistic pretenses to art (i did not know before how an insult could be insulted!). maybe some 100 statues competing in absolute lack of taste and proportion, lining the town’s harbor and its welcome way, add insult to the injury of nature and urge you to flee. thank goodness, the ferry home does not leave immediately, and the urge pushes you toward other parts of the island instead.

on the way to the center situated on the south side, which is again called marmara, lie the nice little villages that give the island its true charm. in smaller villages like asmalı (vineyard-full), beautiful with what remains of its ottoman and greek architecture, or gündoğdu (sunrising), just 4-5 kliks east from marmara, there are too few accomodations, if any.

marmara itself is of indifferent beauty, not too inviting for some now that most of its historical stone and wood houses have been torn down to be replaced with uniformly ugly, precarious looking, bizarrely colored concrete slabs, 4-5 storeys high. however, it retains some appeal, with huge, historic maple trees that create a real thick canopy of shade, sea side cafés that are cool, offer hearty service and charge funny tabs, passable hotels and by local standards, good restaurants. but if you want to get out of even a small town as marmara, 15 minutes away northwest in çınarlı or manastır, the much, much nicer little cove near çınarlı, where the remains of a monastery can barely be discerned if you search hard, are one or two motels which cater to the day trade as well. we parked at the first one (***) in manastır, where, blissfully, for a change from the ubiqutious, inevitable, unbearable but unescapable moanings in turkish that pass for music (even worse than postmodernistic anything), and seem to be as obligatory in the public entertainment industry as military service, was playing a tolerable melange of light classics, pop jazz and bubble gum rock at a survivable volume.

don’t try to convince anyone in turkey, unless you look menacing enough or rich enough to bribe or tip over generously, that waves beating on sand or rock is an incomparably finer sound.

food-wise, do not expect anything great. seafood is quite ok, also fresh but summer is not the time big fishing boats are out there, so prices may be a bit stiff – better stick to “midye”, (mussels) fried or stuffed. they tend to fry midye with a bit too much flour, making it taste like börek but you can warn the cook. octopus, i did not come accross and calamari are imported - though one time we consumed locally caught stuff. greenery and herbs are fresh and tasty. i never eat meat or poultry so find that out for yourself. my impression is that, prices are pretty cheap, compared to istanbul and bodrum (big deal! turkey's most expensive villages!).

you can reach marmara island by ferry either from barbaros (to saraylı or çınarlı) or from erdek (to marmara), just 10 kliks from bandırma, where the fast ferry from yenikapı - istanbul drops you. ankara or izmir have to use erdek. a slow ferry (still, she does 14 knots and takes 6-8 hours to get there) also leaves from sarayburnu (down from the topkapı palace) on rather unreliable schedules but summer tariffs are more reasonable until september. another possibility is taking a ferry from silivri, an hour from istanbul, to terrible avşa and from there to marmara as a last resort. avşa is about a half hour by ferry from marmara, erdek another two hours or so.

otherwise, do not, repeat, don’t, repeat “again”, do not, no, no, no, do not go to avşa!..
it is bald, it is crowded, it is a monument to pedestrian poor taste and it is even noisier than noisiville, bodrum. the much flattered avşa wine, too, is usually mediocre and cheaper in big towns. however, as the man said in woodstock, “brown’s no good but it’s your own trip”...

although for decades i have ridden or driven ships around marmara island, i had never visited it. i found it go-able-again, except for saraylı. i had been to avşa and just one glance from the docked ferry reaffirmed my firm decision never to set foot there.

note for bikers:
if you are traveling on two wheels, the roads on the island are fairly paved but the physical road structure is uneven. you must not trust the right side of the road, which slants at 20 degrees or more toward the dubious berm. it looks like it may give way under your front. use the center of the way but keep in mind that the oncoming traffic, including trucks hauling slabs of marble, will be inclined to do the same. now, the other danger comes into play: ok, the surface paving is gravel-cemented-with-tar, tar melts under the sun and becomes a sticky, slippery blot on the road. in case of oncoming traffic, dropping right-ward 20 centimeters to another level of your part of the road, where more loose gravel also tends to collect, requires extra caution. do not ride fast if you do not want tar stains on your beloved beast, either.

i did not challenge the northt-to-east-to south coastal road from saraylı to topağaç while two-on because it was under repair and pure gravel. we made the trip in june. enduros or enduro tourers might just wish to do that.

by the way, riding, you come accross specimens of wild life ogling you like foxes or owls and very frequently, rabbits. then, some wild life creeps away or toward you, turtles, for instance, or snakes! they are the harmless variety, more afraid of you than you are of them. so do not risk kissing the slippery melted tar, trying to run over and kill them.

(*) afraid my translation sounds better and more romantic than the original headline, folks.
(**) ok, laugh at the idea of a “flat pit” and underestimate turkish ingeniuty. we dug 40-years’-worth of poor quality lignite from a 100-meter-deep-pit-few-square-kilometers-wide in yatagan, destroying most of 40-centuries-old stratonichae, which used to be, for the ancient world, about what chicago is to the modern one. we’ll dig the marmara island 100 – 200 meters deep below sea level, leaving just a rim around so it won’t flood. just give us 20-more-years’-stock-of- marble... i wager, the bottom of the pit will be flatter than the one in yatagan.
(***) actually, it was the end of the road and we did have to park there but you can walk to the competition next door through the first one. it is not considered tresspassing apparently.