modern musings and ancient wanderings - Selcuk and Ephesus, Turkey - 16-17 July 2012
In the middle of summer in Turkey, with beautiful hot weather, one would anticipate a plethora of tourists soaking up the sun, food and culture.
Without a doubt the hoards of tourists are here. It only takes a few hours at the old Greco-Roman city of Ephesus to rub shoulder to shoulder with 50 different nationalities and languages. And by rub, I mean literally share sweat. It is no surprise that Ephesus is such a big drawcard. It is, arguably, the best site for Greco-Roman ruins outside of Greece itself. The library is especially stunning, as are the remnants of the city centre itself - it allows the visitor to easily imagine the layout, structure and life of this great city of the past.
Ephesus is great and, intelligently, we made sure we visited late in the afternoon to beat the tour crowds and the beat of the sun. Result - less sweat shared.
Our experience in the neighbouring town of Selcuk, primarily geared for independent tourists visiting Ephesus only 3km down the road, was perhaps more culturally interesting.
Arriving off a hot, crowded bus from Pamukkale - on which the bus attendant (i.e. a person, but not the driver, paid to sit on the bus to make sure everything is ok - #cheapwagesftw) reminded R (Australia) and I of those obnoxious Lebanese-Australian homeboys in Sydney with his attitude - we arrived into this small touristic town surprised at its emptiness.
As we found a local pension to stay in - private room for only 60 TL (30 AUD) for the both of us - we took the time to chat to the owner: a Turk with an Australian accent picked up from the hoards of Australians who have visited the town over the past two decades. Why was the place so quiet?
I had earlier posited one reason for the place’s quietness (and the relative decrease in tourists in Europe/Turkey) - the economic crisis in Europe. This has resulted in disproportionately large numbers of Australians, Canadians and Americans compared to the local Europeans. A disproportion appearing epic given the already endemic trend of seeing more Australians and Canadians than any other nationality anywhere you go because of the penchant of these nationalities to travel more.
But the pension owner suggested another reason; the relative decrease in package tour prices. Package tours are organised/booked in advance by tour companies - often a long way in advance to get cheap prices. When the economy is booming these package holidays can be sold quickly and at a premium, but since the dip they’ve become cheaper and cheaper. Real budget travellers can still beat the package holiday price - but with rising airfares and cheap (all inclusive) packages on offer, many Europeans are puckering up for a 10 day Turkey trip or cruise around the Aegean as opposed to going it independently.
The result: small tourist towns like Selcuk which cater for the independent traveller suddenly see a drop in numbers. Ephesus, located 3km down the road doesn’t. The big tour companies still stop there - either using day trips from the cruise ship port at Kusadasi, or as a stop over on the way to Pamukkale or Fetiya or somewhere else. The family run restaurants and small five or six room pensions in Selcuk can’t, or aren’t given the chance to, accommodate or feed these tour travellers. Big companies opting for the larger restaurants designed specifically for busses, that sit conveniently next to large tourist-aimed emporiums selling rugs, jewellery and Turkish artefacts at ridiculous mark ups.
Nevertheless, we met a lot of the local business owners in Selcuk - and they exemplified my earlier observation that Turkey is probably the friendliest country I have visited. We talked for ages with a Kurdish rug merchant who, after we admitted we’d never buy a rug from him because we have no house to put it in, invited us for tea and taught us much about the struggles of Kurdish minorities in eastern Turkey.
It happened that the conversation turned to social media and its impact on political activism and, as the Australian Democrats used to say, in ‘Keeping the Bastards Honest’. He told of oppression from Turkish authorities and the suppression of freedom of expression in the years leading up to the internet, and more specifically, ‘youtube’. “They can’t do it to us anymore,’ he said. ‘It?’ I asked. ‘They can’t tell the world media, what you read and see in Australia, lies about us - we have you tube.’ Life for this middle aged Kurdish man was revolutionised by the internet.
If you ever head to Turkey, be sure to check out Selcuk when you are heading to Ephesus. The locals are very friendly and the food topped the Turkish charts for us. Also, feel free to visit our Kurdish social commentator - ‘NomadicArtGallerySelcuk’ - on Facebook.
The chat came at a great time. I’m currently writing a paper on Social Media and International Youth Cooperation for the 23rd International Korean Youth Forum which I am heading to in Seoul, South Korea, in mid-August. After the arab spring, one reads many things about the impact of the internet on freedom and liberty. It is an entirely different experience to hear first hand accounts.
On the bus to Canukkale - for Gallipoli and Troy.