No room at the inn, by Ge­orge


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - I AN ROBERT SMITH

THE man is bald and miss­ing one hand. His fe­male com­pan­ion, wear­ing a head­scarf and tinted spec­ta­cles, re­sem­bles a rene­gade Catholic nun. Both glare at me. All I’ve asked for is a room.

‘‘Full!’’ shouts the man, whom I as­sume to be Ge­orge, epony­mous owner of Far­alya’s Ge­orge House pen­sion.

Full? Far­alya is a sleepy farm­ing vil­lage on south­ern Turkey’s spec­tac­u­lar Turquoise Coast, a con­ge­nial overnight stop on the Ly­cian Way long-dis­tance walking trail but hardly a tourism hot spot. The man shouts again, this time for Eric, who ap­pears, look­ing like a char­ac­ter from a 19th-cen­tury Rus­sian novel, with as­cetic features and goa­tee, pressed trousers and white linen shirt.

Eric, I dis­cover, is not Rus­sian but Bel­gian. He’s also cluey, promptly es­tab­lish­ing me in a ‘‘tree house’’. It looks more like a few grey tim­ber boards cob­bled to­gether, with faded bed­sheets for cur­tains, half­way up a gi­ant oak. It’s not for sleep­walk­ers. ‘‘Mind the scor­pi­ons,’’ Eric warns. I take a dip in the pool and up­date my jour­nal, writ­ing on the vinecov­ered ter­race over a cup of Ge­orge’s com­pli­men­tary Nescafe.

I doc­u­ment my ar­rival at Far­alya — emerg­ing from a hot and air­less val­ley to see the vil­lage houses perched astride ver­dant ter­races, en­folded by moun­tains on the lip of a vast gorge.

Stark against the milky blue Mediter­ranean, in­tim­i­dat­ing grey and red-ochre cliffs plunge about 300m into the Kele­bek Va­disi, or But­ter­fly Val­ley, which ter­mi­nates at a re­mote beach.

A fel­low emerges from the canyon, glow­er­ing like a mod­ern-day Siegfried — he is pure Teu­tonic myth, lean, tanned, stripped to the waist, his hair and beard bleached by the sun. He is fol­lowed by a small, de­ter­mined-look­ing woman.

Help­ing him­self to cof­fee, ‘‘Siegfried’’ ex­plains how he and his wife caught the morn­ing boat from Olu­d­eniz to the beach be­low, then tack­led the as­cent. ‘‘It was dif­fi­cult,’’ he as­sures me, ‘‘but we live in the Alps. Moun­tains are noth­ing to us.’’

Mean­while, Ge­orge is hov­er­ing, unim­pressed, I sus­pect, that th­ese drop-ins are mak­ing free with his cof­fee. Ge­orge re­sem­bles a bel­liger­ent bull­dog. His eyes are small Pico Iyer’s lat­est book is The Man Within My Head: Gra­ham Greene, My Fa­ther and Me (Blooms­bury). and set close to­gether. The miss­ing claw doesn’t help. Later, walking among the ter­races, I’m as­ton­ished to en­counter an­other bald man who is miss­ing not only a hand but a size­able por­tion of the arm. Is it a con­gen­i­tal fam­ily de­fect, I won­der, or just poorly ex­e­cuted dy­na­mite fish­ing?

Back at the house, two trekking groups — one English, the other French — have re­turned from their re­spec­tive ex­pe­di­tions and are gath­ered in sep­a­rate camps be­neath the vines.

De­lec­ta­ble aro­mas waft from steam­ing dishes con­veyed by the nun and her helpers. Ge­orge stands nearby, an ex­pe­ri­enced field mar­shal over­see­ing pro­ceed­ings. To my sur­prise, he is al­most smil­ing.

‘‘Fol­low me up­stairs,’’ Eric sug­gests, and I take his ad­vice and sit on a mat with the English trekkers. The meal is sim­ple but de­li­cious, with honey-soaked cakes and yo­ghurt to fin­ish, washed down with carafes of chilled moun­tain water.

Eric ex­plains that Far­alya has long been a favourite bolt­hole of his, the place where he comes to do noth­ing. I ask him about Ge­orge. He doesn’t know how he lost his hand and is un­aware of the ex­is­tence of a dop­pel­ganger. ‘‘And,’’ he adds, ‘‘his name isn’t Ge­orge.’’

At the bot­tom of the stairs, Eric wishes me good­night. I walk down through the garden, past the log cab­ins where the French are wash­ing socks and com­par­ing blis­ters in cu­bi­cles of yel­low light, then into the dark­ness bor­der­ing the gorge where all is silent save for the chirrup­ing of crick­ets.

Far out over the black sea the lamps of fish­ing boats shine, while closer, vivid in the warm dark­ness, the cool green lights of fire­flies flicker. I sit on a bench and watch as bril­liant arabesques il­lus­trate the night.

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