A weekend in Akyaka

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Taking a break from Central America, and home, we headed off for a weekend in Akyaka.  It is a good place to go late April or early May, it is before it heats up, and before the throngs descend, well, unless you go May bank holiday weekend, in which case it is very busy.   Akyaka is an easy two and a half hours away along good highways so also serves as an excellent opportunity to blow the cobwebs off the bike and check that all is well post winter.

Akyaka-Nova-apptWe stayed in our usual apartment hotel, a simple and comfortable place with facilities to make a breakfast of eggs, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, honey and strawberries, along with copious quantities of tea.  It would have been possible to cook an evening meal, but why.  Part of the whole point of going to Akyaka is to partake in the local restaurants, many of which are a cut above those in other resorts.   We indulged, a seafood dinner of fried squid and prawns in garlic and tomatoes along with a huge salad and mezes.  Then there was slow kid, an utterly delightful kebab of aubergines and meatballs (not served in the usual way) which we went back for the following night, and slow roast lamb shank in onions and mint.  Then there was ice cream, hand made goat milk ice cream, Hilary discovered the one with roast almond and honey.  So yes, we ate very well. Akyaka-river-and-beer

Between indulging in food and the occasional beer by the river, we had a couple of days out, one walking in the nearby farmland and wetland.  We were hoping to see bee eaters but beyond a possible long distance sighting did not.  We did see a red backed shrike, egrets, storks and a glossy ibis.  The second day we went to Kaunos, it’s an easy day out from Akyaka, in part along a winding road with stunning views of lake Koycegiz, but with a poor surface so we did the return via the small ferry into Dalyan.

Kaunos is a great site, one we have been to a few times.  It is really well maintained and in a wonderful setting, so there is great wildlife in what feels like an archaeological park.  We saw the expected rock nuthatches around the theatre, but the best wildlife is around the old harbour.  Egrets, loads of tortoise, lizards – star agama mostly, and a snake, well we thought it was a snake but it turned out to be a glass snake which is actually a limbless lizard.

 

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Palenque

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The next morning one of the staff from the hotel escorted us to the bus stop to make certain we would get onto the bus.  We got to the bus stop about twenty minutes early and waited.  And waited.  Until it became obvious that no bus was going to come.  At which point someone was flagged down and gave us a lift to Escarcega.  He was dropping bundles of newspapers off at various stores along the way.  We got dropped off at the wrong bus garage (we didn’t know which one we needed) but soon made our way to the right (ADO) one.  We had time to grab a quick lunch before getting on the bus to Palenque.

This must have been a first class bus because it had movies.  Bad ones.  In Spanish.  However, as we went along the scenery changed as we drew closer and closer to the rainforest.

We’ve been to Palenque before.  Each time we have visited it has become more and more developed.  There is now a luxury hotel where we first stayed (along with iguanas and howler monkeys) and, though you can sometimes hear them, we didn’t see any howler monkeys in town.  We stayed at the same hotel we stayed at in 2003 and there was still noisy building work going on.  Some of the restaurants are very touristy in terms of price and menu but there is a good choice of places to eat, drink and sleep.

In the morning we took ourselves to the Maya site – it’s easy enough on the collectivo.  It remains one of the best presented of all the sites in Central America.  The monumental structures rise up out of the forest as they must always have done.  There are one or two big trees left in the plazas (which would not have been the case in Mayan times) and these house a large colony of very noisy parrots (of the small, green varieties).  These days there are a large number of stalls selling tourist tat (some of it quite nice, some of it those nasty noise makers).  There are also a large number of tourists and, as it was a Saturday, quite a few children.  It’s no longer possible to get away from the crowds in the main parts of Palenque though, if you walk through the forest towards the museum, it’s fairly quiet.

It’s a big site and we were quite tired by the time we got to the museum.  Which was, however, extremely worth the time and energy taken to visit.  They have reconstructed Pakal’s tomb extremely well and it is exhibited with plenty of explanatory text.  Sadly photos taken (without the forbidden flash) in the museum did not come out very well.

 

Xpujil, Becán and Chicanná

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The next day Diane from the lodge drove us into the little town of Xpujil.  There are ruins of some mostly domestic Maya buildings opposite the school and we started out there.  We then walked up to the main site at Xpujil which we had almost to ourselves.  We spent some time exploring the ruins and watching the wildlife.  The area is a bit low on wildlife as, however, we did see the very impressive bat falcon at the main site at Xpujil which was probably why the plaza was devoid of other birds, and we had frequent sightings of small green parrots flitting in and out of the bushes beside the road.

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We then walked back to the town and caught a taxi to Becan.  That saved us about 10 km walk.  Becan is a wonderful site with many structures and a moat.  It was certainly Hilary’s favourite site to date (and one of the best overall).  Again, we had it almost to ourselves – there were two other people there and they were not obtrusive.

We walked along to Chicanná which is on the way back to the lodge.  Another wonderful site including some monstrous doorways where you step into the maw of the house of the serpent mouth.  Regrettably we didn’t get a really good picture showing the teeth!

That was a very full day with lots of walking between and within the sites.  We got back to Rio Bec Dreams very ready for a shower, a sit by the bamboo to watch the jays and a few cold beers.

Next day we made our way to Palenque – a big favourite of ours…

On to Calakmul

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We spent the next day (we are now up to 17th January) traveling.  Early morning bus (we watched the sun come up through the bus window) to Chetumal.  Grabbed a quick lunch in Subway (which is a big thing in Mexico) at the ADO bus station then onto the second class bus headed for Escarcega.   This bus had no movies but it did have Village People.  Quite loudly.  All the way.  We asked to be dropped off at Rio Bec Dreams.  Apparently there is usually no problem with that but…  We got some very helpful passengers and a driver who dropped us off at Becan.  Which is about six km from Rio Bec Dreams.  We walked it.

Rio Bec Dreams is a jungle lodge just off the main road in the Calakmul bio reserve.  It’s run by a very knowledgeable and interesting couple – he’s from Canada, she’s originally from the UK but has lived all over the world.  It is a lovely place, a little spot of paradise with hummingbirds and more.  They have about five bungalows, a bar and a restaurant serving international cuisine.  At that point in our stay, I was not in the mood for international cuisine (with vegetables) because I was not yet sick of Central American food.  The goats cheese salad was, however, amazing.

The main point of our staying at the lodge (apart from enjoying the garden and the wonderful wildlife inhabiting the garden) was to visit Calakmul – a somewhat remote site which is supposed to be totally wonderful.  Calakmul is not the easiest site to access, we’d been led to believe that the owners of Rio Bec Dreams would be able to help us get there, even if only help with organising a taxi to get there are perhaps a guide.  It got better than expected, they helped us hire a car so we drove ourselves.

The drive was epic.  First an easy half hour down a modern highway.  Then you turn off to the left and drive about 60 Km.  The first bit is on an almost intact road.  Not a modern highway, but easily negotiable.  Then you drive 30 Km down a rough track full of very deep potholes.  We mostly managed to dodge them.  We hit one on the way in and one on the way out.  And the car was returned to the hire place undamaged so clearly it had withstood the trials of the road.

Calakmul itself is a very large site and, I thought, presented in a highly confusing manner.  First of all we saw a very large and easy to understand residential complex.  That was lovely though all the frescoes had been removed to somewhere we didn’t go.  There are some very high (for Mexico) temples and, of course, a lot of the visitors think that the whole point of the site is to get exercise by climbing them.  I found it a bit disappointing, to be honest.  I think I might have expected too much.  I’m not sure why but the lack of Stellae and relief work on the walls might be a partial explanation.  On reflection, even though the well thought out route and notes provided from Rio Bec Dreams helped , perhaps we should have taken a guide or visited later on our trip when our eyes were more in.  So, the ruins were somewhat disappointing but the wildlife was sensational.  We saw spider monkeys, ocellated turkeys (some of whom like to walk in front of your car for considerable distances), red throat ant tanager, black cowled orioles,  I’m pretty sure I saw a peccary and I definitely got my first sight of Montezoma’s oropendolas.  These birds were to feature frequently in our future.

Spring is for new beginnings

 

Ibis1-24March2017We have neglected this blog for a bit, we think this happened because after being here in Turkey for more than 5 years we ran out of new things to blog about.  This and we got lazy or busy or something – we never even blogged the trip to Athens and the museums there.  This is about to change and if truth be known there are always things to blog.

Ashley-buildingThis spring Ashley built a brick barbecue.  A new thing for Ashley, and a whole set of skills to learn.  It is done now, ready for summer and pretty soon we’ll be inviting friends around and making more use of it.  One of the great things about being retired is learning new skills, and doing new things.

We’ll be writing more on the Central America trip.  This got delayed because we never got it together to sort out the photos.  There is an absolute mass of photos, mostly from archaeological sites or of wildlife and nature.

On the subject of photos we bought a DSLR and a decent lens.  There will as a result be more bird photos.  We got lucky, on the first test run we happened to be wandering around Pamucak and found migrating glossy ibis.  No doubt in summer we’ll be off to Kerkini for some bird photography.

Another thing that will appear is material about a project we are planning.  We’ll be poking around a few places in Greece looking at property in need of a little restoration.  Before anyone asks we have no plans to move from Selçuk, this has very little to do with events here.  The new place will be a means of maintaining our European Citizenship, something which is very important to us, so this project has far more to do with events in the UK.

We seem to have acquired a cat.  This is fine, but we need to not make her dependent, we go awayduman-and-the-tiles too much for that to be fair on her.  Truth be told she adopted us.  When we got back from the 8 weeks away in Central America, she greeted us, and…..  It all went from there.  We took her to the vet, she was pregnant at the time, so she’ll need to go back after kittens.  She is no longer pregnant but she is keeping her kittens hidden.  Still turns up two or three times a day for food!

So there are going to be lots of things to blog about, learning new skills, life and living here in Selçuk, our travels and more.

 

Flying into Mexico

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I think it’s about time I began to write this as we have now been home well over a month….

On 12th January this year we flew from Izmir to Stansted.  There was snow on the ground on the way to Adnan Menderes.  Our flight was direct and trouble-free and we had booked our National Express bus from Stansted to Luton where we planned to stay with family.  We arrived in Luton in a blizzard that, although short-lived, coincided with our getting off the coach and into a taxi for the short ride to Ashley’s mother’s house.  Next day we went to London to spend time with my family and, Saturday 14th we flew from Gatwick to Cancun.

A ten hour flight is never the best way to spend a day but we had excellent service on our flight with Virgin Atlantic.  The flight was not full and we had a row of 4 seats to ourselves.  The seat back entertainment system was excellent and varied (we watched the first episode of Westworld, amongst other things), the food was fine, there was free alcohol in moderation and the staff were helpful and friendly.  We landed in Cancun and got through immigration feeling reasonably relaxed, then a taxi to our hotel near the bus station.

The hotel was OK and the staff were sweet.  We had a problem with the aircon which was fixed almost instantly.  It felt very late at night though, in Cancun, it was early, so we didn’t do a lot.  We took a stroll to the local square.  This was not the touristy part of Cancun, so it was full of locals enjoying Saturday night.  There were folk dancers and stalls selling street food, balloons and that kind of thing.  I particularly remember the bats.  There were lots of them, large ones (probably fruit bats of some sort) hanging from one of the trees in the zocolo like black handkerchiefs.

We had a few beers in the bar attached to the hotel.  I got bitten.  Lots.  One of the worst mosquito attacks I experienced in the whole 5 weeks we were in the tropics.

Valladolid1Next morning we wandered around, back to a square where we listened to birds and watched those brave enough to show themselves in a crowded area.  Basically we were waiting for a bus to take us to Valladolid.  An easy ride (first class bus, it had movies, including one about Turkey).

I really like Valladolid.  It’s not too touristy, though it does have some pleasant pensions and a couple of decent restaurants.  It has a cenote where we watched loud tourists and a family of black vultures.  It has a lovely, green square full of ground doves and… grackles.  I really do like grackles.  And, of course, it’s convenient for Cichen Itza.

There had been some debate around whether to go to Chichen Itza.  Ashley has been several times, I had only been once.  It was the first Mayan site I visited and I wanted to refresh my memory.  We went on a collective (the Mexican equivalent of a Dolumuş).  We saw a mot mot sitting on a wire on the way, though the vehicle was pretty full and it was hard to see much from the window.  The first thing we saw upon arrival was the queue.  Although we had arrived quite early, the crowds are such that there is a 20 minute queue just to pay to get into the site.

Sadly, from my point of view, they allow people to set up souvenier stalls inside the site itself.  I suppose that is better than having them wander around accosting tourists, but it does little for the atmosphere.  Also they sell these vile noisemakers which are supposed to imitate jaguars (I think they sound more like howler monkeys) and, unsurprisingly, these are very popular with children.

Nothing can really spoil Chichen Itza.  The site is large and most tourists go to a very limited part of it (I think that a lot of the tour buses don’t allow you time to get around the whole site, particularly not if you like to take your sites slowly).  There are two cenotes, both of them very beautiful (though I do have my favourite).  There are some wonderful reliefs.  And we spent quite a long time standing on one of the slightly out of the way paths watching a mot mot hunt butterflies.  Well, mostly it was sitting pretty still so Ashely got some good shots.

 

Back to Valladolid for dinner (yes we did get the cochinita pibil) and a bit of sleep before catching the 5 a.m. bus to Chetumal……

Berlin – October 2016

 

 

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I have wanted to go to Berlin for many years – the museums contain many things I  wanted to see (things that are not in the British Museum or Istanbul, or even the Louvre).  And, at the end of October I finally got to go there.

We both liked Berlin – it’s a pleasant enough city – and, whilst the weather was colder than it was here in Selçuk it was not too cold to wander around if adequately wrapped up in fleece, hat and jacket.  The metro system worked well once we discovered that you can’t feed the automatic machine notes larger that 10 Euro, and whilst we were staying some distance from the centre, it was easy enough to get around.  The first night we went to a microbrewery where we drank beer and ate sausages.  Then we had a full day of museums….

Berlin has a museum Island.  It has six museums on it and you can buy a ticket to cover all of them.  We managed four (with a brief break for currywurst).  We did (in order) the Altes museum, the Bergama museum, the Neues Museum and the Bode Museum.  At which point we were museumed out.  I was hugely determined to see the Bergama museum, even though parts of it are currently shut for renovation.  It contains many of the brick mosaics that led up to the Ishtar gate (other bits of which are in Istanbul and the BM).  I really wanted to see that.  The Assyrian items came as a very pleasant surprise.  And I had completely forgotten that the Miletus gate is also in Berlin.  You can see it at the top of the page.  Miletus is less than an hour’s ride from Selçuk so it was easy for us to visualise it in its original location.

I’m just going to leave a gallery here….  So much amazing stuff!  And some of the best red figure ware I’ve seen anywhere outside the British Museum – not even in Athens….