A PICTURE OF HAPPINESS: YALIKAVAK
Yalıkavak is the home of wild winds. It is as if it was painted with the purest of the blue. If you were to see through the soil, you would think that the sunlight, winds, iodine, history, culture, peace and love is about to gush out in streams. The climate, seasons, soil, beauty and its inhabitants make it the real Aegean land. It is a region encompassing all of the famous characteristics of the Aegean. One is sure to observe in this proud and attractive region of the peninsula that sponge diving, fishing and windmills are part of nature. Unless you have been to and understood Yalikavak, you cannot say that you have been in Bodrum. If I were to say seeing Yalıkavak is not the matter, but the privilege is to understand Yalıkavak, would I sound unfair to those who have not seen it?
I guess the best way to describe Yalıkavak would be to recite what the great poet Nazım Hikmet asked Dino “have you ever painted the picture of happiness Abidin?” I could definitely say that Yalıkavak is the picture of peace.
For many years, Yalıkavak has been one of the most important fishing and sponge diving centers and a safe harbor for fisherman and sponge divers along the Turkish shores of the Aegean. These fertile shores have been and are still generous to the inhabitants of the region: the sea is the bread and butter of the people. First came the sponge diving, followed by fishing, and now tourism. The sea has always been able to feed those who live on its shores.
Situated at the North-eastern side of the peninsula and only 18 kilometers away from Bodrum, a few dilapidated windmills and the grand silhouette of the area meets you as you enter Yalıkavak’s borders. Those who have been to the region for the first time without any knowledge may dream to sunbathe on the extraordinary beaches, swim in the deep blue seas and dine in the exquisite restaurants. However, those who are curious enough will immediately discover that the area has a magical beauty, which cannot be completely absorbed in just a three-month holiday season. Rock tombs, antique ruins, not-to-be-missed villages, tranquil and serene virgin lands are all in abundance in Yalıkavak. Having been the harbour side of the historical hilltop village Sandima, Yalıkavak has gained importance once again following the mass migration of the villagers closer to the shore. The settlement adopted the name ‘Yalıkavak’ in 1923 and was reclassified as a separate ‘municipality’ due to the increasing population. The 2000 census suggests that the population is close to 8,500 and this increases to well over 30,000 throughout the summer months.
Whenever I see the windmills, I remember the famous hero of my favorite book, Don Quixote of Cervantes. The scenery will inspire many scenarios but if you have seen the silent ruins of the abandoned windmills in Yalıkavak and the seashore after that, you could have only one mischievous scenario that the crazy and naive hero will not fight the windmills at all but sign a peace pact with the enemies and settle in one of the villages of the region he has fallen in love forever. Many of the people of this wonderful country do not know that the windmills are symbols of Bodrum as well. Even if it is rather difficult to find windmills in operation and millers to operate them, one cannot help but think it should in no way be difficult to open a few of them for tourism purposes. Yalıkavak municipality has done just that and they gave life to one of those destitute and dilapidated windmills. Truly, one feels the need to applaud the authorities after seeing it. I personally do whenever I see it.
Restoration of the windmill at Yalıkavak Wharf Square was completed in the summer of 2005. Yalıkavak Municipal Council initiated the restoration process and brought alive the 150-year-old technology. Now the windmill is operative once again. The windmill was built in 1859. The preparations for the restoration of the old mill took one year. A team from The University of Kocaeli, Architecture and Civil Engineering Faculty, Architecture Department, headed by Tevfik İlter MA, along with his assistants Bülent Ayberk and Özgür Alkan undertook the works. The sponsoring company Yintaş has had to meet approximately 100 thousand dollar costs and has undertaken to operate the windmill for a period of 10 years.
What about other dilapidated windmills in Turkey? Consider those ones in Gumbet and the ones in Yalıkavak hills? One feels like saying ‘let the wings of the windmills spin’.
When describing sponge diving ‘Money without sweat, death without breath’ some say and yet others say ‘Never mind doing the wrong thing with them, I won’t even drink the tea a sponge diver offers because of the way they cheat on life when earning their bread’. İbrahim Gökmen, a 54 year old ex-sponge diver I have spoken to says ‘May god help us to earn our bread and butter from somewhere else, because sponge diving is such a difficult work’. Gökmen adds, “80%of the population of Yalıkavak used to work in sponge diving. We used to dive as deep as 200 meters and earn such good money that young and old alike, we disregarded the dangers diving entailed. Each season, it was inevitable that somebody would die. Those we left behind when going diving would cry as we left but we had no other choice”. Ex-diver Gökmen also says that those who employed divers used to have the divers sign a paper releasing the employers from any responsibility that may arise out of death in the sea. He said, “I saw a dead body in Ekincik bay in 1981 and I was moved by the scene”. “Sponge diving finished in 1985 as a result of a phenomenal plague in the sea and everybody has turned to tourism,” he concluded. He now works as a yacht captain.
Yalikavak has the longest shoreline in the peninsula, 29 kilometers in total. The region is strewn with oak trees, not the poplar trees as one might think when considering the name, which means ‘the shore of poplar trees’. It is also the windiest place in the area.Tilkicik, Paşa, Ağaçbaşi, Bahçe, Dutlu and Alaca bays, Kudur bay with its wide beaches and trekking areas are some of the beauties nature has to offer in Yalıkavak. Erdemil and Giciman are most popular beaches of all. The abandoned Sandima village, only 2 kilometers from the Center, as well as Geriş village, known to some as the Tibet of Bodrum, along with Gökçebel and Dagbelen are preferred trekking areas for those who seek the adventure.
Let me tell you about another symbol of Yalıkavak, Monachus monachus, in other words, the Mediterranean Seal, another inhabitant of the region. The Mediterranean Seal, one of 12 endangered mammal species in the world, are thought to have a population of only 350 in the world and about 60 of them live along the shores of the Mediterranean. The seals obtain all the nutrients they need from the sea but need the land in order to procreate and raise their young as well as to rest. They live around the shores of Phocia, Bodrum (Yalıkavak) and Mersin. When young they are covered with 1.5/2.00 cm long black fur and are about 80-100 cm tall. They weigh about 20 kilograms. Adult seals are about 2-2.5 meters tall and weigh about 250 kilograms. It is not always possible to see the seals, which habituate Yalıkavak bays. I am one of those who has not had the chance to observe them no matter what I did: because it is not easy to walk through the terrain (well, at least for me anyway) to get to their habitat. However, I feel quiet happy to know that they have found our shores safe enough to make it a home.
It is very delightful to stroll around the town center and also the promenade . Beautiful restaurants and gift shops attract the eyes as well as the hearts of the visitors. Yalıkavak restaurants serve the freshest fish and gourmet starters one can find. In addition to that, one should not undermine the Ethnography Museum. You will admire the artisans and be amazed at their skills when you see the miniatures of the Anatolian village life.
Lots of fun and relaxation in summer time and various activities in wintertime are some of the attractions in Yalıkavak. The Municipal Council organizes various courses. Yalıkavak Port Marina, owned by Jeffi Kamhi, is another attraction known for the quality of service. The joy that the cinema as well as diving and sailing courses are some of the pursuits on offer here to visitors at the Port Marina. ‘Yalıkavak Belediyespor’ soccer matches draw the crowds to soccer fun in winter. The council team coached by Müjdat Ünal and Sabri Yıldıran raises famous soccer players. A greater majority of the players see Serkan Balcı, who was transferred to Fenerbahce Soccer Club following his amateur days in Yalıkavak, as their model.
Overall, what I mean is Yalıkavak is the place to be all year around. Moreover, may be, as the poet Constantine Kavafis says ‘’ you will not discover new lands, nor you will find new seas/ But this town will pursue you/ you will stroll around the same streets/ this is the town where you will end up. Do not long for anywhere else…’’
Do not go back without…
eating Fish and Lamb Rissoles,
Visiting the Thursday Bazaar,
Seeing the virgin bays,
Visiting Sandima and Geriş villages,
Saluting Küdür, the home of seals
In addition, do not forget to keep your mind diligent…
(Translation Published in Bmagazine)