Guts, glory and Butterfly Valley

"Watch out! He’s going to land right on top of us.” My co-explorer and navigator’s warning came a tad too late. By the time I could register what was happening, forget about applying the brakes, the paraglider floated inches above our car and landed smoothly on the beach behind us. Obviously a regular occurrence, yet the shopkeepers couldn’t help but laugh at our startled expressions. Two upraised fingers in the shape of the universal symbol of peace and a cheeky grin helped us rein in our heartbeats. We waved back at the paraglider. When you are in a land abundant with good humour, you just can’t help but smile. Even when the joke is on you.

Welcome to Oludeniz or the Dead Sea, famous for its blue lagoon and paragliding enthusiasts who get their daily dose of laughter by attempting to scare people who use more conventional means of transport to experience the ruggedly beautiful coastline of Mediterranean Turkey. Looking up, we saw more than a dozen colourfully-attired paragliders peppering an impossibly blue sky. The 2000 m tall Baba Dag Mountain is the base from where these paragliders soak in the azure appeal of the Mediterranean.

A gentle breeze playfully tugged at the road map from my navigator's hands as we pored over it. We are half-way to Butterfly Valley, home to the unique Jersey Tiger butterfly and located on the ancient Lycian Way, one of the ten most beautiful long distance hikes in the world. The directions seemed simple enough. First we head to the bustling harbour town, Fethiye, and then to Oludeniz. Then we take the Baba Dag Mountain road to Faralya where Butterfly Valley is situated. Far away from packaged sun-worshippers.

We had left our base Gocek (Go-chek, pop: 4000), and headed up, and down the mountain road to Fethiye. Being day 6, we were getting more than a bit familiar with the roads and within no time crossed Fethiye and entered Oludeniz, where we had the up, close and personal encounter with the paraglider.

A few queries and a couple of u-turns later, we were driving up the Baba Dag Mountain road. More of a twisty narrow lane carved out of the mountainside, with a steep drop to the sea on one side and towering pine trees on the other, the road climbed higher and higher. The views were, to put it mildly, stupendous. The mountains jutting out proudly into the sea. And the sea humouring them.

But where’s the valley? As per the map, we were on the right track. But then common logic says we have to go down to the valley. And as far as we could see, the road was winding further up. We finally came to a turn and saw a car coming from the opposite side. Hailing them, we asked about Butterfly Valley.

“Oh, it’s right down. Head to George House (a very famous landmark) and then you can climb down to the valley.” – the lady driver answered. We stepped out of the car and walked to the edge of the road.

It was like a scene out of one of those epic films. A 70 mm spectacular aerial shot of a steep canyon leading to a lush valley with a secluded cove shimmering under the Mediterranean sun.

Then the penny dropped. And it was a rather long drop.

We were going to climb down the canyon... to the valley.

“Isn’t there any other way?” – I asked, not really confident of making that long descent.

“You can go back to Oludeniz and maybe catch a ferry to the valley.”

And that sounded a bit tame. That sounded like somebody who wears a suit to work would do. Safe and sensible. I looked at the navigator. She’s more than game. And I don’t wear a suit to work. The decision was taken.

We climbed further up and came to a little sign asking us to take a right for George House.

Parking the car on the side of the road, we packed some essentials in a bag and started walking towards the farm. Ripe pomegranates hung enticingly everywhere. The aroma of freshly baked gozlemes (Turkish pizza, to keep it simple) wafted across to us. A couple of roosters fixed their beady eyes on us. A donkey flicked its tail politely. A babble of accents greeted us as we entered George House. A little cafeteria, filled with young backpackers, seemed like the obvious place for our next question – do we get to Butterfly Valley?

A genial young man volunteered – “Just walk straight down to the edge and you will see red markings on stones...follow the markings and you should reach the bottom in about an gets a bit tricky at times...but the ropes will help you.”

Well, there it is. Doesn’t sound too easy. Doesn’t sound too tough either. The ropes are there, after all.

We walked past the farm exchanging friendly waves with other adventurous souls lucky to be camping in one of the most amazing locations that we’ve ever seen. The green valley cleaves the mountain in half and an aquamarine blue sea stretches far into the horizon.

The initial descent was easy. All that was required of us was to follow the markings, hold on to the rocks and be sure of where we step. Pretty wildflowers, the merry chirping of birds and a constant but muted roar of a waterfall kept us company. And then like a good James Hadley Chase novel, the plot thickened.

The climb became steeper. The footholds harder to find. Muscles and sinews started getting stretched to their limit. There came a point half-way (we assumed) where we actually thought about heading back. But it was a brief thought. We really didn’t fancy never looking into a mirror again. After checking our watches, we realised it was close to an hour and we are nowhere near the bottom.

Just when we thought the worst was over, the trail ended in a steep drop. No ungainly scrabbling down holding onto exposed roots of trees or rocks here. It was a so-you-think-you-are-adventurous-huh descen t. Thankfully, the ropes now came into our line of vision. The thought of a Turkish bandicoot merrily chewing at the rope as a midnight snack did come to mind. However, a few hefty pulls chased away the doubts.

And then we got into our zone. Or maybe the ropes helped. We made pretty good progress on the final stretch. Arms (and legs) were starting to ache alarmingly. But with each step we were getting close to our destination.

It took us the better part of two hours to reach the valley. A strange yet comforting silence enveloped us. And there was a certain inner glow. It was almost around 5. It had struck us before that the only way back is to climb up the whole stretch again. Or catch the last ferry to Oludeniz. We had considered this eventuality as we had followed the progress of a ferry while climbing down. Looking up at the towering rock face, we decided on the ferry. Discretion, valour, etc. etc. We decided to catch a Taksi back to George House and pick up the car.

There’s a small community of organic farmers in the valley - mainly backpackers who pitch their tents for weeks on end. They help out with the farming during the day and strum a chord or two at night. It wasn’t really difficult to envy a lifestyle far away from the world of deadlines, corner offices and executive washrooms. And yes, fighting for parking spaces.

A well-trodden path took us to the beach we first glimpsed from the top of the mountain.
A bit pebbly, a bit sandy, but with enough character to hold its own among the best. A beach that can absorb all your worries and maybe, just maybe, turn them into shiny pebbles, forever condemned to be tossed around playfully by the waves.

It looked like we had timed it to perfection. The tall, bearded captain of the Kelebek Vadisi (Butterfly Valley) told us that he’s hauling anchor in five minutes. His dreadlocked second-in-command sounded the foghorn a couple of times for good measure. A motley bunch of free spirits clambered up the boat amidst a lot of good-natured ribbing.

As the ferry drifted away from the shore, farewells were shouted and promises to meet up for lunch in Barcelona, dinner in Goa and breakfast in Ko Phi Phi were exchanged.

We craned our necks for a last lingering look at Butterfly Valley. A man sitting on a makeshift bench of life-jackets said “Don’t worry, you’ll be back”.

We nodded knowingly.

Next time we will just paraglide straight into the valley.