The Balkans – Part Three

Croatia & Bosnia/Herzegovina

Dubrovnik was expensive. Beautiful but expensive. As the old town emerged from behind a cliff as we were driving along the coast from Montenegro, it was easy to see why it is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The crystal clear ocean contrasting with the uniform terracotta coloured roofs and old stone walls were pretty spectacular.

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We opted not to stay in the centre of the old town. You know a place is expensive when dorm beds start at $46AU! What most people do is rent an apartment or room from one of the locals just outside the city. We did this (still quite pricey for our budget) and although it was a 15 minute walk to the centre it was just what we needed.

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One of the best things we did in Dubrovnik was to listen to other travellers’ advice about doing the city wall walk. They told us to get there as soon as the gates opened (at 8:00AM) to beat the cruise ship crowds that invade the city in their thousands. We did just this and had the wall almost to ourselves for the hour and a half it took to walk around them – stopping for numerous photos of course. We were so happy we did it. At $20AU each just to walk the walls we were a little worried about whether it would be worth it or not, but the views were fantastic.

The next day we walked around the whole coastline of the city. I estimated it to be about 20km or so. It was stunning and the weather was perfect. We stopped to sunbake or to have a beer in the little bays as we made our way around the peninsula.

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On our way through to the other side of Croatia we stopped into Mostar in Bosnia for two nights. We had been told that a visit to this town is ‘a must’ when you are in the Balkans and as soon as we arrived we could see what people were talking about.

Mostar was affected terribly during the war. There are still whole apartment blocks covered in pock-mark like bullet holes. Reminders of the war were everywhere you looked.

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We did the war tour with the brother of the guy who owned our hostel. It was sobering listening to the stories of his childhood, how his family and friends were affected and how the people still feel today. It is amazing to think that something so terrible happened so recently and how hard these people have worked to keep the peace, reeducate and rebuild their city.

The bridge and old town of Mostar was positively picturesque. We spent hours exploring the Turkish style markets, little shops and cafes. Sadly we didn’t see anyone jump off the famous bridge, but we saw the daily show the dive shop guys put on, taunting the tourists by pretending they are going to jump only to climb back over the rails shrugging.

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I didn’t realise how high the bridge was until I was actually standing on it and looking down to the racing clear water below. I can see why the ‘boys’ who jump have passed the town’s test in becoming a man.

Next we moved onto Split in Croatia. We had our hearts set on getting to the Island just off the coast for some relaxing days of sunshine so we only stayed one night. Turns out there was an arts festival going on with public performances all over the town. We had a lovely day watching street dancers on the esplanade, opera singers in an old ruin and other cool acts around the old town.

The next day we were on a boat to the Island of Hvar for a few days. As soon as we arrived we couldn’t wait to get down to the beaches. And we were not disappointed. The water was as clear as could be and the weather was hot. Two days soaking up the sun and wandering around the little beaches was exactly what the doctor ordered. The hostel we stayed in was lively and they put on a BBQ & Cocktails night the second day we were there which was so much fun.

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We made a decision whilst we were in Hvar to finish up our tour of the Balkans early and head straight to Venice in Italy. So we booked an overnight bus and spent up all of our Croatian Kunas ready to get back to the Euro in the land of pizza and pasta.

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The Balkans – Part Two

Montenegro

Sick of moving so quickly all of the time, Adam and I made the decision to hire a car and travel around Montenegro for a whole week. This meant that we had the freedom to go wherever we wanted and much needed independence from public transport.

We picked the car up at Podgorica airport and drove straight down to Lake Skadar. What an impressive drive!

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We ended up on a little-known mountain road recommended to us by a local and found ourselves at a beautiful bridge high in the mountains. Stunning.

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That night we stayed at a little campsite on the south coast of the country near Ulcinj.

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It was wonderfully relaxing and despite the fact that it stormed all through the night, we woke up to nice weather and slowly drove up the coast to Kotor.

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Kotor was gorgeous! People describe it as being a small and less touristy Dubrovnik. We stayed in a cheap hostel right in the middle of the old town for two nights and spent the first day walking up to the fortress above the town to admire the view.

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The next day we got in the car and explored the rest of the bay of Kotor. It took us two hours as we stopped in gorgeous little towns along the road, drinking macchiatos or buying our sandwich ingredients to eat in a park.

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We finished the day in the old town drinking glorious Montenegrin red wine and admiring the sun set over the old cobblestone city.

Our next stop was the small town of Zabljak in the Northern part of the country. It sits on the outskirts of one of Montenegro’s most famous national parks, Durmitor National Park, home to Tara Canyon.

We watched the temperature gauge in the car drop as we climbed further and further North. As we rounded the bend, about to arrive in Zabljak, it began to snow.

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We couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t booked any accommodation in the town and were planning on camping – not anymore.

It didn’t take us long to find accommodation in the little town and we ended up in a quaint ski-lodge looking hostel run by a Montenegrin man and his Australian girlfriend. They were brilliant and helped us sort out our itinerary (taking the unprecedented snow into account) for the three days we planned on spending there.

It snowed, sleeted and rained on and off the whole time we were there but we had an amazing time exploring the national parks during the day. I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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Tara Canyon

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Durmitor National Park

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Biogradska National Park

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During the nights we would sit and talk with the other backpackers and the owners about Australian and Montenegrin politics (actually quite fascinating) and drinking fantastic Montenegrin wine and rakije (the local spirit). Three Aussie girls arrived in time for Adam’s birthday and the lovely owners of the hostel bought him a cake.

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Our last day in the country was a special one. We met one of Adam’s judo friend’s relatives in the capital, Podgorica. He showed us the sights of the city and we ended up going to his nephew’s birthday party with the whole family.

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The food was to die for and their hospitality was overwhelming. Montenegro was such an amazing country and we left feeling like our experiences there would be very hard to beat.

The Balkans – Part One

Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo

Adam and I knew very little about the Balkans before we started travelling through them. We had been told by numerous travellers that they were interesting, inexpensive and less touristy than the rest of Europe which made them quite appealing to us. We worked out that we had roughly 26 days before we were allowed back into the Schengen areas of Europe so we decided to squeeze in as much of the Balkans as we could before we made it up to Italy for the start of June.

As we left Istanbul we began to feel nervously excited about exploring new places and travelling more quickly than we were used to.

First up was Bulgaria. This was a great introduction to the Balkans. The capital city of Sofia had an excellent hostel and we fell in love with the city and its people straight away. We also weren’t complaining about the dramatic drop in prices.

We spent our first day enjoying Sofia, seeing the famous cathedral and hanging out with the locals in little cafes we stumbled across. The atmosphere in the city was relaxed and jovial. There seemed to be a lot of young people out and about, students and workers alike. We later found out that it was a long weekend and most people were on vacation.

The Rila Mountains were high on our list to do in Bulgaria and we were not disappointed. The forest and mountains were beautiful if not freezing. We hiked to a little church that used to be an old hermits house. There was a cave there which supposedly cleansed people of their sins if they squeezed through the narrow opening out to the other side. Naturally we had to give it a go.

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The Monastery up there was a highlight. Amazing to think that monks were practising out there in such a remote place for hundreds of years. It was a little more touristy than we would have liked but it was completely worth the trip.

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After only three nights in Bulgaria, we moved onto Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje.

Skopje is obsessed with statues. There are hundreds and hundreds in the main square and surrounding area. Apparently it is a sore point for locals as they constantly battle the government over desperately needed funds spent on beautifying the city instead of other projects. But it was pretty impressive. I stopped count at 30.

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Again, Adam and I were surprised by the young and social locals. Everyone seemed to be eating out or drinking, catching up with friends and strutting the latest fashion in the main square.

I had the most amazing gnocchi I have ever eaten in Skopje of all places after the waiter assured me it was made that afternoon, turns out Macedonian wine isn’t half bad either!

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Lake Ohrid was where we spent the rest of our time in Macedonia. We stayed in a quiet and inexpensive little apartment on the hill overlooking the old town.

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The place was beautiful. There were numerous restaurants and cafes lining the massive lake and cruise boats that would take you out to the Sav Naum monastery that sat on the border of Albania on the other side of the lake. We had to do it and had a ball exploring the monastery and surroundings.

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The lake well and truly lived up to the hype and we even managed to get sunburnt despite the chilly temperatures.

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We weren’t originally planning to visit Kosovo but decided to do a night in the capital, Pristina, on our way to Montenegro. This ended up being a great decision. There wasn’t much to do in the town sightseeing-wise but the cafe scene was awesome – Adam will tell you he got the best coffee he’s ever had in Pristina, Kosovo.

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The hostel we stayed in was having its 1st anniversary since opening party and we had an amazing/drunken/late night talking to locals, expats and other travellers. We felt sorry that we hadn’t allowed more time to explore Kosovo or the rest of the Balkans for that matter but we were having a fantastic time in the places we managed to get to.

Our next stop: Montenegro!

The Lycian Way – Part Three

Whilst we were walking the Lycian Way we couldn’t help but compare it to our experience on the Camino de Santiago. The two walks couldn’t be more different despite the fact that they are both cross country expeditions through small (and larger) towns.

The Lycian way seemed to be easier on your feet because the terrain is much more varied, with lots of walking done on softer ground than the Camino. However our joints seemed to be suffering more under the weight of our packs and ibuprofen has been vital for reducing my ever-swelling knees and ankles.

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Also, the distances covered aren’t really something that anyone takes any notice of. On the Camino it was all about how many kilometres you would walk in a day. On this walk it seems to be in hours and minutes. Sometimes the smallest distance can take you the longest because of the terrain you are walking on.

Then there is the accommodation. Whilst you can camp on the Camino, not many people do as the albergue accommodation is so well set-up for the walk. On the Lycian Way, we have been camping the majority of the time so we don’t have to worry about making it to the next town. In fact, the better campsites are usually 1 or 2 kms outside of the town.

Day 5

Xanthos to Delikkemer

We woke up feeling rejuvenated and ready to begin hiking again. We planned to camp just outside of the town Akbel so we needed an early start. We left by 8:15AM and made good pace in the morning. This stretch of the walk was particularly interesting as we spent most of it following the aqueduct that used to supply the Lycian civilisation with water. Amazing to think that we were walking along a structure that is almost 2000 years old.

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We arrived at a place called Impinar spring where part of the aqueduct is still in use. It was there that we met a new friend, Jegor from Estonia, and it was also there that we lost the way markers.

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The three of us wandered around a bit lost for a while until we finally found the white and red stripes that show us the way forward.

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We walked almost 10 hours again that day but it didn’t feel as long with Jegor there to chat with. We made it to the Delikkemer aqueduct ruins at 7PM and made camp.

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Adam and I were impressed with Jegor’s one-man set up and the boys discussed cooking equipment while I made the fire. It was so good to have found another amazing campsite with a beautiful view of the green rocky hills that lead down to the Mediterranean Sea.

Day 6

Delikkemer to Patara and a taxi to Kalkan

Adam and I spent four hours the next morning walking with Jegor to Patara ruins and beach.

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The ruins were impressive and a nice place to rest after our brisk morning hike.

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After we’d finished exploring the 2000 year old Lycian capital city and beach, we parted ways with Jegor and caught a taxi up to to the small coastal town of Kalkan, where we were planning to start the next leg of our walk.

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Kalkan was a great stop. The pension was a welcomed change from the tent and the breakfast and views from the terrace were amazing.

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We washed our clothes finally and bought supplies for two more solid days of hiking.

Day 7

Kalkan to (2km before) Gokceoren

This was a long, tough day. We walked another 9 hours and most of it was mountainous.

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We knew we wanted to make it to Kas the next day so it was imperative that we make it as far as we could. The walk was beautiful but isolated.

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We thought we would be able to buy food for the next day on the way but we passed through two towns that seemed to be empty with no shops.

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We walked until we couldn’t walk any further and made camp next to an old ruined farm house.

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The place was beautiful and there was a lot of old dry wood for a fire.

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At first we had found it a little bit daunting camping in the wild, on someone’s property for all we knew but it was beginning to feel more comfortable. The noises we would hear in the dark didn’t bother us as much and we began to appreciate the ‘silence’ of nature.

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Day 8

(2km before) Gokceoren to Kas

Our 8th day broke me, I am sorry to say. It was another crazy-long walk with relentlessly steep climbs up slippery mountains and a hot sun bearing down upon us.

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It had rained on us during the night, but miraculously we both slept well regardless and the tent didn’t fail us. We broke camp very early and realised that we didn’t have anything substantial for breakfast. We hadn’t been able to buy bread the day before – a major issue if we were to last the 9 hours it would take us to walk to Kas. Luckily we had some dried cranberries and hazelnuts to snack on but our stomachs were growling after 20mins of walking.

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When we reached the small town of Gokceoren our relief was massive when a little old Turkish lady ran out of her house and offered us breakfast (for a price, of course). We gratefully accepted and sat down to the most amazing feast of omelet, bread, homemade cheese & strawberry jam, tomatoes, cucumber, olives and honey from the family beehives.

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We ate as much as we could, filled up our water bottles and began our long walk to Kas.

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A highlight of the day was the unexpected ruins of Phellos that sits perched up on a high mountain ridge above the small town of Cukurbag.

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We couldn’t believe that an ancient city once sat on this long forgotten mountain.

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We took a much needed break there and worked ourselves up to begin the last three hours of our journey for the day.

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The last three hours to Kas were hard but the views over the small seaside town were incredible.

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Getting down to Kas involved slowly descending a very steep cliff along narrow hairpins. Rocks covered the precarious path and Adam and I slipped over a couple of times each. My right ankle wasn’t dealing with the jolts and slides well and I was in tears by the time we reached the bottom.

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We decided to stay in Kas for a couple of days to rest my ankle (which seemed to be swelling a lot) and do a bit of touristy sightseeing before we began the next stage of the hike.

We found a gorgeous campground about ten mins outside of town where we pitched our tent and enjoyed the sun and the clear blue sea every day.

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But unfortunately my ankle continued to swell and was quite painful to walk on despite four days of rest.

After much debate, we made the decision finally to leave the next section of the walk for another time in the future.

On the bright side, we got to spend eight days on this amazing hike and we would absolutely recommend hiking the Lycian Way. It was a fantastic way to get to know Turkey and its wonderful people.

The Lycian Way – Part Two

Day 3

Gey to (2km before) Letoon

Our third day on the Lycian way was our most challenging so far. We didn’t make ourselves a coffee due to the fact that we only had one litre of water left between us and we weren’t sure if the spring marked on the map would be full or even exist. We also knew that it was going to be a difficult day of walking so we would need to stay as hydrated as we could.

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We couldn’t help taking a few last snaps of the view from our amazing campsite before heading down the trail.

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The beginning of our walk was actually quite scary. From our campsite we had to make our way across a valley pass along a very narrow goat track on the face of a large and sheer cliff. My heart was racing quite a few times as the rocks under my feet slid down the cliff towards the sea. It wouldn’t have been quite as difficult if we didn’t have our large, heavy packs on but after a long hour and a distance of only 1km, we made it onto a more solid and wider path.

Right on cue, a spring popped up, exactly where it was marked on the map. It was a full well and we were excited to sit down and make a coffee and brush our teeth with the precious water.

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Some of the springs on the walk are flowing and it’s easy to fill up. Others you need a contraption to get the water out. Adam has a lot of fun doing this.

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We walked almost 10 hours again that day, the terrain was varied and we passed a couple of small towns and greenhouses full of ripening tomatoes.

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The weather was hot and humid and we tried to rest in shade when we could.

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We were absolutely exhausted when we decided to set up camp a kilometre or two away from the small town of Letoon. We had just passed through kilometres of swampland that was obviously used to dump rubbish and hunt pigs. Adam saw loads of shotgun shells on the ground and there were four-wheel drive tracks everywhere. We had read blogs that described the wild pigs that come sniffing around campsites late at night so we pushed on even though the sun was setting fast.

Eventually we came to a sheltered area with clay ground that had a bit of grass on it to put the tent and only a few sheep chewing noisily on the surrounding bushes. We quickly set up our camp before the darkness set in. I slept horribly that night. I kept waking up to the sound of barking dogs and loud engines in the distance. Adam assured me that we were safe but at about 4AM it started to rain and then storm. As this was only our 3rd night ever in the tent we became slightly concerned about how it would hold up and whether the clay ground we were sleeping on was actually part of the wetlands. We brought our bags into the tent which made the already small area to lie in even smaller. Needless to say, neither of us slept much at all that night.

Day 4

(2km before) Letoon to Xanthos

We packed up everything into our bags whilst we were inside our tent quite efficiently and braved the downpour as we pulled down our tent. We packed it into its sack and carried it between us. We made it to Letoon an hour later and stopped for shelter at a little shop selling bread and other necessities.

We must have looked pretty sore and sorry for ourselves as we walked through on the road between Letoon and Kumluova and finally Xanthos (Kinik). The rain had stopped by this stage and we had made the decision to find a room to stay in Xanthos even though we had only walked 7/8km that morning.

Luckily for us there was lots to do in the small town, other than catch up on sleep. The weekly markets were on in the Main Street. There were stalls selling everything you could want and everyone was so friendly, saying hello and welcome as we passed. We sampled some prunes and apricots but ended up buying a huge bag of dried cranberries to carry on our walk and indulged in a cinnamon flavoured slushy – this was amazing!

In a few hours, the weather had cleared. We took out tent out to the famous Xanthos ruins and set it up to dry while we explored what was left of the 2000 year old city. Amazing that Turkey has some pretty impressive Roman ruins.

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That night we ate a mountain of delicious Turkish food and slept like the dead. The next day was going to be another long one.

The Lycian Way – Part One

Day 1

Ovacik to (2km past) Faralya

After a good night sleep, we got up, ate a big hearty breakfast and prepared to leave for the start of the walk. This was when Adam’s bag broke…

Not to worry, we had a sewing kit handy and he stitched the tear in a matter of minutes. It was a bit worrying though, considering we were about to begin a long hike but we were minutes away from starting so we decided to ignore it.

From Fethiye to the beginning of the walk, we caught a minibus that took about 30 mins. It was reassuring to see that there were other hikers on the bus ready to begin their journey as well.

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The walk was both harder and easier than we expected. Physically we aren’t as fit as we were going into the Camino so we really felt the steep inclines and declines and the loose rocks made us very wary of where we were putting our feet. The Lycian way is a mountainous goat track that follows the coastline of Turkey from Fethiye to Antalya.

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The views were spectacular and certainly brought the crowds. There were quite a few serious hikers that we passed and who passed us but there were also a lot of hikers who only had day packs on and were either on a day hike or had sent their packs ahead with a tour company to the accommodation they would be staying in.

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We estimated our packs to be about 10-12kg each. This is quite heavy and we started rethinking the amount of water we needed to have on us as we hiked. Fresh water springs were marked on our map but some of them were dry and we didn’t want to get caught out so we decided to push through the pain, knowing that it would get better after a couple of days.

After walking five strenuous hours, we found the campsite that the couple who wrote the blog had marked on the GPS. It was perfect with a fire pit and nice flat cleared area to put our tent. We set up, boiled some tea and had a piece of cake whilst taking in the scenery. Quite a few hikers passed us on their way to the next town, Kabak but we were happy sitting and stoking our fire.

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After successfully cooking our tuna and noodles we were very early to bed, absolutely exhausted but content.

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Day 2

Faralya to (2km past) Gey

More beautiful than the day before, day two was long but rewarding. We walked through so many different terrains, dealt with some nasty looking dogs and had some spectacular views.

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The walk started with a steep and rocky decent to Kabak beach which was a gorgeous place for a short rest. The water was as clear as it appeared from above but a little too cold to swim in.

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Once we had rested our aching muscles and fed our growling bellies we set off up the mountain. It was a tough climb but the views were absolutely worth it.

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The views over the mediterranean were out of this world. We found it hard to determine where the sea ended and the sky began.

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We walked for hours and hours passing through a few small towns until we reached Gey. We stopped in at a shop to buy some more snacks and they offered us a good price for dinner, breakfast and to put up our tent but we had our hearts set on staying at the campsite that the couple had marked on the GPS route.

This ended up being a lot longer than we had anticipated. Campsites aren’t always easy to find on the walk. Often the area will be too steep, covered in rocks or too exposed.

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But the campsite we found there was out of this world. Perched high up on one of the cliffs overlooking a rocky valley and the ocean was a semi-circle of cleared ground. There was a small fire pit and flat rocks to sit on.

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It was the most beautiful campsite either of us had ever seen.

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As it was getting dark, Adam and I set up our tent quickly and he cooked dinner while I gathered some wood for a small fire. It was heaven. All we could hear was the breeze rustling the olive branches all around us and the soft tinkling of goat-bells.

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The sun set at 7:45PM and it was then that we realised that we had walked almost 10 hours with only a few small breaks. Not bad for our second day.

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Preparing to Walk the Lycian Way

We first heard about the Lycian Way in Australia through a friend whose parents were walking it at the time. We already knew we were going to do the Camino de Santiago and decided to add this walk to our loose plans.

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In preparing for the Lycian Way, Adam and I started to realise that it was no Camino de Santiago. This was a much more technical hike and we wouldn’t always be able to rely on refugios/albergues and supermarkets being readily available. A lot of people wild-camp on the Lycian Way. This concept of camping where you end up was a little foreign and scary -so of course we had to do it. But we were going to need some camping equipment if we were to attempt the walk in this way.

We bought a two man hiking tent in Spain. At 2.7kg it was a steal at 100Euros – why is hiking/camping gear so expensive in Australia? We also bought two ultra light self-inflating mattresses for a little bit of luxury.

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Getting Kate Clow’s guide book was tougher than we thought. We were Istanbul for about 8 days and not one of the bookstores had seen it for about 2 years. Some even claimed it was out of print. Luckily there was a man staying in our hostel who had just finished the walk and gave us some very valuable advice. He had got his hands on a copy of the book in Fethiye (the town just before the beginning of the walk) and recommended a hostel we could stay in where the owner could assist us in our preparation. This was so fortunate as Adam and I were starting to lose a bit of hope about how we were going to go about everything.

We had been doing a lots of research on the walk to make sure that we were fully prepared. One of the most detailed and useful trip-reports on the Lycian Way was one we found on http://www.backpackinglight.com. This couple had walked the Lycian Way in 17 days and had suggested we use the iPhone app Gaia GPS. They had recorded their walk and marked the places where they had camped throughout. Adam is the technical genius between us so he downloaded it onto both our phones ready for the walk. It can be used without wifi as long as you have downloaded the map previously (and turn airplane mode off).

We spent two days in Istanbul buying the last of the necessary items for our trek. This included: stainless steel mugs, a MSR cooker, gas canisters and a small hiking pot set. We were planning to camp the majority of the trail spending only one or two nights a week in pansiyons (guesthouses) or home-stay accommodation. This meant that we had to be self-sufficient from the very beginning.

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We made it to Yildirim Guest House in Fethiye, a little bit nervous but also very excited. Umar, the owner, was lovely and gave us advice about the first few days of the trek and we bought a detailed map off him as well. We went down to the Migros supermarket and stocked up on nuts, chocolate bars, cake, long life cheese, instant coffee sachets, instant noodles and of course, water. We were ready.

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A blog about travelling light