Turkey – Kas, Kekova, Kalkan
There are so many things you associate with this country before you actually go there. What can it be compared to? Egipt, Tunisia, maybe Malta. Who knows - perhaps even to a more civilised European country? How will the natives welcome guests coming from all over the world? How will they welcome Poles in particular? Are we supposed to expect hostile looks and insecure moments like in Arab countries or simply uneventful holiday?
I thought it would be more like Egypt. However....
A two-week expedition in July 2002 left in my mind a thoroughly different image than the one I had had so far. And yet, that was not my first time to Turkey. It was this time that I realised how different various parts of Turkey are. If you visit all parts of the country, you have the chance of getting familiar with all the cultural heritage of this region's countries. When you think of Turkey's neighbours - Syria, Iraq and Iran - all so exotic for Poles, you come to understand the influence of so many nations.
Our guide and divemaster told us something very similar: citizens from some parts of Turkey are unbearable because of their ignorance and backwardness. Others are very much like Europeans.
Kas, Kalkan and Kekova, small holiday resorts located in the souhternmost part of Turkey, are a virgin and charming destination for Poles Europejczyków. From what the locals told me, I got to know that a limited number of my compatriots reach this beautiful area and diving experience here could be a completely new to Polish tourists. Our team of 14 was the first to include Poles diving with the "Apollo Diving", a Turkish diving centre organising week and two-week long diving safaris in the area. Apollo, the owner of the 30-metre vessel on board of which we had our holidays, has a fleet of several motorboats and sailing boats. We were sailing on a comfortable motor-sailing boat Samuraj III. For diving purposes we had a separate boat, adapted for transportation to diving spots. Compressor, auxilliary diving equipment, cylinders, oxygen just in case, aft ladder, barrels with fresh water to wash out the equipment and other improvements made all the divers feel comfortable on the boat - both the old stagers and rookies. After diving we would return to our "floating hotel" to lead a "high life".
Our vessel, Samuraj III, had a 30-metre long deckłźłłł Our team of 14 had perfect living conditions thanks to 8 double cabins. The thing that may seem odd for a Pole are restrictions when it comes to bringing drinks on board the "Samuraj III Hotel" - both soft and hard. The cabins were nothing special - however each one with a bathroom and a toilet. It was not our first time at sea and we had enough diving expedition experience to know that there would always be some kind of stench filling the boat while it was rocked by waves. We were served 3 meals a day and I, being very keen on meat, got it maybe 4-5 times in two weeks. Usually, we ate delicious Turkish dishes prepared by Apollo's chief. Generally, there was no meet on a plate. I must admit I enjoyed this kind of diet and got convinced that life without sausages is possible and tasty, especially in hot weather. Either way - dishes were delicious and abundant. I know that there are other and better boats, but hiring them would significantly increase the costs of our expedition. The costs - right. It turns out that it is not that expensive there. The entire diving service including board amounted to EUR 750 for two weeks which is indeed an attractive price. Unfortunately airplane tickets cost from USD 290 to USD 390, depending on date and flight classification (charter or regular).
Anyway, let's get to the point. Here's information on diving spots. During two weeks I managed to dive 25 times. Some of them were successful and fascinating, some poor - just as it happens to anyone. The area of our holidays can be divided into 3 regions: Kas - a picturesque small town living on tourists welcomed by numerous hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and pubs. You can spend great time in here. Plus, the next town - Kalkan, only 25 kilometres away, is where you find a similar, peculiar Mediterranean climate. We spent the least time underwater there due to sudden change of wind, which made it impossible to reach more interesting spots. Last part of our holidays took us to the vicinity of Kekova island, with the unforgettable ruins of the "sunken city" - 2000 years ago it was flooded as the result of massive landslide during an earthquake. Unfortunately, no one is allowed to dive there, since archeological works are still carried out. It is even forbidden to stop the yacht above the ruins of the sunken city. All you can do is to sail over it and make some photos. From a Turkish diving guide book I learnt that Turkish diving regulations are subject to constant changes - in 2001 it was still possible to freedive over the sunken city, which allowed for making photos from the water surface. Now it is forbidden. On the other hand, we have visited several diving spots closed for tourists last year.
Kas (pron. kash) is the city with the most developed tourism facilities in this part of Turkey. In my opinion diving spots here are the most interesting.
There is one thing I have to point out when describing diving in the part of Turkey located west off its azure coast: if you expect to find here extraordinary flora, like the one in Croatia or northern Italy, you will be disappointed. Red or yellow sea-fans (Paramuricea clavata) so common in the Adriatic Sea do not occur here. Sponges, sea-squirts, sea anemones are very scarce. What you can see underwater here is bare rocks with some black or gray-bronze moss. Colourful spots are really rare. But the fauna is surprisingly interesting as for the Mediterranean Sea. I have seen numerous barracudas, several turtles of different species. You can also come across seals. And there are reef sharks. You need a little bit of luck to see one of them, but remember - not all at once. The biggest surprise for me was the Tiger fish - that was the first time I have seen it not in the Red Sea. It seems that salinity here is higher than in other parts of the Mediterranean basin. Water was clear just like anywhere else in the region - visibility never dropped below 20 metres. But it was much warmer than in Malta, Italy or Croatia. The mean surface water temperature never fell below 27 degrees Celsius!
We did the first diving in a spot called "Light house reef". An easy spot for a "check dive" with new divers. The rocks are rapidly going down to the bottom, and at approx. 17 metres the sand gently descends to the bottom. There were many bigger fish, which was a good sign for future divings. The second diving, early in the afternoon, was at a spot called "Limanagzi wall".It is a wall in the western part of the Kas harbour. As the name suggests, the walls are rapidly descending and the deep blue is "calling" the divers. However, the best part of it is a wreck of wooden yacht. Nothing particular, but still.
We did the next diving the following day. Since it was after the night of establishing Turkish-Polish friendship, Apollo took us to a safer, shallower and easier spot. That's "Capa Banko". I had the impression that this is the very place where Turkish diving centres bring in all the beginners. Next diving spot was referred to by our guide as the best in this part of the Mediterranean and I was curious to see it for myself. I immediately associated the name "Canyon" with the famous canyon of Dahab, Sinai. This association caused a rush of adrenaline. I was not disapointed. The place was indeed one of the best during the entire expedition.. At 3 metres there starts a canyon that reaches the depth of approx. 23 metres. It's rather a "wedge" in the rocks, but canyon is how they describe it. This is paradise for wide-angle photographers. The rocks are vertically going down the sea - the sight that you will long associate with the beauty of diving. What's more, 30 metres off the canyon you can see a wreck of a cargo vessel that had sunk here in the 50s. The wreck lies at approx. 40 metres in the deepest place, and is one of attractions in the Kas area.
Fans of wreck diving will fdefinitely find it interesting here. There is something interesting also for those who are not very keen on this kind of diving. It's an unusual system of rocks. The ship crashed on sticking out rocks, which together form a group of islands called "Heybeli Islands". Part of the wreck lies on shallow waters, but the one located deeper is more interesting. On our way back to the boat we had another attraction. A small group of barracudas at the depth of 5-7 metres was well-lit by the sun - I don't think we shall ever forget the sight. I just don't know why this spot was closed for divers until November 2001. Our guide also thought it made no sense whatsoever.
Next time we went undewater was at night. Location: "Hidayet Bay". The yacht was anchored and some of us went to see which way the wind was blowing. Below, I encountered once again fauna different than the one I have seen in the western Mediterranean Sea. You can easily spot pipefish and Chinese mitten crab, with characteristic paddles instead of claws. That was the first time I have seen this kind of crab, so I did my best to make a perfect photo. During the night diving we have also seen spotted octopus. Some morays as well. Not too many though, but the look like those from saltier seas. Just as the name of the spot suggests, we were diving in a bay. Only close to the shore the rocks were clearly going down to the depth of approx. 20 metres. After that it was only sand and Caulerpa taxifolia. During the next diving we were supposed to see pods of "flying fish", which is the local name for Flying Gurnard. Indeed, you can see more of them here than anywhere else, but it's important to dive on the east side of the reef if you want to see anything at all. Deeper into this diving spot you can come across pretty big serrenidae, and the photographers will probably find very interesting the abundant numbers of violet sea slugs.
On our way toKalkan, we stopped to dive by the "Gurmenli Island". That was where several times our guide had seen White tip reef shark. To me it really looked as a good spot, potentially one of the best. An island in the middle of the sea with the reef gently dropping towards the land, plus a strong current. Instead, what we saw were few serranidae and countless sea slugs. I wasn't going to see the shark. At least, not this time. We were also diving on the other side of the island. I couldn't see much of life around, but the shape of rocks here, especially where the water was shallow, was so fabulous that it was enough to have a nice diving. We sailed along on board of our luxury yacht, a little disappointed though that there had been no shark.
Eventually, we reached the area of the town ofKalkan. After a tour round the picturesque small town where wou could see a heavily damaged breakwater and an undermined lighthouse (last year's storms), we headed for the "Catal Island" in the middle of the sea. When it comes to the island's shape and appearance, it is similar to the ones in the Croatian Kornati National Park. However, there was absolutely nothing to see underwater. Ok, there were several fish as usual, but on my scale of 1 to 10 this place deserves 1.
A strong wind was blowing, which prevented us from diving in more attractive spots of the area. Eventually, after several attempts, we lied at anchor in "Firnaz Koyu Bay". A place where a very odd atmospheric phenomenon occurs. The wind was blowing west to east. The bay is separated from the western wind by an approx. 1000-metre mountain. It doesn't take a sea dog to know that such bay is perfect to hide from the western wind. However, what happens here is that the wind speeds down the slope and hits the sea surface 3 metres from the shore. This blow is so strong that you can actually see the water surface literally weighting down with the huge masses of air.
We managed to hide behind a sticking rock as it was the only way to stay in that place. Otherwise, the captain would order the return to Kas. In that bay we did night diving. Unfortunately, the wind was blowing hard and the rolling of sea was still perceptible pretty deep. The result was an absence of fish to say the least. The only attraction were small undewater grottos in the rock, behind which our yacht was hiding. Diving inside them at night was a thrilling experience.
Another day, another adventure. We kicked off with the best diving. Our divemaster sent his wife Maria with us as a guide. She is also a diving instructor, but she could be more communicative as far as I am concerned. We were diving at the extension of the eastern coast of Kalkan. We nicknamed the place "Amphora Trash Can Reef". Indeed, the place was full of amphoras and trash. The amphoras here grow into rocks. So, if you think you can take some home with you you're wrong. A pretty interesting rock formation.
The extension of this diving spots brings an all different reality. A real 'Wall Diving' in the place called "Kalkan Burnn" We jumped off the boat running, just like in the case of current diving. It was about 100 metress off the shore. Once undewater, we faced a gorgeous wall going down approx. 70 metres. We could see the bottom from 40 metres, and yet it was double that distance below us. The wall was full of numerous corners, holes and small grottos.
Next diving spot was to be yet another rush of adrenaline. The "Dutch of York" wreck. The same longtitude asKalkan, but way out to sea there is an underwater rock, a very dangerous one. There, in 1958 crashed the English ship. The vessel broke in two. The bow, or what was left of it, lies on a shoal, i.e. at 20 metres. The bow is where you can see extremely big serrenidae. However, the major part of the wreck is located on the other side of the rock, at the depth of 40-70 metres. The manner in which ts shallower part is cut off the bow accounts for a view I shall never forget. Diving here is difficult and requires perfect weather. Slightest wave is a problem when it comes to mooring, and the surface current can be tiring even for the best divers. I need to add here that this diving spot was a closed one a year before.
Slowly we began our return to the area of Kas. On our way, we were diving in one of those places in the middle of the sea. The name "Panorama Reef", used so extensively all around the world, raised our expectations to see one more great spot. It is a shoal marked with a sailing buoy. It is not the sea bed that is interesting here, but the number of fish you can see. An extraordinary pod of barracudas and countless serrenidae was enough for me to remember this place very well. Not to mention pipefish in mumbers comparable to the ones I have seen only in the shallow reef waters of the Red Sea.
Another spot by the underwater rock was thouroughly different than the first we had seen that day. "Kaptanoglu Reef" is a diving spot that, although far into the sea, had no interesting fish. This disappointed Apollo as he had spotted interesting sea creatures many times here. Well, it seems that fish can be capricious and not be in the mood for being observed.
The "Neptun Reef" in the area of Kas turned out to be the most attractive for us in terms of number of fish. Magificent pods of Seam breams posing for my camera like never before in my life. Longspined bullhead, serranidae, triggerfish, deeply red Scorpenidae, octopus. No wonder that for a moment I felt as if diving somewhere else. It was all not far from another diving spot. Attractive due to a wreck of a yacht, similar to the one we had been diving by 10 days before. The diving area around the small "Gwencin Island" is rather monotonous. The place is full of divers, who come here from Kas on one-day trips. If it wasn't for the wreck, there wouldn't be many attractions. However, before jumping to the water our guide told us that it was the day for seeing a shark. For sure. We were pretty skeptical about his words, as he liked to make promises. But indeed, in the end of the dive we could see a white shark on the rock. Almost all of us took a while to realise that the shark was made of marble. Local divers drowned it as a tourist attraction. Guess it worked just fine, since there were so many boats on the surface. Just one more photo, raising the anchor and off we go.
Having spent the night in Kas, we were heading for the place that seemed gorgous on the pictures. From the very beginning, Apollo kept saying that Kekova region is one of the most beautiful locations of the Turkish coast.
The first stop on our way there is the "Ironou Bay". And what did we see? A big pod of young barracudas were swimming under our yacht. There was no need for diving. You could observe those beautiful fish standing on the deck. In that bay, I also found a small grotto at the sea level. First time I only snorkeled there. There were very rare species of cave fish I have never seen before so far. Since bats were flying above my head, I decided to return there with diving equipment. I took Apollo's brother with me, and we made several nice photos of interesting fish. The truth is I found no description of this species. At least not in the books I looked through. The fish resembled Black Widow, so commonnly found in home aquaria. Over-curious creature. I had no trouble taking photos of her from 30 cm. Night diving in that bay was a complete flock. Boring and a waste of time.
Our penultimate diving in the "Big Blue Caves". That was it. The most exciting dive of that trip. I must say I admired our guide for taking the entire group to that spot. Not all of us were experienced. The diving was about falling down the open waters to the depth of approx. 20 metres. There you faced an underwater wall, falling down to 43 metres, where you could see a cave entrance. A group of 10 or more diving in a cave at the depth of 40 metres is not very common to see, and I was a bit nervous whether Apollo had made the right decision. I signalled him to return. I realised the entrance was huge after I saw the photos I had made. The cave tunnel went deep like a drift in old mine, but... not this time. I thought that was the end of it for the day. Once I left the cave, I started emerging to the level of 30 metres. I was really surprised to see our guide swimming at 35 metres towards a different part of the same wall. After 50 metres or so, we reached another cave entrance, also very deep. You entered the cave at 40 metres, than all of us dived up through a wide chimney. Exit at 23 metres. Some of the participants could see for themselves that nitrogen and nitrogen narcosis are a fact, just like decompression stops countdown function of diving computers.
The last diving of the trip came as a surprise even for our guide, as he had never witnessed such strong current there. "Sari Ot Wall" is a diving spot between Kekova and Kas. Perfect for the first dive of the day thanks to magnificent, vertical rocks falling to the depth of 50 metres. I say that you may come accross some really interesting fish species there. Perhaps the unusual current direction was the reason why we saw nothing special in terms of fauna. All in all, the last dive of the trip was a nice surprise.
Despite a relatively limited underwater life in the area, the trip makes me think that it wasn't the last journey to this country. The owner of the yacht informed me on a very interesting Turkish spot - with 236 wrecks! I'm talking about the area of Canakkala (eastern Turkey, almost the longtitude of Istanbul, mear the Sea of Marmara mouth). The water there isn't very clear in the summer. Therefore, Apollo suggested an expedition to be organised in April or October, when the water is clearest.
His diving centre also offers a different option for holidays - a two-week diving safari on the way from Antalya to Kas. There are also many wrecks, tourist attractions both underwater and on land. So, see you next time. …
Text and photos by: Rudi Stankiewicz
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