I didn’t take any pictures of that night, it was way too surreal.
When I finally rejoined the mediterranean coast in my trip though Turkey, I landed in Olympos, a town of little wooden pansions five minutes from a beautiful pebble beach. The way to the beach follows a river amongst the ruins of an ancient city where loaded cactus and orange trees can be found on every corner.
It’s a small paradise, that was about to turn later that night into the set of an apocalyptic scene.
One of the main attraction in Olympos is the Chimaera. Up into a mountain, some natural geological phenomenon is making fire come out from the ground. Those fires always burn, and not even scientists are yet able to explain exactly why. So naturally I decided that it was magic and that I had to see it.
As I arrived at Saban Pansion Treehouse, I was informed that a bus was departing at 9pm each evening to bring us to the flames. I didn’t have to think long about it.
“I’m gonna walk” I said, sealing my fate.
Through the day, I found three other people willing to hike in the dark with me, and a lot of diverging opinions from the locals about the length of the walk, making me think that not one of them had actually walked there. But since no one gave me a time superior to one hour, I wasn’t worried.
A little before nine that night, we left the pansion and headed through the ruins, then walked on the beach along the sea (where some dogs barked at us in the dark and I completely freaked out), and onto the road that we were only supposed to follow for half an hour before seeing the sign for the Chimaera. One hour later and still on the road, we realized that the locals had, indeed, never walked that way. But, by asking the rare people we came across, we knew we were on the right path.
When we finally arrived at the site, all the buses had already arrived and left. We payed our 6 TL and started climbing the mountain. I’m not gonna lie, those 20 minutes of stairs roughly cut out in the rocks of the mountain were more tiring than the hour and a half it took us to get there. Bring good shoes.
But, at the top, all our efforts were rewarded. The flames were amazing, way bigger than I thought. In the night, we could see those little bursts of light all across the plateau.
Sitting down next to one, I felt it’s warmth and looked at it closely. From afar they might have looked like regular campfire, but close up it was quite different. They flickered with blue, like they were born from some gas. At their foot, the ground itself was so hot that it was glowing orange. The different layers of rocks were easy to see, because the flames had burned holes through the top layers like swiss cheese, like they were trying to escape from beneath.
It was magical. At that hour we were almost alone at the top, surrounded by the night and watching the hypnotic blue flames. Another small group around another fire had actually brought sausages to roast over the flames, which was both hilarious and sad. I thought privately that the Balrog that was obviously producing those flames must not be very happy about that …
After a while of sitting quietly and admiring the flames, we were given our first clue that the night was far from over : thunder.
Big loud thunder rolling over the trees.
It was around 11pm and we decided it was time to walk back. As we started going down the mountain, a light rain started, and then stopped.
We started on the road, but one of us was completely exhausted. Ten minutes later, she stopped a car to go back faster to the pansion, and there was only two of us left on the road. I was offered to take the car, but I said I’d rather walk.
The car started off, took a turn in the road and, the very minute it had left our sight, it started raining again. But this time it was pouring. It took me about 20 seconds to put the electronics safe in my backpack and to get out my rain jacket but it was too late, my clothes were drenched, my hair plastered to my face, my hiking boots were already filling up with water.
Now here is something worth mentioning : this was the first winter rain after a three months drought.
How unlucky am I ? Like triggering the freaking monsoon the moment I decide to go for a night hike, that’s how.
We walked as fast as we could, while the road morphed into a torrent of mud in the space of a few minutes. There was no one on the road, nowhere to take shelter, and since we were already drenched, we thought we might as well keep going.
But the thunder was getting louder and louder, closer and scarier. And when we finally saw a shop with the lights on, we took shelter under the porch. The men working there did not object, even inviting us inside while trying not to look too worriedly at our wet shoes and clothes. We waited outside under the porch, just glad to be out of the rain and not alone with the storm.
A little while later, they brought up a pickup truck and asked us where we were staying. They were actually willing to go out into this downpour to bring us back home ! I told him the name of our pansion and suggested we sit in the back of the pickup so as not to ruin the inside of their car.
We climbed into the back, which had turned into a shallow freezing swimming pool by that time. As the car started I hold on for dear life, sitting into the water, shivering, the cold wind getting into my drenched summer clothes. Sometimes the tires of the truck on the river-road would produce muddy waves higher than the truck itself.
Watching the road receding fast in the night behind me, the drops of rain in the headlights creating crazy lines with the speed, it felt like an action movie, like the perfect shot to suggest there was some kind of monster chasing us. So cool. And so cold.
But at least I was just about to arrive someplace warm again, I thought.
But I was wrong.
The truck stopped, and the driver told us we where near the beach, but he couldn’t take us further. Thanking him, we got off and walked towards the beach, the water often coming up to our calf.
At this point, there was still some part of me that was rejoicing in the adventure, but a few minutes later I was just too scared for that.
On the beach, it was like a scene straight from my nightmares. It was completely dark, there was not even the light of a house or restaurant in the distance, nothing to guide us. I was pumping on my dyno torch like crazy, pointing it everywhere to get my bearings, looking for a very distinctive hole in the cliff where the path turned towards the ruins and home, but I could not find it. And while I was starting to think maybe we were on the wrong beach altogether, we kept walking quickly, freaking out as, every thirty seconds, we would hear the thunder rolling and a violent bolt of lightening would illuminate the whole beach in a surreal light.
Just add the silhouette of a sailor in a yellow raincoat dripping blood appearing in one of those brief moments of light, and it was the horror movie of the year.
And the worst was, through all that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that this beach was a protected area for marine turtles, and completely freaking out that I was about to step on a poor baby turtle in the dark. Seriously …
In the end, we found the hole in the cliff, walked through the ruins where the road had essentially become a tributary river, not really caring at this point (to be frank, I was so water logged that my feet and legs didn’t really feel the difference between water and open air anymore), and finally arrived home.
The moral of this tale ? Go walk to the Chimaera if you’re ever in Olympos, it’s truly a magical sight, but not with a disaster-magnet like me !
But frankly, apart from my minor freakout on the beach, didn’t that sound like a real adventure ?
In Olympos, I slept at Saban Pansion Tree Houses and I definitely recommend it! The prices are really small and the vegetarian meals (included) are de.li.cious. I honestly never ate so much in one sitting …