Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Truth about Santa Claus

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

With Christmas just around the corner I thought it was time for the truth to be known. First, Santa Claus is real - and he's from Turkey. Now, I grew up thinking good 'ol Saint Nick was from the North Pole. This jolly ol' guy wore thick red suits to stay warm and his cheeks were always rosy from the chill (or maybe the spiced hot chocolate). So imagine my surprise when I learned that all these years I had been lied to ... Santa Claus isn't from the North Pole, no sir, he's from right here in Turkey, about an hour drive from Finike - in the town of Myra (today known also as Demre)!

We had the pleasure of visiting Saint Nicholas' Church in Demre / Myra a few weeks ago. Unfortunately it was closed for the end of Ramadan (Muslim holiday), but we did get a chance to wander around the area and learn about the history of Santa Claus.
Saint Nick

It all starts with Saint Nicholas - a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra. There are a couple of versions of how the gift-giving began but they are all centered around giving to others and helping the less fortunate. The story we heard (from our well informed guide) was that it started with Nicholas helping three impoverished daughters - providing them with dowries so that they could marry and not be sold into slavery or prostitution. As our guide tells it the first two daughters he helped by placing bags of gold through an open window (in the summer), but when it came time to help the third daughter it was winter so the window was closed. Nicholas therefore climbed up the roof and dropped the bag down the chimney, where, it so happens, the daughter's stockings were hanging to dry, and wouldn't you know it, the bag of gold fell right into the stocking!

Throughout his life Saint Nicholas was known for trying to help others and inspire good virtue. As legends of his unselfishness spread, the accounts of his deeds blended with regional folklore and eventually he was transformed into an almost mystical being who was known for rewarding the good and punishing the bad. He also became a patron saint to many children, orphans, and sailors who prayed for his compassion, guidance, and protection. His death (December 6th) was marked by an annual feast. On the eve before, children would set out food (for St Nicholas), straw (for the horses), and schnapps (for his attendants). The next morning, assuming they were "good" children, they would find their gifts replaced with sweets and toys.

From there Santa Claus, as we know him today, developed from many religious, cultural, and even commercial influences. Americans have the Dutch immigrants of the 1600's to thank for Santa Claus, originally introduced as Sinterklaas (meaning Saint Nicholas).

So why then does Santa Claus live in the North Pole? I mean where would you rather live - Turkey or some freezing, uninhabited, middle of nowhere place like the North Pole? And what about that red suit, the flying reindeer, and such? Most of these details come from creative writers and some commercialization. It starts around 1808 with the American author Washington Irving who wrote of an old St Nick riding over treetops in a horse drawn wagon, dropping gifts down chimneys. Irving also described Santa as a jolly Dutchman smoking a long stemmed pipe and wearing baggy breaches. In 1822 Dr Clement Clarke Moore, in "The Night Before Christmas", substituted eight reindeer and a sleigh for Irving's horse and Wagon - giving St Nick a more arctic background. Moore also gave Santa his broad face and round belly. Then in 1863, when Thomas Nast illustrated Moore's book of children's poems, he depicted a softer Santa dressed in red. In additional it was Nast that gave Santa a home - the North Pole. And finally we can thank artist Haddon Sundblom and Coca-Cola (in 1931) for adding the final touches to Santa's modern image. Sundblom's billboards for Coca-Cola featured a portly, jolly, grandfatherly-type Santa with rosy cheeks and a twinkle in his eye.

The terrific thing about Santa Claus is that he incorporates so many beleifs and traditions from around the world. And even though much of Santa may have come from the imaginations of writers, artists, and advertisers, the underlying truth of Santa is hard not to appreciate. Who doesn't like a man that represents goodness and kindness and attempts to help those around him in need? So from Billabong we wish you all a Happy St Nicholas Day!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Lycian Way

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

The Lycian Way is the first waymarked long distance footpath in Turkey. It stretches from Fethiye to Antalya, through the Teke Peninsula (historically known as Lycia). The Lycian Way is not only scenic (traveling along the coastline as well as high into the cliffs through largely uninhabited areas), but it also offers an opportunity to see the lingering of ancient civilizations. Swimming. Views. Nature. History. The Lycian Way has it all and was, in fact, named one of the Sunday Times World’s Ten Best Walks.

Given that the Lycian Way comes right through Finike, how could we not walk at least part of this trail? The entire trail is more than 500km and can take weeks to complete. We, along with four friends, decided it would be a grand idea to do a day hike, hopefully making it from Finike to Belos and back. Of course, since we notoriously tend to end up doing things the hard way, the area of the trail we would be walking is deemed one of the most difficult!!!
Lycian Way

At least twice we had looked for the start of the walk in Finike, and while we now thought we had a pretty good idea where it was (based on the book "The Lycian Way", and Google Earth), the last thing we wanted was to start our hike out "lost". So, odd as it may sound, we took a taxi to the trail. Much of the trail in the Finike area has been bulldozed into somewhat of a rocky tractor road; one can still get onto the original trail in places (walking more in the forest then the cleared rocky road). We started in the forest, and opted to climb up to the road when we lost site of the waymarks. Luckily it was early morning and no longer summer, because it didn’t take long before the steep incline had us all sweating, and huffing and puffing.

The great thing for us, all cruisers, about this part of the hike was that although the incline was difficult it brought us into the mountains, and eventually along the ridgeline. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed the mountains – it was great to get away from the sea for a few hours.

The first 4 km brought us up to about 650 meters. Along the way we came across a large herd of beautiful goats and a shepherd. We also came upon a field of ancient walls and Lycian tombs.

Another hour and half or so brought us to the ridgeline and magnificent views looking out over the town of Demre with views of Kekova Island in the background. We stopped for lunch, enjoying the peace and quiet and terrific scenery, before heading up, along the ridge, to Belos.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky, yet the air was cool enough to not wear us out. We’d thought that we’d be dealing with a lot of wind – especially in Belos, which is about 910 meters above sea level, but it was still as could be. Belos is an ancient town littered with ruins and huge sarcophagi. Rooms and walls still stand complete, and everything seemed even more spectacular with the views of Kekova as the backdrop. We spent a leisurely amount of time walking around the ancient town, guessing as to what might have been what and trying to imagine life thousands of years ago. What we especially were in awe of was how they managed to live so high in the mountains – here we had only walked a portion of the trail, with light packs, and were feeling our exhaustion – these people had moved, carrying everything they owned, old and young, and not wearing fancy hiking boots! It was a perfect spot for protection, with stonewalls to protect them and the long distance from the sea to discourage pirates.

It was very cool to have Belos to our own. The ruins of Myra and Demre, which we had visited a few weeks earlier, were brilliant, but there is something to be said for the quiet solitude in walking amongst the ancient city, undisturbed by the masses.

On the way back we had planned on a little side trek to Dinek, but the markings weren’t clear to us, and knowing we still had a long walk back to Finike ahead we didn’t want to wonder "aimlessly" … maybe another day!

I seem to never give downhill trekking the credit it is due. The entire way up all I could think was "at least coming back will be downhill". But it doesn’t take long, especially on steep terrain with loose stones that are uncomfortable to walk on, before I began to wonder if going up wasn’t better! People think that cruising keeps us in shape, but in truth we live pretty sedentary lives – maybe not compared to the average land-lubber American, but in terms of tackling a mountainous 20-24 km day hike, we are in sad shape! It seemed that the last bit of the return trip just kept going and going and going. But at last we were back in Finike – where our first stop was the beer garden just outside the marina!

It was a fantastic day, well worth the effort and the soreness that followed over the next few days. We are hopefully that we can do another section of the Lycian Way next spring when we start cruising again … maybe we ought to start exercising now!

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