A howling wind woke us in the early hours of the morning, flinging our belongings around the deck in random directions. Kris Kinn and I were taking the ferry to Cesme in Turkey and had slept huddled under a stairwell where we had been protected from the strong wind until the boat changed direction and we were hit with its full fury.
|The Meltemi wind that blows though this area is what makes this part of Turkey such a great kiting destination. Although at four in the morning, laying spread-eagled on our sleeping bags and trying to secure what was left from our camp before it blew overboard, I was finding this hard to appreciate.
As we arrived in Cesme, dawn was breaking over the 14th century fortress that dominates its bay. The Ottomans, Greeks and Russians have all fought battles here and this port was once an important point along the silk route. These days leisure yachts and pleasure cruisers have replaced the war and trading ships. The holiday season was in full swing and groups of sunburnt tourists walked along the promenade, cameras snapping away at everything in sight.
We collected our scattered belongings and headed to Pirlanta Beach to meet up with Husnu, a good friend who runs the kite centre there. A clean onshore wind blew over the turquoise water and the sun bleached cliffs on either side made a picturesque backdrop. We pitched our tent twenty meters from the beach and it didn't take us long before we were enjoying the small kickers that were rolling in. It was the weekend in the middle of summer, so there were plenty of other kiters enjoying the same ocean kite park.
The Meltemi wind is caused from a high-pressure system in the Balkans and a low pressure system over Turkey's mainland that sucks the wind down the Aegean Sea. The wind was generally strongest in the mornings dropping around midday and then picking back up in the afternoons. The water remains shallow for the first fifty metres and the bottom is mostly sandy apart from in close to the cliffs, which I found out when I landed on rock and got an urchin stuck under my harness.
Cesme at night feels like a carnival. Balloon sellers, magicians and portrait artists line the busy sidewalks while touts pitch to passers by to entice them into the local discos. Perspiring men skillfully slice slivers of meat off massive donor kebab racks and every menu seems to include a variety of kebabs, casserole dishes and seafood. We never had a problem finding a satisfying meal after a full day of riding. Vendors sold homemade ice cream, although the local speciality of pine resin flavour is an acquired taste.
After riding in Pirlanta for a few days it was time to explore and find a new spot. Turkey has an extensive coastline, however, finding a place to ride that faced the right direction for the wind that wasn't entirely made up of cliffs or densely populated proved tricky. We ended up heading north in search of a rumoured beach, our directions were vague but we narrowed it down to what looked the most promising. Our car bounced over potholes as we wound our way through fields and olive groves, but after a few false turns we had our first view of the spot. A long spit of sand jutted out into a large bay. The wind was blowing over twenty-five knots and the water was a choppy mass of white caps but behind the protective sandbar it remained perfectly calm.
Unfortunately a large gate and an officious security guard halted our progress. We were politely but firmly told the land was a holiday camp for the Ministry of Agriculture and we were not allowed inside. Through the barbed wire fence we could see sunbathers laying behind concrete windbreakers and letting this perfect kiting spot go to waste. Phone calls were made, strings were pulled and Husnu must have known someone who knew someone because we were surpringsingly soon being welcomed inside the compound and allowed to kite!
“Vonderful, vonderful" cheered the security guard. Having quickly tried to stop us entering the area, he had equally rapidly became our fan, shouting encouragement from the shore and bringing us refreshments. A friend texted him some English phrases which he practised, seeing if there was anything he could do for us or asking if we would like to join him for lunch. The holidaying ministry workers were happy to share the beach with us and would wander over for a closer look and to ask us about the sport.
This part of Turkey has become a popular tourist destination and as a result much of the area has been developed with modern buildings and designer shops, although behind this facade parts of the old town still remain. Groups of men sip tea while children play in the small winding streets. Many of the small doorways in the weathered buildings are marked with blue glass circles called “eyes", said to ward away black magic. Farmers on donkeys bring produce to the market and make their way between new Toyotas and tractors parked in the street. The colourful market stalls offer a whole variety of produce, from fresh vegetables to the latest Chinese plastic shoes. Fruit sellers offer delicious cherries, pears, and plums. There are rows upon rows of different olives; huge green ones to shrivelled black ones, some stuffed and others bitter. The next aisle specialised in nuts and a variety of sticky, multi-coloured Turkish delights that they were eager for us sample.
The main kiting season is between June and September and over the twelve days we were there we were able to kite almost every day. With the long coastline here there is a huge potential for new places to ride. “Tamam" meaning “OK, no problem." is something we heard throughout our trip. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and welcoming. People would immediately stop if we were hitching a ride and although the language barrier would often limit conversation, we managed through sign language. Even kitesurfing in restricted government owned property proved to be “Tamam".
Miguel and Kriss travelled to Cesme from Athens via ferry. Services are fairly regular and relatively cheap...if you sleep on deck like they did, it will cost as little as €55 one way.
If you're flying then Izmir is the closest airport and is serviced by many international flights.
Renting a car makes discovering new spots much easier, however, if you decide to stay in Pirlanta, it isn't necessary. Local buses are an easy and cheap way to get around.
The local currency is the Turkish Lira (YTL) As we go to print, the currency conversion is:
£1 : 2.26 YTL / €1 : 1.79 YTL / US$1 : 1.15 YTL
Living costs are slowly increasing, but it still remains reasonably priced. Miguel and Kriss paid between €7 - 10 for dinner and if you are really on a budget you can always survive on donor kebabs!
Prices in €
The best wind is in the summer months. There are a few places where you can buy or repair equipment (SeaSnow Extreme Shop in Alacati).
Kiteboarding lessons are available at Kitesurf Beach at Pirlanta beach.
This column is in issue #35