“We met at university in the late 70s,” said Peter. “The chief thing we had in common was a lust for adventure. Sydney in the 70s wasn’t the cosmopolitan place it is now and Linda and I both had a desire to get out and see the world.”
In 1979, with no plans firmer than “seeing a bit of the planet”, the couple headed for the northern hemisphere with “a couple of shabby backpacks, a small tent and a set of old maps that Linda’s mum insisted we take”, said Peter.
The pair drifted around Europe over the summer, staying in cheap hostels and camping, relying on the kindness of strangers to provide the odd meal or a temporary bed in a barn. When the summer ended and it became too cold to camp, the couple made their way south to Turkey. “We’ve always been keen walkers and we met some other travellers who told us there was a way to walk all along the Lycian coastline. The little we heard about it completely sold us on the idea.”
Today, the Lycian Way is a well-established walking trail. But when Peter and Linda began their trek, starting from the ancient site of Olympos, it was a different story. “We had to improvise a bit, and it could be hard going at times,” Peter said. But the spectacular surroundings more than made up for any hardships. “We encountered hidden ruins, tiny villages with small stone cottages, shepherds tending their flocks, mountains, olive groves, and of course the sea was never far away. And always the huge sky overhead: a cobalt blue during the day and full of stars at night.”
The pair spent two weeks making their way west, aiming to take a long rest at Fethiye. And so they did - but in a way they could never have anticipated.
As the sun set on their penultimate day of walking, the pair began to search for a place to set up camp. “We weren’t far from Fethiye at that point, just a day’s walk away,” Peter said. “We were looking forward to getting back to civilisation when Linda got into trouble.” Linda, clambering over some rocks to look for a possible campsite below, caught her foot between two boulders and fell heavily down the hill.
“I heard a shout and a clatter of stones and my heart seemed to stop,” Peter said. Scrambling down to the base of the hill, he found Linda unconscious with a gash on her head. “For a horrible second I thought she was dead, but thankfully I saw that she was breathing and a few minutes later she started to come round.” Linda had also badly hurt her ankle, but it was a possible concussion that most worried Peter. Helping Linda into a sleeping bag and piling clothes from both packs on top of her, Peter set out into the evening to look for help.
“I raced through the night as fast over the uneven ground as I dared,” Peter said. “I was praying that Linda would be all right, and trying to keep track of my surroundings so that I’d be able to find my way back.”
After what Peter describes as “the longest hour of my life” he saw the flickering window of a small cottage. “I gave the people inside the fright of their lives, the last thing they were expecting was a wild-looking Australian!” Inside the hut was a young shepherd named Emir, his wife Damla and their small baby. When they understood what had happened, Emir raced to fetch his brother from his nearby cottage and the three men set out together with torches to retrace Peter’s steps.
Linda remembers the relief of seeing the three men as clear as if it had happened yesterday. “Peter had been gone a long time, maybe two hours. I was in pain and very frightened that something had happened to him. I’d tried to get up several times but my ankle was swollen and painful. When they all came tearing round the corner I started crying with relief.”
The men carried Linda back to Emir’s cottage, where he and Damla treated Linda and kept her comfortable overnight. The following day Emir fetched the local veterinarian, who confirmed that Linda’s ankle was no more than a bad sprain. “The nearest village did have a doctor, but he was nowhere to be found, so we had to make do with the local vet,” said Peter. “There was lots of joking that if Linda was a horse she would’ve been shot!”
Peter and Linda stayed at the cottage for a week, during which time the two couples became fast friends. “They were incredibly kind to us,” said Linda. “They didn’t have much but they shared their food and space in their cottage, washed and mended our tatty clothes and cared for us. We communicated with the Turkish we’d picked up and the small bit of English Emir had learned at school.” Emir taught the couple how to milk the goats. “Peter became pretty good at making borek [fried pastry stuffed with cheese and spinach] and I learned how to make cheese,” Linda said. “We also laughed a lot - Emir was very funny and a very talented mimic. He managed to imitate Peter in a way that had us absolutely breathless with laughter.”
At the end of the week Linda felt well enough to move on and the couple set out on foot toward Oludeniz, farewelling their new friends. Two weeks later they flew back to Australia. It would be 32 years before they returned to the Lycian Coast.
“Time went by, we got married and had two sons, moved out of the city, changed jobs - all the usual stuff. But we never forgot Emir and Damla,” said Linda. “We sent them a couple of parcels with clothes for their son and a few other bits and pieces but we never heard anything back, possibly because Turkey’s postal system was shockingly unreliable at that point.”
The couple also hankered after the Turkish coastline. “We saw a lot of amazing places on our travels but Turkey just got under our skin,” Linda said simply. “We always knew we’d return one day - we just never imagined it would be 32 years later.”
A few years ago the couple retired, and in 2011 they returned to Turkey with the vague idea of buying a home in Turkey - and seeking out their long lost friends.
“The Lycian coast we left behind at the end of 1979 was long gone,” said Peter. “In its place was ordered roads and prosperous villages, and the busy town of Fethiye.” But some parts looked just the same. “The Blue Lagoon’s waters were still beautiful, and that famous Oludeniz sand was just as white, although there were more people enjoying it than when we were last here!” he said.
The couple spent a week reacquainting themselves and looking at properties, exploring Oludeniz, Hisaronu and Ovacik (“one-horse towns no longer”, Peter joked) before discovering Faralya, a few kilometres from Oludeniz Beach. The Aussie pair decided this beautiful and undeveloped corner of the Lycian coastline was perfect. They bought a small plot of land and worked with a renowned local architect to begin work on their dream retirement home. “We were blown away by the quality of building work and materials available in this part of the world,” Linda said. “I think because our memory of Turkey was mostly stone huts we were unprepared for the level of sophistication we found.”
Towards the end of their trip with deeds exchanged and construction underway, Peter and Linda turned their attention to the two people who had never been far from their minds.
“We’d made a few casual enquiries during our time in Fethiye but hadn’t had much luck,” Linda said. “We couldn’t quite remember the location of Emir’s cottage, only that it was near the Lycian Way. So we decided to take a walk.” Two days before they were due to return to Australia, the couple set off along the Lycian Way, once again enjoying the spectacular scenery they had dreamed of over the past three decades. The Lycian Way was by then a well-established route, enjoyed by thousands of walkers since its inception in 1999. Now it’s considered one of the top walkways anywhere in the world, and with good reason, being as it is full of natural and historical wonders.
“It was a beautiful day and we just took in the view of the sea and the towering Babadag Mountain and crossed our fingers that we’d somehow find Emir and Damla,” said Peter.
After four hours’ walking Peter pointed out a particular rock formation that he remembered from last time. A few minutes later they rounded a corner and found themselves standing by the old stone cottage. “Suddenly the years just fell away,” Linda remembers. “I actually had tears in my eyes.”
However, the cottage was empty and bare, and the disappointed couple decided to head back towards Fethiye. And then fate intervened. “As we were putting our bags back on our backs and preparing to leave, a young man with a very familiar face came striding up to us, whistling - and looking a bit puzzled at our presence.”
The man was Civan, Emir’s son, just a baby at the time the couple had stayed in the cottage. He explained that his mother had died some years ago and his father was living with his brother, in a cottage close by. Peter and Linda followed the young man further along the trail to a tidy cottage on a hillside, overlooking the sea.
Civan called to his father and Emir came to the door. “The look on his face was priceless,” Peter said. “He recognised us straight away and his jaw just hit the floor. It was an incredible moment, we were all emotional and laughing and weeping together.”
The trio caught up over a cold drink and some borek - which the pair agreed tasted just as good as it had 32 years ago. Much had happened in Emir’s life in the intervening years: three children, the death of his wife, hard times and good, Peter said. “He’s had a tough life, but the years hadn’t dimmed that sense of humour or the spark in his eye we’d remembered so well.” Peter and Linda headed back to Fethiye, promising to return.
And return they did - to Faralya, where they have lived for two years. And they visit Emir whenever they can. “We are so happy here,” Peter said. “Our only regret is that we didn’t move here sooner. We have plenty of friends here and a good life. We love the culture and the food and the amazing coastline as strongly as we did three decades ago. Only this time, we’re not leaving.”
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