Paddling in Greece and Turkey [66]

By Terence Uren

The Eastern Mediterranean is the sort of place you’d expect to be teeming with sea kayakers given its favourable climate, stunning coastlines and numerous island hopping opportunities. It’s not, though, and in many of the area’s towns the closest thing you’ll find to a sea kayak is a dusty sit-on-top buried out the back under a pile of broken sun lounges. With a bit of planning you can do better than this, as some friends and I discovered on a short trip to Greece and Turkey in September 2006. We spent a week paddling around the Greek island of Antiparos and a week following Turkey’s southern coastline eastwards from Kas to Andriake.

Antiparos

Antiparos is a small island in the Central Cyclades, reached from Athens in a couple of hours by fast ferry and caique via the island of Paros. Compared with other islands in the Cyclades, Antiparos is relatively undeveloped — it’s a bit like the rest of Greece was twenty years ago! The island has a harsh beauty, its dry, barren hills sprinkled with the whitewashed cubiform houses that are typical of the region. We based ourselves in the village of Agios Georgios on the sparsely-populated south west corner of the island, renting a couple of studio apartments and hiring kayaks from the “House of Sea Kayaking”.

The kayaks were Prijons (Capri, SeaYak, Calabria, TownYak and Kodiak), all in good condition but some more suited to flat water touring than sea kayaking. They were all fitted with thigh braces but were without rudders, which some in our group found challenging on windy days.

There are around twenty five beaches on Antiparos and we set about visiting as many of these as we could. Over the course of our week we completed five single-day paddles along the island’s northern, eastern and southern coastlines. We didn’t make it to the more remote and exposed west coast where landing opportunities are limited and often need to be made through moderate surf choked with up to half a metre of seaweed. We also paddled to the nearby islands of Kimitri, Despotiko, Strongylonissi, Oros, Diplo and Kavouras. An exclusion zone around an international kite surfing event stopped us from visiting the islands of Tourna, Glaropoda, Tigana and Pandros and strong winds thwarted our plans to paddle to the island of Kaki Skala.

The winds blew consistently from the north for the week we were there, generally picking up to around 15-20 knots by the middle of the day. We stayed off the water on two days when the forecast was for wind around 30 knots, spending these days car touring on the neighbouring island of Paros.

The Greek custom of late nights and late breakfasts made early morning launches impractical. We worked around this by taking a break in the middle of the day when the wind was strongest, having no difficulty filling in a couple of hours with swimming, snorkelling, long taverna lunches or simply sleeping under a tree. We then finished our paddles late in the afternoon when the winds had eased.

All in all, it was a highly enjoyable, relaxing week with some fine paddling and good company.

The paddling season on Antiparos runs from early May to early October, with the busy months of July and August best avoided. House of Seakayaking’s licences limit its operations to within five nautical miles of land, which would restrict paddlers to the areas in which we paddled and the neighbouring larger islands of Naxos and Paros. For more information on House of Seakayaking, visit www.seakayak-greece.com

Kas to Andriake

At the end of our week on Antiparos, we travelled by ferry via Kalymnos and Rodos to the Turkish town of Fethiye and then by bus to Kas. The area we had chosen to explore was the relatively undeveloped stretch of coastline between Kas and Andriake, an easy five-day paddle. We had considered renting kayaks but in the end opted for a private charter, with “Ekomarin Sea Kayaking Centre” providing kayaks, guide and a support boat. The decision to opt for a private charter was made largely because of our wish to have someone with us with knowledge of the cultural richness of the area through which we’d be paddling. Our group’s minimal Turkish language skills and ignorance of the position of the sensitive Greece-Turkey border were other factors that influenced our decision. The support boat was a bit of a luxury but it made morning packing less of a chore and gave us a chance to get out of our kayaks when we needed a leg stretch along the mostly non-landable coastline.

Our kayaks were Prijons (Expedition, Calabria, SeaYak) and Rainbow Lasers, the latter (an Italian-made kayak) being perfect for the smaller paddlers in our group. All the kayaks were fitted with rudders but only the Rainbow Lasers were fitted with thigh braces. The Rainbow Lasers were newish but the Prijons, although adequate for the trip, were older and well worn.

The weather during our paddle was fine but hot and humid. The wind blew at our backs for the whole trip, with light conditions for the first few days, increasing over the remainder of the paddle to reach around 20 knots on our final day.

The landscape we passed through was dramatic. Much of it was steeply sloping limestone hills with the coastline at water level etched by the sea into unfriendly razor-sharp plates. Where it was possible to land, there were opportunities to explore on foot the substantial remains of Lycian necropolises dating from around 500BC. The towns associated with these necropolises were flooded long ago, victims of earthquakes and rising sea levels — our exploration of these was by kayak and with snorkel and mask.

Along the way, we camped variously at the back of a small beach owned by a friend of the guide, in the middle of an olive grove crowded with goats and on the terraces of an abandoned and partly demolished villa. Our last night was spent in Simena, a small village that can only be reached on foot or by water. Snuggled into the hillside below an Ottoman fortress, it must be one of world’s most beautiful places. We finished paddling at the coastal town of Andriake (port to the ancient Roman city of Myra), after which we took a couple of days to unwind in Kas before moving on. As with Greece, our time in Turkey was well-spent and has left only the fondest of memories.

The paddling season in Kas runs from mid-March to mid-November. The peak season is July-August and is best avoided. During this period, the weather is at its hottest and most humid and the local operators are mostly occupied running day trips for tourists. For those who prefer to paddle independently, kayak rentals are available. Except by prior arrangement, Ekomarin’s kayaks can only be paddled in Turkish territorial waters. For more information visit: www.dragoman-turkey.com

Health and Safety

If you are planning on paddling in this part of the world, do consult your doctor before you go. We were surprised to discover that our childhood immunisations were unlikely to offer adequate protection against polio, whooping cough or diphtheria, all of which are endemic in parts of Turkey.

The typical Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil. If you are not used to such a diet, it’s likely that you will suffer from diarrhoea on a trip to this part of the world — probably on the day of your longest stretch of non-landable coast!

For a number of years, Kurdish separatists have carried out attacks in various parts of Turkey. The most recent of these attacks were in August 2006 when a number of tourists were killed or injured in bomb blasts in Marmaris and Antalya, towns not far from the area in which we paddled. Seek advice on the current situation before you head off.

Other paddling opportunities in Greece and Turkey

We were impressed with the friendliness, helpfulness and professionalism of both the operators we used on our trip — Vassilis Germanopoulos (House of Seakayaking) and Gökhan Türe (Ekomarin Sea Kayaking Centre) — and have no hesitation in recommending them to other paddlers. We are aware of other operators based in the Eastern Mediterranean, who may be worth considering if you are interested in paddling in this area.

An Australian paddler, Rod Feldtmann, runs Sea Kayak Milos in the Western Cyclades. Some of our group had rented kayaks from Rod on a previous visit to Greece. They enjoyed their time on Milos and speak highly of Rod. Rod no longer offers kayak rentals but he does run guided trips around Milos as well as more challenging island hopping trips from Milos to Santorini, from Kos to Rodos and between Rodos and Southern Turkey. More information can be found at: www.seakayakgreece.com

In planning for our Greek trip, we made contact with a Crete-based operator called Nature Maniacs that offers guided tours of up to ten days. Our decision to paddle around Antiparos was not based on any perceived inadequacies in the service offered by Nature Maniacs and anyone interested in paddling around Crete might find it worth following up with this operator. More information can be found at: www.seakayakcrete.com

Ecomarin Sea Kayaking Centre runs longer trips in other parts of Turkey, including a ten day paddle along the Black Sea coast from the Bulgarian border to the northern end of the Bosphorus Strait and a ten day island hopping circuit in the Sea of Marmara, starting and finishing at Banderma. Although not part of its regular program, this operator can also offer a twenty five day mother-ship supported trip between Athens and Bodrum and trips around the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula. For more information, go to: www.dragoman-turkey.com

On a previous trip to Turkey, two of our group enjoyed a guided paddle with Alternatif Outdoor in the area around Köycegiz Lake and Göcek Bay, near Marmaris, mostly in relatively sheltered waters that are well suited to less experienced paddlers. This operator also offers kayak rentals. More information can be found at: www.alternatifraft.com

Southern Sea Ventures offers a number of paddling trips in the Göcek area, some of which can be combined with trekking and/or yacht cruising. If you prefer the convenience and security of working through an Australian-based operator, these trips might be for you. More information can be found at: www.southernseaventures.com

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