Before sunrise is the best, but not the most convenient, time to arrive at Kayakoy. We pick our way down the dirty, rutted dust track with phone torches barely illuminating our way until the path opens out onto a bowl containing a couple of restaurants and a jewellery shop, open to the elements but deserted of human life at this time of day. Ghosts trouble us much more now than the bombardment of moths, wasps and mosquitoes had as we dined in the restaurant last night, now enveloped in the pre-dawn shadows. My feet know the path well after so many years. It curls round the back of the tendril wrapped building and out onto the cobbled path leading up through the town of Kayakoy, stark in contrast, with buildings of raw stone either side and only rough scrub populating the dusty ground between houses and fallen rocks.
My back begins to warm, exposed to the first rays of the sun beginning to peak over the opposite ridge as we make our way up the slope of the East facing settlement. It’s hard to imagine these buildings, stripped of any wood and metal, with walls reduced to formless piles of rubble, populated by the vivid characters from Louis de Bernier’s ‘Birds Without Wings’. The cycle of blistering sun and night chill has not been kind; the ice seller with his donkey would struggle to make his way along the uneven roads nowadays. We are racing the sun up the slope, determined to make it to the worn plateau containing the small, whitewashed Greek Orthodox Chapel before dawn is done. The much larger church we pass on our right has doors and gateways barred to us, hiding its secrets which we have pillaged in previous years; desecrated mosaics and crevices commandeered by spiders and biting insects.
The Greek spirits are banished as the sun bathes the houses altering their façade from gawping faces with dark windows and doorways forming sightless eyes, to dishevelled homes, wistful and patient for the return of their keepers who fled in 1922. We’ve barely beaten the sun to the top, dawn has been dissolved as the sun slides into view and we must face full on the heat of Turkish summer. Inside the chapel is still cool, the stones not yet having absorbed the day’s heat have a restorative effect on my temperature, if not my clothes as I come away from them tarnished with spider webs and dust from the crumbling paint. Empty, besides dust and a few straying weeds, the curved simplicity of the white structure hints at the uncomplicated effort of these people to make their way through life.
The view from the plateau encompasses the rambling hills on the far side of the flattened valley. Dotted across the scene are the muted greys of ruins isolated from Kayakoy itself, they are everywhere you look. We once had a family friend, a Turkish rug salesman, who bought one such ruin high in the far side hills and converted it into a beautiful refuge for him and his wife, far from the stifling hustle and bustle of Fethiye, where he sold his wares. He died suddenly during the construction of a swimming pool to ease to midday heat and as far as I am aware the house has been left to decay in its heartache, returning to its derelict state. If I turn from this view the land drops steeply away from my feet, covered in a carpet of green shrubs, down to the ocean that looks so calm from our vantage point; the frothy clamour of waves ripping at rocks is hidden by distance. To my right, between these two vistas, is the ragged hill that leads to the highest chapel, hidden amongst the parched foliage and rasping branches of olive and other scrubby trees. We made this climb one year, reaching the top covered in scrapes with blood bubbling from a cut in my knee that left a scar. The reward wasn’t worth the difficulty of the hike. Besides it’s novelty, the chapel was much the same as the lower chapel just with fewer graffiti scrawls and there was little more you could see with the higher elevation; hemmed in by the same distant hills and the same expansive blue ocean.
Having failed in our attempt to reach the peak before it was ignited by the scorching sun, we began to meander back down into the village which still contained the hints of a shadowy dawn. Depsite the lure of Muzzy’s pool at the base of the slope there is no rush to make our way down with so many houses and remnants of yards, larders and chimneys to explore. Only an occasional hornet causes a spurt in pace. And anyhow, we’ll be back again once our bellies are full of dinner and the sun has spent his energy and is beginning to sink.