5 Things I Learned on a Gület Cruise Along the Turkish Coast

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Looking back, I find it is my inclination to escape whenever I hit a milestone. When I turned 30, I planned a 100-day, mostly solo backpacking trip throughout Asia. For the big 4-0, not only did I make sure we were on the other side of the planet but I literally missed my actual birthday as we crossed time zones and the 7th of October suddenly became the 9th. So it was no surprise that for our 10-year wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided to do something different: ruin-hop along the Turkish coast on a traditional wooden gület boat.

Normally, my husband and I are not “tour group” type of people, preferring to be travelers than tourists. But when we saw pictures of ancient Lycian ruins and isolated coves only available to those who approach by water, we knew this was something we had to try.

Now, a gület being a traditional sailing vessel that could accommodate maybe 10-16 people, the crew of 4 local sailors included, we knew cabins would be small and we’d have little control over where we could go and what we could do. But it was only for seven days — it’d be worth it, right?

It was beyond worth it. We became a glutton in every way — every direction we turned offered a feast for the eyes as we meandered along the rugged Turkish coast; the food seemed never-ending as we spent our days lazing about, waiting for the next meal or the next swim in impossibly clear waters; and I overdosed out on my relaxation quotient, the constant tension in my shoulders and neck soon to become a gelatinous mass only capable of lifting my head to ooh and ahh at an even more breathtaking cove.

And yet, I’m not gonna lie — for this beauty-obsessed urban dweller, there were definitely challenges to living on a 92-foot sailboat for a week. Here, a few lessons I learned, as applicable to life in general as to life on a gület.

1. How to do nothing

After the first 24 hours and the novelty of being on a gület on the open sea wore off, the multi-tasker in me started to feel a bit of cabin fever. After you’ve eaten, what do you do? Being the good Korean that I am, I don’t sunbathe anymore. In fact, I was one of the youngest people on the boat (!), and yet I was the old lady married to her wide-brimmed hat, oversized sunglasses and coverups, avoiding even being in the shade for too long because, you know, UV rays reflect off water.

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But after a couple days, the gentle cadence of the sea soon lulled me into my own rhythm. I relished the seemingly never-ending spectrum of cerulean and emerald of the Mediterranean, the contrast of golden sienna sunsets, the rugged Turkish coast at times so verdant and then so spare it reminded me of the mountains back home. I marveled at the crew, clambering over piles of rope to get the massive sails up, calling out in a language so ornate in its musicality and bubbling r’s. I even learned to love the sudden silence when the motor was turned off and the old gület came alive, her eerie moaning and creaking the harmony to the wind on the sails. Admittedly, it freaked me out at first — being a creature of the media living in a city like L.A., such utter quiet is a bad thing, a sign that surely a zombie apocalypse is nigh. But after a while, when the silence would descend, it would strangely cloak my mind as well, my only thoughts filled with the beauty before me, and I’d feel transported back to a simpler time, when world travel was accomplished mostly by wind and sail.

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2. How to be adventurous

Now, one side effect of doing nothing all day long is that when an opportunity to do something comes along, one is a little more inclined to take on whatever challenge it may be. Such was the case when we docked in a tiny cove and behold, high up in the surrounding mountain was an ancient Lycian rock-cut tomb.

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The 14th century BC Lycians were known for carving monumental tombs in the cliffsides of the Turkish coast and burying their royalty and the wealthy there. Many still exist today, but are difficult to access because, well, they’re cut out of sheer cliff walls. But emboldened by my husband’s solo trek up to the top of the ruins at Kaunos a couple days earlier (there was no path, but he made it, much to my immense relief), we decided to climb up to the tomb. The crew took us by dinghy and dropped us off at the base of the mountain — mere rocks and boulders with no flat land to speak of. We clambered and crawled up, bushes and trees obscuring our view above so we could only estimate where we were in relation to our goal. I only had my Havianas flip-flops (we were told to minimize our luggage, so naturally I forsook the practical sneakers in favor of the impractical but stylish ankle boots I’d don around Istanbul) and was a bit worried that they’d fall apart, and I’d have to crawl up barefoot.

After copious sweating and 45 minutes, we got our first glimpse of the tombs. We had made it! We didn’t fall off the mountain! We didn’t die! The tombs were magnificent up close, and inside, though they were empty, it was both creepy and awe-inspiring. But the fact that we had made it was beyond exhilarating, and when I looked down and saw how high up we were, I couldn’t help but be humbled and incredibly proud at the same time (not to mention filled with renewed respect for my husband who navigated us up there solely by instinct). It was a moment I’ll never forget, not just for its beauty but for the fact that I had actually conquered the mountain, quite literally.

And Havianas — serious props to you for making an incredibly durable flip-flop.

3. How to eat breakfast

When you spend every waking moment either doing nothing or climbing mountains, you look forward to every meal. Especially when every meal looks like this:

Fruits, veggies and plenty of yogurt every morning.

Bread and sour cherry jam, figs and peaches like I’ve never seen in the States, cheese and olives, the ubiquitous tomato and cucumber, and plenty of yogurt every morning. Photo by Nola Smith.

The Turkish diet, in addition to its plethora of meat in the form of döner and kebab, is never without fresh fruit (figs, peaches), vegetables (tomatoes and cucumbers are a must) and plenty of yogurt. And despite stuffing ourselves to the gills at every meal (with white bread even) and doing little but lazing about immediately thereafter, I surprisingly did not become a giant blob. In fact, after two weeks of hearty breakfasts, which really did result in us eating the first meal of the day like a king and dinner like a pauper, I was shocked to find that my husband and I had actually lost a little weight. (TMI alert: We also didn’t have the usual gastrointestinal issues that accompany travels abroad, and I attribute that to all the probiotic yogurt we ate.)

Needless to say, now that we’re back, we’ve incorporated ayran (the traditional Turkish yogurt drink) into our diet and try to have a hearty breakfast every morning. Though it ain’t no Turkish breakfast, and we’ve gained all the weight back, at least now I know what a proper diet looks like.

4. How to pare down my beauty regimen

If the cabins were considered “cozy,” the bathroom in our cabin was downright cramped. Only one medium-sized person fit at a time and the shower had these “steps” so that the only way to stand in it is with one leg raised.

Since there was little sink space, I ended up doing my 10-step Asian skin care regimen (again, good Korean!) on the bed with a tiny travel mirror, my sample-size serums, hydrating lotions and eye creams scattered before me. I tried to pare down my regimen — really I did! I brought as many multitasking products as possible — but with sun protection my number one priority, I had no choice but to bring a full size of LaRoche-Posay’s new antioxidant serum with SPF and other products that would help fight free radicals and sun damage.

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Another proud moment for me: I learned I could get through my mandatory 10-steps in record time (because once they ring the bell for breakfast, you have seconds to get to the table, lest you be stuck sitting on the sun side). I also learned to just embrace my hair texture and let it air dry. Wavy in parts, frizzy in parts and straight in parts — I just let it all hang out, literally. I considered it my “windswept” look, the slightly unintentional cousin to bedhead. Besides, if it got really unruly, all I had to do was go for a quick swim — seawater really is the best texturizer.

5. How to look beyond your comfort zone

The SCIC Sailing crew on the gület consisted of four Turkish men, aged 17 to 45, and their aptitude in English varied from maybe a dozen words to conversational. And despite our gregarious fellow passengers — all English-speaking Europeans and Australians — it was the Turkish crew we ended up getting to know best.

The universal language of friendship: the hand heart.

The universal language of friendship: the hand heart.

With the help of Google Translate, we learned about their life on the gület (25 weeks a year — straight!), their families and girlfriends back home, their goals and aspirations, even peeks at the shenanigans on past voyages. We drank the national drink raki together, we danced together, we swam together. They epitomized the generosity and openness of the Turkish people and culture. It was an insight into the country and its people we could have never gotten on the streets of Istanbul or at a resort in Göcek. And for all the beauty and history of the country, it was those relationships — ones we keep up now that we’re back home, thanks to social media — that forever forged Turkey into our hearts. It’s a lesson in openness that I’ll take with me to every country we visit from now on — and also back home.

BFFs (Boat Friends Forever).

BFFs (Boat Friends Forever) from left: Samet, Oktay, the hubby, Servet and Mehmet.

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