And we had a good time in Olympos.

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Well that bus ride was the worst. We had a white-collared black-tied bus nazi who regulated our entire night. Shaking my shoulder after I’d finally managed to fall asleep so I could move my shoe over half an inch, waking Nicole and Meg up from a dead sleep to force-feed them tea at 3 o-clock in the morning, this tiny little Turkish man with the swagger of a 13 year old North Vancouver wanna-be gangster patrolled the bus like a totalitarian tyrant. Does he have any idea how hard it is to get sleep on this damn thing? And why is the bus so busy, anyway? I thought I was lucky that I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me, but the second I shuffled my elbow an inch or allowed a strand of hair to fall onto the empty seat, I was yelled at. What in the hell.

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Anyway. Shitty overnight bus aside (Goreme to Antalya, 10 hours), we managed to get to Olympos. After an early morning transfer in Antalya, we arrived at our “treehouse” (Kadir’s Treehouses). Everyone I’ve talked to who has been to Olympos has insisted that this is the place to stay. Well, maybe. But it’s late November, and there’s nobody here. So… we ventured to find the beach. But then we got distracted by bad calamari and fake coronas on a picnic table under a grove of orange trees. Our server – hilarious and rotund – disappeared mid-meal. I mean he literally left. Turned and walked away. We had to hunt down a random person who we thought perhaps might work at the restaurant (obviously we were the only guests) in order to pay for our meal… later we found our server hanging out at a building half way down the road – totally makes sense right.

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We found (and by found, I mean stole) a perfectly shaped orange in a nearby orchard. We then proceeded to play catch in the courtyard until our makeshift softball started to crack and squirt everywhere. Dinner was good – lotta beans – (breakfast and dinner are included with the price of a room – thankfully too, because the cost of sleeping in a tree house was 40 liras a night… bit atrocious thank you very much), and then out came the backgammon board. As luck would have it, a search and rescue team was arriving at the treehouses for a weekend of training in Olympos, so before long we were surrounded by 10 Turkish men who taught us how to play backgammon “the real way”. Fabulous. By the time the bar closed at 1am, we were all backgammon geniuses. And then we retired to a room with no electricity – headlamps and boxed wine ensued.

The most delightful shower at 2 in the morning. Crawled into a soft, comfortable bed. Slept like a baby and awoke refreshed on my birthday morning to the sun peeking through our floral curtains. Late, lazy breakfast (and then a chicken came, jumped on the table, and ate my scrambled eggs. So we threw knives at it.). Coffee on pillows in the sunshine. A dilly-dallying walk to the beach, conversations in broken English with the local fishermen. Ruins dating back to 300 BC. Turquoise water. A birthday pee in the Mediterranean. Bob Marley on the beach. Fresh pomegranates and a slice of orange from the fishing gentlemen.

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As shadows overtook the beach, we ambled up the dirt road… found a seat at a local “restaurant” and sat outside on pillows, ordered an apple hookah and “gozleme.” Happy birthday song over the sound system! Moved inside as it got dark, huddled around a wood burning stove in the centre of the restaurant. The first pomegranate tree I ever did see.

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Drinks. Poker. Lights out, “happy birthday” from a jam-packed room of lovely new Turkish friends. A makeshift corner-store cake with a paper candle stuffed inside. It wouldn’t light, so they did the next best thing, and… got innovative. I blew out my birthday candle on an iPad app. ;) Then, happy birthday in Turkish! Several very interesting people, and then “It’s your birthday. Choose a star, any star to be yours.”…. an incredible, memorable, once-in-a-lifetime birthday. :)

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We’d planned to stay in Olympos for 2 days. We stayed for 5.

We made friends with the locals (another reason I love traveling off-season!) and were offered a ride to Yanartaş on Mount Chimaera from one of the random restaurant owners we’d met during our stay. He took us for a spin (literally) in his funny little jeep. For 45 minutes we bumped around like we were in the inside of a washing machine.

Hiked up a mountain in the dark. Flashlights. Methane gas. And the side of a hill dancing with fire.

(The fires are grouped over an area of 5000 m2 and are fueled by gas emissions which have been burning for over 2500 years. Vents and flames are vigorous (and most spectacular in the winter months – yet another reason I love off-season travel :) )

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Happy birthday to me! ;)