WILCO VAN HERPEN
Deep off the beaten terrain lies the monastery of Afkule; it’s an adventure getting there, so grab your boots and prepare to mosey down some gravel
About a 10 minute drive from Kayaköy (between Dalaman and Fethiye) in the direction of Gemiler Island, you can see a sign reading “Afkule Monastery.” I do not know if you ever go off the beaten track, but I can recommend you to do so every now and then. It will lead to very pleasant and unexpected surprises; something Turkey is full of.
You have to be careful though, at a certain point, the road will fork and you either can choose right or left. Do not take the right road, but go left. A bit further away, you will be at the end of the road, but this is a perfect spot to park your car. Everywhere there is shade so your car will not be like an oven if you choose the right spot. Here, the real trip begins. You have to walk for one or two kilometers before you reach your destination, but this is a quite nice walk. I saw people with babies walking this path, so it is not too difficult. The only bummer is when you are not really walking anymore the way you used to; please, do not try to go and pay a visit to Afkule Monastery then. Sometimes the road, and especially the last part, can be tricky and dangerous (especially after rainfall). The problem is a combination of gravel-like little stones and a steep mountain slope. There is, fortunately, no pavement or stairs (yet). I say fortunately because the lack of it adds to the adventures and mystic feeling you get while walking toward the monastery. Just follow the red and yellow signs that are painted on rocks; they will lead you to the monastery.
The first acquaintance with the monastery is a beautiful view from above it. Take your time here, enjoy the view and have a short rest because from here on, the path will be a bit more difficult. A steep slope down the mountain will lead you to the monastery. As a distance, it is not too far, but this is the most difficult part to reach your goal; the Afkule Monastery. Anyway, for people with a fear of heights, this is not the place to be, but if you do not have such problems, then what you will see is breathtaking. This is a miniature Sümela Monastery, the famous monastery at the Black Sea
Coast. Hidden away in the rocks, this monastery has kept its secrets for many years. Looking from a distance it looks small (and it is).
The last part of the road is going down steep and sometimes even I slipped over the loose little stones that cover the path. Wear your hiking boots; they give you more grip while ascending. Then, all of a sudden, a gate appears in front of you. This is the entrance to the monastery and once you have reached this point, you are safe (as long as you do not want to enter the monastery).
A logical human behavior is to explore, as a first move, the environment. Then it is time to go into the little monastery. That is where another exciting phase of your trip will start. If you have a fear of heights, do not try to enter the monastery. The last 10 meters are nothing more than a very narrow ridge leading to the upper part of the monastery. (You might think I’m exaggerating, but I am definitely not). If you do not have fear of heights and you can do this last stretch, I recommend you to go for it. The view from within is breathtaking. Inside the monastery, you have to climb another floor up, but this is not too difficult. Unfortunately, treasure hunters have left their traces here. Generally people suspect treasure hunters to be people from abroad, but after traveling in Turkey for so many years, I know it generally is the local people who are involved with those kinds of activities…
If you expect the grandeur of Sümela Monastery, then do not go to Afkule monastery; it will be a big disappointment for you. But if you fancy a little authentic place where not so many people come, then you have found the right spot here. At the “inner yard” of this monastery, you can see the remaining of a building at your left and a cave with, if you give it a good look, still some remaining letters and paintings. There are stairs going up to the first floor of the monastery, but be careful, it is steep and rather narrow. From here, you can enter the monastery and inside the monastery, there is another staircase that leads to the second floor. From here, you have the most perfect view of the sea and the mountains. There is a little “balcony” where you can sit, relax and enjoy the view. I am always fascinated by how people manage to find such a location and then build a church or monastery there.
My walk alone toward this monastery was already difficult enough and therefore I cannot imagine how it was to get construction materials to this place.
There is a last surprise outside the monastery. If you pass the building in front of the monastery from the right hand side, you can see a path (well, actually it is not a real path, but use your imagination) going to the left. I know that it might sound boring, but this path is an even bigger challenge to walk on or follow than the path that leads to the monastery. Anyway, if you follow this trail (at a certain point you have to make a small jump because part of the path has been flushed away from rainfall and you look down quite a bit… Be very careful here!) it will lead you to a water reservoir. Above it are some impressive stalactites from which water is dripping down into the reservoir. When you stick your head in the reservoir, you can hear the water drops falling.
For me, travelling around Turkey is not about seeing all those big touristic attractions. Of course they are very nice as well, but for me, the treasures of this country are hidden away like here, in Kayaköy.
Next week, I will write about another amazing place near Kayaköy, the monastery of Saint Nicholas or, as we Dutch people say, Sinterklaas.