A Visit to Bodrum, Turkey: Barracudas and Belly Dancers

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Swimming in the Aegean Sea. Photos by Roman Skaskiw.

Swimming in the Aegean Sea. Photos by Roman Skaskiw.

A Visit to Bodrum, Turkey: Barracudas and Belly Dancers

By Roman Skaskiw

The giant chess set in the courtyard of the Karia Princess Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey

The giant chess set in the courtyard of the Karia Princess Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey.

I’d heard rave reviews of Bodrum’s Karia Princess Hotel from a friend who’d attended a conference there last year. “You’ll be treated like royalty,” he’d said.

So I was momentarily surprised by its modest (though certainly nice) exterior. Once inside, however, the Karia Princess exceeded expectation.

I, along with a few fellow conference attendees who shared a cab from the airport, were greeted by staff bearing exotic drinks, and cool, wet towels.

En route to my room, I passed two swimming pools (three if you include the children’s pool), a giant chess set, a marble pool-side bar, a clay tennis court, lush gardens, and as much polished stone as I’d ever encountered outside Washington, DC. I much prefer the sort whose maintenance I am not obligated to finance.

Prior to the official start of this year’s conference, several of us took a boat trip into the startlingly turquoise waters of the Aegean. We lounged on a pillow-covered section of the upper deck introducing ourselves as the boat from Aquapro Diving Center made its way from Bodrum’s busy marina to a small cove.

I was struck by the rocky hills of the coast and how few of them seemed touched by any development. Bodrum looked much smaller than I had expected — a little more than 30,000 permanent inhabitants according to Wikipedia.

I imagined those hills looked much the same when the small modern town of Bodrum was the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus.

All of us swam, and most decided to dive as well. Joby, the British expat who, along with her husband, founded Aquapro, gave us a thorough block of instruction.

Over the course of the afternoon each of us donned a wet suit, weighted belt, scuba tank and fins, and dipped into the waters for an individually chaperoned “discovery dive.”

The author, ready to dive in the Aegean Sea in Bodrum, Turkey

The author, ready to dive in the Aegean Sea in Bodrum, Turkey.

My guide pointed out sleek barracudas, placed a sea urchin in the palm of my hand which promptly attached itself with its suction-like tentacles, and, toward the end of our lap around the cove, handed me a piece of bread which attracted a swarm of colorful fish.

The one member of our group with an open water diver license swam to a C-47 Dakota twin propeller plane which had been used in the Berlin airlift. It was purchased and sunk to create an artificial reef and playground for scuba divers.

Despite its diminutive size, Bodrum had no shortage of night life. A meandering column of conference attendees went out on the town one evening. There seemed to be an endless selection of bars and discos. Judging strictly by volume of advertising, Johnny Walker Black was the preferred drink.

I also visited the Tomb of Mausolus, known as the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. It was a bit of a disappointment, though I say this having had unreasonably high expectations, as the mousaleum is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Bodrum, Turkey

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Bodrum, Turkey.

Few of the remaining stones bore any distinguishable carvings, and it was difficult to distinguish which parts of the large pit were original structure, which were part of various excavation efforts, and which were there to accommodate tourists.

My two favorite parts were a display of sketches depicting wildly divergent drawings of the mousaleum by artists recreating its image from ancient written descriptions, and a narrative of the successful defense of Halicarnassus by Queen Artemisia who’d built the mousaleum against an invading force from nearby Rhodes.

The navy of Halicarnassus hid their navy in a secret harbor, obscured from the open sea. The people lured the attackers away from their ships by feigning surrender, then captured the unmanned ships, towing them out to sea and slaughtered the attackers. I imagined the hidden harbor when my second boat ride provided a good view of the bay.

Bodrum harbor

Bodrum harbor.

In the mornings, the courtyards of the Karia Princess Hotel smelled of flowers. I occasionally swam before the buffet style breakfast. The hotel’s staff was the most polite and professional I have ever encountered in all my travels. They attended our glasses over meals, served coffee and tea between lectures, and wine and beer during dinner.

On the last evening, we were treated to a performance by Asena, who’d been described to me as one of the top belly dancers in Turkey. Her star power was seconded by the obvious excitement of the staff. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined a human torso could move in such ways.

On my last day, prior to my evening my flight, I went on a second boat trip. This time, we took six boats into the turquoise waters. I’m not accustomed to boating, and was charmed by the efficient layout of their small cabins.

The ice cream man selling from his boat

The ice cream man selling from his boat.

It was nice being treated like an adult. There were no lifeguards and no waivers. Once anchored, we jumped over the rail into the clear water and swam between the boats. People brought out styrofoam noodles, snorkels, and a few kayaks. Parents watched their children, and a good time, it seemed, was had by all.

I returned to my own boat at lunch for fish, bread, salad, potatoes, egg plant, wine and a dessert of coffee cherries and nectarines. An enterprising young man guided his red speedboat into the cove, and pulled alongside one boat, then the next, selling ice cream.

I’m sorry I missed the opportunity to experience the hotel’s Hamam, or Turkish bath. I only managed a visit. The resident masseuse led me down a corridor past a sauna, a room with massage tables, and the cooling room.

My footsteps echoed in the corridor. It led to a large, round chamber of polished stone. The masseuse gestured for me to put my hand on the hot marble bed in the center of the room. I’m still fantasizing about how good it would have felt to lie down there.


Roman SkaskiwRoman Skaskiw
served as an infantry officer with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was recently recalled for another tour in Afghanistan with the Kunar Province Provincial Reconstruction Team.
He is a 2007 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, Stanford Magazine, Front Porch Journal, In The Fray Magazine, and elsewhere on GoNomad.com. He is shown here climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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