Doorman uses day off to drive guest to dream locale

By Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

I was told there was only one way to get to the legendary Chimaera on Mount Olympos: Taxi. And an expensive ride at that.

Until a few years ago, I used to live in Turkey and took the opportunity to travel extensively around the country. One of my favorite destinations was Antalya.

But I have long since given up driving in Turkey as it can be very stressful especially in an area that I’m not familiar with or involves driving on narrow mountain roads with the possibility of snow or slush.

With my sights on Mount Olympos, I stayed at the Tuvana Hotel, furnished in traditional Turkish style with a comfortable room and located close to the port and the center of town so I could reach everything easily on foot.

After the front desk told me about the cost of my desired tour, the doorman approached me and said:

“I couldn’t help but hear you. If you want to see the chimaera and several other interesting sights along the way no guided tour would know about, I’ll be happy to take you. I have a good car and tomorrow is my day off. I don’t want any money, I’ll be happy if you pay for the gas and if I can bring my wife. She has never been and this is a good opportunity for a family outing and if I can help you out at the same time, it will be a pleasure. My name is Ahmed.”

The conversation was conducted in very bad Turkish on my part and so-so English on his, but we understood each other perfectly with laughs and hand signals in between. I was delighted to accept. Actually, it’s not the first time I have traveled in this way. I have been on fabulous trips with waiters and cooks of the hotels I stayed in, especially in Turkey and the Middle East. I get a driver, local tour guide, interpreter and bodyguard all rolled in one, very handy when, like me, you are a woman traveling on your own.

The chimaera is a natural phenomenon on Mount Olympos. They are a cluster of more than 30 flames which shoot out of the sheer rock, fuelled by natural gas. They cannot be extinguished, even if covered up, a new flame will immediately burst out right next to it.

At 8 on the dot the next morning, Ahmed parked his freshly washed car at the entrance. His lovely wife was in the passenger seat and in the back a huge basket of home baked goodies. “No need to stop at any restaurant and spend money unnecessarily,” Fatima said to me. “You sit in front, so you can see better and take pictures and I’ll sit in the back and dispense the food.”

The first stop was at a petrol station where I paid for the gas, with the snow covered Taurus mountain already visible in the distance. Soon the road turned from motorway into secondary roads, with woods and waterfalls lining them, a light rain coming in.

We went past an abandoned, brightly painted VW Beetle car which had been turned into a flower pot. First photo op. Next Ahmed asked me if I wanted to see a colony of tree houses mostly frequented by artists and students. Of course I did. Second photo op of the day.

The road turned even narrower and steeper and the rain turned to slush. Ahmed mastered every twist and turn with panache. Finally we arrived at a car park in Cirali . “From here we have to climb up the mountain side, it’s about 20 to 30 minutes. I’ll help you if it gets too steep.”

At last the chimaera, blazing out of sheer rocks. An astonishing sight. We hunkered down at the flames and warmed our hands. “In the summer people come here for a picnic,” Ahmed explained on that November day. “You can actually fry an egg over the flame and some tourists even roast marshmallows.”

By now it was early afternoon and Ahmed suggested: “I’d also like to show you how to climb behind a stunning waterfall near Antalya, if you like. I know a shorter way back.” We only stopped at a very rustic tea house for a glass of Turkish tea and to eat some of the goodies in Fatima’s basket. The owner didn’t mind that we brought our own food.

Back in Antalya we continued on to the Duden waterfalls, a group of spectacular waterfalls which drop off a cliff straight into the Mediterranean Sea. True to his word, Ahmed guided me to a cave directly behind the waterfall from where I could see through the deluge of water from behind and took some very unusual pictures.

Arriving back at the  hotel, Fatima gave me a present, a pin with the famous Turkish Eye to bring me luck and protect me from evil and invited me to dinner the next evening so I could sample some ‘real Turkish food.” I experienced Turkish generosity and hospitality at its best thanks to an attentive doorman who came to the rescue when I was about to give up my plans to see the chimaera.

About the journalist:
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte was born in Germany and has worked as an international attorney for many years before becoming a novelist and travel writer. She has lived in Switzerland, London, Miami, Turkey, Oman and Beirut before settling in Spain. Her work has been published in BBC/Travel, BBC Sky at Night, The Culture Trip, VIE Magazine and several inflight magazines. Her hobbies are ancient history, Renaissance art, astronomy and practicing Kick Boxing and Tai Chi. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.