"Until the middle of the last century, Fethiye was called Meğri," guide and trekking expert Ali Ihsan Emre explains to his group as they walk at a brisk pace along the forest road connecting Kaya village to Fethiye. But they are not there for a local history lesson, as interesting as that may be.
Emre is taking another group of enthusiastic walkers on a magical mystery tour, one of breathtaking beauty, around the varied and constantly changing hills and mountains that surround this Mediterranean town on the southwest coast of Turkey.
"We don’t really know the paths and tracks, and the forest area is so big, people do get lost from time to time, so we prefer to walk with a guide," explains wild-flower photographer Pat Shepherd. "Ali Ihsan knows all the beautiful and secret places."
Spring in this part of Turkey is the most glorious season. After the snow and rain of winter, the surge of green growth can take even the most observant among us unaware. It seems it must be possible to watch the flowers grow. Well, perhaps not. But for anyone who has one day or a few Ğ maybe a weekend Ğ to spare, a trek in the hills around Fethiye can not only blow away the winter cobwebs, but also delight even the most jaded and cynical observer with the astounding colors of nature’s palate.
Trekker and nature lover Serpil Olgün confesses that, although she is from Fethiye, "I prefer to walk with someone like Ali Ihsan, who knows where he’s going and what we are looking for. In the spring and autumn, we hunt for mushrooms, but now we are looking at the amazing variety of flowers that this area is blessed with."
It’s not necessarily about a mass of color, although a field of poppies or buttercups is hard to beat for sheer outrageous exuberance. There are secret places, which only the locals and experts know, where extraordinarily persistent, yet delicate orchids push their way through the forest loam.
Treks to Mendos
Now Emre is organizing treks to Mendos, the second-highest mountain overlooking Fethiye, at 1,760 meters above sea level. The more than 40 species of flowers that grow on its slopes reflect the diversity of the region. At its rugged base are found the indigenous plants representative of the Mediterranean coastal region; as the altitude increases, alpine plants become abundant. Ali Ihsan Emre always tells his groups that picking flowers Ğ or worse, digging up the more rare ones, such as orchids Ğ is an offense against both the law and the unwritten code of nature-lovers the world over. "By all means, photograph them, draw them or paint them. But never, never, pick them," he says with finger-wagging firmness, just in case any of his participants have other ideas.
"No one has a problem with people picking sage or wild thyme, of course, and everyone makes the occasional posy from the daisies and buttercups," Emre adds. "The flowers we have here range from the common to the rare, but they are all beautiful."
Anyone interested in walking in and around Fethiye, at any time of the year, can contact Ali Ihsan Emre by visiting www.fethiyedoga.org or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.