A rollercoaster ride of new experiences and adventures

22nd, 2011
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Was there life before moving to Turkey? Many of us ask ourselves these kinds of questions and often only have vague memories of having had sedentary lives.

Phil Buckley, who is British and who has been living and working in the southern coastal town of Kaş for nearly 20 years, tells us how coming to live in Turkey has been — and still is — an adventure in many senses of the word.

Turkey sneaks up on us

Whether it’s a phenomenon directly related to Turkey or not, it does appear that even though many foreigners have made a conscious decision to settle here, a far greater number appear to have first been entranced by the country and then stayed on.

Phil’s story is just that: Before coming to Turkey he was doing a Ph.D. in the UK and teaching undergraduate courses. “I was offered a job here by an adventure travel company,” he explains. “I needed a break and took the six-month job because it was a new challenge in place to which I had never been; 18 years later I’m still here. I didn’t intend to settle here, it just sneaked up on me. Six months as a tour leader became two years. Then my partners and I set up our own adventure tourism company, Bougainville. Then I got married. Then my wife and I bought a flat. Then we had children. Then we started building a bigger house. And time is still flying.” Needless to say, he has yet to complete his doctorate.

So did he know anything at all about the country, its culture and language? “Very little,” he points out. “I knew a lot about continental Europe and its cultural history and wondered why Turkey got so few mentions. Knowing so little was part of the attraction in coming here. Learning to speak Turkish was a slow process: I learnt from bus drivers and goat herders, waiters and village folk whilst leading trips and hikes in the mountains. Although my business partners spoke English, I decided from the onset to only speak Turkish in the office, which meant they had to be patient for a year while I twisted an initially weak vocabulary around to cover complicated topics. I guess it was at about four years before I could crack a joke that got a proper laugh.”

Both Phil and the company are now part of the Kaş community, as the Bougainville newsletter shows. “It started out as a commercial marketing tool and was part of a general initiative to give us a better social media presence,” he points out. “But we realized that people would only read it if also contained a lot of general interest stuff. So as well as mentioning our products we make sure it has articles on the environs, on upcoming events, such as Grease Wrestling in Elmalı in July and things of interest to Kaş-lovers abroad. For example, updates on the construction of the new marina went down very well.

18 years on and no regrets

Since he has been here for so long, there must be many things he likes about Turkey? “The people, because of the similar sense of humor, their hospitality and their openness,” he points out. “The food, which is much more varied and a lot less stodgy than where I come from. I chose to stay in the Antalya region and not in, say, Istanbul because I’m not fond of big cities, except as a visitor. And the region that we’re in has so much potential for activities and adventure travel. I think the Mediterranean coast has some of the best scenery in the world; it’s quite simply stunning. The best years of my life have been on the Turquoise coast, where I met my wife and where we’ve raised our children.”

But isn’t there anything at all he misses about the UK?

“Living in the Med means you don’t miss family and friends as they all come out to stay, and they used to bring along whatever we missed,” he explains. “Nowadays, I’m on the lookout for Efes beer and Turkish cuisine whenever I go to trade shows around the world or on my holidays. Any stuff we can’t find in the small supermarkets of Kaş we can find in the hypermarkets of Antalya or on the Greek island of Castelorrizo, just opposite Kaş.”

From academia to adventure tourism

Art history and philosophy — the Ph.D. Phil was doing before he came to Turkey — and adventure tourism would appear to be diametrically opposed, so when did he become interested in adventure sports? “When I was a boy I went hiking in the English Pennines and Dales with my father,” he highlights. “I was sporty at school but I lost that a bit during my college years, when trips abroad meant museums and galleries. I got the taste for it back during my post-grad studies as relaxation.”

There’s also a difference between being a sport aficionado and running a business, and even though many of us would love to turn a hobby into a money-making venture, we may lack the hands-on experience to do so. Phil tells us what led him to even think that he could set up an adventure travel company: “During the long vacations, from the age of 16 onwards, I led coach tours — for companies like Wallace Arnold and Cosmos — all over continental Europe. Later I was regional manager for Eurocamp, living for periods of six months in Perpignan and the Dordogne. I spent a season in Oberammergau and another in Kitzbühel and also led art-history trips in Italy and Spain.”

Now and again we hear of tourists involved in accidents, so do adventure and safety mix? “All activities involve an element of risk, the skill is in managing it and keeping it to a minimum,” he underlines. “So although diving and canyoning are inherently the riskiest activities we offer, there are more incidents involving mountain biking due to operator error. We were the pioneers for sea kayaking, mountain biking and canyoning. We have our own dive school and paragliding team. And we are specialists on hiking the Lycian Way. I have to admit that I have yet to jump off a mountain or do our canyoning trip.”

That said, safety is paramount, and they do sometimes advise people not to attempt a certain activity. “Our tour leaders will exclude people who don’t show the requisite skills or fitness for a particular activity,” he emphasizes. “Otherwise the safety of the whole group is compromised. But this is very rare, as clients know what they are letting themselves in for. I can think of only five such incidents in the last 10 years.”

Setting up a business also an adventure

Starting Bougainville was also an adventure and a risk as, at that time, adventure tourism was relatively undeveloped. “The first year we ‘moved’ 250 people; now it’s somewhere in the region of5,000 ayear,” he underlines. “The sports we introduced were largely unknown in Turkey and were considered expensive, so in the early years it attracted mostly foreigners. Our clients these days are Turks, Brits, Germans, Dutch, French, Danish and Americans, in that order. Kaş is pretty cosmopolitan, not being exclusively British like some Aegean resorts, or mostly German and Russian as some of the Antalya satellite towns are. Nowadays Turks are our biggest customers. The hard-core adrenalin junkies are usually between 25 and 50, but we have family activities that start with toddlers. Some of our hikers and divers are in their eighties.”

So overall, would he recommend this kind of business to others? “Adventure travel is a great business, but we’ve had a lot of imitators in the last 10 years so the market may be saturated,” he says. “If I were starting again, I would build boutique hotels in isolated areas or start a winery. Doing business for foreigners has always been a Kafkaesque experience, and I wouldn’t advise anyone without lots of patience to set up their own company. But for the resolute with a vision, the rewards are there.”

And where does he envisage his future? “Mostly here,” he responds. “My daughter wants to study in the UK, so it would be nice to have a holiday home there one day. I’ll be here, working hard to pay the bills.”

Resource: Today’s Zaman

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