Fethiye isn’t just about beaches, bars and restaurants. Even after a short stay, it’s hard not to notice the mountains and forests which surround the town waiting to be explored and, for the adventurous, it probably seems as simple as slipping on a stout pair of shoes and heading out.
But, just like the Cumbrian fells or the glens of Scotland, if you’re not properly prepared, there can be some unpleasant surprises in the woods.
STEVE PARSLEY has been walking dogs in the forests around Fethiye just about every day for over three years and offers his own advice on precautions which can be taken to keep both you and any furry companions out of trouble should you head for the hills.
It may seem a little melodramatic but, if you’re heading for the mountains and forests alone, it’s not a bad idea to let someone know where you’re going and how long you expect to be.
Back in the UK, you’ve probably read dozens of times of a “man walking his dog” discovering all sorts of things but there are far fewer of them around in Turkey. It’s a much bigger country and therefore by no means crowded.
Even just a short distance from Fethiye, you can find yourself in some wild countryside which is rarely visited. If you fall or have some other sort of medical emergency it could be some time before anyone stumbles across you so a fully-charged phone, a power pack if you have one, and a whistle to attract attention are probably not a bad idea. Plenty of water is also essential.
If you’re used to the UK, obviously there’s far more of it to worry about but, in Turkey, the heat of high summer is best avoided. Temperatures can exceed 50C in July and August and, when it’s that hot, you need to be drinking almost constantly to avoid dehydration.
Water is heavy so, on a long hike, it’s not easy to carry enough with you. If you have to go out as you have a dog to walk, it’s best to stick to the cool of the morning and evening. Even so, if you feel a headache coming on, feel a little nauseous or irritable, make sure you drink something as soon as you can.
Thunderstorms are the main concern in the winter months. They can arrive quite suddenly or be prolonged and pretty violent. A decent weather app on your phone which gives your real-time data on the location of nearby storm systems is a good idea.
Things that slither, bite and sting…
There’s a season for most so they’re not necessarily a risk all year round but be aware that snakes are pretty common, particularly in May and June.
By far the majority will try to avoid you just as much as you them but, if you were to step on one, they can strike. Few are venomous enough to kill a human adult but that’s unlikely to be much reassurance if you’ve just been bitten.
Hospital treatment is probably still a good idea – and as soon as possible – but, obviously, it’s even better to try to avoid being bitten in the first place.
Stout walking boots are a better bet than sandals or trainers without socks. Watch where you place your feet when crossing rocky hillsides exposed to the sun with shadowy crevices between them, although you can still find snakes in the sunnier patches of forest too.
If you do come across one, by far the best thing to do is stand still or, if you have to move, to do so slowly; if you don’t appear to pose a threat, there’s a good chance a snake will make good its escape and leave you alone.
Scorpions are also pretty common in Turkey, particularly in more open ground. They’re fast-moving, often well-camouflaged, small – some no bigger than a 10p piece – and, if you’re wearing boots and on the move, little real threat.
However, if you decide to sit somewhere for a breather or take a picnic, it’s not a bad idea to do a quick sweep of your intended perch first. A scorpion sting can be extremely painful, cause severe swelling and poses a far more serious risk to some.
The pine processionary caterpillar is also worth keeping an eye open for in late spring, particularly if you’re accompanied by a dog.
They hatch in late spring from eggs laid by larvae wrapped in silken nests which resemble cotton wool hanging in the branches of pine trees. Most are on the march within a few weeks of each other, the caterpillars forming long chains which give them their name as they hunt a suitable place to burrow underground, emerging as moths in late summer.
They may appear harmless and, left alone, they pose no threat but they are adorned with tiny hairs which can be a significant irritant for humans and can even prove fatal to dogs. Should you come across them, it’s best to steer clear. In April and early May, it’s probably advisable to keep any canine companions on a lead.
Wild boar are also fairly widespread. By and large, if you spot them in the forest, they are less likely to be a threat; they are hunted so frequently they will probably run in the opposite direction as soon as they’re aware of you.
However, some also live close to human habitation, scavenging from bins and raiding crops and there have been reports of protective mothers with young showing aggression towards people, particularly if they feel cornered or threatened.
If you come across one and it hunches its shoulders and utters a growl or low grunt, it’s a warning so move away. It’s not a good idea to run; try to appear confident – but keep an eye open for something you can climb up just in case.
Shepherds and their dogs …
Shepherds and shepherdesses have been herding sheep and goats on the Turkish mountains for countless generations and, sometimes when you come across them, it’s easy to believe little has changed.
You can often hear their distinctive calls and whistles to their animals well before you see them, some also carrying plastic bottles filled with stones and tied to sticks which they use as rattles to drive their herds.
We’ve come across one shepherd who belts out folk songs at the top of his voice, one who insisted we share her meagre lunch, one old lady who regularly berates us like a demented witch every time our paths cross and others who simply scowl from beneath lowered brows.
But it’s worth remembering where there’s a shepherd or shepherdess there’s often a dog – or more than one – and they’re not always friendly.
Traditionally, they were used to deter things like bears or leopards from attacking the herd but, even though such big predators are now rare, the dogs remain – and some will still attack anything they perceive as a threat. They often range a fair distance from the herd, so you may come across them before you’ve even seen sheep or goats and, if you have your own a dog with you, it’s wise to be ready for the eventuality.
Kangal mastiffs are a popular breed among the shepherds; they’re both fearless and often huge. However, you can also encounter herds protected by a screen of ragtag mongrels who quickly converge to become a pack as soon as any individual barks a warning.
Extricating your own dog from a seething pile of fur and teeth is both risky and stressful so we’d recommend carrying pepper spray. Using a stick as a weapon isn’t a good idea; it antagonises an aggressive dog and would be no good against a fully-grown kangal anyway. It’s true that pepper spray can also be difficult to deploy if you’re trying to restrain your own dog on a lead at the same time – but at least it seems to work, even from a little distance.
If you don’t have a dog with you, the chances of being attacked by one owned by a shepherd are reduced significantly. It’s still probably a good idea to be cautious if you come across one but, like the boar, if you appear confident and don’t seem to pose a direct threat, it’s less likely that they will show any aggression. If they do, you can keep them at bay with the pepper spray and, if they persist, look for something you can climb.
Poison is a negligible threat to humans but, if you’re walking with a dog, it’s a different story. Sadly, it is used by shepherds and farmers, sometimes to control boar which have been raiding crops, sometimes against other predators which are deemed to be a risk to lambs or kids and sometimes specifically to kill dogs seen walking in the areas where shepherds drive their herds.
It is illegal and, as a result of laws going through government at the moment, could soon carry a maximum prison sentence of four years should it result in the death of an animal. But, in the more far-flung rural areas, the reality is that it would be almost impossible to prove who was responsible.
As a result, when we walk our own dog, we always carry a needle, syringe and a supply of atropine – an antidote that, in an emergency, can buy you enough time to get your animal to a vet for treatment. It’s available over the counter from most surgeries along with information on how to administer it and the correct dosage for your pet.
Poison is a nasty, insidious threat and, sadly, one which needs to be considered every time you walk your dog off a lead. It can kill quickly and can be left anywhere, even adjacent to roads or well-trodden paths.
Symptoms vary but are evident within minutes. A loss of control of the limbs is usually the first sign; your dog may appear dazed and unsteady on its feet. Rapid heartbeat, violent trembling and laboured breathing, retching and coughing may follow, before collapse. Frothing from the mouth and blue gums may occur in the latter stages and, if not treated quickly, death is almost inevitable.
We always keep our own dog on a lead – particularly in areas where we have come across sheep and goats before – and will demonstrate that to any shepherds we see. We will sit and wait patiently if a herd crosses our path and stay well clear if we can hear them along the route ahead.
We have trained our dog as best we can not to react or to bark if we come across livestock and do our best to show respect for the shepherds and shepherdesses and their lifestyle which, after all, has been unchanged for centuries.
In the eyes of some who make their living off the land or in the forests, recreational walkers are still the interlopers and, if they bring along dogs which can be a threat to their livestock, their instinct is to protect them.
It would be impossible for many to condone or countenance the indiscriminate use of poison but, if a shepherd has half a dozen animals unaccounted for and a stranger with a dog has been seen in the same area recently, it is easy to understand their reasoning, if not their solution.
The further you go from centres of population the less likely it is that you’ll see anyone else. You can sometimes walk for hours without hearing or seeing another human being and, for some, that’s the attraction of the forests and mountains.
But, although even woods closer to habitation can still be deserted, there is more of a chance that you’ll encounter people. The noise of engines from a quad bike safari, the slow, plodding clip-clop of hooves from a pony trek or even a shouted conversation between other walkers will mean that sense of isolation vanishes.
But it’s also worth remembering the forests are also every Turk’s hunting ground and, sometimes, as evening falls or over the weekends, some will head into the woods with their guns. More than once, I’ve felt the need to make my location obvious after hearing a shotgun blast which seemed dangerously close. For the hunters, your whistle is also a handy way of making your presence a bit more obvious; failing that, just make a lot of noise.
After listing so many hazards, some may wonder if it’s safe to leave the towns and villages at all but, of the hundreds of walks we’ve done, 90% have been uneventful. The views are incredible, the peace and tranquillity palpable and, even if you do encounter wildlife, you don’t have to be Bear Grylls to survive.
It really is just a matter being aware of the potential pitfalls and taking sensible precautions to either deal with them or avoid them – just as you would anywhere else. By and large the benefits – both physical and mental – far outweigh the risks so, if you like to explore, strap on the boots and get out there.
Rebecca & Steve Parsley are both former journalists with experience in newspapers, magazines and on radio. Since 2006 they have run their own communications agency, specialising in social media and online content writing. They moved to Turkey just over three years ago and live in Kayaköy with their German Shepherd dog, Dillon – formerly a street dog – and two cats. When not slaving over their keyboards or walking in the local countryside, they enjoy watching motorsport – especially Formula 1 – and are also salsa dance addicts.