Winter is supposed to be a time of relaxation and recharging of batteries – a gradual working through the boat jobs in preparation for the next cruising season.

In Finike it is a high pressure whirl of activities as detailed in the last blog but one. We haven’t had a chance to make any significant inroads into the list of outstanding jobs and are leaving all of these until Birvidik is lifted out of the water for four weeks in March/April. There have also been some high pressure weather systems, producing Northerly winds which sweep down off the snow covered mountains. We’ve had temperatures as low as -3! This is Turkey, not Southern England.

Our cultural activities continued with the series of concerts given by the Antalya State Orchestra – the most recent being an evening of Russian composers. Mussorgsky was excellent (A night on bald mountain) and the Tchaikovsky was rousing stuff too, but I discovered that the intervening 45 years have failed to dispel my childhood aversion to Prokofiev. His violin concerto was not doubt a technical tour de force, but it still sounded like a rather poor school orchestra tuning up.

We’ve also been exploring inland, scrambling over the plethora of ancient Greek and Roman sites that are scattered throughout the area. Arykanda was a stunning complex, hidden up in the mountains and overgrown, Indiana Jones like, with the encroaching vegetation. Myra was down at sea level and representative of the era around 0 A.D., according to Bob’s nemesis Sheila, who continues to foil his increasingly pathetic attempts to beat her into second place in the weekly quizzes.

Spending time in Finike, with its international yacht community, and in the sophisticated cosmopolitan atmosphere of a city such as Antalya lulls you into forgetting just how different Turkey is from mainstream Western Europe. This was brought home to us when we went to Demre to watch the camel wrestling.

As we waited in the cold on the outskirts of the settlement, a caravanserai of camels came down the valley to the site. A large area was being flattened with a JCB, which was then parading triumphantly around the arena. Bob reckoned that if it came down to a contest between a 200 kg camel and a JCB, then his money was on the JCB. Around the area was a pathetic strip of red and white tape, strung between lengths of bent reinforcing rod stuck into the ground. This posed no impediment to the crowds getting through for a closer look, but the patrolling Jandarma, with their ugly looking 1 ½ metre night sticks and sub machine guns acted as a fairly effective backup to the tape. However, as later became apparent, neither they nor the tape was any match for a brace of highly excited camels. You should have seen us run. Around the ring were flat bed lorries with tiers of seating, all of which were packed to bursting. Most were hard wooden benches, but the toff’s lorry also had bench tables and paper tablecloths. Women and female children were segregated into their own couple of lorries, but there seemed to be no antipathy to females from our party mixing it with the boys, not even to our very westernised (and attractive) Turkish female guides from the marina.

The marina flyers for the camel wrestling had obviously been designed with Western European sensitivities in mind, by proclaiming to the assembled yotties that the camels were ‘not damaged or hurt’ in the event, which was ‘like arm wrestling’. They seemed to think that it was important. They’ve obviously not met any Spanish.

The system works by subverting the camels’ mating behaviour, whereby males compete for females by each trying to wrest the other to the ground and press him into submission. To wind this behaviour up the handlers set up a honey trap of an in season female who is led, prancing coquettishly, in front of the assembled males. Well, when I say ‘coquettishly’ I mean coquettishly for a camel, which can best be described as a sack full of spanners wrapped up in a matted, moth-eaten fur coat having a major epileptic seizure. It seems to work on the males though as they secrete large amounts of slobber from their mouths which foams up and drools and dribbles all over them. Every time they shake their heads, which is often, great spirals of spume fly in all directions, ending up in hair, faces and all over clothes. In fact, the only noticeable difference from human males in a similar circumstance is that the camels are also able to inflate their tongues, which hang out of the side of their mouths like great, glistening, crimson, vibrating, slather-covered bladders. Actually, human males would probably do the same if they could. There you go ladies – that at least is one thing to be grateful for.

We were the only non-Turks at the event and were welcomed profusely with the typical Turkish hospitality that we have come to expect and admire. After the camel wrestling we retired to a restaurant for a buffet lunch, only to find that there were five coachloads of tourists already there. There must have been nearly 300 packed in there, French, German and Dutch mainly. I didn’t realise there were that many tourists in Turkey in February. What did they do – bus them in from all over the country?

You’ve got to hand it to the French, though. When it comes to food they know what they want and how to get it. While we Brits were milling around, finding seats ‘After you Claude’ – ‘No, after you Cecil’ etc, and the phalanx of Germans were heading determinedly to the buffet, the French had managed to slide in unnoticed, clear most of the food, sit down, eat it and be back for seconds before the rest of us had even worked out what was going on. How do they do that?

Originally written for birvidik