For many of us, learning to scuba dive is one of those things that is always on our hit list for when we go on our “paradise” holiday but we never quite get round to doing. Part of the problem is that scuba diving is associated with long-haul destinations and wads of cash – the kind of thing many of us achieve only as a one-off honeymoon trip and rarely get to repeat. In fact my partner and I spent so much on our dream honeymoon to Mauritius that by the time we got there we couldn’t afford the diving and had to be content with snorkeling our way around the reefs, admiring the exquisite marine life from afar.
The following year we found ourselves in Fethiye, Turkey. Set just a few miles from its more famous neighbour, Olu Deniz, Fethiye couldn’t be more different. Despite the growing popularity of Turkey as a holiday destination, this traditional fishing village has retained much of its old world charm. Stretching out along a semi-circular bay, Fethiye is protected by 12 islands and a series of towering hills complete with ancient rock tombs. It has grown into an attractive regional town, complete with a traditional Turkish market that still forms a part of everyday life for the local population as well as being a popular attraction for visitors in search of a bargain and an experience of the real Turkey.
Down by the water, the boats in the small harbour are a mix of day-trip leisure boats and gulets, which set sail for days at a time to whisk visitors off to isolated islands and inlets which are every bit as “paradise” as those you will find in many long-haul destinations. It is here that we came across a diving school offering everything from taster dives to instructor-level qualifications with official PADI accreditation. After a short half-hour session at the water’s edge we decided to take the plunge and signed up for a full PADI Open Water Course, which we would complete over the course of the next three-to-five days.
Fethiye’s dive sites are stretched out to the west and east of the long shoreline and scattered amongst the many small islands that populate the area. Access is by boat, offering one of the big bonuses of diving here – you get to spend your entire day hanging out on a decent-sized dive boat, with sun deck to stretch out on, all the dive kit you need and a tasty lunch to keep your energy levels up.
The boat typically sailed with between eight and 20 divers each day along with several instructors and dive masters to guide divers of all different levels. We were taught everything from theory to practical skills, visiting real dive sites from the very start and typically enjoying either two or three dives a day. There is a huge amount of marine life and interesting rock formations to admire in the Turkish waters and much to learn, despite the lack of traditional coral reef.
Several days later we were fully fledged Open Water divers, qualified and ready to dive anywhere in the world. Since then we have dived in numerous locations but we always hanker for a return to Fethiye, where it all began. Maybe this will be the year.