Saturday, 31 August 2019

A Turkish All-Inclusive

Six-year-old Isaac first boarded an aircraft when he was three months old and since then has been guilty of generating more carbon emissions than the average person in dozens of countries around the world produces in a year, thanks in no small part from his own parents' desire for travel. After all, exploring new places and experiencing different cultures does a lot in opening our minds and changing our limited perspective of our world, regardless of its impact on our fragile planet, or that's what we tell ourselves.

So the little boy has been pretty much used to being dragged from one city break to another, his interest occasionally captivated by water fountains in a garden deep inside an ancient Moorish castle or by the almost realistic landing of a toy airplane in an intricately created airport of the Miniature Museum in Germany or by the challenge of navigating the complex system that is called the London Underground. But when you would ask which part of those trips he enjoyed he would always respond "Everything but not the 'lakad' (walking)" that eventually after suffering through the hot temperatures on the highlands of Southern Spain in May this year, he demanded to have "a holiday for me" which in children's language meant a few days by the pool preferably close to a beach.

So a few days after the summer holidays started, we booked a last minute holiday in the Turkish Riviera, a few minutes away from Antalya airport.

The concept of an all-inclusive holiday is new to me. I never really thought much about the work involved in sorting out our travel breaks (or anything administrative for that matter) because John's talents in this line of duty is commendable, the same excuse perhaps that men use to defend gender inequality in household chores (except in our home it is the other way around). But doing an all-inclusive meant you can book in one webpage the right hotel for the price you can afford on the days you can be off work and they will take care of everything for you (airport transfers, meals, entertainment) from the time you land in the airport of your destination to the time you travel back.

I wouldn’t be the first to call a beach holiday exciting or mind-altering but relationships, especially with your children, occasionally require a compromise, and this was one of them. So I came with an open-mind although perhaps a little condescendingly, telling myself that this too was a 'cultural experience' that I surprised myself when I realised that I actually enjoyed it.

We found ourselves in Belek, a purpose-built resort founded in the 1980's to specifically feed the golf and luxury market and our hotel has direct access to a lovely stretch of long sandy beach with all the amenities of a luxury holiday destination including multiple pools, a water slide, leisure activities and evening entertainment. We were spoilt for choice in food and where to eat them - in the restaurants or by the pool and the beach and we had one cocktail (of the non-alcoholic kind) too many. But the best thing of all was, with temperatures soaring late 30 degrees, we didn’t even bother going anywhere at all because we didn't need to.

After breakfast we would camp ourselves under a row of palm trees close to the swimming pool and the beach bar where I would spend most of the morning reading non-fiction that would evoke my inner 'tiger mother' (Matthey Syed's Blackbox Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and Carol Dweck's Mindset, in case you ask) while the boys would be making rounds at the water slides, table tennis or billiards table. Before lunch we would work up our appetite by swimming and playing water football/hand ball. 

After lunch we would go back to our deck chairs for a bit of a nap until Isaac gets called for the game of darts with other children followed by football in the open field. A few times we went to the beach for a quick dip or a game of frisbee while waiting for the afternoon activities to start.

Isaac is a very shy boy but one who doesn't shrink away from any form of competition so he was always the first one to turn up on the dot. It didn't matter that he was the smallest or (in case of darts) that he didn't always get it right or that he doesn't understand what the other kids were saying. Play, after all, is a universal language and it wasn't long before everyone was calling him by his name and picking him for their team. He was in holiday heaven.

In the evenings we dine out al fresco beside the pool, despite the sweltering heat, and treated ourselves to the daily selection of barbecue. On the day of Isaac's birthday, he was given a cake to blow with his birthday greetings in German!

And because evenings were long, we found entertainment in the amphitheater, the mini-fairground and the football field where we stayed up quite late in the night and would only turn ourselves in after a final round of desserts.

There were very few English people on this holiday (which was perhaps a good thing) but during the games of football, we were able to make small chats with the other parents, mostly from mainland Europe, who were kind enough to speak to us in English (but nobody ever mentioned Brexit!). Amongst these conversations was one with a teenage boy who used to train for an EFL youth academy who reminded us how quickly that tiny hope for a professional football career could end (his by 12 years old). Our little lad wouldn't know that though, he was the star of the field who everyone was cheering on and as parents we can only have his back.

But as much as I enjoyed the holiday, I often felt uneasy by the stream of service staff waiting on our beck and call, perhaps because I have become pretty used to the DIY nature of Western Europe that I have forgotten how the luxurious nature of this kind of holiday provides jobs for people who are grateful and happy to have them. A young young waiter from Kyrgyzstan (for they make up much of the hundreds of staff) has pretty much told us and yet it does not quench my discomfort over what the job requires and makes me wonder why Turkey, not known for being one of the richest countries in the world, would need to import so much of their workers from much poorer neighbouring countries.

It was a food for thought but it wouldn't destroy the enjoyment that we have found in that short holiday, which for Isaac was also a pilgrimage to the home of the ancestors who are a quarter of his genetic makeup. Turkey is no longer just a place in the map of the world that he is so obsessed with but a real place he has made many memorable memories in. As for me and my moral high horse, the all-inclusive holiday is the kind of break I didn't think I needed and is now looking forward to the next one.

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