A week after the Herb Festival, the streets of Alacati are empty of tourists. The Herb Festival is a celebration of locally grown herbs, fruits and vegetables endemic to the region. It is a way to protect and promote the regional species. It happens at the start of spring, with cold breezes and sunshine throughout the day.
The locals sold freshly harvested oranges, strawberries, apples, carrots, almonds and lemons on the pavements. Four apples costed a lira or two depending on the variety. Sometimes they refused to take money for carrots- they were grown in bulk and so they asked us to pick up whatever amount we wanted.
The otherwise bustling streets and beaches now had only a handful of travelers. The locals started preparations for the warm weather that followed, since it marked the start of peak tourist season. Then, the streets will become busy, food trucks will come to life and the beach will be very lively with music, food and drinks everywhere.
Our routine during those slow spring days in Alacati would be aimlessly wandering in the streets, drinking coffee, picking up local food and going gaga over hula hoops near the beach.
The elderly neighbours of our host family usually sit in the verandahs and would invite us to their home for a chat and offer us fresh almonds which grew in their backyard. On the other side of the world, things are no different. As kids, when I and my brother used to travel to our grandparent’s village, the villagers and friends of our grandparents used to call us as we wander in the streets, ask about our school and studies, and give us fists full of peanuts and chickpeas to have on our way back.
One day as we came back home, there was a truck filled with lemons, apricots and so many other fruits. Our host had gone to local farms and got fruits to make jams. He said it was that season of the year when they make jams to store for the rest of the year. The lemon jam was the most time consuming one, he said. We helped in squeezing lemons that day. It was the five of us, five cartons of lemons, lot of laughs, labor – a few hours of relentless lemon squeezing.
After that, the lemon peels were cut into small pieces and soaked in water. It was my duty to change the water the next day to remove the bitter taste of lemons. This process continued for 3 days, after which the peels were cooked with sugar and lemon juice and secured in the tight jars. By the time that was done, several other varieties of jams were already prepared. The family sent some of the jams to the local bakeries.
We were promised that all the jams would be served for breakfast the next day on freshly baked bread as a goodbye treat. That night our room was filled with the fresh aroma of the baked bread.
The next day morning seven different jams were arranged in a buffet style. As we sat at the table, Ozgur (our host) bought a huge serving board and started laying our table with all the varieties of baked goods, pies, cashew cheese, strawberries, chocolate, local herbs soaked in olive oil and many more dips.
It didn’t hit us until after the two hours of feasting that we were going to leave that evening. We were going to leave a place that felt like our very own village and a life that we had adopted as our own. It was a great farewell though; we packed jars of jam for the rest of the trip and said our goodbyes to our hosts and the elderly neighbours. They asked us to come back soon, just like how the neighbours in our village used to say the same at the end of our summer holidays.