Southern Turkey is the unknown part of the Mediterranean. Most people don’t think of Turkey for beach holidays and certainly not for Mediterranean style resorts and partying that is unmistakably European with loud music, blaring techno and pool dancing aerobics. Antalya is the biggest city on the Southern Turkish coast. It is pretty quiet by Mediterranean standards and is more family oriented. It is a great place to stay in the old city overlooking a stunning harbor surrounded by natural cliffs and to do activities. Then about 30 miles or so away is the European party playground of Kemer which is in the mold of other Mediterranean hotspots like Ibiza, Ayia Napa, St. Tropez, Eos and Mykonos. The hottest place to stay in the resort town of Kemer is the famous Club Med Kemer. So naturally, that’s exactly what we did. I must say it was an interesting experience that I am still a little befuddled about. I can’t decide if I had more fun or was more confused. Good or bad, what I do know is that Club Med Kemer was a glaring example of the extreme cultural differences between Americans and Europeans.
After a good night in Antalya where Mike and I stayed at the Held Hotel which is a very basic small hotel/guesthouse with a very friendly owner. We got a driver set up by the owner of the Held at a steep discount and headed southwest to Kemer. The gorgeous drive takes about an hour or so and the coastal views of small islands, mountains and the Mediterranean are fantastic. It rivals any coastal drive I can think of. As you pull into Kemer, you see a ton of resorts and tons of shops, restaurants, clothing stores etc. As you go further past the main part of town you drive through the woods, literally, and come out at the entrance to Club Med Kemer.
I had first heard of Kemer and the Club Med about two years ago when I actually went to my only Club Med in Turks and Caicos. I had a great time, as it is an adults only resort where everything is included and has amazing food. All the Club Med regulars, which I am not, talked up Kemer as the best club in the world so I just always mental noted it. It too is an adult only club and you must be 18 to go there. If you’ve been to a Club Med before it doesn’t mean it’s raunchy like Hedonism or something, it’s just a place where adults can enjoy a resort holiday without a ton of kids running around and screaming. It’s actually a pretty awesome business model if you think about it; no wonder Club Med has been around for 61 years.
So as we pull into the Club Med Kemer, we see a gorgeous resort surrounded by stunning mountains and the Mediterranean Sea packed to the brim with 900 some people. I’d estimate that 60% of the people at the club were French. Club Med is a French company and the French love stuff like that. I’d say the club was about 30% Russians as the Russians love charter trips, direct flights and the hot sun away from cold Moscow. The rest were a mix of Italians, some Germans a few Dutch, maybe some random other European countries like Malta and we were easily the only two North Americans, not even just Americans. I say this because the other Club Med I went to in Turks and Caicos was all Americans and Canadians and geared toward those tastes much more so.
Therein lies the issues in our own heads that we faced being at Kemer. It was completely French and geared toward the European way of doing things and their ideas of fun. Here are a few of my reasons and examples. First, everything is in French, all the MCing, all the GO’s (the people who work at Club Med, I believe it stands for gracious organizer or something like that), all the people speak French and assume you do as well. This made it pretty tough for us. I can understand most of French if the accent is easy to understand and can read it but speaking anything more than the basics makes my head hurt literally. This was a big part of Kemer that was missing for us as the French generally just like to speak French.
Second, the French and apparently many Europeans including Russians like to do these water aerobic/calisthenics dance parties at the pool each morning. I don’t know how else to describe it but it’s kind of like a cult thing where everybody lines up in the pool and also around the pool, sometime holding hands and does aerobics and dancing. There is a French guy MC who is generally on a small stage dancing around in a small bathing suit and everybody just does what he does to loud techno type music. He is yelling into his headset microphone and everybody, men and women, seem to be loving it.
Mike and I are watching this happening and looking at each other and thinking to ourselves and surely out loud, ‘What the fuck are these people doing?! How is this fun for them?” To us, as Americans, and clearly more conservative and traditional when it comes to roles of men and women and what’s appropriate and not for the respective sexes to do; we were shocked although thoroughly entertained by what we saw. Not that it was appalling in a bad way, it was just befuddling for us to see all these people liking and participating in this weird kind of homoerotic exercise thing in such an open way and it seemed normal to everyone; they do the same thing every day. It’s almost like adult pool games you did as kids like ring around the rosey with a sexual overtone…again strange.
The MC guy who changes each day but always is in the same mold of some little French guy in a speedo or one of those really tight spandex short bathing suits that many Europeans love. One of the days, there was the MC guy leading the charge in angel wings and a devil’s tail. Again, these pictures won’t do it justice (I didn’t take many) but I am trying to describe how vivid and strange it seemed to us as Americans. Nothing to do with sexuality or sexual preference, which is irrelevant to me, so please don’t start sending me a thousand emails saying that I am being insensitive or prejudicial or whatever. That’s not the case; I am simply writing what I saw and how it looked to my friend and I as American men. It was just weird to us and clearly a major cultural difference.
The rest of the Club Med experience was very cult like as well. For instance, there were themes and songs and poses. Not to mention that many people we met were back for their 3rd, 4th, 10th and even 15th time. That is nuts to me. Plus we stayed for 3 night and 4 days. When we told people that, they looked at us like we were taking crazy pills. To us, 3 nights at a party resort like Kemer is ample time and possibly too much, considering the only thing that changes each day is the dinner special and what the theme party that night is. Trust me, three nights was plenty. There were people staying 2-3 weeks. I would go nuts.
Some of the main things I really liked even though it took some time to understand it and warm up to the idea was that they had these theme songs so to speak. For instance, the Rihanna song S&M, I believe it’s called, has a line that goes something like “I like it like it, come on come on”. Anyway, they would play this song over and over but whenever that part would come up, the MC and all the people would scream “I like it like it Kemer Kemer, I like it like it Kemer Kemer” all with a French accent as a mass cult type thing. That line “I like it like it Kemer” is their theme for the summer and all the tee shirts they sell say it and they even have big soap box letters in the amphitheatre that say it as well. It took us a while to get it and why they were doing it but it is kind of cool and every time I ever hear that song I will change the words for sure.
Another theme that repeatedly came up that I liked was that in many songs and sometimes just randomly at the pool or beach, the MC or just random guests would start the chant, “Allez, allez, allez Kemer allez” and repeat several times. Again, it sounds weird and is weird but they love it and it gets kind of catchy after hearing it several times, especially as there are free drinks all day and most people do take advantage of the prepaid all inclusive.
I also have to say that the quality of the food and bar was phenomenal. The food was excellent each night. Like a cruise or any other all inclusive I’ve ever been to (which is two in Punta Cana) they had staples each night like chicken, pizza, pasta, salad but they always had several specials of the night for lunch and dinner. We didn’t make breakfast any day we were there so I cannot speak of breakfast but I am sure it was good too! The difference between Club Med and say an all inclusive in Punta Cana or something is that all the food is good. It was good in Turks and Caicos and it was even better in Kemer.
What else can I say about Kemer? The beaches are nice, Mediterranean like with rocks and the water is like a bath and very pleasant. The pool is great but often full of French smoking in or right by the pool which is really annoying. Everyone at Kemer smokes which again is really annoying but that’s what Europeans do on vacation; they drink, smoke, dance and try to get tan. Smoking is my least favorite thing on the planet so it can wear on me quickly.
There are sports activities you can do each day like water skiing, wake boarding, tennis, hoops, ping pong, bocce, plus they have multiple types of dance lessons and really, really loud and obnoxious exercise classes like a step Reebok kind of thing. It is also like a cult thing with a French MC group leader wearing very small spandex and his legions of followers singing tunes and dancing around the step Reebok in the 100 degree heat. We opted for the pool and the beach most days but by far my favorite activity was simply the people watching.
Another thing was each night there are theme parties. We did not know this and since I only travel with 6 tee shirts for 6 weeks (I do wash them often by the way), we weren’t adequately prepared for the theme nights, not that I would have been if I had known about them anyway. For instance, there was a white night where everyone wore white only. I had a white tee I wore with my shorts that you see me wear in pretty much every picture on my website and that was fine but some people got really into it.
I think it’s cool but it is so hot and they have these Ibiza style laser and techno shows and you sweat so much. Then these French Euro guy types start taking off their clothes and dancing around, and I am over it! The worst is that they had stage dancer guys in speedos and just a bowtie dancing around sexually suggestive. That was a bit much for me, I didn’t know it was going to be a Chippendales kind of thing but it was funny nonetheless I suppose. To be fair they had some girls too up on stage but not nearly as visible.
Anyway, I am sure you get the point but we did manage to meet some really cool people, mainly Russians, who most don’t speak French and the non French speakers tended to hang out together. The Russians are coming in droves to resorts in the Med and also Southeast Asia in the past few years as tourism has really picked up and charter flights and group tourism has become very popular in Russia. I love Russians, they’re very smart people and it is always interesting to talk with them and get things from their perspective. Although, based on the many emails I’ve received, I think many Russians are angry that I spoke poorly about Sochi and their Olympics in 2014 (again just reporting what I saw and my experience, nothing personal against Russia, I love the country).
Anyway, I am back where my travel career started back in September 1998 in London, England staying at my buddy Mike’s great new flat in Notting Hill until Wednesday. It is and always will be one of my favorite cities but I must say I am very excited to get home to New York. I miss my bed, my couch, my TV’s, my friends, family, the food and pizza in New York and it’s just about playoff time for the Yankees. So I am getting back at the best time with that great Fall weather in the city. But I am off to enjoy London now and head to the Arsenal game tomorrow before heading home.