Mention the sanayi to an expat in Fethiye and it’s likely you’ll get one of two reactions.
Either you’ll find a kindred spirit who shares your fascination for the labyrinthine hive comprised mostly of workshops which occupies a half-mile square of the town centre.
The alternative is someone who warns you to enter only at your peril.
I’ll admit I have been both.
The first time I ventured into the zone – which roughly translates as the “industrial estate” – it was hugely intimidating. The inhabitants seemed at best dour and, at worst, hostile. There are no receptionists, no niceties; it’s just business in the raw and mostly done on a nod and a handshake.
But, having had so many Turkish friends assure me it’s a place where you usually pay a fraction of what you might expect for anything from metalwork to a tyre repair, I found myself there for the first time on my own buying oil for our truck.
Driving though the chaotic streets was a test in itself. There are no rules – or at least none that are readily apparent. There’s no right of way, you can drive in any direction you please and park wherever you need to be.
Additional obstacles include kids on mopeds and ubiquitous men carrying trays of tea, either of which can appear from behind any one of the various vehicles stripped of major organs, left to await repair.
It’s a bit like one of those special ops training zones where potential threats can appear from any direction at any time – and sometimes all at once.
Diversity in action
But I’ll admit our friends were right; I paid almost a third less for a gallon of engine oil than I’d paid at a roadside garage – and that was enough to tempt me back for other odds and ends.
It meant some Turkish homework in advance; English is a rare commodity and used sparingly. But, the more I explored, the more I discovered about the incredible diversity of the place.
As an example, if you take a car in for a repair, there’s a good chance it won’t all be done in the same place. Everyone seems to focus on a speciality.
There’s a workshop which does wheel-alignment and balancing; another which focuses on valve grinding; another just for electrics and another for tyres and exhausts.
None seem to understand the concept of a booking; you just turn up, explain what you need, ask a price and – if you’re happy with it – wait your turn. No one seems to mind as there’s always plenty of tea served from silver trays and you can pass the time chatting with the mechanics.
The whole area also seems to be divided into loose zones; all the boat repair shops, marine maintenance workshops and suppliers are all pretty much in the same place. It’s the same with the furniture workshops, the metalworkers, the scooter and motorcycle garages.
On first sight, the sanayi seems a seething mass – an uncoordinated and untidy blot on the townscape, and a huge contrast to Fethiye’s newest and most modern shopping precinct just across the road at Erasta.
But, when you get to know it, there’s an intriguing synergy there – almost as though it’s a living entity in its own right still thriving now on the way business was done generations ago.
True, after just an hour or so in the narrow alleys, a health and safety practitioner would either have a field day or a heart attack. It’s also true that the sanayi seems to be very much a male preserve.
But, over the years, I’ve come to love it – admittedly for its prices but also because, for me, it represents a place where some old-fashioned values still survive.
It’s no utopia – no doubt there are a few bandits around too and it’s probably never going to find its way onto the tourist trails.
But, for me, it’s quintessential Turkey in the buff – all its contradictions and baffling inconsistencies rolled into one – but most definitely worth a try.