Few newcomers to this Aegean island near Çanakkale fail to fall for its charms. The pretty cobbled streets lined with elegant houses. The brooding castle. The colorful fishing harbor. The charming cafes. What’s not to like, quite frankly?
But I hadn’t been talking to my friend for long when I began to feel a bit as if I was back in Göreme talking to some of the longer-staying Cappadocian expats. Yes, Bozcaada is certainly beautiful but it isn’t the way it used to be back in the days when everyone knew everybody else, the shops catered to the locals, and finding somewhere to rent didn’t cost an arm and a leg. A tipping point seems to have been reached on the island a few years back when suddenly the locals went from living with tourism to being swamped by it, as has happened in Göreme and a number of other well-known beauty spots. Think Şirince, for example, or Assos or Alaçatı, places whose beauty has turned out to be a curse as much as a blessing with tourists pouring in, in even greater numbers and robbing them of any real feeling of authenticity.
The driving force behind such changes is inevitably money. These pretty little places were all discovered first of all by a handful of more adventurous travelers who had few demands beyond a basic bed for the night and three square meals a day. But soon word started to leak out and more visitors arrive d. Canny locals soon saw that they could improve their own lives by providing for the visitors’ needs, and it very soon became apparent that there was a market for much more luxurious accommodations. In next to no time houses were changing hands not as new homes but as potential boutique hotels, and inevitably prices started to soar.
“They’ll come to regret it,” my friend said, as have others in Göreme. The trouble is, though, that I don’t think they will. The way I see it is that the locals who grew up with such lovely surroundings took it for granted and attached little value to a beautiful environment for its own sake. In all these places the old houses were designed for the needs of a different time, and the people who used to own them were certainly not living in the comfort more upscale tourists have come to expect. For them to convert the houses to suit a modern lifestyle would have been cripplingly expensive, an expense more readily born by hoteliers who can calculate the time it will take to make back their investment and then move into profit.
No, in my opinion the people who most regret the changes tend to be the expats because they’re the ones who made an active decision to move to these beauty spots, usually because they were in search of peace and quiet, attractive surroundings, and a sense of authenticity. For them, the changes are a bitter blow as they are forced to watch precisely the factors that lured them into “expathood” being cast aside in pursuit of a fast buck.
Charlotte McPherson is away.