Thursday, June 17, 2010

Turkey: Dan-Rah and Skinny Dipping

It was an island uninhabitable by design: a small oblong of razor sharp rock covered in thorny brambles. Weary of its interior, I opted to sit on a short stone spire sticking out of the ocean, my feet protesting as I tried to find smooth places to place them, my backside unhappy as the point almost pierced my butt cheek.   Finally, I found comfort, my legs just over the sea, the water gently lapping up against them.

[Our yacht for five days]

Sarah swam up from a sandbar she had been exploring, pulling off her mask and snorkel and tossing them beside mine on a nearby outcrop. A few hundred yards away floated our yacht.  Well, not really ours.  We had paid for a five day "Blue Cruise" along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, an experience that had thus far been amazing.

The blobs of color bobbing around the yacht were our fellow passengers, who always seemed reluctant to swim more than ten feet away from the boat.  Sarah and I, though, we liked to explore.  After an hour of snorkeling, my pockets were already full of interesting shells, some of which would later prove to be owned by well-hidden hermit crabs.  The fact of other ownership became known back in my cabin when a couple of the shells magically moved themselves several feet away from where I had put them. The crabs and their homes soon found themselves on an unasked-for adrenaline joyride through the air before splashing back into the brink.

“Think we could climb that?” I asked Sarah.

Mountains—albeit small ones—rose up from the shoreline of the coast. Their surfaces seemed like piles of pebbles left by some small god child, stacked steep up to three separate peaks, the middle one noticeably higher than the others. Goats made noises at each other as they picked their way along those rocks, chewing on the scrub brush growing from the crevices. There was nothing remotely approaching a path to those peaks; but if you thought in terms of climbing rather than hiking, it was just a grade four scramble that couldn’t take more than an hour.

“Probably,” said Sarah, leaving it at that. I took her lack of enthusiasm as an idea rejection.


Several hours, the rest of a book and a number of backgammon games later, Sarah tapped me on my shoulder.

“Let’s climb the mountain,” Sarah said to me.

[Enjoying a book on the deck of the yacht]

She said this, of course, with only an hour before we were scheduled to sail out of the bay.  Sarah had spent the past two hours tanning herself and writing in her notebook a few feet from me. Why she hadn’t decided to start the climb earlier, save perhaps to make the experience intense instead of leisurely (I do not deny that my subconscious also decides things in this way), I don’t know.

I thought for a moment.



Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting“Don’t let the devil goats get you!” Brenna yelled from the ship as Sarah and I swam to shore, our shoes held over our heads. The goats had been so named because, yes, they did have a certain malevolent look about them. They stayed out of our way, though, as we put on our socks and shoes and started scrambling up the steep rocks, showing up their prowess and hurting their collective pride. They “nahhed” at us in scorn.

Sarah took the lead, locating climbable rocks while avoiding the sharp branches of the shrubs. The rock was a hard, porous limestone that offered a plethora of holds for hands and feet. We practically ran up the thing, and within half an hour were on the top, looking down at our ship and the others in the bay.

[Sarah bouldering atop the mountain]

The site was amazingly beautiful, but I’ll let pictures tell the thousand words. We had enough time to pose for them, take a couple more of ourselves bouldering with that beautiful backdrop, and then rock hop down to the shoreline to swim to the boat, our little adventure taking less than 45 sweat-soaked minutes.

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Back on board, I looked at the captain's navigation maps. Although I found our mountain, it was apparently too small to have its peaks named.

So we named it, smashing our own together.

We had just climbed Mount Dan-Rah.


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAlthough the climb had made our day, we discovered there was plenty more worth seeing on our journey to where we would anchor for the night.  We sailed over a sunken city, the foundations of its houses visible through the clear water.  We sailed past by an island only reachable by boat, a castle clinging to its highest point and a fishing village spread across the rest of it.  Finally, as the sun started to sink, we reached a cove and dropped anchor.

As night came on, Sarah and I started secretly drinking the raki (a Turkish liquorish-flavored liquor not unlike ouzo) that we had smuggled on board after a stop two days prior.  We were not supposed to bring any drinks on board (giving the ship a monopoly on booze), so we had been forced to become raki runners and Pepsi pirates (my treasure trove of cans now buried at the bottom of the ship’s cooler). Tipsy and happy, we scarfed down dinner and got dressed because here, in the middle of the night in the middle of the Mediterranean, we were going dancing.

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[Our ship, anchored for the night]

At 11:00 PM, a speedboat pulled up beside the yacht and everyone under the age of 30 got on board. The speedboat stopped at the other boats anchored in the cove and soon a party was making its way to one of the world's most exclusive clubs.

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[Enjoying the bonfire in front of the club]

We danced for hours before taking a break on one of the wooden platforms, cooling off in the night air.  Then, a movie moment happened shortly thereafter:  Four of in the group were American, and we all perked up when we heard the opening chords of Don Mclean’s “American Pie.”

“A long, long time ago/I remember how that music used to make me smile…”

It came to us on the night breeze from the over-amped stereo system, and no matter what we normally thought about our country, at that moment we were proud to be Americans. The thirty or so other people sitting outside—all from other countries—quietly listened, as the four of us began singing together. We looked off at the sky, the water, occasionally glancing at each other but mostly singing for ourselves, our voices in near whispers during the verses but rising up joyously together on the choruses. The four of us: Sarah, Ryan, Brenna and me, were all travelers; we pride ourselves on having visited and lived in many places, on speaking other languages and being comfortable in other cultures, but that moment something was very clear, at least to me: we were inescapably American. No one else on that beach, in that club, knew those words, at those words were just one of thousands of strings that bound us together as a people, a culture, a nation. And while it looked like a cool Almost Famous/”Tiny Dancer” movie moment, it was more than that because we all felt very close just then, something we remarked upon later, drawn together by childhoods staring out car windows while this song played on car radios, now adults out in the middle of nowhere in an area of the world that mostly hates us and being very, very American together.


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLeave it to the Australians to ratchet up the party. At some point in the evening, two of the Australian girls had gotten behind the bar and were helping to serve drinks, taking a shot or two (or seven) for themselves.  I noticed they were back there only when I was hit on the back with ice cubes and, turning around to find Jess, one of the Australian girls, tugging the front of her tank top down to offer me a target. I underhand tossed a cube at her and she maneuvered to catch it between her breasts. Another ice cube, another perfect catch and soon our Turkish bartenders, Vinnie and Hussein (actual names), happy about all that close-by cleavage, began giving out free shots of vodka.

The dance floor was a loud group of moving bodies. Most had partnered up and I noticed that Sarah was dancing with Ahmed, the first mate of our boat, who had started the evening by saying to her: “I want be with you tonight.”

The lack of English meant that the insinuation could have gone either way but his intentions were pretty apparent when, a few dances later, he was pushing his tongue in her mouth. Being attractive, Turkish and made of muscle, Sarah wasn’t minding.


I stripped naked and dove into the water, narrowing missing Sarah, who dog-paddled in all her pinkness. Skinny dipping had not been our idea: it had been suggested by two of the girls on our boat.  Although both backed out when we returned from the club, I'm not one to waste a good idea.  Besides, who wouldn’t want to say they had gone skinny dipping in a cove in Turkey in blue-black water under a moon one day from full?

After a few minutes of being shrinkingly-cold, I told Sarah I was getting back on the boat.  Showered off and carrying my blankets up to sleep on the deck, I noticed Ahmed spreading out a blanket over two of the deck cushions, creating a double bed. He was ambitious.  I knew he had told Sarah things like: “Look my eyes” and “I think I loving you,” but from what I understood, she had declined his offers. Still, I made my bed up as far away as possible.

A few minutes later, I couldn’t find Sarah. She wasn’t in the water, she wasn’t on the deck and she wasn’t in the cabin. I didn’t think she was drunk enough to have had a problem swimming, but it was too small a boat for her to have completely disappeared. Finally, though, she swam into view from the front of the boat and I handed her clothes to her when she got on board.

Sarah declared what had happened to be "amazing".  Seeing her in the water, Ahmed had descended a chain that stretched taut from the bow of the boat to just above the water.  He had sat on it while Sarah had pulled herself up out of the water, one hand on the chain, the other on the back of his head, breasts exposed and dripping in the moonlight, to make out with him.

I think her decision to sleep on the double bed with Ahmed fell into the category of teasing. She had no intention of having sex with him, but  the topless making out had probably given Ahmed the idea that he was on his way to scoredom.

I awoke a few hours later, almost at daybreak, to hear her telling him to stop and that she wanted to sleep.  Knowing she could take care of herself, I went back to dreamland.

In the debrief the next day, Sarah admitted that sleeping in his bed had been a bad idea, and not just due to the lack of sleep.  Apparently Achmed's kissing was of the “shock and awe” variety, and she showed me where his tongue, in its forceful incursions, had actually torn a bit of that flap between the tongue and the bottom of the mouth. Hers was swollen and bleeding a little.

Apparently for her, it had not been a Turkish delight…

Still, it'd been one hell of a day.

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