I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.
It seemed a fairly ordinary evening when Mathias and Jennifer Dubilier, two normal sailors, left their boat in a dinghy that late October afternoon to visit a certain tiny rocky island upon which they saw, from afar, the remains of an ancient and most curious ruin.
It’s true there were dark storm clouds,
and already thundering
in the bay their boat was anchored.
It’s true also that the outboard motor for their dinghy was electric, and being so, had only so much charge and could go only so fast.
But they being normal sailors on an outing ... well, they weren’t going to let a storm spoil the rest of their afternoon, were they?
If all of the above sounds vaguely familiar to you, then you spent too many times seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show and recognize the opening words of the narrating criminologist.
His words swirled in my head as we headed out on this ill-advised adventure. We had been wanting to visit this island for the entire ten days we have been in this bay.
But now there was just 45 minutes of sunlight left before it set behind the mountain range. It was to be our last day in this bay. And so now, impatience was clouding the better part of judgment. And now it was thundering. In our defense, may I state that the previous three days the rumblings of thunder rolled through our bay while the storm stayed on the other side of the steep, craggy mountain range to our north.
And in my own personal defense, may I add, I warned Jennifer that this was foolhardy.
She looked at me, smiling.
“Where’s my sense of adventure, right?” I said as I twisted the throttle on the outboard and propelled us toward the island.
|Islands present the ultimate temptation.|
|With binoculars we could see these fort wall ruins. What was so worth protecting? Just temptation itself or something more?|
We whirred the half-mile across the bay and circled around to the backside of the island where I knew, from a previous drive-by, the island flattened out to a sandy shore.
Stepping ashore, we were surprised to be greeted by a warren of rabbits. The whole island was riddled with burrows. Some in the ground; many in tiny caves among the crags.
Just like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole, it distorted our sense of place and reality. How could these rabbits exist on such a barren little rock? It didn’t look like there was enough for them to eat. And why rabbits and not, say, goats?
|Surely not descendants of the Knights of St. John. So how did they get here? Someone suggested locals let them breed here and then harvest them as desired. I would like to think it is simply a mysterious anomaly.|
Another rumble of thunder reminded us to tackle our ascent before it was too late. We had heard, it is true, that the path was rocky and unreliable. We had heard, to be even more honest, that the rocks were loose and footing was unreliable.
We began our scramble in no more than our “water shoes” which we had worn for landing the dinghy. The rocks poked through my thin rubber shoes. Looking up, I saw the remnants of a wall and an opening that may have been a gate, but may have been just a failed part of the wall.
|In middle foreground, you can see an opening the wall. All the way at the horizon, you can see two reasonable people about the begin the descent, given the weather conditions.|
|This is a "Find Jennifer" photograph.|
It doesn’t give us any further credit that the half dozen others we encountered on the island were winding their way back down the small hill, toward the safe refuge of their dinghies and closely-anchored boats. I mentally noted each twist we made in the path, looking back downward so I would recognize it later upon our descent.
We fetched the summit and were rewarded with the full visual impact we had staked our safety on. It was gorgeous. The clouds had more texture because of their fullness, because of their various shades of white, grey and dark. The sun shone behind, between and in front of the clouds like carefully planned stage lighting, illuminating greens and the surrounding mountains’ earth-red. The water was richly blue. And we could well imagine how a fortification here would securely protect against any invaders.
|Selimiye Bay, Turkey, in the foreground, as seen from the tiny island's summit.|
|Castle grey walls and disturbingly blue water.|
|The village of Orhaniye, Turkey where we shopped at the Saturday market twice.|
But who were those protected? Against whom was protected?
We had asked around the harbor a bit to no avail. The guide book guru of the Aegean, Rod Heikell, writes in the latest edition of his book of this area that the ruins “may have had ancient foundations, but is more than likely of Medieval origin.”
One of the greatest Medieval forces in this area were the Knights of St. John. They started out around 600 AD as a mission to provide medical care for pilgrims to Jerusalem. And then, perhaps just as now, the medical business turned out to be quite lucrative. There were invasions and the hospitals had to be protected, and the Knights of St. John became as adept at wielding the sword as the scalpel. But in the 1200s the Ottoman finally forced them out of Jerusalem. They retreated to Cyprus and brooded. They were pissed and had, in their opinion, the right god on their side. So after brooding and practicing swordfights for 100 years, they decided to fight the Ottomans. They did and were quite successful. They built castles all up and down the Turkish coast and on many of the Dodecanese islands. That lasted in this area for about 250 years and then the Ottomans whooped them again.
The Knights retreated to Malta and had quite a run there. They became known as the coast guard of the Mediterranean, protecting trade against the Barbary pirates and, yeah, they had good hospitals too.
So, was it possible we were standing on the ruins of a fortification built by the Knights of St. John?
Whoever walked the battlements atop the fort surely would have looked out one evening and seen the same scene we did. To the west, two boats were hurrying ahead of a line of rain, rushing toward port before being assailed by water and possibly lightning.
|Two sailboats flee the storm which you can see prasseling the water a few miles behind them.|
And indeed, as if reenacting that evening from a thousand years ago, the first fat drops began to fall on Jennifer and me. A few seconds later, I saw beautiful but terrifying bolts of lightning cleave the sky into patterns which, if photographed, some professor might use to portray string theory.
“Time to go,” I said all captain-like as if the gods hadn’t spoken with more authority all evening long.
|Marti Marina, where we stayed for quite a while, but then joined the anchored group you can see in front of the marina.|
|Before leaving the hill top -- even after the first lightning strkes -- we just had to waste a few more precious moments to get a telephoto zoom photograph of our lovely Phoenix.|
Going down a slip-slidey slope is much more fraught with real and imagined dangers than climbing up. Now our feet were sliding a few inches before finding enough ground to take the next step. The rocks were becoming wet and slick.
Three quarters of the way down, I found a ledge under a tree.
“We’ll wait out the worst of it here,” I proclaimed in some voice that, even in my own ears, sounded like it came from some horridly bad actor in a B-rated western.
But as soon as I sat down and glanced over at the dinghy (which was only half-pulled ashore) I stood up again. I remembered our recent incident in which the dinghy was flipped by high winds and rescued only by the grace of Greek fishermen.
“No, we need to secure the dinghy,” I continued in my John Wayne stand-in voice.
By now, I was within about 30 yards of the dinghy and suddenly became aware that all the rabbits had disappeared. Sort of like when the rats desert the ship. Not a good sign.
I reached the dinghy and pulled it ashore. Oddly, just as I did, the intermittent rain, seemed to lessen.
We climbed a lower ridge to look over toward the west and north. The sky was clearer that way. The weather had lashed us with the very tip of long bullwhip and then apparently moved on.
Relieved, we walked down to the dinghy, shoved off and wrung the electric motor into forward whir.
It was a 15-minute ride across a blue bay, under a sky whose disposition was of still-stern mother who now, upon recognizing she had issued her admonishment, is beautiful in her transition from anger to forgiveness.