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Well that was just fantastic

Bodrum is just a holiday resort on the Turkish coast, except it isn't. This was Halicarnassus, old and clever before the rise of Athens, before the Ptolemies came to Egypt, before Rome. Here was where the tomb of Mausolus was built, this was the birthplace of Herotodus, father of history and perhaps also a teller of tall tales. Here also we find kick-ass women; Artemisia I who fought with such prowess Xerxes himself was astonished, Artemisia II who hid her navy from the marauders of Rhodes, only to take their ships and sail her own fighters back upon them, conquering that city. Alexander, Suleiman the Magnificent, Barbarossa, the Knights Hospitaller...I didn't know any of this when I arrived. All I saw was a cute and very laid back resort on the shores of a welcoming sea.

The main point of the holiday was the scuba training. I always wanted to be a mermaid, who would guess I'd have so little aptitude for it? My first day was bad, bad, bad. Oh I can swim, in fact I am a reasonable swimmer but have never dived in my life; All I did was fill my mask with water, and hyperventilate into my regulator. I threw up twice.

'Don't be afraid to be sick,' said the awesome Imre, demonstrating endless patience in trying to train me, 'Let the sea take it away, the fish will eat it. Do not hold it in...'

Imre seems to be the owner, or captain, certainly the master diver, of the Pro Aegean Diving School, (http://www.aegeanprodive.com/) which operates from a boat called the Isis. This last made poetic sense to me; I do not think my performance made sense, poetic or otherwise, to any of the instructors. I did everything wrong. I shot around the underbay like a cork from a bottle, flapping my feet so fast I tired almost instantly, then took too many breaths, then panicked because of overexerting...frankly, a nightmare student, the worst kind; well meaning with absolutely no ability, though of course my instructors never said this.

They were worried I didn't pop my ears enough cos obviously the whole pressure thing is a big deal the further down you go. Imre took me to a curious tall pillar far under the water, a strange stairwell of corals and lichens. He signalled to me to watch him, as he placed his hand gently on one curve of the pillar. I followed. He moved down to the next and popped his ears. I did too. Down and down we went, while my ears hissed and squeaked and popped. In my eagerness to pop quickly so I could go further, I squeezed the nose part of my mask and pulled it forward. Water shot up my nose and I shot up to the surface, swallowing half the Aegean in my panic.

After my first attempt, I crawled back on deck and slept, sick and sleepy, while the sun shone and people took off my kit and made that kind of gentle fuss which is concerned enough to keep an eye without badgering. Imre spoke to me at the end of the day. 'If you do not come back tomorrow, you will never dive again.' He had a point. This was the decision, the moment. Next day, I came back.

This must be such old hat to those among my chums who know scuba well, but to me it is the most magical thing. At last I have found a door to another world. Only it's this world, and it's real, much more real than the virtual worlds I visit so often.

I recall so many extraordinary things, a rain of fish that just floated down around me like aquatic blossoms, multi coloured darters, speckled scuttlers on the sea floor, A foot long exuberantly pink caracole with long twisted shell, many chattering clams, purple blue anemones,('You could eat them,' Imre told me later, 'Their meat is heavy. After one, you would not need food for many hours.') The strangest was when I stared down to see what I first thought was an old fashioned airfan among the rocks. 'Why would anyone throw one of those down here?' I thought just as I stopped being stupid and realised I was staring at the propeller of a plane. The rest of it lay down there among the rocks, one of its wings piercing the rock face. But I couldn't go down to it, because despite passing the theory exam, I couldn't master the underwater safety exercises. These entail taking taking your entire rig off, mask, cylinder, buoyancy control device and weights...the only thing I could do was take the regulator out of my mouth, clear it and pop it back in, and that's no big deal. As opposed to larians who turned into Marine Boy, did everything and passed every aspect of the course with shining colours!

You have to leave at least 12 hours between diving and flying. Our course ended a day and a half before travelling, so we went into Bodrum, and investigated St Peters Castle, (http://www.bodrum-museum.com/) built by the knights hospitaller and now home to the Museum of Underwater Archaology. This museum is superb, full of salvaged wrecks, skeletons and glorious treasure trove, including the oldest wreck ever discovered, from 1400 BC. We couldn't do it justice then and I cannot do it justice now. It is right up there on my list of excellent museums you never hear about, like Sir John Soane's House or the Pitt-Rivers.

Two more moments and I'll be done.

One was sitting on the beach, torches beside our table as the sun set over the sea. A wish was made as a shooting star fell.

The other was mine alone, or almost alone. One morning I woke before sunrise to see the rainbow lights still sparkling on the water, boats, nightclubs, hotels, all hushed. Above them one huge star hung low in the sky. Then the call to prayer rang out, forlorn and beautiful, and echoed on the hills around. It made me tearful.

And I knew I had escaped, not from reality but towards it.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 29th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)

That sounds amazing! I must get to Turkey soon. I wonder if I could convince my cousin (newly wedded to her Turk) to come to Bodrum?

Oct. 1st, 2012 07:37 am (UTC)
It's a funny thing, larians thought he would get tired of it pretty quickly without the scuba. For me it was almost a Shirley Valentine experience. I could imagine myself running a little boarding house with an extensive library for guests - after I have explored the rest of Turkey, natch!
Sep. 30th, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
How lovely. I kinda envy you the scuba diving - it's something I was unable to do due to claustrophobia and panic attacks. :-(
Oct. 1st, 2012 07:48 am (UTC)
I can understand that. For me it was like those dreams in which I can fly quite easily as long as I don't think about it. Claustrophobia's not my problem - but panicking when water fills my mask is!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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