Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Epic of Ephesus

Istanbul came and went. After the bleakness of Sofia, Turkey’s cultural capital was a veritable riot – turbofolk rooftop raves, goal-frenzied Galatasaray matches and the celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday at ‘Babylon’ (Istanbul’s finest live music venue, boasting that evening a smorgasbord of the country’s “finest reggae connoisseurs”). Not to mention the haunting minarets rising up over the city’s hills, the breathtaking scope of the Bosphorous, and the steady diet of three doner kebaps per day. Our two heroes – modest, affable chaps – could have stayed there forever, coasting along most pleasantly. But what can one do? Such simple fun isn’t conducive to the rip-roaring travel anecdote; unfortunately no-one is interested in hearing about an agreeable afternoon spent in a nargileh cafe, whiling away the hours with a novel. You want the drama of catastrophe, tales of near (or, better still, actual) disaster. So reluctantly the pair dragged themselves out of their comfort zone, and headed forth to Ephesus.

Ephesus, now the scattered remains of a once-stunning classical city on the banks of the Aegean, has seen its fair share of cataclysmic ruin in its two and a half thousand year history. Today it’s a more sedate affair, especially in the winter when the tourist buses rolling in and out of the site are few and far between. The adjacent town of Selcuk is small and sleepy; any visitor looking for trouble here really has to go out of his way to find it.

Thankfully, find it our heroes did. Things began uneventfully enough, with a stroll into the nearby mountains. After negotiating their way – in no particular order – through an orange grove, an airstrip and several fields of cotton, all baking under the midday sun, the pair emerged high above the countryside. The views were awe-inspiring, a patchwork of gleaming ocean, dense forest and speckled stones, many of which made up the outer perimeter of the ancient walled city. Congratulating each other on their success, the intrepid couple boldly struck out amongst the clouds.

Looking back now, when the dust has settled on the whole affair – recriminations exhausted, horrors abated – it is hard to recall the first warning-signs. Certainly there was no panic when the sun began its graceful descent over the horizon several hours later; nor was there much consternation when the last sesame-seed husks had been washed down with the last dregs of water. After all, the lights of Selcuk were still faintly visible in the distance, and anyway, our two warriors were hardy souls, unperturbed by such irrelevancies as the onrushing blanket of darkness in the sky, or the lack of essential supplies in their bag.

What can be said with confidence is that by the time the first wolf howl echoed through the twilight peaks, our protagonists were experiencing their first wave of self-doubt. The rocky outposts that had been guiding their way back to civilisation suddenly looked confused; the acres of woodland that had looked picturesque when stretched out in every direction in the afternoon sunshine now appeared terrible and foreboding in the evening light. Thousands of metres in the air, miles from any other human life forms; our heroes shared their now-starlit prison with none save the small cluster of vultures circling them silently overhead.

At this point in proceedings, hero number one (for the sake of propriety he shall remain anonymous, known only as ‘JR’) decided that as the pair’s predicament (near-certain death by starvation and cold on a remote mountain-top) was not quite exciting enough, the most sensible way forward at this stage would be to resurrect his long-term knee complaint, which reduces this otherwise immaculate specimen of a man into a pale and fragile geriatric, incapable of taking more than a few steps an hour. This transformation was accompanied by an appropriately loud yelp of pain, which reverberated endlessly through the black valleys below.

Shivering and groping blindly through the darkness, hero number two briefly pondered abandoning hero number one to his fate. However he admirably rejected this course of action after realising that hero number one would be a useful source of meat or wolf bait as the hours dragged on. Our duo duly staggered on: lame, tired and hungry, fighting their way through thorny thickets, plunging off unseen parapets, they knew they were not long for this world.

In the end, it was two things that saved these young crusaders. One was an inner fortitude, obvious in both. No matter how icy the wind blew around them, or how terrifyingly the rocky slopes gave way under their weight, they retained a smile on their lips and a song in their hearts. The other was the discovery of a path down to the bottom. Thus did our two heroes emerge triumphantly back into the world of men, and thus does the epic of Ephesus end.

1 comment:

paul said...

Jack, so you got lost then found your way out, in a nutshell?
Watch out for the hostilities on Turkey's eastern border, you could be drafted if not careful. Might be best to go around in a van with UN painted on its side and claim to be UN observers.
Stay safe.