The boat almost tipped over with the combined weight of 100 tourists rushing to the right-hand railing. ‘Caretta Caretta’ is the scientific name of the Loggerhead sea turtle – and the name which Turkish people make use of. A few metres away a mini Loch Ness head peered around, bobbing up and down in the warmth of the Mediterranean – probably wondering what all the fuss was about, as turtles do when humans get a tad starstruck. A moment later and the little face had gone.
We had just docked in Simena, a sweet and quaint (I have misgivings about that word) little village nestled on a craggy hill between Demre and Kekova, with a castle at its head and the bright blue sea at its feet. Mothers and daughters selling cotton dresses and Turkish jewellery, all turquoise and evil eyes, stood in the shade of the stone wall buildings, whitewashed and heavy with the weight of centuries. Guests flung themselves off the boat’s upper deck with squeals of excitement, ending abruptly with a splash and a giggle. My lovely Australian friend Emma had come to visit me -with work in the Pirate Bar an evenings only affair we had more than enough time to join the Sunken City Boat Tour, run by a Captain friend of ours; hours spent basking in the sun, sipping cheap white wine and simply revelling in the natural beauty of the Southern Turkish coast. It was with Emma’s hesitation however that I pulled my diving mask on and jumped feet first into the azure waters of the harbour. Maybe she had a slight fear of turtles, maybe it was her unwillingness to be left alone with the young Turkish holiday makers who had all but offered us marriage. Either way I had to go – that turtle was mine.
A young Dutch family followed me out, white blonde heads luminescent as pearls in the radiant light, children splashing and playing in innocent joy. Legs bicycling underneath me, remembering all the moves from my water polo days and wishing I’d made an effort to stay even a little fit, I searched for that little Nessie head. Thinking I had missed him and about to swim back to the boat for a good old rinse, suddenly yet ever so quietly he popped up beside me, a short paddle away. “WOOHOO!” I yelled in my mind, figuring as I did that this turtle (like many turtles before him) would not be a fan of loud noises and wildlife groupies.
With my mask on, my one-time swimmers lungs prepped and full of air, I waited as he sunk down to graze on the sea grass that sprouted and swayed across the harbour bed. Slowly I followed, watching the patterns on his shell ripple with dancing light from the sun above, a light that turned my underwater world into a kaleidoscope of fractal diamond. My turtle friend simply tuned out to his lunch, and had no problem with me watching him munch from an arms length away. Much bigger than I had first thought, his little head out of proportion with his smooth oval shell and flippered feet, he was one of the most beautiful creatures I had esperienced that close. Even though there were anchors clanking and engines whirring in the water all around us, in that moment all I seemed to hear was the soft clinking of rocks against sand, gently moving along with the calm and subtle tide. I looked into his eyes, and spent about 6 minutes just relaxing with him while he ate – popping up twice for air because despite all childhood dreams I never developed the ability to become a dolphin at will. I am fairly certain that Sea Grass is part actual ‘grass’ though, because he was far too chilled out for someone being so obviously stalked.
As I swam down for the final time, turtle buddy chomped his last chomp. Long flippers stretching out slowly he began to move off, back in the direction he had come and away from the prying eyes of crazy tourists. Lost in the moment I kicked off after him, gently resting my hands on the curve of his shell and feeling more connected to myself and the real world than I had done in too long a time. For a few magnificent seconds we swam together, before he headed under the keel of our boat and I let go.
Back on deck I smiled at Emma while she avoided making eye contact with our young gentlemen ‘friends’, not desiring to illicit any further declarations of new found love. The pearly heads and voices of children still bobbed below, and splashing laughter surrounded me. I stretched out in the warmth on the deck, wine in hand and peace in my heart – after a couple of challenging weeks the swim with my turtle buddy had given me reason to remember the bigger things in life. Most striking how serendipitous and natural the entire occasion had been. Then as I turned my face towards the sun I saw a little head pop up … maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the sea grass, but as he swam out to sea I could have sworn my turtle buddy waved.
Images courtesy of my lovely Emma.