A brilliant sun shines down from the azure sky and all is good. Two days of respite from the frozen sheets of rain that fall indefatigably and we are left in the brightest of dispositions. Mix that pleasant weather in with a break from the classroom and a heavenly confluence is reached. The ephemeral nature of these crisp, clear winter days turns any wise soul into a newborn Utilitarian – one must squeeze as much activity as possible into every waking hour.
We took full advantage of the circumstances, awoke early, scraped the crust from our tired eyes, and made haste to the ferry terminal. Excitement was in the air as we strode towards the coastline. The school life had been taxing this past week and we were ready for an epochal day to mark the early stages of the year. (In common fashion, we waited in the wrong terminal and missed the initial boat. This was aggravating but gave us ample time to hit up the local guitar shop and plot out my next big payday splurge before we caught the noon ferry).
Our final destination on this picturesque Monday afternoon was Büyükada (Big Island). The largest of a chain of islands that lie just off the mainland in the Sea of Marmara, Büyükada is known for its traditionally non-Turkish population and its absence of motorized vehicles. It is a summer destination for the wealthy and the deciduous tree-lined streets are cluttered with beautiful old wooden mansions. Picture the strange juxtaposition of the sprawling, genteel estates of the American South transplanted to a Mediterranean setting and you have a likewise image.
In short order we discovered that the preferred mode of transportation is horse-drawn cart and of course the animal lover/fair-weather vegetarian of the group was opposed to being dragged through the streets by sorrowful, emaciated beasts of burden. (The evil little fiscal conservative that lies in us all and sometimes has the audacity to raise his conflagrant voice was also quick to dissent to the idea due to the 30 lira price tag that accompanied the carriage ride.) The fashionista of the group subsequently decided against bike travel due to a coat that somehow impeded leg movement…arrgh. Thus, we were forced to march the three and a half miles or so to the top of the island by foot in search of a mystical church and restaurant that supposedly awaited us.
The hike to our destination was no trek in the Himalayas; conversely, it was more akin to the proverbial “walk in the park”. Sadly, this duo carries none of the fitness and dexterity of the Sherpas and thus our energy began to waver rather quickly.
If I recall correctly, I was finding it hard to produce any saliva to expectorate and was silently cursing myself for leaving the Nalgene at home when Nellie histrionically shrieked to the unflinching Gods, “I am so dehydrated that I’d drink my own pee…if I could pee!”
It was at this same, desperate moment that the faint, yet unmistakable clamor of shitty Euro techno could be heard through the trees. A few more minutes of trudging along the footpath and we happened upon an oasis in the form of a makeshift café, a toothless garçon, and cold, sweet spring water. Spirits were immediately lifted with the nourishment and the remainder of the journey was a pleasant sojourn as we moved with a new purpose along the path.
At the apex of the island sits an old Greek Orthodox church and a modest outdoor eatery ran by a one man marvel that both cooks up some great comfort food (word to the French fries and meatballs) and has enough beer stocked in his fridge to replenish the hydration of even the weariest traveler.
We arrived late in the afternoon to this area of apotheosis and as the waning sun shimmered off the cool waters of the sea far below and the droplets of perspiration on my forehead began to dry it was all too easy to experience the warmth of inner solitude. The calm of the hilltop was all encompassing and a strange feeling of religious devotion descended upon me that could never be duplicated by the cold didacticism of organized piety. A spirit devoid of human tampering permeated my core, something so pure and pagan that only nature could have produced it in all her breathless glory.
I hoped to pass an eternity in this aforementioned condition…alas, I am doomed to live a faithless existence and the moment was abruptly ended when a gregarious bastard of a feline strode out of the churchyard and broke the enduring silence with a brutal cacophony - the sharp staccato of mournful howls and mews accompanied by a deep, reverberating purr bass line. Awoken from my state, I tapped Nell on the shoulder and motioned towards the trail. It was time to return to civilization.
The descent was all too easy. Sated by the delicious meal and the feeling of accomplishment our legs weightlessly cruised along the footpath towards the ferry terminal. We’ll be back soon.