On board a traditional gulet off the southwestern Turkish coast.
Before my sister, Stormy, began college at UCSD, I thought it imperative that she have an adventure. So for the summer, I flew her to Antalya, Turkey, where I had been living. For her 18th birthday, I booked a 4-day, 3-night Turkish gulet cruise.
We embarked on our journey from Demre, rumored birthplace of St. Nick. The other passengers were diverse in ages and nationalities. Everyone was fun and sociable.
The crew had three guys. The captain was in his late twenties, tan with sparkling green eyes and bleached brown hair that complemented his contagious smile. The deckhand was in his mid-twenties. Almost every muscle in his body was toned; his hair hung carelessly by his eyes and you could tell he just loved life on the sea. The cook was of a different sort. In his late forties, he seemed to be taking everything in with a blasé “here we go again” attitude.
We stopped near Kekova, an island village, in the distance. The crew prepared lunch and we took a swim. The other passengers went to explore the village. Stormy and I stayed on the boat to tan because we had seen the island a few weeks before. When everyone came back, we headed to some other stop and were told we would stay the night there.
The moon was bright, almost full, and we all slept peacefully under the stars. The next morning I woke up to a breeze blowing and the gentle hum of the boat’s motor.
The next day, we were followed by another gulet. When we stopped to dock for the night, the captains tied our boats together. The two captains and the deckhand jumped in the water. With a spear gun, they caught enough fish for all of us to eat for dinner.
The rest of the passengers were up at the front drinking and playing cards. I needed to write postcards. The captain had started barbecuing the fish. He introduced himself, Umut, meaning "hope" in Turkish. We talked about how he got into the job and he laughed as he showed me his “wedding ring” – engraved with an anchor to demonstrate his marriage to the sea. He said that the captain of the next boat had been his best friend since they were 10.
The alcohol was flowing and the speakers boomed with fun music. The other boat’s passengers, from Portugal and Spain, came on board. One of the guys was completely wasted and kept saying, with exuberance, “BIG PARTY.” We all laughed and danced and sang the popular tunes. At some point, Stormy and I decided to get back into our bathing suits and jump into the water. Others soon followed, and we made new friends. Swimming at midnight in the warm Mediterranean, I felt completely carefree.
Sunday was our last full day. We were heading to Butterfly Valley, where there was supposedly a zillion (give or take a million) butterflies fluttering around to accompany a hike to a waterfall. Although few butterflies were actually seen, the view and the hike were both great.
When we returned from the hike, the other boat, which we were attached to again, was relaxed – probably still plagued by hangovers and a lack of greasy food to restore the stomach to normal.
Eventually everyone had crawled into bed and there were just a few lying awake. The harbor was calm and quiet. Just a cool breeze and the sounds of the occasional fish jumping or laughs from afar broke the silence.
The next morning, on our way back to the harbor, the girls and I stood at the bow. The sea was choppy because of wind. Umut went full-speed ahead and the boat hit waves with perfection. With the wind blowing through my hair, ocean water spraying my face and leaving salt on my lips, I imagined how it must have felt to have been a pirate back in the day.
Life on the sea is beautiful and free. I want to keep the feeling forever.