The day there were no machine guns

Here is my one attempt ever at travel writing.  It was written some time ago but clearing out my work space, I found this and still quite liked it, so thought I would share.  Apologies as it is longer than my normal posts.

The day there were no machine guns

Ignoring the voices that dared to chill me with memories of holidays cursed by our mere presence, where trains stopped running, and governments were overthrown as hurricanes whipped houses and trees – ignoring these voices, Sophie and I made for our destination of Marmaris, Turkey.  It was an exotic, kiss-me-quick resort, ablaze with hotels and restaurants in Summer and covered markets that curled through back streets, selling virtually anything ‘designer’.  The beach, a narrow, shingle strip, wasn’t enticing, but there were plenty of other beaches a short boat-ride away.  These boats postured for our business along the harbour’s edge, elbowing each other like impatient runners.  The rocky, arid shores were beautiful but the sea dancing a Lambada around our boat was enough for Sophie and me to hang up our sea legs indefinitely.

We opted instead for the safety of a jeep safari to discover the mountains behind Marmaris.  A jaw clenching moment saw Sophie fall heavily on loose rocks as she attempted to scale the step into the jeep.  I hauled her onto the bench to diagnose a sprained ankle and from a beach bag, as swollen as Sophie’s foot, a make-shift bandage was produced.  The ankle strapped, myself and six fellow travellers packed together like veal calves.  Sophie rode with her foot in majestic elevation across the two benches.  There was safety in that fall; now nothing else could go wrong, and we listened to the guide who spoke English with wry amusement; he said we would probably break down twice that day.

“The jeeps have seen long roads.  They are getting tired.”  But we knew better.

The air alive with the screech of crickets concealed in the olive trees, we climbed into the fertile mountains where beef tomatoes littered the hillside like rubies and lemons filled the air with their acidic freshness.  Climbing further, unexpected pine trees rose like centurions from the hills above, keeping watch on the valleys where emaciated goats and horses grubbed through the burnt earth for a morsel of food.  Nomadic villages huddled together on the banks of dehydrated rivers.  We drove in those river beds later, feeling each square of broken cracknel beneath us.

It was mid afternoon when we stopped on the coniferous trail that led up to the waterfall.  The sun was sculpting lines of sweat on all our bodies and the chance of a little shade and cool water was more than a little tempting.  But our guide had a dire warning that it was deadly to dive from the rocks.  “Police with machine guns patrol here!” he told us.  The guide laughed heartily.  “Either way, you die!”

Because of Sophie’s ankle, I trekked into the woodlands alone, too hot to be chilled by the guide’s amused sense of danger.  Along the dusty, narrow track was a boardwalk where a small shack offered beverages.  Stiff and aching from the off-roading, I sat by the river bank, sipping the traditional sweet-scented apple tea.  High rock faces rose up toward me, their smooth grey surface parched; plant life that had once grown in aquatic glory now as frizzled as singed hair.  At the bottom, the water drained downstream as wearily as the travellers who watched it.  “There isn’t enough water to paddle in!” I commented to the guide who meandered through his party.  “Always blue sky!” he explained, throwing his hands into the air above him.

An hysterical scream snapped me out of the dreamy investigation.  I hadn’t noticed the cage before or the monkey inside who was now going berserk.  With a predatory gleam in its eyes, a scrawny tabby was pawing at the petrified animal from above; cream talons piercing the monkey’s skin, it played excitably with the terror as the monkey squealed in senseless desperation, the cry filling the air with the repentant prayers of death.

Angrily, I shooshed the cat away and gesticulated fiercely to the Turkish owners.  I should have listened to the monkey’s ominous cry but, incensed by the cruelty of neglect, I marched toward the waterfall.  Like a washerless tap, the water dripped with a plip-plip-plop over the edge of the 20 foot rocks.  The pool below barely shivered in reply, only the pond weed beneath the surface waved restlessly against the craggy points of the rocks from which it grew.

Four men were standing on top of those rocks, like podium dancers, lurching toward the edge, pushing and shoving each other with adolescent devilment as they swigged at their bottles of beer.  Without Sophie beside me, I felt vulnerable in the face of their drunkenness;  I started back toward the jeep but the sudden battery of Teutonic shouts and the swell of guttural laughter stopped me.  I saw the diver lift into the air, his body swooping up, then arching down, folding out his arms like wings above his head, his slim bronzed body soaring toward the water like a kingfisher flashing blue and proud, the flight of a breeze whispering through his feathers, down and down he flew, down and down.

And then silence.  Stillness from the water, the tourists, from the squealing monkey.  The forest shut its eyes and held its collective breath.  Just feet away from me, the body lay spread-eagled beneath the dripping waterfall.  Blood oozed around him, the tan leaching from his flesh as the clear still water became a scarlet canvas.  His muscular chest lay deflated and still.  His arms and legs were still, rigid.  I was frozen.

A rush of sudden activity swelled the void.  Men and women from nowhere and everywhere were activated by remote control, a scurrying of worker ants dragging the  body from the rocks, pressing towels onto open wounds, arms waving, shouting, barking orders to anyone.  My conscience screamed out with a rush of adrenalin to my leaden limbs.  I should do something but a glass tank imprisoned me, my body sucked against the sharp coldness as I watched people tending to the stricken man.  I watched a woman kneel beside him, her urgent mouth opening and closing  as her body rocked back and forwards.  And I wrestled with my inactivity.  Thoughts jumbled around my brain as I scanned through my first aid knowledge for treatment of head and spinal injuries.   But like the body, I could not even twitch.

Face and hands streaked with blood and dirt, our guide pulled at my elbow, urging me away.  With a final glance at the waterfall, the abandoned monument of beer bottles yelled at me with the horror of silent witnesses.  Shivering, I knew there was little hope.

The guide put a warm hand on my shoulder as I climbed in next to Sophie.  “How was it?” she asked, looking up from a novel.

“No machine guns,” the guide said, his voice sombre.  “No police!”

Sirens cut through the gathering silence as the guide turned the keys and the jeep spluttered back to life.

©Jacqui Thatcher 2015


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