Next morning, we eat breakfast in style, seated in plastic chairs borrowed from the cabin. We tank up on tea and boil three more liters to carry with us. Water will be scarce on the next section.
The next cove is inhabited by a group of commercial fishermen camped out in the detritus of an abandoned mine. The roofless stone mine buildings have an coal-gray Industrial Age solidity and grimness. The fishermen’s section is more modern –all flimsy plastics and bright, open-sided shacks. A bunk bed with bedding has been moved out on to the beach.
Kate Clow says we can get water from the fishermen, but the place is deserted. We don’t want to wander around the empty houses, so we head for the next headland. At the top, the trail disappears entirely. Finally we stop looking for blazes and simply plunge down a dry creek bed.
looks like a good place to sit out the noonday heat. The gravelly beach is deserted, though one
speedboat lies at anchor. The boat is
This beach is nearly inaccessible by land. The entire valley is a few hundred meters square. Cliffs drop straight to the sea at both ends. But even here the quiet beauty is marred by an accumulation of plastic bags and bottles discarded from passing boats. The water is utterly calm. We float quietly on our backs, washing our hiking clothes at the same time. The hike drains away.
doze in the shade. The
We rouse ourselves to look for the trail out. While I’m thrashing around the back of the valley, cursing Kate Clow through thick brush and up steep hills, Gordon strolls to the end of the beach. When I show up fifteen minutes later, bathed in sweat with bits of brush clinging to everything from socks to hat, he tells me the trail begins just down the beach.
My mistake was a natural one, since the beach ends in a cliff. Nonetheless, there’s the blaze. We put one foot up, then the other. There is indeed a path here. As long as we don’t look back.
Water is now a worry again. We drank a lot in the lunch cove, and the river there was dry. We are hours from the next source of water, and hiking in the heat is wringing us out fast. We reach the top of the next headland and look down into a tiny cove, the last before we tackle the big ridge between us and a settlement called Cirali. It’s a beauty. Just two dozen yards of beach between the steepest cliffs we’ve seen so far.
there on the beach, all alone in an empty
Soon the trail starts down the hill, then it disappears. Did it slab off to avoid the cove? We decide it was committed to the descent and push on. This will be a very serious mistake if we are wrong. Even if the trail does descend, we could be on some goatherd’s track that ends in a cliff. Climbing back this way with our packs and no water will be hard indeed, maybe more than hard.
At last we reach the bottom. Then we see a trail blaze. Below it, a young boy is pissing against the cliff, his back to us. Spotting us, he stares hard, then scampers for the safety of the 7-Up umbrella. We lumber up beside his parents, drop our packs and then ourselves – stunned by dehydration and fatigue. God knows what we look like. I try out my Turkish greetings and small talk. As I hoped, the father pulls out a large bottle of water from the cooler and gestures to us. We nod. I’m ready to take the bottle. We could finish it in two minutes.
Instead, he puts out an eight-ounce plastic cup. Oh, God! He’s giving us a cup of water! I pass it to Gordon. He hands it back with a few swallows still in the bottom. They’re gone in an instant, leaving not the slightest satisfaction. The man seems surprised. He pours another cup. Gone again in two long swallows. Another. Gone again. A fourth disappears. He puts the bottle away. We try not to watch it too closely as it goes. We offer thanks and more small talk. It’s time to move.
Toward the top of the next rise, a wave of fatigue suddenly hits me. My heart is pounding wildly as I drop on a shady part of the path. I can’t go on. Like an old acquaintance, I recognize the early stages of heatstroke.
I sip the remaining water. Not much left, and we’re still not at the top, let alone done with the descent. I begin to wonder what would have happened if the 7-Up family hadn’t shared their water with us. I don’t want to dwell on it.
After twenty minutes, I feel better. We move on slowly. The terrain is beautiful, with the same kind of inborn familiarity as the African savannah. Pines spread sparsely over baking hillsides strewn with rock and pine needles. Shepherd country.
Half an hour later we crest the hill and can see the plain spread out below. Roads, houses, and an enormous beach stretch south. We give ourselves a few swallows of water and start down with enthusiasm, emerging at last on a road that will take us to downtown Cirali. At the first campsite, we find that some blessed soul has set up a water station along the road. It is the only one we will ever see, but it comes at the best time. We drink deep.
In the village, we find a pension that will give us dinner, breakfast, and two beds for $15. What’s more, they’ll give us dinner early. Because we’re not done for the day.
couple of miles outside of Cirali is one of the most remarkable ancient sites
Anyway, if the Chimaera’s been dead all this time, why walk for miles on top of heatstroke to see it? Because, the story goes on, the Chimaera’s flame didn’t die with the monster. Instead, it seeps up from the underworld to emerge still burning from the earth. And in fact, at the Chimaera site, flames do leap from the earth in dozens of places, as they have since ancient times.
large government poster tells the Chimaera’s story. (This is a source of all my information about
Bellerophon, which means it probably should be taken with a grain of
salt.) Also according to this poster,
Chimaera has another claim to fame. It
says that the city of Olympos, a few miles down the coast, was the site of the
earliest Olympic games, and the famous eternal flame that symbolized both the
ancient and modern games had its origin at Chimaera. Now this is news. The Olympic games have been celebrated in
modern time for more than 100 years.
Desperate network commentators have milked every possible Olympic story
to fill dead air during the high-jump qualifying rounds. But not once have I heard that the eternal
flame might actually still be burning, and in
We head up the trail, surrounded by sweating tourists, most of them Turks. We pass the ruins of several different religions’ temples. (As one religion fell out of favor, the next was happy to move in and take credit for the flames.) We emerge on a denuded patch of pale hillside about the size of a soccer field. All across it flames leap in the gathering darkness. Some are the size of a large campfire, others barely cling to the earth with a flame smaller than that of an oven pilot light. Perhaps a hundred people are scattered across the field, gathering around one or another of the flames. In one spot, six or seven flames emerge in a row, and some enterprising Turk has put a couple of samovars atop the flames and is selling tea brewed with the hot breath of Chimaera.
I read somewhere that Chimaera’s source is an underground gas that bursts into flame when it reaches the surface. To test this hypothesis, I pick one of the smaller flames, lean over, and blow it out. We wait. It fails to burst back into flame. Scratch one hypothesis.
We climb to the top of the field and look down. It is nearly 8:00 and growing quite dark. The large flames leap orange across the field, while numerous tiny blue flames glow along the ground.