Little energy is needed to bob and spin in seemingly elegant movements in the clear water off the coast of Antalya. My swims are not goal, time or distance oriented, only languid, weightless affairs.
I have come down through Karaalioğlu Parkı, in the center of Antalya, landscaped by the stark Bey Dağları peaks, down the steep lopsided cement steps of the local beach club, down the algae-covered ladder to immerse myself in the quiet waters that are home to a third of the world's international tourists at any given time.
As I float in the sea I flick my hands and rudder in a silent circle thinking about the Mediterranean, a center of world history and uniting element for three continents. My present-day compass landed me on these shores three years ago. I had little knowledge of the Mediterranean other than knowing it was a stunning blue.
As I coast leisurely along in these ancient waters I remember past travels to distant continents. Comparing those waters to the Mediterranean I realize I might sink if I were to move this lazily in some of them. The roaring Pacific had crashing waves and gigantic fish fueling adrenaline-packed adventures. The Caribbean Sea had a beat of tropical islands offering rum-tempered dancing and laid back hammocks. The swaying South Pacific embellished the exotic history of Captain Cook, grass skirts and islands so plentiful they were like stepping stones. The Atlantic Ocean was my childhood playground and brings back memories of crab cakes and Ferris wheels and sand castles.
As I continue to paddle silently in the warm Mediterranean other Turkish waters come to mind. The aptly named Karadeniz (Black Sea) is darker in stormy weather, less salty and the basin for the best tasting hamsi in Turkey. No swimming there as the stormy dark water wasn't inviting. The industrial Marmara Sea has its busy tanker traffic crisscrossing the continents, from Europe to Asia, moving industriously over earthquake fault lines. Never wet a toe there, either. And somewhere around the raw coastline of the Datça Peninsula in southwest Turkey the island-dotted Aegean mixes water with the Mediterranean. The Aegean is appealing, but my playground is the coast of the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean is oligotrophic, a rather scientific label explaining why I can see my toes wiggle way down in the crystal clear water. I like to think it is because the sun shines so brightly here, but oligotrophic means the sea offers little to sustain life. Lack of algae growth might account for the glittering water along the Turquoise Coast of the Mediterranean, but this salty sea offers a lot to sustain life and has for centuries.
Over 3,000 years the Mediterranean has had a major influence on history as ancient civilizations established trade routes, migrated and committed warfare. The Egyptians stayed close to their shores along the Nile Delta. However, the Phoenicians began venturing out into the sea on strong, seaworthy ships built from the cedars of Lebanon. They emerged as peaceful traders on their westward routes exporting, among other things, purple-dyed cloth. Tyrian purple cloth was the imperial standard for the rich. The color became more vibrant with weathering, and purple-dyed cloth was worth its weight in gold. Tyrian purple was praised by poets and prophets, Homer spoke of its perfect beauty. The prized color came from another treasure of the Mediterranean, the Murex sea snail. Commerce in purple-dyed cloth and plentiful Murex sea snails sustained the small Lycian town of Aperlai, near present-day Kekova.
Rome for several centuries laid claim to the Mediterranean as Mare Nostrum (our sea) when they boasted a single empire surrounding the mostly landlocked sea. My morning dip now, however, splashes water that laps the shores of over 20 countries. These countries in Asia, Africa and Europe continue to make history with shifting politics, religion and geography.
As I skim along the shimmering water I see a vessel rounding the bend, out of the harbor. In days past it could be a merchant ship carrying grain from Egypt or slaves to Delos Island in the Aegean. It could be Cilician pirates heading east to their garrison as the protected harbors and abundant commerce of the Mediterranean made piracy a considerable naval power. But as the abrasive sound of the theme from “Titanic” churns towards me I pull back to the present and see a boat cruising by happily loaded with tourists snapping photos off the coastline of Antalya.
As I glide by a rock I see a crab skittering for cover making it difficult to imagine that up the rickety ladder, up the jumbled steps, up through the lovely park is a city of over 1 million people. Watching the airplanes tailgate each other into Antalya to disgorge another load of tourists on its shores, I could ponder the future of the Mediterranean.
For the moment though I will put my feet up and relax as a school of tiny fish performs a synchronized jump over my head showering me with warm, deeply blue water.