Bad Night in Bodrum: An Adventure in Turkey

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The author (left) and his brother, Donald, often travel together. Photo courtesy Rich Grant
The author (left) and his brother, Donald, often travel together. Photo courtesy Rich Grant

You can’t travel for 40 years without having some adventures. I’ve totaled a motor scooter and knocked out my two front teeth; I’ve been with my brother while he got arrested in Mexico and been in a Mexican jail at midnight; I’ve been mugged and woken up in an ambulance without any idea where I was; I’ve been pickpocketed and chased by wicked children and I’ve even been bitten by a dog and ended bleeding in an emergency ward in Athens on a hot Saturday night. But the most truly frightening and memorable adventure was the one that taught me a lesson.

It was Bodrum, Turkey – as medieval a place as you can imagine with a three-sided harbor that was guarded by a classic-looking Crusader castle. It was early May and the “fleet” was in. Bodrum is where 50 or so sailing vessels home base.

Travel in Bodrum - Castle overlooking the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Flickr/neiljs
Castle overlooking the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Flickr/neiljs

They look like pirate ships, but are actually quite comfortable wooden sailboats with six or seven cabins and baths, two masts, lots of rigging, and a devil-may-care attitude. People rent them for three days to a week, stock them with food, liquor and a bunch of friends and sail wherever the wind takes them.

But in early May, the fleet was all at dock, refitting for the season. It was hard to imagine a more picturesque scene that evening.  A ragged line of mountains filled the horizon, dropping down to the town, which was a semi-circle of lights against the dark sea, the masts of 50 sailing ships bobbing along stone quays, and in the center, a picture-book castle from the Arabian Nights, every stone and tower illuminated against the black sky.

And here was the beauty of it — just beyond the castle was a stone breakwater protecting the harbor. Even someone unfamiliar with Bodrum could understand if you walked out on this stone breakwater, you would have the view of all views.

Wooden sail boats in the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Flickr/Ming-yen Hsu
Wooden sailboats in the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Flickr/Ming-yen Hsu

Behind you would be the dark black waters of the Aegean Sea. But directly in front would be the castle, the harbor, the boats, the ribbon of lights of the town, and looming in the background against the glow of purple twilight, the stark black mountains of Turkey.

Helping the situation along were two bottles of 5 Euro very drinkable Turkish red wine. So it was, that about 10 pm or so, my brother and I decided to walk out of town on a lonely dark road to the stone breakwater, and there head out to sea.

Now this breakwater was a modern construction of gigantic rocks that had been piled there to stop the sea from rushing into the harbor. The entire affair was about 500 yards long and 20 feet wide, but on top had been built a stone wall the width of a narrow sidewalk – a 3-foot-wide walkway 15 feet above the rocks, unlit, that stretched out into the black sea like the ramparts of a long, straight fortress.

Overlooking Bodrum, Turkey. Flickr/Ming-yen Hsu
Overlooking the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Flickr/Ming-yen Hsu

We started out with high hopes and a half bottle of bourbon, which we had put in an empty, re-sealable bottle of Coke. The view was everything we hoped. The masts of the ships silhouetted against the sky, the castle…the lights of the town. I had stopped to enjoy the moment and take a swig of bourbon when my brother said, “there’s someone behind us.”

It was difficult to see. We were a third of the way out on the breakwater, the lights from the castle blinded our eyes and made everything darker, but there, behind us on the breakwater, silhouetted against the sky, was unmistakably the outline of two bodies, motionless on the breakwater, blocking our path back to shore.

My brother and I didn’t say a word, but continued walking down the path another 50 feet, then turned around. Behind us, we just caught the shadows of the two following us as they saw us stop, and then stopped in turn.

It was at this point that we took a better look at our surroundings. The path was on top of the wall, 15 feet above the rocks. You might survive a jump off the path into the dark rocks below, or you might not. It was very dark. It seemed our only option was to continue along the breakwater toward the sea; our narrow retreat back to land was covered by the two mysterious figures following us.

Sunset over the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Photo by Rich Grant
The sun sets over the harbor in Bodrum, Turkey. Photo by Rich Grant

It was about then that every movie I had ever seen where things going terribly wrong in Turkey, or anywhere for that matter, leaped to mind. It’s not hard in a dark and silent atmosphere being followed down a one-way path into the sea to have the mind drift to all sorts of horrors. And ours did.

We stopped twice. So did the shadows behind us. There was no question. They mirrored our movement.  Without doubt, there were two people blocking our narrow path back to shore and they were committed to following us out to the end.

My brother said, “This doesn’t look good.”  We continued down the shortening path to the sea.

The end finally came in sight. It was a round circle of a stone plaza, about 15 feet in diameter. Around all sides was a sheer drop, now of 20 feet into black rocks and the sea. As we neared it my brother said, “What do you think?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

I was carrying, against all common sense, about $400. We hadn’t seen a soul, other than the dark shadows, for 40 minutes and were way too far from town to yell for help. It would be the work of an instant to slice our throats, take our money, dump the bodies over the edge into the sea, and disappear into the night. Or so I thought.

I sensed my brother tensing beside me. Ready for what? A fight? He was crouched. So I crouched too. The dark shadows moved closer and closer, closing off our path to escape. There was nothing for it but to face them, head-to-head, here in the dark, on a stone quay in Bodrum harbor, in the lights of a Crusader castle.

They were now 15 feet away, just before the circle, silhouetted against the sky. In the dark came a voice.

“Are you gay?”

“What?” my brother and I shouted together. I added, “We’re brothers.”

There was a moment of silence, and then in the dark, a very nervous voice said, “Shit.”

The dark figures began to slide left around the circle. We slid right. They opened a path back down the breakwater, and we took it, and slipped not so quietly, but quickly into the night.

Other than stopping for a shot of the rapidly disappearing bourbon, we didn’t halt until we were off the quay on land, and then laughing so hard it was difficult to move.

So in the end it was the greatest lesson you can learn. Often the people you are afraid of are probably more afraid of you. What we envisioned as potential killers were just two people looking for love. It was shortly after this that my brother and I were in India, surrounded by a group of kids, and one of them said, “Could I try on your watch just to see what it looks like on my arm?”

I handed it over without a thought. He looked at it, admired it, and handed it back.

Sure, bad luck can happen when you’re traveling. But the greatest thing you have to fear is…well, you know.

Author Bio: Rich Grant is a freelance travel writer in Denver, Colorado and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the North American Travel Journalists Association. He is, along with Irene Rawlings, co-author of “100 Things to Do in Denver Before You Die,” published by Reedy Press in 2016.