It was dark when I closed my eyes.
Dawn is always the best time for meditation. As night turns to day and back again twelve hours later, the natural sattva of the environment peaks and the atmosphere tends toward stillness and grace.
And here was this special place, the sound of waves stirring the shingle of the cove, a gentle wind whispering in the trees, and the only manmade noise the throbbing of a ferryboat leaving the small port of Kabatepe for the island of Gökçeada, which the Anzac soldiers had known as Imbros.
Fifteen minutes earlier I had left the small village of Kocadere, the call of the muezzin startling me as I walked to my rental car. The Islamic world obviously knew the importance of the moment, a time for bringing the practical world into alignment with the spiritual.
The GPS guided me to the beach carpark, corresponding with the directions I’d been given last night. The borrowed torch showed me the paths down to the water’s edge and I parked myself on a piece of seawall.
The mantra brought me to stillness. Despite the excitement of being here in this sacred place, the familiar repetition calmed and banished my thoughts, leaving only my self, unhurried, unmoving, aware without thought or comment.
I heard the sounds of wind and water but paid them no mind. Waves and breezes and distant engine noises washed over me and passed on. I was a rock.
It only seemed like a few moments before the chime of my timer told me the allotted half-hour had passed. Reluctantly opening my eyes, I let vision pass over me like the wind. The sky had lightened, the shape of the land visible in silhouette to either side and a dark wall behind me where Turkey rose steeply from the Aegean.
Nearly a hundred years ago, soldiers from Australia and New Zealand — aliens from the other side of the planet — had waded ashore at dawn and been met by bullets from the defending Turks dug in at the top of the hill.
I was at peace here and now but the emotions in the hearts of those long-gone soldiers must have been very different. They had immediately gone into action, clambering up the steep and overgrown slope, firing at the withdrawing Turks, and receiving bullets in return as reinforcements came pouring in.
At the end of a bloody day, the front line had been pushed forward no more than a thousand paces from the beach, and there it stayed until winter seven months later forced a withdrawal.
In hindsight, a pointless and stupid campaign but those children of Empire believed they were fighting a good fight and they gave it their all.
I bowed my head as I remembered their sacrifice. Thousands had died within half an hour’s walk, including many right here on this beach, in these gentle ripples, when the Turkish guns had found the range and burst amongst the soldiers taking the only chance they had to wash their filthy bodies.
Like that man there. Splashing through the water in an awkward, head-up fashion as he swam north along the beach, maybe twenty metres out. Doubtless remembering those vanished soldiers in his own way, though I would have perhaps waited until the sun had warmed the water a little. He must be so cold!
Still motionless, at one with the rounded rocks on the beach, I watched his graceless paddle. He must have somehow sensed my presence in the shadows; he stopped, looked at me and waved. I lifted my hand in return and he began moving toward me.
The beach at Anzac Cove is narrow and though I’d been sitting on a level place on the seawall, my feet were almost in the water. There were only a few ripples between us.
“Come on in,” he said, “the water’s fine.”
As his body lifted out of the water, I could see that he wasn’t quite telling the truth.
I shook my head. There was a smile on my face, but inside chill fingers were gripping my heart. Oh, what had I gotten myself into? My own fingers found my phone. What was the Turkish emergency number?
He was out of the water now, beside me. Tall, thin, wiry, strong. I’d have no chance. Only one strategy left. Blarney the bastard, gain some time, hope for someone else to come along.
“Sharks in the surf?” I pointed to a jagged scar on his hip. Something must have wrenched off half his cheek and the surgeons hadn’t had much left to stitch it all back together.
“Just let me get dressed, Miss.”
There was a pile of clothes on the seawall, not two metres away. I hadn’t noticed in the dark. Surely he hadn’t come along while I was meditating, stripped off, and gone swimming? Who would do that?
And I would have noticed. It had been a good meditation — not that we were supposed to judge — but not that deep or intense that I was unconscious. I would have heard the rattle of the stones and sensed another human presence.
I had stuck my fingers reverently into the water of Anzac Cove before sitting down and closing my eyes. Not iceberg territory but not far off. Splashing around in that for half an hour and more would turn anybody blue.
I didn’t watch while he got dressed but I couldn’t help but notice he had no towel. Just got straight into boxers, shirt and trousers. Brrr. That water would have to evaporate off from the heat of his body. If he had any left.
“Fell off the Great Pyramid, playing the fool.”
He patted his backside. “Lucky I’m alive, really. There was a trail of me blood all the way down. The doc took one look at me, give me a rag to bite on and sewed me up with a darning needle. Couldn’t sit down for a month. Or enjoy me own farts.”
Really. The days of ladies and gentlemen and polite conversation might be gone, but what sort of man discussed farts with a woman he’d just met? Did being caught skinny-dipping give a man the right to be gross?
Being a fellow Australian didn’t excuse him. He had an accent on him. Straight off some Queensland outback cattle station, by the sounds of it.
“Ah, rats,” he said. “Sorry I scared you. I’m camped up in the scrub, and I only get one chance to have a swim before all the tourists come around. If I’d known you were here, I’d’ve left me undies on. But they get full of salt and make my day hell, you know what I mean.” He stuck out a hand. “I’m Tommy.”
I took it in return. “Britni. Hey, is that allowed? Camping, I mean?”
My accommodation might be comfortable, but it wasn’t cheap. I could have brought a tent and sleeping bag, saved myself enough for a new lens.
“Shit, no. But they got to catch me, eh?”
“Mmmm. Hey, look, I’ve got some work to do. Photographs at dawn, best time of day.”
I worked with camera and tripod for the next half hour. Anzac Cove, with the early light reflecting from the water, is quite an eerie place. As the sun rose higher, it would be just another rocky beach, but for now, it was the shadow of the past.
Mostly, Tommy kept out of my way but he took a stroll up the beach and back — 600 metres, it wasn’t far — and a few of my shots had a lone figure in them. Walking, looking up at the hill, bending down to examine something amongst the rocks. If he was a recognisable person in a photo, I’d have to get a model release signed but for now, he was just a figure in a landscape, giving a human scale to the cove.
He wandered back as I was finishing up. Time for me to get back to The Gallipoli House and breakfast. Coffee would hit the spot just right. Tommy walked with me, showing me a piece of metal he’d found. “Look, a Turkish shell fragment, probably from Beachy Bill.”
“They had a gun down there at Gaba Tepe and a spotter right on the point, where he could peep past the headland here and see what was going on. Anything that looked like a good target, they’d pop off a few shells at our boys. The navy tried to knock it out but could never find the exact spot. Did for hundreds of diggers.”
Diggers. There was a piece of living history. A hundred years on and Australian soldiers were still called ‘diggers’, from all the trenches and tunnels they had excavated here where the Turks could fire at almost anything above ground.
We rounded the point, North Beach ahead of us, the rising sun still hidden behind the high ground and a single jutting prominence of what looked like orange sandstone rising above the neat lawns of the cemeteries. The temporary stands for the commemorative service in a few days time were splashes of blood against the scrubby green.
“Look at the old Sphinx,” Tommy said. “They used to reckon a Turkish sniper would climb up there every morning and pick off our boys during the day.”
“He’d have a splendid view,” I said, raising my camera to capture the scene.
“Yes, and so did we. Look at that thing. Bare rock. There were a few hidey holes and our snipers would fire into them and occasionally a body would tumble out. After a while, no Turk would go near the thing.”
I looked at him with interest. “You seem to know a lot about this place.”
“Ahhh, it’s all in the guidebooks. The place is full of memorials and maps and plaques. Just walk up the road and every hundred metres there’s another bloody cemetery and another chapter of history to read. You’ll see.”
Exactly what I planned to do. After I got some coffee and a Turkish breakfast — whatever that was — inside me.
My car was the only one in the carpark. I heaved my camera bag and tripod into the back. Tommy fidgeted, swapping his weight from one foot to another, exactly like someone busting for a leak.
I could take a hint. “Hey, I got to go. Maybe see you around later? Where did you say your camp was?”
I could always use a free guide. Someone camping in the bush might be persuaded to walk me around in exchange for a free lunch in Kabatepe.
“No fear, lady,” he said. “That’s for me to know and the Turks never to find out.”
I didn’t press the point. He was looking at the nearby trees with interest, and I was someone who didn’t need to be there. Besides, there was a steaming cup of coffee with my name on it only ten minutes away.
© 2021 Britni Pepper. All rights reserved.
First chapter: Get Lost in Turkey
Third Chapter: Get High in Turkey
Fourth Chapter: Get Saved in Turkey
Fifth Chapter: Get Shot in Turkey
Sixth Chapter: Get Down in Turkey
Seventh Chapter: Get Lucky in Turkey