(written April 2003)
For some reason my eyes continued to drift from the road in front, to my left… to my left and up, for there, standing proud on the crest of a low mountain, the clear Aegean sky behind and the dry, burlap-coloured hillsides like a skirt dropping to the base, a castle dominated the valley. In ancient times this was a major crossroads where the road from Ephesus to Smyrna and the road to Philadelphia meet in the valley at the base of this formidable fortress. “Who built this castle? When? Why? What is its history? Who lived there?”
My mind was flooded with questions and my interest was piqued.
My eyes were forced back to the road where the dance of traffic really required more than my part-time attention.
This was the autumn of 1983 and was my first introduction to the castle known locally as Keçi Kale being translated as ‘Goat Castle’. Over the years I had opportunity to visit Selçuk/Ephesus and I would pass under this castle brooding on the mountain, gazing down upon the main highway. In this way my interest never waned and indeed, with each passing visit increased in its intensity.
When we moved to Selçuk/Ephesus in 2002 and I heard that some believers had made the trek to the summit – my interest was transformed into a quest. But how do I get to the base of the mountain, it is some ten kilometres from Selçuk/Ephesus?
“Do you have room for two more?” was my immediate question when I learned that a visiting group of students from a Bible School in Sweden were planning on making the ascent. In response I received a welcome invitation.
So, a few days later we found ourselves bundled into a crowded mini-van making the short trip to the base of the mountain – the quest was on! There were 18 people in the group, and as you would imagine various degrees of fitness meant the one large group quickly broke down into several sub-groups according to ability. T and I were by far the oldest in the group and we formed our own little sub-group. We had been told of a trail – and indeed there was one. Comprised of rough hewn stones and following a serpentine path, this trail slowly wound its way back and forth across the face of the mountain on a gradual ascent towards the summit. In its hey day, hundreds of years ago, it probably made the climb a simple and straight-forward task.
Now, for centuries the castle has been abandoned, the trail has not been maintained. In some places it was so clearly a trail and nearly its full width, in others a part trail with bits worn away, fallen away or simply ‘away’ and in others, it is only by detective reasoning, deduction and faith, that the trail would be re-acquired after vanishing from sight.
We maintained our own pace as we are not as fit as the young people in the group. Often, where the trail made a switch back, you had to be extremely careful as it was very easy to go past the turn and find yourself on the mountain, separated from the trail and having to create your own way.
Surprisingly quickly we found ourselves higher and higher up the mountain – the valley stretching out behind us with the thin straight ribbon that delineated the course of the asphalt river with a constant flow of lorries, buses and cars. From there I had once looked up.
Now, part way to my quest, I gazed down.
We paused to rest. We paused to photograph the sea of wild flowers until it became apparent we had enough pictures of the blue ones, and the red ones, and the white ones and so on and on and on. We paused to look at the large turtles.
“What are they doing up here?” I queried.
They are large – yes ‘they’ as we saw three. They are probably 20 to 25 cm in diameter, although they were more oval than round. Often we found the going hard – large rocks, sheer rocks and such to navigate. “How do these turtles make their way?” I wondered. “Where do they get water?” – oh, the questions came, but no answers. Suffice it to say, they were there, up the mountain and on the move.
We were two thirds of the way up the mountain when I saw a sub-group of the young people making the climb. We were on the trail, this I knew. They were once ahead of us, but are now below us. One of us, or so it looked to me, were off the trail. In the end, it appeared they had missed a switch-back and were making their own way in the brush, boulders and other impediments on the mountainside. They joined up with us for the final stretch.
Finally, an hour after we began we crested the side of the hill and there was the castle serene and calm sitting on a peak with the valley falling away on three sides. A great view – and the realisation of a long held desire, I was at, even in, Keçi Kale. “Whoopee !! ”
There below us we could see down the one valley to Selçuk/Ephesus, and then in front of us up the other valley where the road to Alaşehir/Philadelphia would have been we see a great expanse still flooded from the unusual amount of rain this year and finally up the valley to the left towards Izmir/Smyrna.
For years I had looked “up”. Now I was looking “down”.
After a rest, a look around and some photos, we began the descent. We had followed the trail up, but now the group headed down the ‘direct route’ – sans trail. There was no “official” hurry but they took off as one man intent on descending in the shortest possible route in the shortest possible time. We were dead last and trying, vainly to keep up.
No trail – make your own. Steep, very steep, sometimes too steep but, we carefully negotiated each challenge and pressed onwards. Always feeling the need to go a bit faster – we are dead last and getting laster. T was not enjoying this plunge over the mountainside so when we stumbled on the trail, I thought it best to abandon the overland route and to follow the trail the rest of the way down – we had about half-way to go. It would take longer, and they would have to wait, but it would be more enjoyable, imminently more do-able and, well it wasn’t a race, they would have to wait for the ‘old folks’.
And so we went – still pushing along trying not to keep the others waiting longer than we had to. But we were on the trail now. Switch-backs, slower, but in places a regular trail, in others half a trail and in others ‘well there is a trail around here somewhere’.
It was on a half-trail spot, I was in front when I heard the sound that you never want to hear – T had put her foot down (as you do when you are walking) and whether it a slippery stone, or did a rock move, or, well we don’t know what, her foot went out and down she came in one of those unintended, undesired and uncontrolled events that often dot our lives. Not a pretty sound. Not a happy activity for T. I turned and there she was kind of sitting on the trail her one leg out in front.
“Pull my foot” she said.
I thought, “What do I know about bones out of joint, or broken bones or things like that, I don’t know what to do”.
“Pull my foot !! ” she repeated (note the double exclamation marks) and there are times when you do as requested without worrying about the niceties like, “what am I doing”.
Well, it appears to be NOT broken. It even appears to be NOT sprained. Good. But, whatever it is, it is NOT normal. There is no question of it being NOT unaffected. Bad.
Twisted, injured, bruised – not sure what exactly.
She could, hum.. well… ‘walk’ would be the wrong word. I think hobble would describe it best. So I took the things that she had been carrying, and we headed off on the remaining segment of our descent. The others would have to wait now – there is no rushing this process.
“oooo —- ow” “oooo —- ow”, two different sounds, two different pains, but she hobbled on as we slowly worked our way down the trail – no more overland jaunts now. Not easy going own, difficult pressure on the ankle. The surface was uneven, sometimes smooth, sometimes steep, sometimes strewn with stones, sometimes with stones hidden in the grass – but step by step, little by little the trip was completed and we arrived back at the van.
We often tritely repeat the little ditty “the best laid plans of mice and men”, but behind it is a simple truth, we do not control events around us. Sometimes we can influence, sometimes we can initiate, but, ultimately, events are beyond our control. Do the best we can, be the best we can, and deal with the rest….