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Voyage of exploration Ayvalik’s Islands
2003 / September

Some of the best experiences require effort to achieve, and this is no less true on holiday when it is most tempting to let the days pass lazily and pleasantly by. But if the desire to explore overcomes inertia, a pleasant holiday can easily be raised to the sublime. Thinking along these lines we got up early one morning during our stay in Ayvalik. Down in the harbour at that early hour there was a bustle and commotion of holidaymakers choosing boats, bargaining, boarding and then changing their minds at the last moment. For some reason there was a sense of urgency, as if some people might be left stranded without a seat. But soon everyone was happily settled. We had bought out tickets the previous evening, and finding our boat climbed on board. Music had been playing on most of them but ours was music-free. We were the last to leave the harbour and sail out into the cool waters of the Aegean.

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Voyage of exploration Ayvalik’s Islands
2003 / September

We passed close to Alibey (alias Cunda) Island, where the old stone houses and stone paved streets were still half asleep. That day we would pass by all the islands around Ayvalik, swim at several different places, and after a long stop at Maden Island, again return past Alibey. There are nearly two thousand islands in the Aegean, and this extraordinary number is due to the geological structure of this sea. Facing Ayvalik, strung out like a necklace, are 22 islands of various sizes, some of which are visited by hundreds of people every day during the summer. Alibey and the Yund Islands are the most important of these, the latter consisting of Kiz, Maden, Poyraz, Pinar, Gunes and Ciplak islands, known in antiquity as the Hekatonnesoi. They were named after Hekatos, the patron god of the ancient city of Nesos on Alibey.

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Voyage of exploration Ayvalik’s Islands
2003 / September
Kydonia (Ayvalik) and Nesos were important cities in antiquity. Alibey is the only one of the islands that is still inhabited today, and nothing but derelict fisherm'sda huts and the ruins of a church bear witness to past human occupation on the other islands. Our boat leaves Pinar Island (Island of the Spring) behind, and passes several small ones to either side before stopping in the channel between Maden and Alibey for a swim. We plunge eagerly into the cool blue waters, and with goggles in place gaze down into the colourful aquarium beneath us. In the hollows and spaces amongst the rocks are scores of different marine creatures and plants. I dive down towards them, and a crab scrambles swiftly into its hideaway. A small shoal of fish appears beside me and we swim together until I run out of breath and ascend back to the surface. I can hear the sound of music from far off.
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Voyage of exploration Ayvalik’s Islands
2003 / September

No, it is not the enchanting songs of sirens, but comes from the other boats that are arriving. Ten minutes later there are seven or eight boats in the channel, and soon the music ceases and is replaced by joyful shouts and splashes as people leap into the sea. A delicious aroma of frying fish reminds us that we are hungry, and clambering up the ladder we find that the tables are already laid and waiting for us. The plates of golden crisp fish arrive, accompanied by delicious salad. I havn'ti enjoyed a meal so much for years. The whisper of Aegean breezes accompanies faint music, and seems to carry us back to the time of Homer's heroes. It is as if we are breathing the same air as the Trojans and the people of Assos. Soon we are off again, letting the breeze fan our daydreams.

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Voyage of exploration Ayvalik’s Islands
2003 / September
This must be Ayvalik's imbat breeze, scented almost imperceptibly with olives. The Aegean is not only celebrated for its beauty, but for its fragrant and intoxicating air. It is midafternoon, and the sea, wind and sun have us so under their spell that reading a book is impossible. We let this magical atmosphere dissolve all other thoughts. Half an hour later we circle to approach the western shore of Maden Island, and using the rocks as a makeshift jetty climb on shore. As soon as we set foot on the island I realise where it got its name. Maden means mineral, and the rocks here are all kinds of different colours. This is a volcanic island, thrown up from the seabed by an eruption. Once formed, hot water containing dissolved minerals emitted by the magma soaked into the volcanic rock, staining them with their own colours.
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Voyage of exploration Ayvalik’s Islands
2003 / September

Putting on my shoes I set out to explore. After climbing a little way I look back at the cove where the boat is moored, and realise that the sea is so clear the seabed is visible. I can see my companions as they dive down to the bottom. Unable to resist the siren call of the sea, I abandon my journey of exploration and turn back to join them. I dive down to the seabed, images of Homer flitting through my mind.


*
Yildirim Güngör is a geologist

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