When we dropped anchor in the harbor at Sedir Adasi, commonly known as Cleopatra’s Island, I expected to poke around the ruins of the Hellenic city, sink my toes in the famous sand found only here and in Egypt (from ground-up seashell, and according to local legend a place where Cleopatra and Anthony bathed on their honeymoon), and contemplate the Aegean Sea from an ancient stone wall before returning to the boat to swim. I did all of those things, but I was wholly unprepared for the sight that greeted me when I topped the rise of land protecting the modest dock, boardwalk and ticket shack where all visitors pay 10 Turkish lire (about $8) to set foot on the island.
Dozens of bathers filled the shallow turquoise waters lapping a short crescent beach that was roped off to prevent damage from all of us. Behind the beach an army of chaise longues shaded by umbrellas marched in rows to accommodate the crowds. It was as if I’d wandered from an isolated, essentially deserted beach scene into a parallel universe where hedonism was the law of the land. In the water, women of all ages, sizes, and shapes posed in all their glory for “Cleopatra” photo-ops that made me appreciate their obvious comfort with their bodies. I learned later that they were Russians, and they inspired the women in our group to channel their inner Cleopatras and pose for similar campy photos.
Signs abounded warning us not to remove any sand or face the full weight of the Turkish state bearing down on us. We could reach through the ropes or stick in a toe to feel it, and I must confess it did have a fine texture, though I don’t think I’d be able to identify it in a blind test.
I made my way around the island visiting the amphitheater that once held 2500 people, the Apollo Sanctuary, the Byzantine Basilica, watchtowers and cisterns, even walking the short perimeter of the island where broken lines on the map suggested half a trail existed, but that turned out to be an exaggeration and I led two of my sailing compatriots seriously astray. One, Carrie, feared she’d have to throw away her skirt because it became so covered in burrs; the other, Judy, would have throttled me if she could have caught up with me without spraining an ankle on the rubble. I have to admit I felt a little embarrassed to be scrambling through the underbrush tramping over the remains of such a prominent ancient site. But that’s also part of the appeal of Turkey: you can walk in, on, and around ancient historical sites and feel them with your feet and hands.
The best part of the walk was simply sitting on the remains of a wall and gazing out to sea, letting the eons wash over me with the breeze and the lapping waves. And then I had my second surreal experience of the day. When I returned to Cleopatra Beach I saw absolutely no one. It was as if that parallel universe had snapped back and I was left with that deserted beach scene I’d started with. The beach chairs, the beach, the bay, everything was deserted as if no one had ever come. And sure enough, the roped off beach with the famous sand showed nary a footprint.