Now I know a little how the oil-stained animals feel…

This morning I swam out along the cliffs, toward the Old Harbor of Antalya, past the nearly completed salvage of a wrecked freighter from last December’s storm.

It was a little embarrassing that I did not connect the dots earlier in my swim to realize that I might be heading into a toxic zone– the report I heard a couple weeks ago of an oil spill along this beach; the oil globs that stained my family’s beach towels and stuck on little boys’ feet; the dark slimy buoyed-rope-line I passed on my way out from the beach and dared not touch this morning; the way the hair follicles on my forearms seems to be so unusually dark in the underwater sunlight. You’d think I would clue in by then, but I was just so focused on my stroke focus points, and admittedly, looking for sea-turtles in the deep below me, that I was not piecing these things together consciously.

It wasn’t until 25 minutes into the swim that air I was inhaling started to reek of heavy petroleum products, like I would smell in some dingy backstreet mechanic shop. I stopped a couple times to enjoy the view and noticed the light sheen on the surface as I looked sunward. Some instinct told me to not take off my goggles. I determined that the slick was coming from the salvage boat-barge set up I was swimming toward. I had about 10 minutes before passing it and then to be on the other side of what I felt was the drift zone and into clean water and air again. Talk about being determined to swim my route! No wonder wilderness athletes and explorers can get into trouble so easily.

When I came back through, past it and came to buoyed rope line again, it was then that I woke up and realize that the rope was not slimy with algae but with oil stains. The pebble beach itself showed no visible signs. But then I realized that I saw no fish today- not one. And certainly no turtles. I walked out of the water and pulled my cap off, and found it and my goggle straps coated with oil as if that dingy backstreet mechanic had just wiped his hands on them. Then I saw some stains on my fingers and the hair follicles on my forearms were indeed dirty as well.


I immediately packed up my few things and walked to the beach shower. All I had with me was the baby shampoo I use to coat my goggles before swims (preventing fog). It isn’t strong enough to break up much oil but I used some to at least make my head feel partially sanitized. Fortunately, I had no lessons this morning so I went straight home and took a bath with dish soap and a scouring pad. It was then that I even found purple oil smudges inside my speedo line that made it look like I had bruises on my hips.

Everything got visibly clean except for what I likely absorbed through my lungs and skin. I will let my internal cleansing systems do their job with the rest.

Now I can add ‘oil spill’ to my list of swim accomplishments. Not something to brag about or wish to repeat again.

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