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Chapter 32: Undying Flame

Antalya to Yanartaş. May 27-28.

About 80 km south of Antalya lies Yanartaş Milli, mostly known to foreigners as Mount Chimaera. For thousands of years, natural gasses have been seeping up through the cracks in the rock. Once ignited, the vents breathe fire, uninterrupted. It is a unique natural phenomenon that obviously attracts tourists for pictures and evening barbeques. I too was excited to visit the eternal fires, but not for the marshmallows.

To me, an undying flame carry a symbolic value of personal nature. In latter years, as I have explored, experienced and pondered on who I am on my own and what role is mine in relation to others, one image that has emerged is that of a burning flame that sparks brightly. Heat is intense movement, and the sparks can light fires where there is fuel and air for it. Fire is wild, hard to control and inaccurate. My impact is the greatest when I can roam free, driven not by fear of failure, but by inspiration and imagination. I am not cut out for maintenance, high class service or surgical precision with my clumsy and messy drive for development. But energy, strength, calmness and love, those I have to give in abundance.

In Hawaiian mythology, there is a deity with my name, Pele. She is the goddess of fire, believed to live inside the Kilauea volcano. Fire is usually associated with destruction, but Pele, also the goddess of volcanoes, is the creator of the island of Hawaii. Add to all this my natural affinity for the fire element, from picking Charmander as my first starter Pokemon to favorising the red colour of mana in my biggest hobby Magic: The Gathering, my interest in the ever burning fires on Mount Chimaera was deeply personal.

When I arrived first at the main road exit to the mountain and later at the hostel close to Olympos ancient city, things proved more tricky than I had hoped. Between the broken spokes on my back wheel, the lack of organised tours to go by car, the three hour hike by foot and the evening closing of the beach due to turtle hatching season, the project of actually seeing the fires suddenly caused a lot of planning, timing and effort. Undeterred, I made a plan to visit the following evening, checked in for two nights and looked forward to use the morning to see the ancient city.

Said and done, after morning visit to the ruins of Olympos and an ocean swim, I was back at the accomodation for breakfast, writing and an easy day to rest before a demanding evening. As I half-laid in the pillows enjoying a third round of breakfast while tending to my story, I glanced over my journal and spotted a guest sitting alone at a table with her bowl. Intriguingly, she seemed to observe me, too. A good feeling grew, and after leaving my dishes I sat down at her table and introduced myself. Thus I got to meet Miao (yes, like a cat) from Shanghai, China.

We spent the afternoon doing another tour through the ancient ruins, climbing to a connected lookout spot and collecting stones at the pebbled beach. In many ways, unremarkable things to do given that we were both solo travelers, of similar age and in a colourful area. But it turns out that unremarkable, in the right company, is hard to beat.

Walking back from the sea, I was thinking to myself. I had the plan to walk the bike over the beach, climb the Chimaera mountain to see the fires, walk down and cycle back around the Olympos mountain to get back to the hostel, an excursion that would take many hours but was seemingly the only way to see the undying flames. But the real issue was not the time, the effort or the risks involved. What made me hesitate was that I'd be doing it alone. At that moment I knew for a certain fact that there was no way I could see the flames and feel good about it. I would feel lost and lonely, and the more impressive the experience, the more aching my loneliness as I would want the moment shared.

"Do you want to watch a movie tonight?" I asked carefully coming out of my mental bubble.

"Sure. I want to watch Into the Wild", she answered and explained it had long been a recommendation that she wanted to follow up on. I smiled to myself. It was perfect. "Consider it ananged."

If you do not know Into the Wild (spoiler alert for this paragraph), it is a 2007 film inspired by a 1996 book inspired by actual events in the life and death of Christopher McCandless. An instant classic among travelers and dreamers, it follows Chris as he breaks away thom family, from society and from the chains and walls that trap his spirit. He continues to break away from all the people that ever loved him and bit by bit he breaks away from life itself, ultimate dying alone in Alaska at age 24. The film portraits Chris as a lively free spirit whose energy and attitude inspire and touch those that he meets on his adventure. His very being rejuvenates them, and they all wish for him to stay. But he doesn't. Chris is the epitome of the lone wanderer archetype in his youth as discussed in chapter 28, and I cannot deny that I, too, feel some admiration and more than some resemblance between Chris and myself.

"Were you not climbing the mountain tonight?" Miao asked, confused of my change of mind.

"Not if I instead can watch a movie with you. After this day, I want nothing else than spending the evening with you, and missing out on the embers on that maintain will be a bliss. After you have seen the movie, you will understand."

In the film, Chris is very much that torch that I aspire to be. He lights fires in the people that he touches, be they hippie couples, the young girl in the trailer park or the old man no longer alone in his home. But for all what he does to nurture his soul, he neglects his own lesson, the biggest of them all - that happiness is only real when shared. At what point should he had drawn the limit? When was it enough? Where should he have stayed, and whose love ought to be enough for him not to leave?

Going back to myself, l am adamant in not repeating the mistakes of Chris and many lone wanderers with him. One way in which I have chosen a different path is where Chris was always going away, I have chosen to go home. I am not leaving the love that I meet for the unknown, I am leaving it to return to family and friends of old. Another and perhaps more important way that I try to learn from the life of Chris and from my own up this point, is in the little choices. That evening I had the choice between doing something with nobody or doing nothing with somebody. I was happy then, and proud now, that I chose the latter. Hopefully, with this insight, I will not snuff my own flame like Chris did, but keep my spark for many journeys and meetings to come.


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