Earlier this week I reluctantly got out of bed and looked in the mirror. I think there was a part of me half hoping that what had happened the night before was somehow just a bad dream – but it wasn’t. My nose was just a bloody mess and there were also distinct scabby grazes around my right eye, which would bruise to black over the following days. Looking around at my blood stained sheets and pillow, which I didn’t even try to wash before putting in the bin with a ruined favourite shirt I began to wonder if I should have tried harder to get to a hospital. At the time the torrential rain and the thunder and lightning of the night before, which also knocked out my power had made that decision for me.
Here in Turkey, the poor condition of the roads and the appalling level of driving skill amongst most Turks essentially mean you can almost count out on all your fingers the potential fatal and near fatal accidents you could have been involved in if you drove at anything less than 100% alert, during even the shortest of journeys. “Always expect the unexpected on the roads” was one of the earliest and most valuable pieces of advice that I was given when I first arrived 14 years ago. However, not even that could help me avoid being felled by a herd of wild boar.
Photo by Michael Ransburg
Despite sounding like something from an amusing kids TV cartoon, the damage to my face makes it a little hard to laugh about it right now, although I am sure I will do one day. Just like I can laugh now about some of those other near death experiences from my past: the drama surrounding being scratched by a rabid cat in north Africa, the ridiculous circumstances that led to me being poisoned by a deadly green mamba in Kenya, or when I woke a very angry and venomous Vietnamese centipede, when I tried to put on the T-shirt it had decided to snooze inside. For a while I began to think that I was simply unlucky, indeed my mother still braces herself for news of some incident or other every time I go anywhere. Indeed, she now so often answered any phone calls with “What’s happened?” I try not to call until I can say I am safely home again.
No I am not unlucky – it is more a question of the law of averages. Yes I have had some close shaves many of which I have not even listed but that is more to do with my love for travelling and exploring and because I have seen more places than some people could see in a few lifetimes. Ok many of those places may have had health risks associated with them – I’ve suffered from Malaria, Dengue fever and Dysentery at one time or another; or they may have been regarded as just plain dodgy. But the world is now so crowded that often the most interesting and beautiful places can only be found well away from the usual tourist trails or way off the map like one of my visits to the upper Amazon a few years ago, where the map quite literally said ‘Terra Incognita’ meaning unknown land.
Unless you spend your money on hermetically sealed tours, where every ounce of danger and as many health hazards as possible have been safely pasteurised from your journey, there will always be a degree of risk, be it medical, physical or psychological associated with most journeys. For many people this danger has become an absolute requirement mainly because it is that elevated potential for jeopardy that excites and draws them in the first place. However, you can find danger anywhere. Try wandering around any big city in Africa or South America after dark or even in broad daylight. Although you can still be vulnerable much closer to home, even in the most affluent of neighbourhoods. I discovered this for myself when I was stabbed, knocked unconscious and left for dead in Istanbul almost a decade ago. The thieves secured only a cheap watch and a few lira – almost my life for just £3 or $5 worth of gains.
Returning to the other night – if you have read up to here, then you really do deserve the gory details of my encounter with the wild pigs or Turkey.
Photo by John Beukeboom
Driving home late, trying but failing to beat a thunderstorm, I came upon a herd of about 20 wild boar. There’s nothing unusual in this where I live as they are almost as common as urban foxes are in London. They are considered haram or unclean in Muslim Turkey, so they are rarely hunted for their meat and although the authorities do try to control them through culling some years it often feels like they are everywhere, especially in the late summer when the males or bigger females flip over large metal dumpsters with very little effort to raid the trash inside. That was how I encountered this particular herd partying by an upturned dumpster just a minute from my home. Boars are surprisingly bad climbers so as I approached they ran off along the road, quite unable to escape to the left or right because of walls. So I did what I normally do, as I had done two nights earlier, I just slowed down and drove right through them, because at the point of being passed they usually just double back to their late night feast. However, on this night of lightening and rain-wet roads I really should have been more cautious.
After a few seconds I had passed most of the young and juvenile boar and only had a big wiry male and a nursing mother, heavy with milk, ahead of me when a flash of lightening spooked the female across my path. I braked before I hit her but I was soon lying in the road with blood pouring from my nose and with my scooter pinning my long suffering right leg to the road. As I was lying around a blind bend in the dark I needed to get up as quickly as possible. However, when I heard an almighty shriek and then a lot of snorting coming from the bushes just off to my left I couldn’t understand why the adults had not gone back to their buffet; that was of course until I looked to my right and saw a terrified piglet frozen to the spot just a metre away from my head.
There are some dangerous situations you must definitely hope you never find yourself involved in. One of the worst is standing between a 500lb (220Kg) wild boar parent with deadly tusks and one of its babies. So what do you do if you are lying between them…? You clap and you clap and you clap your hands until your piglet finds its courage and runs to its furious parent. Then, and only then, can you safely stagger to your feet and count yourself lucky that you only ended up with a smashed-up face.