In brief: The quietest day ever! I shuffled the holiday around to fit in a one-day scuba experience in Rhodes, searched for another geocache and ate in an empty restaurant!
I hit the sack last night before 10pm, clearly shattered from swimming during the days round-the-island excursion. I didn’t wake up in the morning, I woke up at 1pm. With nothing formally planned, except a small hike to find the closest geocache, what I really had in mind was an office day. I managed to finish writing yesterdays blog in between returning work-related emails. Several job offers had come through in the last week but all during the time I was still out of the UK. It’s a pity no jobs came up in Greece. Damnit. Should have thought of that!
Whilst going through my emails I discovered a diving school in Rhodes had written back to me. Last week I had enquired about a one-day scuba diving experience with them. I figured the slow reply was due to it being near the end of the season and business tailing off. Nevertheless they did get back to me, and informed me they could still take a rare booking and I could either book to dive on Thursday or Saturday. Today was Thursday, so that was ruled out. So off I went to look at ferry timetables from Symi to Rhodes on Saturday. I had meant to look at times sooner as transport wasn’t running as often as they did when I arrived just over a week ago. End of the season. Blah blah. The Dodekanisos Seaways catamaran I had arrived on was already dropping Mondays and Tuesdays from their timetable.
This was a problem. My first flight back was on Monday evening from Rhodes to Athens. Meaning I’d have to get the catamaran or ferry from Symi to Rhodes on Sunday, and stay over somewhere (preferably not the airport. Been there, done that. Never again). With the diving experience now on the cards it sort of made sense to get the ferry over for Saturday morning. But that wasn’t running either. The answer was to leave behind the beautiful island of Symi on Friday evening to stay in Rhodes for 3 nights. Not only did this plan allow me the scuba experience on Saturday, it allowed me the weekend in Rhodes. In an actual hotel!
So the accommodation was booked, the diving was booked and I was more organised for getting myself home. I’d be sad to leave such a beautiful and wonderful place behind. So many friendly characters, both the locals and the ex-pats.
Having been in my make-shift office (sat on the spare bed) for far too long I had the urge to complete one simple task for today. I say simple. It could have been excruciating. The geocaching.com website informed me there were eight cache sites on Symi, as opposed to the three I seemed to think there were. From the choices available I decided I was likely only going to have complete four of them by Friday, including the one I managed to find on Tuesday. With the light fading I chose to go for the closest one entitled The Beauty Of Symi.
Knowing the short cut to the church behind the apartment saved me probably an hour. I imagine most people hiking for this cache would be day-trip visitors to Symi who’d need to climb the Kali Strata steps first, as well as make their way through the ancient ruins towards the church. It took me 5 minutes to get there. Another half hour later I was still marching around the rocks, on several occasions just stood there like a lemon, staring at my phone. I got caught at one point, by muggles; non-geocachers who aren’t playing the game. They were walking along one of those conventional walkways. Oh, you know, what are they called? Ah yes, pavements. Those things I’ve hardly used this holiday. I was up a section of rock, where there clearly is neither a route nor anything of general interest. I had my phone outstretched in front of me, using GPS to hone in on the coordinates of the cache. I must have looked like an extra from Star Trek. I should have played on it, putting a finger up to my ear and pretended to talk to some other being whilst scanning the rocks for life. Then again, perhaps not.
Using the geocache app made the find much easier, considering it shows you a map and draws a line from you to the cache, telling you how close you actually are to the find with an arrow and a distance. I didn’t have the app on Tuesday when I was up by the windmills. Back then I did it by sheer determination. And the help of Google. This app is my new best friend.
Five minutes after being muggle-spotted, I had scampered further up the rocks. I’d come to realise I should have used my eyes more than the app. Looking for different coloured rocks that seem out of place in an unnatural formation, seemingly hiding something, are how I’ve come across both caches so far. And there she was…
This was a micro cache. A tiny old plastic film roll, with a wrap of brown tape around it, wrapped in a worn zip lock bag. A very small item to find. Inside the film roll were two sheets of post-it notes with scribbled names and dates on. Page one stated “Temporary Logbook”. Again, I had no pen. I’d figured I could probably find a pen from somewhere, if not buy one, and maybe I could hit the two caches again to get my details onto the logs. Time was a challenge now. So if not, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
As you can see from the image, it would be a shame not to have an entry in the logbook. Geocachers from Slovakia, Germany and the Czech Republic had found it. And The Lighthouse Family. I wanted my name on there too. and a stamp for the UK.
Darkness was rapidly descending as I snapped the picture and hid the cache away again, leaving it just as I had found it (unofficial Rule 3). The only thing left on my mind was food! climbing back down from the church, I wandered back down to the local shop and bought some milk for the next mornings Coco Pops, and my coffee that I still had left in the apartment. Whilst walking back I wandered passed a restaurant that hadn’t been open on other days. Maybe I just hadn’t noticed. It looked like a couple were enjoying dinner and the menu looked alright, so I popped in. I then discovered it wasn’t a romantic couple. It was the owner and the chef, playing backgammon. In fact the place was completely empty. The owner seemed genuinely shocked that he had a customer, his eyebrows raised and his mouth open. I asked if they were still open and he smiled and waved me to a table. The backgammon disappeared. Suddenly a greek CD started playing, or at least skipping, and I was offered the days specials.
Yet again the food was great. The salad was suffice, and that was just the starter. It must have had two whole tomatoes (large), a whole onion (large), green peppers (large), lettuce (fresh. And large) and a fair chunk of seasoned feta cheese in it. Then came the lamb with potatoes. Succulent is one word to use. It fell off the bone when you touched it. Perfectly cooked. And after that I was given a small cube of spongecake with a sticky base and coconut sprinkles.
I thanked the owner, and made sure my shout of appreciation was loud enough for the chef to hear too.
Overall, a short day with a wonderful last supper on Symi.
Oh and of course, Cat(s) Of The Day:
In brief: Day 10 was all about a boat trip, with several snorkelling stops and a barbecue. I took pictures of cats. And got sunburned. And then learned more geocache locations on Symi!
This had been the first time since arriving on Symi, 9 days ago, that I had dragged myself out of bed before 8.30am. I was on holiday after all. Having done my pre-spider checks that I’d developed out of fear (tip toe out of bed, turn on all the lights, check every wall and surface, thoroughly check the loo), I showered and decided a hearty breakfast was in order before any form of ventures. Of course I ended up at The Olive Tree. Janine and Tina were surprised to see me. I had left a “many thanks” comment on their website on Tuesday night, so they were under the impression I had left the island without saying goodbye. Not so! Breakfast consisted of an award-winning Olive Tree Breakfast and views of the island. Before I left I bumped into Neil from Symi Dream who had closed down for the season. Knowing I’d unlikely see him again we shook hands, and I was recommended to come back. Something I will likely do. If you are ever in Symi and have ventured up the Kali Strata steps, you’ll find the Symi Dream shop in the same place as The Olive Tree and Georgios. Neil has wonderful photos and prints from around Symi and also organises photography hikes. Well worth the visit.
On Wednesday when I booked the boat trip, the excursion bloke said “be at the harbour for 1029am, the boat leaves at 1030”. When I got there the captain was waving people onboard Poseidon. More people had turned up than I expected. A german family were up on the roof, another older german couple were up front playing Jack and Rose (one of them had an amazing moustache), a dutch couple, a single female who took more photos than I did (I’m very competitive), and a group from canada whom I ended up chatting with along the way.
The itinerary was simple; we go all the way around the island of Symi, we stop at five different places to swim and snorkel, we have a barbecue lunch at one of the beaches before heading home. It would be an all-day excursion taking several hours.
The clock tower of Symi struck half past ten and the boat left Yialos, heading straight out to sea. Thankfully having been on a tall ship only a few weeks back, my body already had an understanding of the random swaying that was likely to occur throughout a day on the sea. No sea sickness for me!
About 40 minutes later, we slowed down and anchored. The first stop was a cave quite far around the island:
The cheerful captain suggested the cave was great for snorkelling and that we would stop for half an hour. “No swim, no ouzo!” he proclaimed. With that, I joined the queue of germans at the ladder and plunged in.
Now, I haven’t been in the sea for a long time. Swimming in a pool is fine where it isn’t too deep and the edges are within reach. This was the opposite of claustrophobia! Below me wasn’t too far away. Though a fellow passenger suggested that when looking down, “it’s deeper than you think”. It was rock face on one side and the Aegean sea everywhere else. There was no way I was going to swim to the cave. I didn’t feel strong enough, and I didn’t have any snorkelling gear. I had jumped in without actually checking with the captain, who said he’d have spare kit onboard. After a brief liaison with the sea people started climbing back on the boat. Seasoned snorkelers were deep in the cave, whilst others skirted the bottom and along the rock face for signs of life. The cold of the water had dissipated quite quickly but for the sake of my own health, and sanity, I climbed back onboard. The german kids on the other hand were bombing (not the best word to use) and diving into the water from a platform on the top of the boat. They were loving it! Onboard, the ouzo was served up alongside a brief snack consisting of olives, cucumber slices and apples coated in cinnamon. I rediscovered I still didn’t like ouzo. Or olives.
Bang on 30 minutes later we set off again. This time was a longer jaunt, but the strong sun was beaming down and everyone was soaking up the atmosphere. We navigated through tiny rock formations that rose from the sea millions of years ago. They looked like they were made yesterday. Being a film buff and working in studios where sets are built, these places could easily be locations for any science fiction movie. Desolate and raw.
In the waters ahead of us, flying fish leapt up and flew across the surface in every direction. I’d never seen flying fish before, so it was a bit of a novelty for me to try and capture a photo. Needless to say, I failed. Even with the camera set to Sports mode for fast moving action I didn’t capture anything good enough to publish. The shame!
After standing in the sun, rotating myself like a doner kebab meat stick, one of the crew headed to the front of the boat to anchor. I’d watched this technique when I was shooting some time lapse stills up on the Pontikokastro hill, where they anchor the front of the boat and reverse into where they want to be. It gives the captain more control.
There was a wonderful shingle beach about 20 feet away, and some folks had made the swim over for a little sunbathe and walk around. Others snorkelled the base of the bay whilst the kids took to the great leap off the roof. If I’d had one of those water tight bags that you roll your stuff in I’d have swam over to the shore with my camera for some photos. It’s a great location!
In the waters below, shoals of not-so-flying fish were visible. They seemed happy enough drifting from one side of the boat to the other, passing directly underneath us. These ones didn’t feel threatened enough to leap from the sea.
An hour later we ventured further away from Symi and toward another island. It was lunch time and the captain had scheduled in a stop on Sesklio. This island is much smaller than Symi, so much so I struggled to find any information or history to do with it. Facebook didn’t recognise it as a place when I uploaded and tagged my photos!
When we arrived we were greeted by a dozen cats. Something I’d come to get used to around there. It was lunch time and the crew started a fire on shore, just by the dock, and barbecued the meat. The cats kept an eye on them, making sure they were doing it properly. The captain suggested it was an hour to lunch so we could swim or hike the island. I took to walking, but got as far as a tiny whitewashed church about 200m from where we were docked. There was a huge flat area that was fenced off and a cement bunker way up on the other side of the mountain. If anything, it looked like a test area for something. Hopefully nothing nuclear!
After a few photos I headed back. Lunch was amazing. The food was on par with some of the better places I’ve eaten. Ever. Chicken, lamb, beetroot, rice, green beans, feta, potato salad. All of it was full of flavour and succulent. Lunch alone was worth the cost of the trip. It appeared the captain had a long standing bargain with these cats; stay off the boat, you’ll get the bones at the end. As we departed, a plate of scraps were left on the dock. True to the captains word.
The boat carved through the waters, hugging the island on our left before heading back towards Symi island. We had one more stop left. The sun was still as strong as before, this time on our left. With lunch settling in our stomachs and a lack of energy through swimming, people started to lay down. Some read books, others use the quiet time to snooze. I just stood in the sun and watched our beautiful world go by.
The last stop was perfectly timed. The sun was sinking to the west behind the high peaks as we headed into the last cove. The difference in temperature between sunlight and shade was quite noticeable. But the captain was a sun-chaser. He took us right up to the rock face where the last pool of sun lit up the sea floor. There were colours down there I’d never seen before. Purples and greens, aqua and turquoise. Even black wasn’t the black I knew. It was more tranquil around here, and obviously more popular. A stretch of shingle beach had tavernas and a small building where someone’s set up shop for tourists. There was also a small dock where a yacht was already tied up. This sun trap area looked like the sort of day-trip location a lot of these boats would likely go for swimmers and snorkelers.
The shadows grew longer and the mountain took the last of the suns rays away from us. One by one we climbed back onto the boat for coffee and biscuits. And bloody good coffee it was too. A perfect end to a perfect trip.
Back in Yialos, after narrowly avoiding the Blue Star Diagoras ferry, the boat docked and each person shook hands with the captain as they took to the gangplank. With a firm grip he thanked us for travelling with him and suggested we try other trips. It was already the end of the season and many others had closed down. If I had more time and had come earlier, I’d probably have booked something else.
Back to the normality I’d adjusted to on Symi, it was back to those stairs. I’m pleased to say I never once took the bus to Chorio, only ever opting to walk the 360+ steps up the Kali Strata. An unconscious decision to keeping fit whilst on holiday. And saving myself one euro fifty cents. It wasn’t till I got home and the backpack was off that I looked at myself in the mirror. I was red. Quite red. Somehow, after applying “factor 30” lotion every day, I had managed to get sunburn. Although the lotion was the sports type, it appeared it wasn’t as water proof as the label had suggested. Mind you, I’d had worse sunburn.
Whilst downloading all my photos I did a quick geocahe check (as you do), seeking out the two other locations I had planned to find before departing on Monday. Turned out there were dozens of cache locations on Symi. Dunno how I got that wrong. And one of them was on a beach in one of the coves we had just visited. In dramatic fashion, I’m comparing it to the Apollo 13 astronauts who got right up to the moon, but never made it down. So close, yet so far. And with that news, tired and weathered, Wednesday was an early night!
Here’s todays entries for Cat(s) Of The Day:
Dragonflies, butterflies, lizards and cats.
It was yet another delayed rise this morning after last nights late adventures out for some night photography (which turned into an unexpected part 2 of yesterdays blog, just in case you missed it). My ambush this morning wasn’t kittens. It was lizards. About a dozen, like some fabulous piece of living mechanical clockwork, stepping in time to what I imagined to be music similar to Summer Of Love by Steps. I have no idea why, that’s just what popped into my head when I was watching. The tall trees sprouting roots between the rocks behind the apartment appears to be a great location for the reptiles to congregate. And dance.
The plan today (and these things were planned. Sort of.) was to head upwards. Downwards meant climbing back up again, and my lower half wasn’t prepared to get involved. The endless ruins in the old town above were full of textures and destruction, perfect for desktop wallpaper photos. The term “rat run” fits perfectly, with routes shooting off in different directions. I had hoped to remember some of the walk from Tuesday, but it turned out that all roads lead to the same place. Or someones house. The locals appear used to strangers pulling apologetic foreign faces before backtracking.
These unmapped streets could easily be the death of any foreigner. There are no sign posts nor does there appear to be any real route. Every so often a structure or home may have numbers above their entrance, a sign of some form of system to the chaos. Apparently this system came with the Italian occupation of 1912. Most of these numbers have been scored out, replaced by different numbers, and then another set. The numbers no longer represent anything other than history.
Looking around, I recognised other buildings but had no idea how to get to them. Some appeared streets away, others fields away. I figured an incline was only ever going to take me up to where I wanted to be, considering all the paths are just one long interconnected pavement. Eventually I found the church with the view…
For me, being up there created quite a bizarre feeling. I’m alone in the grounds of an empty church, high up on the slope of a valley, on an island, in the middle of the Aegean sea. And it was incredibly peaceful. Something I fear none of us experience enough.
The acoustics of Symi, where the smallest voice can carry a conversation from the streets down in the harbour right up to where I was staying, were taking a while for my brain to get used to. But up there in the church grounds, there was nothing. Literally, the only thing I could hear was the wind whistling past my ears. It was wonderful.
I spent a while standing in the sunshine and the silence, listening for anything I could hear. Very occasionally there was rustling on the ground as more tiny lizards bolted through the dust and dryness. They made me laugh, the way they would scuttle and stop mid-step, as if remembering some life-threatening information, before bolting off again. Perhaps to turn off the oven they just realised was still on.
Thinking I was alone up there was actually absurd. This little oasis was teaming with life. Birds would streak across the sky in flocks. Butterflies lifted from one thorn, drifting over to another. And dragonflies hovered close by. Closer than I was comfortable with:
I was up there for a while. And having stood with the silence on my own, quite aware of all the sins and immorality that go on around the world, I considered the walk home again. Following a whitewashed path around the church I came across a small cave I hadn’t noticed before. Initially it looked like a bunch of stones were piled inside, perhaps some homeless persons attempt at a place to start a fire. Then I realised it was something else. Persons unknown had made a ship. Out of broken stone and tiles, using wood for a tall sail, the ships bow pointed east. The same direction the little fisher boy gestures in the harbour. I was suddenly aware this makeshift monument might have purpose. Of this, I am unsure.
Further round below me, a dusty walkway presented itself. Treading carefully on broken stone on an unsteady slope I wandered down through some trees, with the inkling that I thought I recognised this place. It didn’t take long for the realisation to sink in that my apartment was a stones throw away. These trees were where I caught the dancing lizards. All this time, the place I was trying to work out how to get to was a mere two minutes wander through the trees behind the flat!
As the sun set on the fifth night of this holiday, I used the knowledge of the dirt path to run back up to the church when the skies started to change colour. It took me five nights, but here’s at least one shot of a beautiful sunset sky over Symi:
Day one on Symi was a waste, to say the least. I could have made better use of the hours left in the day other than falling asleep. Arriving at 9.30am and sleeping the entire day is worth a slap in the face. It’s fair to say half a days worth of traversing the skies above the Balearic and Aegean seas before sailing the Dodecanese islands would take it out of you.
Still, a waste is a waste.
Day two began with a startled awakening. I did that thing where you sit up with your eyes open wide and your brain has no idea where you are. It took a few seconds to realise that the heat and bright sunshine streaming through the window meant I certainly wasn’t in the UK. Ian, who met me at the dock (not a euphemism), mentioned a walking tour on Tuesday morning, and it made sense for me to spend some time learning about the place I’d be staying for the next two weeks. So off I went to the meeting place.
What immediately struck me when I left the apartment was that I had no idea where I was. Arriving was such a blur and I remembered very little between getting off the catamaran and falling asleep in the apartment. I could have literally been anywhere on this island. I started walking, vaguely remembering the various stairways and turnings between the apartment and the main street. Before long I was surrounded by… cats. Lots of them. Dozens in fact, like little furry hoodies. They had ASBO written all over them, purring deeply and pacing with one paw crossing the other as they paraded in a circle like a scene from some musical. One-eyed kittens stared at me with anger on their faces…
As cute as they can be, it was pretty clear these were wild cats. And potential monsters. There are signs dotted everywhere in both Greek and English asking people not to feed the cats. No wonder they look pissed off.
My timing appeared impeccable as I spotted Ian at the end of the street in front of me towards the meeting point. He was chatting to Neil from Symi Dream, who invited me to their last meet-and-greet wine session (free!) on Sunday. Something I added to my to-do list.
I was expecting a group of camera-clad tourists to be at the meeting point already, but there wasn’t. Just two other people bothered turning up. During Ian’s walk we discussed architecture on the island and the reasons for it. We touched upon the water supply, which is either imported via water boats or via the desalination plant. Water capacity on the island is less than 50% of what it can be, so using it sparingly is advised. The water boats which top-up the local tanks come and go less frequently than in the past thanks to the single desalination unit that still works on the island. The other unit, german built, exploded and burned to the ground a few years back allegedly due to “lack of servicing or improper use by locals”.
Ian mentioned the helipad which sticks out like a military sore thumb upon the mountainous region. If you’re seriously ill or injured the ambulance (not ‘an‘ ambulance, ‘the‘ ambulance) will whisk you up to the pad and await extraction to Rhodes. The helipad ‘fact’ is connected to the water supply ‘fact’ in this way: the helicopter used to land in a peculiar place, right down by the dock on the only wide section of road. It was a tight squeeze between the police station and the clock tower, but they managed it with precision (like our air ambulances do in the UK). Occasionally they still land there, depending on the injury of the person and whether the trip in a shoddy ambulance up a steep incline through mountainous terrain to the helipad is a good idea or not. Ian tells us that one fateful morning a lady with a potential neck injury was to be air lifted from the dock rather than the helipad. But the water boat arrived in it’s speedy fashion, and without thinking twice about their normal procedures steered towards the dock and ploughing straight into the perched chopper, sheering off it’s tail. Whether this is true or not is unknown.
But back to the water situation. Because it’s interesting. Water is stored in large containers somewhere in or around each dwelling. It’s pumped locally via electric pumps from your tank through your taps or shower. This brings us neatly to the loo situation. And it is a situation. In Greece you don’t flush loo paper down the pan. Oh no. You complete your actions and pop your used items into a bin. It’s an odd thing to get used to but it’s done this way, yet again, because of the water supply. I’ve read elsewhere that locals do it this way as the sewage system gets blocked due to narrow drains. But Ian gave us another reason: Papier-mâché. Waste from the loo, or black water as it’s known, ferments the local trees and gardens. Yes, you read that right. Another area built somewhere locally to each dwelling contains all your unmentionables which eventually liquify and penetrate a single drywall in the structure which then feeds the trees and plants leading downhill. Loo paper doesn’t biodegrade and blocks the drywall, stopping the process.
Here’s my chance to state why greek wine tastes like shit.
The walk continued uphill through the long narrow lanes of the old ancient town where hand-chiseled stone buildings lay in ruin, waiting for owners through some miracle. Property ownership is a big thing in Greece, and if someone comes forward with documentation suggesting long lost relatives of Symi own a building, it is handed over to them. Ruins lay in complete disrepair, sometimes surrounded by beautifully bright renovated homes. And that’s just the way it is.
Symi has very much an unorthodox Christian following. With a population of only 2’500 (90% less than during the war) it seems incredible to have so many monasteries, churches and chapels. There are purportedly over 300. And on our walk we visited at least four or the larger ones, one of which is perched high up overlooking everyhwhere else on the island.
This is the view I had seen online from previous visitors, though they didn’t mention they had walked for hours and were actually on the grounds of a church when they snapped their version.
We had started our walk-and-talk just after 9am. Four hours later we had reached the end, somewhere high up the terrain. Meaning it was literally all down hill from there. I expected to be coated in sweat with aching legs but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought. Back at the meeting point we said our goodbyes and I headed downwards into the town, where from high up appeared to be the heart and soul of Symi. Various tourist couples and families pottered around the sponge shops occasionally hopping on and off anchored yachts. Some clearly from the UK, others spoke German and Dutch.
What struck me about the harbour is just how clear the waters are. And I literally mean crystal clear. I’ve never seen anything like it, with the bobbing hulls of boats and yachts clearly visible, with shoals of tiny blue fish mingling around the surface.
Previously I mentioned the walk and how my legs and body were ‘okay’ with it. This is where things go wrong. The walk back to the apartment was via the Kali Strata, translated means “the good way/route/steps”. Hundreds of steps. Coming down was fine. Going back up in direct sunlight was not. Several times I had to stop and sit in shadow, attempting to catch my breath. When I eventually recognised the route back, several hundred steps on, I was in dire straits marching into the first available shop and grabbing bottles of water from their fridge. I think the owners were slightly startled by my demeanour, something I hope to resolve when I deliberately go back there for breakfast!
Although technically this was day two, I’m counting this as my day one. Knowing I had plenty of time left, I didn’t take out my big camera nor was I in a hurry to take photos. I merely snapped away instagram images on my iPhone for the purposes of FaceBook (probably clocking up massive data costs for when I get home).
On Wednesday, the photography starts.