In brief: The last full day . I walked the 14th century Medieval City Of Rhodes, got told not to wear a skirt, got distracted by parrots and ate with the cool cats.
Having not been able to organise the Land Rover trip across Rhodes for Sunday*, I was forced to have a long lay in bed instead. Such a shame. The hotel maids tried three times to get in and clean the room. I wasn’t getting up. Not yet.
Just in case there had been last minute contact with the Land Rover people I turned on my phone every now and then to check for emails. I didn’t get very far before I received a text message from my phone provider. The message was something along the lines of “you were warned not to go over your data limit, but you did. We have removed this perk and you will be charged 69p per MB and charged full rates for calls”. Now I don’t know how the system works for them, but I find it remarkable that we already pay high fees towards a non-competitive contract we are tied into, yet they want more money when we go abroad for exactly the same service. I’m in Greece. Not on the moon. The telephone systems are already in place. I don’t think its right to peddle the idea that they’re doing us a favour by allowing us the privilege of using our phones whilst abroad. I can guarantee it doesn’t cost them the £2 a day they charge us for their so-called travel perk. So my phone stays off till I’m back in the UK and they won’t get a penny extra from me. Greed is not a characteristic I’m fond of.
I’d decided window shopping was the answer to my spare day but this was quickly shot down. When I eventually left the hotel every place was closed except the restaurants. The only other answer I could think of was the Medieval City Of Rhodes I’d read about on TripAdvisor. I expected it to be some ruins with a few ancient walls, perhaps some historical artefacts. But it’s huge! It is literally a city within the confines of fortified structures, with a moat, look-out towers, draw bridges and everything associated with 14th century life. The Greek government had marked this location as “historically significant” and had a budget of one million euros to restore it. Believe me when I say a million isn’t going to be enough. Imagine trying to rebuild your local town. Each street, house and church, painstakingly renewed brick by historically accurate hand-crafted brick, from the foundations up. It would cost a million just to do one alleyway. And this place is twice the size of Camden Town.
What I wasn’t expecting were the Sunday markets inside. Once you’ve crossed the drawbridges and gazed high up towards the castle walls you find yourself on cobbled streets like a miniature New York traffic grid. Each alleyway and road is flanked by little shops. Ironically they were all selling pretty much the same choice of things; gold jewellery, tacky t-shirts that say “Fuck Google. Ask me!”, leather goods, olive soaps and scented items, yoghurt, knock-off sunglasses, or tiles with Greek landmarks painted on them. One thing is for sure, and you should all note this one down… if you are ever in need of a set of cutlery with handles that are the shape of an erect penis, this is definitely the place to go. Or perhaps a penis bottle opener? How about an erection candle? A salt and pepper penis set? Boner bath soap? It’s all there. It kind of takes away the humble feeling of history within the walls, though I understand there is significance with the male organ throughout history and various cultures.
Besides dick central, some shops had impressive full replica knights armour. Shoulder and chest plates, chain male, boots, helmets and gloves. I’d love to see someone try get one of these suits into their luggage and onto a plane. The weight cost would be staggering. Considering I was walking the same grounds as medieval knights had done in the 14the century I expected armour, helmets and swords. But one of the more shocking things I discovered was the ability to buy a variety of weapons. And I’m not talking about a plastic shield and a wooden sword. Some of these same shops stocked throwing knives, switch blades, katanas, samurai swords, ninja throwing stars, catapults, belts with hidden knives, nun-chucks and friction-lock police batons to name but a few things I spotted. These were weapons designed and manufactured to maim, injure and kill. If you were caught just having any of these in your possession in a public place in the UK, you’d be immediately arrested for carrying an offensive weapon and likely charged with possession of a dangerous item (regardless of whether you had intent to use them or not). In this day and age, I don’t see the need for members of the public to have any of those things. I mean, throwing stars? Who? When?
I also found one of those Hellenic Culture machines that dish out collectors coins. I had got one in Kallithea during the scuba diving experience yesterday as an item for trade during geocaching. So I thought I’d get another one!
It would be easy to spend an entire day, or evening, within those city walls. With its maze of alleyways and lack of regular maps indicating “you are here”, you could walk in circles and spirals for hours and still come across something new. In fact, I think I did walk in circles. A few times I was off the beaten track, taking back routes and cobbled streets, occasionally through peoples rear gardens by the looks of it. Families live here too, in apparently tiny and cramped houses. Strings of washing hung wall to wall with Greek television blaring loud-mouthed politicians in the background. It would be interesting to see a genealogy tree for some of these families. Did their ancestors live inside this city? Are they descendants from knights of the old age? From the way their kids charged at each other on bikes, they certainly pass as 21st century Jousters. Now that would be a show to put on!
Whilst walking around the incredibly long moat, a group of older teenagers appeared behind me out of nowhere. It was obvious I was a tourist from the backpack and the camera in my hand. I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable I was. There wasn’t anyone else in sight either in front or behind. The last map I looked at suggested the next exit out of the moat was 1200 metres ahead. For a split second it felt like I’d walked into the perfect trap. A pile of huge stone spheres were to my right and two of the lads decided to have a go at moving them and lifting them. Stupidly, I looked over. “These guys are strong, eh? Tough”, said the apparent youngest one. Brilliant. A show of strength. This wasn’t going to go well. I lifted my head in agreement, without speaking. “Where you from?” he said. I really wasn’t in the mood for an international debate. “Scotland”, I replied. “Ah! Skirts!” he said, pushing his chest out towards me. A boy, trying to be a man. I raised one eyebrow. “Not quite, but yes” I said, continuing to walk. He tried again, clearly seeing I wasn’t stopping for the chat. “You go toilet? Girls say skirt. Boys say skirt! Boys don’t wear skirts!”. Clearly not, I thought to myself. Was he trying to intimidate me, or wind me up? I laughed and smiled politely. How do you respond to that, without punching him in his ignorant face? Then again, I’m not always good with understanding interactions with other folks. There’s an obvious language barrier (which he’d overcome) and also a misunderstanding of cultural body language. I misunderstand people all the time. Perhaps he was just making conversation, seeing I was on my own. I wasn’t sure. My paranoia suggested it was still a trap. They fell behind as I continued to walk. A few minutes later, just as I had started to relax a bit, the same guy jogged up behind me. “You take picture of us?” he said, handing me a mobile phone. Reluctantly I said yes, and went to reach for the cheap 90’s Nokia prototype. Before it was in my hand I worked out it didn’t have a camera on it, so what did he want? Just as the realisation set in and the flash of puzzlement spread through my features the kid laughed. Further back the whole group began to laugh at my apparent idiocy. The kid grabbed the phone and wandered back to the group, looking over his shoulder and continuing to laugh. 21st century Jester. Funny guy. It’s probably a good thing he took the phone back. I was near the temptation to sarcastically laugh with him, like Chandler from Friends, before lobbing the mobile reject over one of the high walls in some kind of defiant comedy sketch that would likely end in tears. The only giggles that would get me would be from canisters of laughing gas whilst I was in surgery. Thankfully they wandered off, away from me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw them sneak through a clearly padlocked tall double door, disappearing right inside the basements of the castle grounds. There were plenty of “keep out” signs dotted around. I imagine this was a regular place for teenagers to get high. Off with their heads.
Out of the moat and several streets later I found myself back in one of the main squares, surrounded by food places. I’d hazard to call them restaurants. The abundance of hard-sell owners rallied in their best english to get people to sit and eat. I was starving and only really wanted a cold drink so I took the nearest place with an interesting view. To their credit, the ice coffee with both dunked ice cream and whipped cream on top was excellent. A calorie counters nightmare, I’m sure. The interesting view I had was of parrots. Half a dozen large green and red feathered parrots, gold and aqua, wandering the cobbles in the square with one or two white parrots watching on. The red parrots were in physical disagreement over a piece of bread. A green parrot was reading a newspaper, clearly interested in current affairs like the rest of the locals. Every now and then he shook his head and cawed. I think it was the politics section.
Whilst bird watching I had ordered the meat platter. I was half way through eating it when something brushed against my leg. If I hadn’t had a mouthful of sausage I’m sure the noise I made would have sounded like a girl in a 1960’s horror movie. The sound I actually made was something similar to an olympic weightlifter balancing tonnage overhead who’d just broken a personal best. A mix between a deathly roar and severe diarrhoea. I froze with flashbacks of tarantulas Or was it a snake? Without moving a muscle I rolled my eyes downward towards the ground. Between my ankles a tiny kitten stared back at me, it’s head cocked to one side. It’s expression said “feed me”. The signs disagreed. Looking around it appeared every cat within these walls had received a memo saying I’d ordered the meat platter. Never before have I declared myself a pussy magnet, but it appeared to be true. They approached from every angle. I swear the temperature went up due to the fur insulation surrounding me. It’s very difficult to eat a meal whilst being watched by several generations of starving cats. If anything my mood changed from hunger to guilt. I’d never eaten a meal in more uncomfortable surroundings. Even the cats had learned to charm. My ankle kitten was stroking me. One of them even winked at me. It was all very strange. What the hell was in that coffee?
Back at the hotel the sun set in a purple haze behind the buildings. Out on the balcony I watched a jet pitch and bank its way southwards towards some other land. There were clouds in the distance too. Something I hadn’t noticed for weeks. In 24hrs time I’d be focussed on getting home, with two flights standing between this life and the other. But when I got home, my other life would be somewhat renewed. Truthfully, I need to learn to slow down and take a look around. If life continues as it has, I’m at a stage where I have the option to do just that.
Someone once said “there’s no point being the richest guy in the cemetery”. In terms of money, I completely agree. But you can also be rich with the experiences of life, and I’d had a fair share in the last two weeks. And in that capacity I’d really love more…
Before I go, here’s the Rhodes edition of Cat(s) Of The Day:
* The Land Rover Safari folks emailed me on Sunday night apologising for the delay, however they were now closed for the season. As I suspected. I’ll have to come a week earlier next time!
In brief: I was shaken awake by a 4.0 earthquake (lesson included), experienced the world of scuba diving at Kallithea beach with comedy effect, and found my third geocache in Greece.
The first thing to mention here was the earthquake. I’d experienced one before in the UK (of all places). I was sharing a flat in Crouch End, North London, on the third floor of a victorian conversion. Back then it had gently rocked me awake. A bizarre feeling, like being on a water bed. I blamed my flatmate at first, convinced he had drunkenly snuck into the flat after a night out and was playing games. That experience kept me awake and within minutes the news channels were reporting the early morning shake.
This quake was very similar. The hotel room had two single beds pushed together. I had woken face down with my left foot wedged between the two beds. I could feel the movement as the beds moved ever so slightly, my ankle swaying and the cover on the bed pulling and relaxing over my leg. Adding to the surrealism was a tapping sound. The bathroom had a frosted privacy door that slid away into a cavity. This hanging slab of glass was rocking and knocking against the walls in a rhythmic fashion. Later on, using my iPhone compass, I worked out the movement was mainly North-South.
It only lasted fifteen seconds or so, but it was enough for me to lay awake listening for tweeting birds and barking dogs. I’m sure I’d seen on telly that animals sense these things before humans do. Part of me expected a sudden and massive ground-tearing shake, but it didn’t come. If it were to happen my understanding was I should either stand in a door frame, get under something solid and sturdy or get out into open ground. What did I do? Switched my camera to a wide angle film lens and set it to video mode. Just in case.
I ended up on Twitter, searching for any mention of a quake in Greece. There had been one in Poland and one in Turkey around the same time. Both around 2.0. For a while I thought I might have just imagined it, but I checked again in the morning and found the details I was looking for:
A 4.0 quake is relatively minor. Historically the Dodecanese islands have frequent quakes of less than 4. The scale is exponential and works along the lines that a 2 is twice that of a 1. A 3 is twice that of a 2. Therefore a 4 would have twice the energy of a 3. Eight times stronger than a 1. According to a few webpages, a 4.0 is enough to be felt by humans as a vibration similar to the passing of a heavy vehicle, enough to crack plaster and would rattle dishes. And that’s exactly what happened. The good thing is that it’s better to have several small quakes. Otherwise the energy builds up and you get a large one instead.
A few hours later I was up and dressed and was trying the hotel breakfast for the first time. I was the only person down there. Laid out was a full buffet breakfast with fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms and bacon. There was also an assortment of cakes. One thing to confuse me was “white tea”. There wasn’t any ‘normal’ teabags down there, so my brain assumed white tea was the right one. Of course it’s normally black tea and we add milk. White tea is something entirely different. And sweeter. And didn’t require the milk.
A stones throw from the hotel was the harbour I was meant to be at by 8.45am. The WaterHoppers team were carrying canister after canister onto their boat. It was a busy one too. And suddenly the feeling of dread crept in. As usual, my imagination had informed me this would be a quiet affair. Much more personal. But no. There were about 35 people on this boat of all different ages, all about to do the same dive experience as myself.
I’ve got to hand it to them. The WaterHoppers crew are fantastic. They checked and double checked everyone for medical issues and ear problems before we’d even left the dock. They verified ages with the younger ones and shuffled numbers around based on known groups. In the end I was in Group 3 for the first dive and Group 1 for the second. One of their Dutch instructors (I didn’t catch his name!) introduced himself and made sure all tongues understood his English. He made jokes about sharks and how easy diving was. It relaxed everyone. He went through different groups to find out where everyone was from and when he asked if he’d missed anywhere out, I raised my hand to suggest “Scotland” for the list. “We have a few Scottish members of crew. Can you PLEASE take them back with you?”, he sighed. Everyone laughed. The ice was broken.
They teach five simple rules for diving:
- Keep breathing. Never hold your breath.
- Equalise. Early and often.
- Clear your mask of water by looking upwards, press mask to forehead and push air out through your nose.
- If you need to ascend quickly to the surface, breathe out all the way to empty the lungs.
- Signals. Thumb and forefinger for “ok”, waving arms in a crossed motion for “not ok”. Thumbs up means “go up”.
Almost an hour of sunshine later we arrived at our dive destination at Kallithea beach, near Faliraki, and tied up. Groups 1 and 2 got changed and were in the water less than 15 minutes after we’d berthed. With an hour or so before my group was up, I took the chance to go for a wander. Yet another location in Greece with historical significance, surrounded by stunning landscapes.
Inside this beautiful building was a machine that issued collectors coins. The machine stated “This high-quality coin is part of the exclusive “Hellenic Heritage” collection and is only available at this location“. Sold! For two euros I decided I’d get one as something I could trade as a trinket in my new hobby of geocaching. Somewhere in the UK I’d deposit this coin for someone else to take and move on. Lucky them.
Time flew and before I knew it Group 3 were up. The bad thing about being so far down the chain of divers is the quality of kit you get. All the good stuff is already gone. My wetsuit was rather… tight. Not that I’m someone troubled by their obesity, but it wasn’t a good look. A fat Scotsman in a tight rubber suit. There’s no photo of that. Loaded with flippers, the group headed down to the water. Though cold initially, the wetsuit does its job of insulation between you and the sea. Double-glazing for water. Like rubber gnomes we sat in the shallow sea, bobbing in the waves. Behind us a member of crew was fitting the tanks and the weights, strapping them over and around us. Your centre of gravity shifts from that moment on and quite regularly I found my flippered feet rising out of the water as I rocked backwards off-balance.
Once you’ve spat in your mask (a true diving technique which stops the glass from fogging), the regulator goes in your mouth and you are turned onto your tummy. Face down in six inches of water, staring at rock and sand, you are asked to “breath normally”. Your brain doesn’t quite understand how you can be underwater and breathing, so it takes a little while to get used to. One by one, this torture-style method went down the line of rubber gnomes. A few minutes later a hand movement from a crew member suggested I should slide backwards where I was met by our dive leader.
The waters around there go as deep as about 10 metres. Anything deeper than 12 requires a qualification. We were to go to about 4 or 5 metres on the first dive. Those with a second dive would go out further and deeper. As each person would be photographed underwater, the dive leader went through his hand gestures and method of photography. Seconds later we were led by hand to the floor of the bay.
Initially it’s a sensory overload. Your body is in a peculiar state in an alien world. When the first rainbow coloured fish flashed past me I smiled and nearly laughed at what I was doing. For the record, you can laugh in a respirator. You can even be sick in it and it all comes out the other side without letting water in (fun fact of the day). On the other hand, smiling isn’t clever. You should keep a tight seal around the respirator to keep water out of your mouth. Smiling lets water in. Trying not to smile in such a situation is one of the most difficult things to do, so I’ve discovered.
As I mentioned before, wearing all that gear changes your centre of gravity. To go a little deeper you press your chin down towards your chest. This tiny change in body mass makes you sink. To go up is the opposite, as you point your head upwards. I also discovered that by not using the flippers, not making any movement with your legs, you will sink like a stone. This requires Rule 2 (Equalise. Early and often). To equalise, pinch your nose and blow so that your ears pop. And it works. Every foot or so that you sink required another equalise. The pressures can be immense.
Imbalanced, and occasionally sinking to the bottom, I found myself scrabbling along the rocks on the floor of the bay. Once in a while a startled fish would bolt out from a rock, stare at me and then dart back in. I imagined it ‘tutting’. It was the equivalent of a drunk sing-song on the way home from a night out and a neighbour telling you to shut up from their bedroom window. At least, that’s how I imagined the fish to be feeling. In honesty, the fish don’t seem to care that we’re in their world. Yes, they swim away from you. But most swim around you. Some directly towards you.
Fish bigger than my hand swam in shoals around us, gawping at how amazing I looked in my rubber suit. Some of them had the look of “wow!” on their face. I blushed at their kindness.
Occasionally the dive leader turned to face each of us, asking the thumb-to-forefinger “ok?” question. I failed the first part of the test by giving a thumbs-up; the universal dive signal for “going up”. I then waved my hands as a way of saying “I’m a silly sausage!”, which in turn was the universal dive signal for “problem”. Realising the cacophony of errors I was making, my head sunk and my shoulders drooped as a sign of failure. Looking back up I gave him the “ok” sign back. In reality, my underwater conversation was a shambles. I’d just told him I was “going up, I had a problem, I might die, ok?”.
He’d clearly witnessed this before. He gave me a double OK back, which I replied in mirror fashion to confirm that all was well. We continued on further. And slightly deeper. Every now and then another fumbling rubber gnome either above me or below me would get into a flap and hit me in the face with a flipper. This was something we all got used to as the group tried to stick together, never going further than the dive leader.
A couple of times I held back and let the group go on ahead. The Director side of me wanted to watch this scene unfold. If I’d had an underwater camera (it’s now on the list!) it would have been the perfect photo opportunity. A completely brilliant blue underwater scene with the professional dive leader clad in black, like a James Bond extra, dead centre, a couple of flippered blobs above and below, a shoal of fish swimming by, at all times surrounded by streams of bubbles. It was beautiful. Alas, I didn’t have an underwater camera, so that image isn’t in my Flickr stream this holiday. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Without realising it we had been out to where the ridge drops off and back in again. It seemed odd when I reached a point where the water was so shallow I could push down on the floor and was back above water. We were back at the rock where we had our torture session, with the next group of rubber gnomes nervously waiting to go in. I absolutely loved it. Every second. Several different countries represented the group I was in, but the smiles and OK signals coming from each of us was universal. What an amazing thing to do!
It would be after lunchtime before the second dives would take place. Checking my geocache app I discovered a newly placed cache was less than a mile away. Dried and dressed I took a hike out of the bay, heading towards the main road. There was a car park for people using the tavernas at the bay, and visitors to the Kallithea Springs. Honing in on the location took me a little while, but I was directed through the trees to a single boulder. Around the other side, near the bottom, was a pile of rocks. They hid the hole below the boulder where a blue bag was hidden alongside a geocache note, notepad, pen and a screw. Acting nonchalant I perched against the rock and took a photo of the find. I pocketed the screw and scribbled in the notepad, signing off with TFTC. “Thanks for the cache”. In return for the screw, I left my 4.50 euro fake Ray Ban sunglasses!
Back to the diving. The second experience was so much better than the first. I had a better wetsuit, better mask and a better fitted tank. We swam out for longer through green and blue waters. I’ve said it somewhere else on this blog that I’d witnessed colours in the sea I’ve never seen before when snorkelling. This was the same experience. And with bigger fish. Stunning scenery. What a way to see the world!
If you ever go for a scuba experience, I definitely recommend you do the second dive!
By 4pm the day was done. We disembarked from Kallithea beach and started the journey home. Our nameless Dutch leader gave a debrief and asked if anyone would do it again. Many hands shot up, including mine. Would we do a two-day certificate course? Fewer hands went up (it’s six times the dive experience price). Would we go back the following year with a full PADI certificate and be part of their crew? Nobody put their hand up. But inside I was screaming out. Hell, yes! In fact, the more I’ve thought about it afterwards, the more it makes sense. Six months a year in Greece, part time, as a dive leader? Why the hell not!? I guess the only question is money, and accommodation. “Keep it in mind. We are always desperate for people”.
By Saturday evening I still hadn’t heard back from the Land Rover Safari people. Sunday was likely going to be another day of walking around. Or shopping.
* The geocache site was found the next day by a regular german cacher. He took the Ray Ban sunglasses on his way back to his hotel!
In brief: Friday was all about packing up and moving on to Rhodes. Leaving the beautiful island behind, I give my final thoughts on such a wondrous place and it’s importance to the world.
I woke up in Symi that morning determined I would be able to continue my new ‘treasure hunt’ hobby before setting off for Rhodes. I’d been keeping an eye on the geocache website to see if anyone had been to the two locations I had already “found”. So far, no new logs. Two more finds were within reach; one on a hillside in clear view of the town (in view of muggles). Another was in the catacombs, a fair hike away but seemingly easy to reach. My main problem was time. I had packed the majority of my stuff the night before, but there was still stuff to do. If I wasn’t out of bed by 9am, this day wasn’t going to happen. I got up at 11am. There was no way I was going to make it down the Kali Strata steps, walk through the town and then risk a hike along footpaths I hadn’t been on, before heading through an ancient site full of photography opportunities. And after all that I’d have to head back again. On top of that, I still didn’t have a pen. Was it going to be worth my time getting all the way there and not being able to log the find in person? You can see already that I had talked myself out of it. Both of them.
Mind you, I was on the verge of heading out the door. One of those fork-in-the-road moments. Do I? Do I not? But it came down to how nackered I was going to make myself by trekking several miles around the island and then heading back up those 360 steps to grab the bags. Even then, the day wouldn’t be over as I’d have the transfer to Rhodes to complete too. In the end I took the time to pack. Slowly.
I had visions of newspaper headlines: “UK holidaymaker brings lethal tarantula to Britain!“, or “Snake on a plane! Brit brings python undetected through Customs!“. Not wanting to be that guy, I studied every item of clothing as if they were items from a crime scene. One by one, sock by sock. Considering the only extra item of clothing I had bought was a thin pair of webbed ‘beach shoe’, there wasn’t much space in that rucksack. Hang on. Are shoes considered clothing? That’s one for the comments section…
The lovely people from Symi Visitor had invited me to their “end of the season” party. It was scheduled to be onboard Poseidon, and “the more money in the fuel kitty, the further he will take us”. I’d already been onboard Poseidon for the island excursion and knew their food was excellent, as well as their company. Sounded good to me. And if I was able to buy Ian, The Saviour, a drink for being the rescuer of the now-fabled arachnid hostage situation, all the better. To top it off the weather wasn’t to break till the middle of the next week.
But things had changed quite rapidly after the discovery of the ferry schedule. With the plan now to go to Rhodes on Friday evening, it meant I would miss the party on Saturday. Such a shame. It would have been a nice way to round off the Symi adventure.
A few emails and calls later my arrangements were changed and the taxi was to pick me up at 3.30pm with the Dodekanisos Seaways Express catamaran scheduled for departure at 4.30pm. I would have quite happily attempted the Kali Strata stairs with a rucksack and extra bag, but the transfers were already paid for. And it made sense not to expel more energy than required.
I did have a moment of panic. Everybody I asked about buying a ticket pointed me in the direction of the only kiosk on the island to sell them. It was closed. Outside the kiosk, a little girl practiced her best dance moves and shouted “CLOSED!” in time with her imaginary music when I gestured toward the kiosk. “CLOSED!”. The look of panic on my face caused her to shrug her shoulders in time with her music. “CLOSED!”. It was Cute. And annoying. So I walked back to the catamaran to enquire again, lugging back the heavy rucksack and camera bag on one shoulder. For the second time a now-angry(ish) member of crew pointed over to my shoulder towards the kiosk, mumbling in non-English. I sighed and shrugged myself. A sign of defeat. Sure as hell, as I turned around, the kiosk was open. Like some form of choreographed magic show. A segment I suggest would be called “trick the tourist“. Normally I like magic. That was rubbish. To top it off, as I approached the kiosk to buy the ticket, inside was a young lady with a big smile. And the little dancing girl perched by her side. “HELLO!” she proclaimed. She’ll probably never know the dread she helped set deep in my stomach.
At 4.30pm, we drifted away and with that my Symian life was gone.
I hadn’t expected to do frequent walking and hiking on Symi. But then I had no expectations whatsoever. Wonderful weather, gorgeous views, meeting new friends, finding hidden places (literally), eating fantastic food, discovering Greek history, snapping hundreds of photos, travelling to tiny islands and swimming amongst shoals of fish in the ocean are just some of the things I’ll remember from this amazing place.
Symi is a dream destination. A tiny and largely unspoiled location, steeped with important history on every one of those Kali Strata steps. With real and pure archaeological and historical sites of genuine Greek importance, Symi should really be a place of study and documentation. But in our economical times, income of any form is as important now as any study. And so the tourist industry wins. It’s sad that holidaymakers have become a historical part of Symi. You could literally date the arrival of tourism by the designs of soft drink cans and bottles strewn along the northern cliffs.
With the beauty that Symi has, I understand the feeling ex-pats describe when they made the decision to stay. I only hope the history stays long enough for more people to have some sort of experience similar to what I had.
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: