Finally managed to edit together some of the footage from my GoPro camera shot during an adventure holiday in Kas, Turkey in October 2013. There was quite a lot of activities to cram into a 5 minute video, so I plan on making separate videos for each activity to show more of what happened. The Canyoning was a fantastic experience, as was the paragliding. The kayaking gave me Repetitive Strain Injury in my right forearm!
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: I was approached for possibly more than accommodation, rediscovered life in the fast lane, was surprised by a decent hotel and discovered Greek-style McDonalds.
After staying on the tranquil and relatively quiet island of Symi for 12 days, stepping off the catamaran in Rhodes was like being hit in the face with a brick. So many people, so much going on. Turning my phone on I worked out the route to the hotel, discovering it was well within walking distance. 20 euros saved. Strangely, as I manoeuvred myself through the crowds an older lady approached me and in perfect english asked if I was looking for a place to stay. But her expression said more than “stay”. Her eye contact stayed with me as she swung around, hand on hip, eyebrow raised. Perhaps my imagination, but that look was more suitably placed in the windows down the less-frequented red light alleyways of Amsterdam. “Already booked, thanks!”.
The crowds dissipated by the dozen as holidaymakers boarded tour-operated coaches. Others vanished into tiny cars who had waited to collect them. Remember the scene in The Incredibles, where Mr Incredible squeezes into his tiny car? That’s the sort of scene I witnessed. The rest of us made our way on foot into Rhodes New Town.
It really was a sensory wake-up. It had taken less than two weeks for me to forget about radio, television, music and news headlines. The closer to the town centre I got, the more these things returned. Rapidly. Coffee shops appeared on every corner flanked by rows and rows of designer stores. There was even an entire street with half a dozen shops dedicated to umbrellas. Just umbrellas. In a place where the temperature hasn’t dropped below 25 degrees, even through the night, fully stocked windows of brollies seems a bizarre idea.
Arriving at my destination I was pleasantly surprised. I was sticking to a budget and The Atlantis City Hotel was near enough the cheapest place I could find. I wasn’t expecting much. But inside was a world of marble and stone. The rooms were all newly refurbished with air conditioning, wifi, television, a balcony, shower and hair dryer. A touch of class. And their TripAdvisor 2012 Award on reception was some form of proof.
I dumped the bags and took a wander down a few streets before closing time. As much as most of these stores claimed to be “designer outlets”, I suggest otherwise. No legitimate outlet would hang expensive designer clothing outside without an owner keeping an eye. It was knock-off central. I’m surprised they get away with it. But who’s looking?
It wasn’t long before I discovered a McDonalds. Truth be told, if it were a KFC I’d have cried. At that moment, any fast food would do. Inside was a cavernous reception with a couple of disorganised queues. It wasn’t clear who had been served and who was waiting. Eventually I caught the big eyes of a young and excruciatingly excited member of staff. She took the order with a sense of urgency. Yet whomever was in the kitchen was seemingly playing the opposite game, as the expressions on the other customers suggested. I counted eight trays with receipts waiting. Some had bits of their order already there, burgers going cold. Like a bee in the summer the order-taking employee floated from tray to tray, checking to see what was missing, cheerfully noting out loud to herself. This McDonalds must have been down the other end on the spectrum of fast food. Twenty minutes later I got my burger and chips. I don’t know if they kill-to-order or not, but it sure felt like it.
Back in the hotel I skimmed through the 21 available channels. BBC World and EuroNews were the only English ones I could find. It seemed odd to be watching “UK Anti-Austerity Protests” from Greece when several times I’d sat in the studios of Sky News in East London watching the Greek protests and riots. A turning of the tables. Every other channel appeared to be yet another Greek current affairs show where several politicians sit in boxes shouting at each other through satellites. It’s a common sight in Greece:
My reason for moving from Symi to Rhodes on Friday was for a diving experience day in Kalithea on Saturday morning. It would be an early start. So with tiredness in my bones I headed to bed, safer in the knowledge that there was probably a lesser chance of discovering a tarantula in my room. Unlike on Symi.
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: