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: 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: I had an odd dream experience, learned what a “trig point” is, discovered about geocaching by completing a treasure hunt, booked an island excursion and introduce “Cat(s) Of The Day”.
Firstly, I just want to mention this weird dream thing that happened. I’m a fairly rational person who normally sees both side of the coin with things like this. But I can’t fathom this one out. Basically I had a dream where I was Directing an entertainment show. The magazine-type show explored new talent and gave opportunities for exposure on TV. I was Directing a sequence whereby a music video was previewed for an unsigned band. With the track still playing we mixed back to the studio for the presenter to pick up and talk about it. A spotlight lit up a group of three lads in the audience and the Presenter interviewed them. Before long the interview was over and he wished them all the best for the future and the rest of the audience applauded. When I woke up, I had the song going round and round in my head. The more awake I became, the less of the lyrics I could remember. I remembered the drum sequence and the melody, but could only remember “in our wildest moments, we could be the worst of all” for lyrics.
So, of course, out of curiosity I googled it. And it’s real! It exists! I was in absolute shock! It isn’t sung by a band of three lads. It’s sung by Jessie Ware. Now, I swear I’ve NEVER heard this song in my life. Ever!! Nor heard of Jessie Ware! It’s not in my music collection or on my phone, nor have I been listening to any radio stations in the last week since being on an island in the middle of Greece. I don’t recall hearing music on the airplane on the way here or in any of the airports. Now normally the answer is that the song has been playing in the background somewhere without me realising and my brain just brought it back in a memory somehow. But I truly don’t know where it came from. I swear on my life I’ve never heard this song before.
And so, in true spirit of how I do things, here is the soundtrack to my dream!:
After posting yesterdays blog, I wrote in the update section near the bottom that whilst researching the history of Symi’s windmill ruins I discovered someone had hidden something up there. The official term, rather than “hide”, is geocaching. It’s effectively a worldwide game where watertight sealed containers hold trinkets and a logbook and are hidden or buried pretty much anywhere. At time of writing there are over 2 million registered locations worldwide. Several websites host databases with GPS coordinates of said locations and keep running updates of how many people have registered a “find” along with their comments and photos. It’s actually quite an interesting idea. In the summer I had helped a colleague of mine whilst Directing on Channel 5’s Big Brother to locate a geocache in Elstree. He’d been given clues to work out the coordinates, and I helped him figure it out. I never thought anything more about it at the time.
So off I went with my camera. And a key ring… more on that later…
Hiking back up the rocky path to the windmills, I once again made my way through the painted black gate. I came to the conclusion that you must allowed in here, despite my fear yesterday that it may have been a historical location and maybe I’d just missed the important “KEEP OUT” sign. On I trundled, much farther than I did yesterday. I only got as far as the last windmill on Monday as the rest of it just looked like rocky terrain. But past the windmills is a large stone circle. Again, I don’t know what it is as there are no information plaques or historical references to it. I spotted it on Google maps. Even further along there’s an old gun turret…
What I hadn’t been aware of before were the hiking routes. Occasionally a large rock is literally dotted with a spot of red or blue paint, indicating the route you are on. The instructions to the geocache said to follow the red route, walk past the left of the stone circle and head towards the gun turret, and that the cache was between the trig point and the peak.
I don’t know if it’s a tradition or just a helpful way for other hikers to stick to the routes in low light conditions, but occasionally the dotted route boulders had piles of smaller stones on top, like little burial mounds. I took it upon myself to add a stone to a few of these as I trekked past, as a gesture of my thanks to those original route makers…
For a while I misinterpreted the term “trig point” from the geocache instructions, not knowing what it meant. I thought it might have meant a rock formation. I was reluctant to turn on my phone to find out as each day when it connected to the internet I was charged £1.99, and every text message received cost me 50p. In the end I gave in, logging on to find out what “trig point” meant. As expected, several messages also came through. Todays wasted money went to the scammers who text me suggesting I “could be owed £6’000 from a legal case against my bank” to recover Payment Protection on a loan I had taken out. Quite unlikely. Another wasted 50p went to the other scammers who tirelessly keep informing me that “the number plate you requested is now available. Call this number!”. At least any money lost went to my phone provider and not the scammers.
Today’s lesson: A “Trig Point” is a Triangulation Station, or a concrete pillar of sorts that is used for surveying land. I must have crossed nearly every inch of that hillside in my eye-line between the first rocky peak and the stone circle to find this so-called trig point. Time flew by as I pounced cat-like from rock formation to rock formation, playing hopscotch to avoid stepping on lizards. It must have been a comical sight for anyone peering up the hillside with binoculars as I scratched my confused head, gesturing between the peak and the stone circle with an outstretched arm. Like a mad man in an argument with himself.
Without giving the location away (should you find yourself on Symi and fancy the challenge) I’m not going to tell you exactly where the cache is hidden. All you get is this sneak peek of the box and it’s content:
I’m ashamed to say I broke Rule Two of the “only two rules” of geocaching by not writing my find in the log book. Purely because the pen in the apartment decided it never wanted to write again and there wasn’t an Argos-style mini pen inside the container, which I thought there would be. Therefore another lesson learned today. However I completed the other 50% of the experience by taking an item and leaving something in return; OUT came a little yellow Transformer-style toy digger, IN went… the key ring. Other items inside were a yellow balloon, a red rubber eraser toy for the end of a pencil and a blue car. I didn’t know if it was a no-no, but I didn’t want to stash away the box again without my name being in there. So I also left a business card. Maybe it would move around the world, like the little yellow digger will as it travels back to the UK with me…
I registered with one of the geocache websites when I got back to the apartment and logged my find. I also discovered there were another two caches on the island, which set me challenges for later in the week! With me being a bit of a geek I also found out that someone cleverly came up with the idea of these ever interchanging trinkets, or bugs, being trackable. You can buy two identical bugs (see what they did there?) which both have a unique code on them. You then register the code online for others to log and leave one of the bugs in a cache. I guess the other twin bug is for proving you are the owner of the trackable bug.
Later on in the evening, as suggested by Adriana with the Symi Visitor group, I went down to the harbour and spoke with one of the people who organised boat excursions. There were half a dozen available, but the one I fancied had a big chalkboard by their boat advertising an all-day trip around the island, including a barbecue. I mentioned snorkelling and the guy had a word with the captain. They said they’d bring gear along for me, at no extra cost. It was the snorkelling gesture that sold it, which was utter genius as I had calculated a grand total of 90 euros from a local shop to buy likely-only-going-to-be-used-once gear for myself. So I booked with them. A good hard sell on their part!
Lastly, and you’ll have seen them by now, I present to you the newest feature of my blog which I have christened Cat(s) Of The Day. The bracketed letter ‘s’ is important here. I pondered on the idea of an entire Symi cat gallery and the singular title was to be used. But several of my images contain a group of cats, occasionally with kittens in tow. I also realised that of all the cat photos I seem to take each day, I would unlikely be able to choose just one. Sometimes they are just so cute they need to be shared. Sometimes they’re so cute I want to cry. Here are some of todays cats/kittens. Clicking on the images will take you to my Flickr page where you just might find some more…
In brief: there was an island wide power cut, I set up more time lapse shots, took more infrared pics, spent the evening by the old windmill ruins and discovered geocaching on Symi…
It appeared my “reset day” yesterday didn’t work. I slept late, yet again. It wasn’t too much of an issue. At 5.15am the glowing street lamps dipped for a second before burning bright again. A few seconds later the same thing happened. And like some scene aboard Titanic, where the electricians struggle to the last second to keep the ship alive, the power gave way and the whole island was plunged into darkness. It was also eerily silent. It’s funny how everyday noises like the fridge and freezer or air conditioning units hum and buzz in the background and they blend into our surroundings. There truly was no sound at all. Anywhere.
Knowing that the power was off for everyone else, I decided against an early trip into the town for breakfast. Nobody would be open anyway. Initially I had my alarm set for 5am, hoping that with a little cloud around there would be a chance of a spectacular sunrise. I had dreamt of fluffy clouds of salmon and gold giving way to streaks of dreams across the skies. But having checked the forecast across several sites, it wasn’t to be. Clear skies and highs of 28 degrees. The sky basically turned from black to dark blue to bright blue. Any sunrise is still a beauty to witness, but I had hoped for added character.
Thankfully my camera battery was recharged already, having run it completely empty on Sunday. My evening routine seemed to pay off; copy all images to the laptop, clear the memory card, recharge the battery, stuff day pack with lenses, refill water bottles and put the tripod by the door. This set-up means I can just grab-and-go in the morning.
Without much thought I marched up towards some of the old ruins for some time lapse shots. I made a mistake during the set up, leaving the cameras auto focus switched on. This meant that every now and then during the time lapse video that was eventually compiled, the video would jump as the lens refocussed on each image. Amateur mistake. And during the first run a small kid appeared walking a dog. I gave a “yassou” greeting, a way of saying hello (I’d learned the right way, since discovering yesterday that the “calimera” word I was using meant “good morning”, and I’d been saying it at all times of the day, like a buffoon). My accent must have been good as the kid tried to talk to me. He seemed interested in photography and what I was doing. All I could really do was try gestures, pointing and gesticulating. He didn’t speak english, and politely smiled before being led around the corner by his dog, vanishing out of sight.
I applaud his efforts in attempting to communicate. Something I wish I could have said to him in Greek personally. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I should have really learnt some basic language. It would have allowed for better interactions. In the end I was swayed toward not using any of these shots for a time lapse due to the focus issue and the fact that a boy, a dog, a homeless man and a family had walked through the scene at various times throughout the exposures. Still, I got through two chapters in my book.
By 1.30pm the power was back on, just as I reached The Olive Tree. Perfect timing. Janine and Tina were just sorting out the kitchen and I pondered on the idea of an unplanned lunch. Baked potato with tuna and mayonnaise with a ham salad. It went down a treat. Apart from being bombarded by curious wasps (yet another insect I’m not keen on). They even forced me to swap tables!
Wasps 1 – 0 Me.
Sitting down and chatting with a few ex-pats also gave me the directions to the old ruins high up on the hill I’d seen from various viewpoints. With a time lapse in mind, off I went towards the ancient windmill ruins.
It was the hottest day I’d witnessed so far. I had been sweating since leaving the apartment, and it didn’t stop all day. Walking through those delicate alleyways and up dozens of stone steps, I really was putting my body through it’s paces in the heat. Packing two water bottles was a smart idea. If only I had stashed some food too.
Up by the old windmills it appeared fenced off. The folks I spoke to said there was a black gate that just slides open. They were right, and I didn’t see any signs telling me not to go in. Others had climbed sections of wall to get inside the windmill compound, leaving small rockslides behind. I didn’t fancy being responsible for damaging such ancient grounds. I read somewhere that the windmills are over 300 years old, though this was all on tourist sites, and I haven’t found hostorical literature to prove otherwise.
The spinning blades of the windmills are obviously not there, having rotted and disappeared many years ago. What’s left are these cylindrical stone buildings, about 20 feet tall and only about 10 feet in diameter. Some of them had wooden doors attached. Locals were using a few of them to store things in, such as roof tiles. Inside one of them looked like a modern day garage with a bench, shelves with an assortment of oils, paints and sprays and a few planks of wood with saw dust on the floor. Quite surreal, given the history of the landmarks. Other turrets had been turned into homes. One is an apartment for rent, another belongs to a local, and another is now a restaurant. Can you guess what it’s called? These conversions were all further down the hill, leaving the more exposed ones at the top to absorb time.
Walking around the ruins (still unsure if I was allowed to do so) there were clear signs this was a large working area in the past. There are a handful of smaller square buildings and many walls leading off at right angles. Anything up to twenty other buildings may have sat in and around the windmills themselves. I’d love to see what this place looked like in it’s prime. An architects dream, no doubt. And a true workman’s place.
Somebody mentioned that a body was buried up there. I can’t remember if they said a king, or a warrior or something of great significance. Either way, if it’s true, there wasn’t any signs or a plaque or anything giving such information. If you know of any such burial, do leave a comment. Thanks.
With my days being as short as I was making them, it was almost time for sunset. I pointed the camera toward the harbour and let it run till the battery ran out, one photo every 8 seconds. Two hours later, sun beaten and sweating, and several chapters deeper into my book, I headed home again.
Doing nothing, as such, isn’t in my nature. I’m always revving at top speed in first gear, moving from one project to the next. Relaxing and going with the wind is completely out of character for me. Though I was enjoying it. I still felt I should be exploring more, and with only a week left to go I enquired about boat trips and so forth. I had previously enquired about a days diving experience in Rhodes, but I didn’t get a reply.
So, another day, another few dollars spent. let’s see what Tuesday brings.
UPDATE: I have since discovered that the whole area up there is much bigger than I thought. Apparently there is a gun turret up there. And someone has kindly got involved in geocaching, hiding a small box with a log book inside, should anyone wish to find it and sign it. People leave items such as toy soldiers or coins, whereas others take objects to other geocache sites. The last person to log a find on the geocaching website was 6th August 2011. I may just do that tomorrow!