Stories and Photographs of my travels, Tales of friends, family, animals and my life
Samos is well known for its richness in flora and fauna. It is home to more than 69 species of butterfly, a bunch of rare orchids, a number of different birds of prey, lizards, snakes and mammals including the golden jackal. It has a large variety of trees including pine, wild olive, cedar, chestnut, walnut, almond, willow and carab. So many different flower species grow in springtime that the countryside appears to be swathed in a patchwork quilt of colour. As a consequence of this abundance, in addition to sun and sea tourists, the island is a major attraction for nature lovers, painters and walkers. Therefore the season starts early and ends late when the weather is cooler, to cater for those planning to explore the island or walk one of its many trails.
One of the walking attractions is the Cave of Ayios Adonios. Access is gained up through Palo Karlovassi village. The route takes walkers past our house, up into the hills along a donkey track. On the way great views of Turkey, Karlovassi town and the islands coastline can be seen. The cave faces out to sea and within there is a church.
From May through to November individuals, couples, families and large groups trek up past the house on their way to visit the cave. I often hear Dutch, French, English, American, Greek, Italian and German voices as they pass by below the windows.
Paleo Karlovassi used to have a cafes, a bakery and a small mini market. As the village has become less populated these facilities have closed never to reopen. The small cafe/restaurant in the village square was the sole survivor for many years until that too recently closed. Now tourists have nowhere to stop for a drink on the long hot climb up hill and locals nowhere to hangout in the evenings.
The house in Paleo has a small self contained unit across the road from it. It has a flat roof which serves as a large sitting area where we often eat, drink, or just relax. Recently we bought a huge sun umbrella to provide shade. One day we were under the ‘marquee’ having lunch, watching swifts wheeling in the sky and hawks hovering in the thermals when two German tourists wandered onto the balcony.
“Hello” they said
“Hello” we replied somewhat surprised at their boldness at walking onto our rooftop.
“Do you serve coffee?” they asked.
“No” we replied
They looked at the remains of our lunch
“Do you serve drinks then”?
“This isn’t a cafe, but if you’d like some coffee and cake you’re more than welcome”.
They declined and retreated in embarrassment.
It’s an idea though, now the tourists are coming back, Karlovassi could do with a coffee shop and I do love to make cake.
Better late than never! A word a week challenge seems to be turning into a word a month. Sorry guys. The pictures you see are shells collected in Zanzibar from the local beach and the solid ‘shell’ the Giant Tortoise uses for protection.
Once a week I will dip into my old English Oxford dictionary and pick a word on the page that it falls open at. The challenge is to post a photograph, poem, story – whatever the genre you like best to describe of what that word means to you. Please put a link back to my challenge post so others can take part and put your post link in my comments section so people can follow it back to your blog and take on the subject.
The café owner rode up on his bike, jumped off, grabbed a handful of Peter’s tee-shirt and tried to head-butt him. Seeing this, a staff member from another shop broke off from his business, ran out into the street and tried to pry the irate man off. Thwarted the protagonist turned, advanced on my girlfriend and started to tug his shorts down with one hand whilst making obscene hand gestures with the other.
The day was not going well. We’d planned to go to Kokkari for a change of scenery and show our visitors a different part of the island. Helen wanted to book a day ticket to Turkey at the travel agents before we left, but when we arrived at the office discovered that she’d left her passport back at the house. This made us late and the planned casual stroll along the beach road to the bus stop turned into a race to get there in time. Missing the ride meant an hour and a half wait. Hot, sweaty and desperate for a drink of water we boarded the bus with minutes to spare.
Kokkari lies between Karlovassi and Vathy. It is a town for tourists. Vibrant, colourful restaurants line the harbour front, fish flash silver in dappled sunlit waters and cafés provide beds and shade on the main beach. White stoned coves with clear opaque water can be reached easily from here making it an ideal base for walkers and sun-seekers alike.
It’s a nice place to visit and we sometimes go for a change of scenery. On one particular day we’d gone to look for a birthday present for a friend’s son and had stopped off at one of the beach cafes for a swim and a bite to eat. Since then we’d introduced friends to the eaterie whenever we found ourselves in the vicinity. On the day of the incident we’d sat down at the café tables intending to order. Helen and myself went for a swim whilst the others waited for menus. When we got back one of the waitresses approached us.
“These tables are for people wanting to eat and drink” she said “if you want to swim please use the beds”
“But we are going to eat and have drinks” I replied
“Well we prefer people to use the beds before moving to the table to eat”
“The last few times we were here there weren’t any problems ” I responded
“Oh” she said and thought for a while “ well this time it will be ok but next time you’ll have to use the beds”.
So we stayed at the table, ordered coffee and asked for some menus.
Helen and I felt guilty about dripping water over their chairs so we repaired to the beds as she’d requested to dry off. Pete and Alan stayed at the table waiting to be served. Not more than ten minutes later we rejoined them. The menus still hadn’t arrived so I took the opportunity to pop into the trinket shop next door. When I got back, drinks had been served but the menus still hadn’t arrived. Peter had been for a swim and used the bed as per instructions. We requested menus again. Some time later no menus, or waitress to ask, evident, we decided to leave. Seeing no-one to ask for a bill we took the money inside, paid and left.
Ten minutes later we were walking up the street when a scooter sped past me and pulled up next to Peter, the rider jumped off and shouting in Greek and started to threaten him. He claimed that we’d used 4 sunbeds and we owed him 16 Euros. We tried to explain that we had used 2 beds for probably for 15 minutes maximum at the request of the waitress, we’d waited over 45 minutes for a menu to be produced before getting fed up and that at no time had anyone informed us that there was a charge on the beds. The cafe owner didn’t want to listen and that’s when he tried to head butt Pete.
While all this was happening Helen’s boyfriend had retreated and was doing an impression of a brick wall whilst I had broken off from my picture taking, swung the camera around and was deciding whether to take evidence for the police or use it as a cosh. Tourists and villagers had started to gather around as the owner interrupted in his assault on the others , saw me and started to advance. Alan remained glued to the wall behind me whilst the others had retreated up the hill. I was on my own. He walked towards me shouting obscenities and tugging at his crotch. I raised the camera, he backed off, got on his bike and rode away still screaming abuse
Alan slide down the wall, Peter and Helen ran back and two old Greek ladies who had watched the whole show came up to us and said in Australian accents
“That man’s s disgrace to the village. He gives the community a bad name. Something should be done about him”.
It seemed that the cafe owner had a bad reputation. I checked out the internet when I got back and it appeared that he’d tried to con other people with the bed scam and intimidate them into paying. Let’s hope that the tourist committee in Kokkari take action against this cheat and bully. I certainly did. I wrote a review on trip advisor!
We sat under an inky star-studded sky. The spot lit Byzantine castle ruins, perched on the mountain ridge behind us, glowed luminous green lending a diffused aurora to the surrounding rock outcrops and vegetation. In the distance the lower slopes of Mount Kerkes encircled us to the left and front whilst tall trees set back from the beach enclosed the cabin to the right. The moon had not risen and in the dark of the night it seemed like we were at the bottom of a natural amphitheatre gazing up into the heart of the milky way.
Suddenly a blazing bright white shooting star streaked across the night sky. It was one of the largest most of us had ever seen and whoops of excited chatter filled the air. It was closely followed by a streak of blue that arced across the stratosphere then swooped down towards earth before burning out. It was a week early but the Perseids meteor shower had arrived!
Having had a taste of what was in store, a few of us decided to head for the hills for the zenith of the shower and sky watch. Armed with rugs and warm clothes, hot drinks, torches, gas burner and several carrier bags of food we set off for one of the honey farms in the interior of the island.
The rows of beehives that overlooked the mountain gorge were quiet and whilst the little workers slept we scouted out a good place to eat and a comfortable spot to lie and watch the upcoming show. Replete, we dozed on the ground waiting, but what we had not taken into account was that the super moon would be so bright. As the huge yellow moon rose the dark receded and night turned dusky gold. The stars were obscured and strain as we might to see anything only a few shooting stars were spotted. Eventually the cold and biting mosquitoes became too much and we left taking the peace of the mountains, the chill of fresh air and a feeling of well-being with us.
Two days later we did it all again. Not for the stars but for the food. After all it is hard to resist a picnic at midnight!
Sunset in the hills on Samos
I hesitate, Elene’s in her usual place on the pavement and she’s scowling. Slouched into a white plastic chair, wearing a dress so faded that the woven threads show through the washed out grey fabric, she glares at the human traffic passing by the doorway of her mini-market. Two empty wine bottles of Samian’s best sit on the squat ice cream refrigerator adjacent to the shop’s door jamb. Wary eyed, head hunched low on shoulders I prepare catlike to slink past her. As I do, I call out a greeting. Her eyes turn stony. She turns her head away and ignores me. It’s a bad day.
Elene’s mood swings are unpredictable. On any day you could be a valued friend, unwelcome stranger or worst enemy. In good times, Elene becomes almost manically happy. Hands are grabbed, faces are patted, jokes cracked, laughter shared. She appears to be the life and soul of the street. On bad days she radiates such ill-will that it seeps into the streets shimmering heat haze and forms a palatable hostile barrier around the shop front. As if sensing danger, people cross the street to the other side rather than walk by her. On days like these kids and adults alike beg not to be dropped off outside her shop.
Six months ago, when we arrived on the island, she was full of vitality, laughter and friendly chatter. Mitch thought he’d finally been forgiven for some past transgression known only to her. For years he’s been trying to guess what misdemeanour’s he’d committed to cause the cold-shoulder treatment. All seemed to be forgiven. It didn’t last. Venturing into her shop to buy eggs and yoghurt he got charged at least twice normal prices and didn’t return. The chilly treatment recommenced.
People with mental health issues in Greece, as with many other European countries, often go undiagnosed. Especially in remoter parts of the country where appropriate health care is difficult to access. The social stigma attached to having a mental health problem also presents a barrier to people coming forward and being treated. With the advent of better health education and services there is a clearer understanding about mental health and this situation is improving. However, the rising cost of pharmaceuticals may put off many who are unable to afford medication.
It’s a shame because Elene on a good day is a nice lady.
Boredom can strike very quickly on the beach. After the initial swim, dry off and fifteen minutes of squinting up at a book trying to read I’m pretty much over it. Often the forty five minute walk back to the house, with the last leg up a up a 16% gradient is the only thing that keeps me there. That is until I had the idea of making a sundial.
Potami beach is a treasure trove. Its foreshore is scattered with wave and wind sculpted sun bleached driftwood. Pink, white, ruby red, yellow and green quartz pebbles glisten in the water wash wake of its waves. Tall bamboo cane sways in the background, whilst high grasses, sea hedge and wild flowers populate the pathways that meander down by the river. It is a beachcombers paradise.
The sundial was not a new idea. I’d been thinking it through for a while and had made an abortive attempt on my last visit. But this year was different. Galvanised by puzzled looks and slight disbelief from friends and family who thought I was potty – I mean why would you make work for yourself when all you need to do is lie in the sun and relax? – I began. Very soon I had a little helper and an audience who would do tongue in cheek time checks on a regular basis.
As work progressed interest increased. People began to stand around the dial discussing the finer points of sundial construction. Pointer gradient, timelines, sun course, pattern suggestions, how to find true North were all discussed in earnest. But I knew I’d won them over when laptops were consulted, advice proffered, assistance given and running repairs made when the dial was finished. It had become a group project.
Not long after the sundial had been finished it was vandalised and despite our repairs, it was never quite the same. After tourist season was over I redesigned and rebuilt however, some weeks later it had been driven over repeatedly and erased. Still it kept me entertained for a season, gave tourists a photo opportunity, brought family and friends together for a cause and most importantly of all told us when it was time to leave the beach for cocktail hour.
An explosion ripped through the air. I uncurled from my crouched foetal position on the ground and looked around in confusion. The sun was shining, the sky still blue, the hedgerow intact and alive with nodding spring flowers.
“What was that?” I asked
“Easter” Mitch said
I looked at him in confusion. “Easter?”
“Yeah. Samians tend to celebrate with loud violent explosions that create a lot of smoke and noise”
“That sounded more like dynamite than fireworks”. I replied
“It probably was. They’re nuts around here”
I was worried. “Is it safe to walk around?”
“Probably not, someone blew themselves up not so long ago” he answered.
Over the next few days, leading up to Easter the explosions increased in frequency and sound. Visions of gungho Samians gleefully lighting up a stick or two of dynamite just for fun kept me close to home. Clearly chocolate Easter eggs, fluffy bunnies and quiet candle lit celebrations just don’t do it for the adrenalin junkies.
We live directly behind one of Karlovassi’s bigger churchs. At the weekends the priest will walk up to the second floor, hang out of a small window and pull a tatty rope that is attached to the bell in the tower opposite us. Some hours before a service he will ring the bell at regular intervals to call people to pray. From our second storey window I can watch him heave on the rope. We’ve been on waving terms ever since I realised that he could see into our house when I was walking around half naked one morning. Luckily topless bathing is a norm in Samos and Greek priests are able to marry so it was marginally less embarrassing for both of us.
On special occasions, such as Easter, the priests will broadcast their services from oversized loudspeakers strategically placed around the building’s exterior. Thus ensuring that those who opted for a lie in or are too hungover to attend are awake and included in the celebrations. Non-believers, different religious nominations or the non-practising may try to find a quiet, remote corner of the village to retreat to. But with at least ten churches in and around the area and a bunch of thrill seekers letting off landslide inducing explosions, escape is impossible.
Easter day came. The bells rang out and very soon broadcasting commenced. It was a long and loud service. Suddenly a loud bass guitar accompanied by some slick riffs rolled out across the valley, a drum kicked into action and picked up the tempo. Hard rock blared out and competed with the chanting. Explosions punctuated the vocals, adding emphasis to the challenging lyrics. Stamati was taking a stand and making a very public protest. Motorhead had come to town.
View from the house window
A duck with a sore throat honked its way up the hill to the village. It appeared to be moving at speed because the muted cough turned into a full throttled roar as it flew past the house, around the back lanes and returned to the square within the space of a minute or two of it starting up.
About 11.00 am every day the village’s tranquillity was traumatised by this terrible racket as a man on a motorbike zipped up, around, and down whilst constantly hitting the horn to announce his passing. After a week of closing all the windows to shut out the ear splitting sound of hoarse, brash QQQQQQUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAKKKKKKSSSSSS and broken bike mufflers, I was not suffering in silence. Wire across the road was raised as a possible solution to sooth my jangled ear drums, whilst horns and exhaust pipes came up in the same sentence. But as the noise faded away I calmed down, stopped addressing the closed shutters, revisited my conflict negotiation skills, and decided to have a chat with biker man.
The next day I heard the duck heading our way. Springing into action I raced down the stairs and out onto the marbled house steps. From my elevated position I saw the bike round the corner and drive towards me. I flagged it down. The rider stopped. We looked at each other. We both looked down at the plastic bags hanging from his handlebars. I bought two loaves of bread and told him I’d see him the next day.
The bakery was finally doing home delivery.
Samos is one of the Eastern Aegean Sea islands. It is the greenest isle of the group and its economy is based on olives, wine, fishing and, to a certain extent, tourism. For a small island it has a big history which includes, according to mythology, the goddess Hera being born here. Some of the best scientists and philosophers in ancient Greece originate from Samos including Pythagoras of Pythagora’s theorem, Aristarchus the first person to conclude that the earth revolved around the sun and Aesop of the famous fables. But my personal favourite is Epicurus who claimed that the principle of life is to satisfy the needs of the stomach and who’s advice the Samians have embraced wholeheartedly.
It was from this island that my partner’s family originated before they emigrated to Australia. He returned to the island many years later and discovered his mother’s family house abandoned. They rebuilt and now use it as a holiday home. The house has spectacular views over the town and port of Karlovassi and on a clear day Turkey can be seen in the distance (it’s 1 km across the water). The village where the house is located is a long steep walk up hill or, for those with a heart condition, a short drive. Locals in their 70’s put me to shame by bounding pass me as I gasp for breath and take numerous breaks to ‘admire the view’/have a drink of water/collect firewood (any excuse will do) before commencing my crawl upwards. If anyone is considering climbing Mount Everest this is the place to go into training.
The first time I arrived on the island and stayed in the house it was apparent that the place needed a good spring clean. It was to say the least a little grubby. The lounge rug had 2mm of hair covering it, cream curtains were grey, soft furnishings had unsavoury stains on them, cupboards were dirty and the bath – well use your imagination. Apparently friends of the family often borrowed it and cleaning was obviously not on their agenda. So having OCD when it comes to hygiene (I blame the hospital work) I cleaned the house from top to bottom and discovered by chance that the way to ingratiate yourself with the women of a traditional Greek village is to scrub the doorstep until it shines. Thanks to my cleaning frenzy I became the favourite foreigner out of all the visitors and ex-girlfriends that had stayed there over the years – because according to local lore the slobs hadn’t even whisked a duster around the place. The women showed their approval by often stopping to speak to me as I laboured away, bringing gifts of lemons, home-made biscuits or whatever fruit was in season from their orchards. They spoke Greek and I had no idea what they were saying but we still managed to agree that it was about time the house was given a thorough scrub.
Since then whenever I visit the house the first thing I do is clean. First, because the local women love me for it and I get free food. Second, scorpions sometimes take up residence when the house has been empty for some time and it pays to flush them out before they sting anyone – they won’t kill you but it bloody well hurts! Third, other visitors who use the house still don’t do a good job of cleaning and tend to leave half used lotions, potions, broken toys and other rubbish lying around.
Unfortunately, the elderly woman who lived next door to us in Samos must have been the exception to the rule when it came to village standards of hygiene. The husband was sick and bed bound, she was eccentric and their house was a health hazard. When the wind blew in our direction the smell of fish, cat crap, rancid food and unwashed flesh from next door wafted through the house. To pass the time of day she used to sit at the bedroom window which looked out onto the street below. This allowed her to keep her husband company and busy body the neighbourhood at the same time. She had the voice of a fish wife so there was no need to walk downstairs to have a conversation with passing neighbours as she could shout her complaints and dislikes about others down to them.
Early one morning we heard the usual shouting from next door. But this time Vasos was calling out for Mitch, my partner, to come quickly. Braving infectious diseases he entered the squalor and found her with her husband who had passed away in the night. As he helped her organise funeral arrangements the family gathered outside the house, sat in the street sewing a shroud for the corpse and kept vigil over the empty coffin propped up next to the door. The coffin was not occupied because it had arrived before the funeral directors, who were late. Which was inconvenient for the street because as the day progressed a new smell added its unpleasant odours to the foul ones already emitting from the house. By evening there was still no sign of anyone from the funeral parlour so a DIY laying out of the corpse was carried out by some of the locals and Mitch. Balancing the open coffin on their shoulders they walked precariously down the road to the local church where they left it over night – after putting the lid on of course! All a bit undignified really.
Not being Greek orthodox I had no idea what to expect when I was invited to the funeral. So I was a little apprehensive when the bells rang out calling family, friends and acquaintances to pay their last respects. The first surprise was that on entering the church we were given unlit candle tapers which we were expected to pay for. The second one was the sight of the corpse in an open coffin over which the widow was wailing very loudly. The ceremony commenced and as the smell of the body started to compete with the burning incense and the air thickened with cloying candle smoke I nearly passed out. Moving to a seat near the open door I recovered quickly which was fortunate because I would have missed the best part if I’d fainted. The brother-in-law staggered into the church so drunk that the grieving widow had to break off her wailing to find him a seat to slump in. Delving into a plastic carrier bag he produced a can of beer, cracked it open, drank it between bouts of sobbing then proceeded to fall asleep. As I was trying hard to contain myself, two labourers wandered into the church and disappeared into the interior. Several minutes and a lot of loud thumps later they returned carrying a very large ladder and walked past past the coffin and the now snoring relative to get to the door. At the same time the candle sellers started to walk around the church, snuffing out the half used candles and collecting them – presumably to resell.
Finally it was over and as I emerged into the fresh air a piece of cake was shoved into my hand.
“What’s this for” I asked in a horrified tone, thinking there was no way I could swallow anything with the smell of the death still in my nostrils.
“It’s to sustain you on the walk up to the grave yard for the next part of the ceremony” Mitch replied with a grin.
I looked down at my kitten heel shoes which were totally unsuitable for a hike up the hill to the cemetery and sighed. No one had told me that there was a second act.
We had finished the job we had set out to do. Two bungalows painted, decorated and furnished and one painted and waiting for the bathroom to be finished. Mr Money was planning spend more time at the project and carrying on supervising where we had left off.
We decided to spend a few days at a boutique hotel as a treat before we flew back to Greece.
One of the brothers, Ywinne, came up to us the day we were leaving
“I’m sad you are leaving”
“You’re going to miss us?” I replied ….. very surprised
“I’m going to miss the money” he said
But leaving Ame was going to be a wrench and we both shed a few tears as we said our goodbyes
“I’ll be back for the restaurant build” I said and gave him a hug
“You are always in my heart” he replied
“And you in mine”
and he always will be.