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Report 1204: Zig and Georgia's Trip of Gifts

By zig from Kentucky, USA, Fall 2006

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Page 12 of 18: 10/2/06-10/3/06 Evening on the Island of Kos, then off to Patmos

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Bouganville on Patmos

It’s interesting to walk around in small Greek or Italian cities or small Swiss ones for that matter. They don’t have near the number of streetlights we take for granted in the U.S. Consequently it’s not at all unusual to see stars inside the city limits. As you know, in the U.S. all the stars have been exiled to the countryside for national security reasons; they are strictly a rural phenomenon, like chicken poop and feral cats. Speaking of which, Greek islands are absolutely overrun with cats and have a good healthy supply of locally produced chicken poop as well. I have never seen anything like it. Cats are everywhere like the red poppies we saw on our first trip to Italy but they come in many more colors and they move around when you aren’t looking.

Anyway, we followed the bus driver’s directions: straight then right then left and surprise of surprises! They worked . . . we became hopelessly lost. I could never have found the bus again, as if the driver didn’t speed away as soon as we were out of sight. There we stood on a darkened street corner, well actually we were standing in the center of a cobbled street because the light from the flickering streetlight was better there. It’s really hard to read Google maps by starlight. But this was hopeless. Where we were bore no resemblance to this little scrap of paper, flickering light or not. Up ahead there was a bright light on, the only lighted building we could see in the deepening gloom. And it was a travel agency! But the lady in charge was on the phone and not to be disturbed. She wouldn’t look up or even acknowledge our existence. But that was okay with me. I’ve been ignored by some real pros, my children. I wasn’t going anywhere without getting some directions from her to someplace, anyplace. Finally, the never-ending story ended and she looked up at me. “Yes?” She said in English. This was getting better and better. We asked her if she could direct us to the Hotel Koala. “But sure,” she chirped. “Where are you from?” We told her about Kentucky, gave her a postcard, had to draw a quick map of the United States showing her where Kentucky was located, explained about the horse farms, and asked again about the Hotel Koala. “But sure,” she chirped. “How long will you be on Kos? We don’t get many visitors from . . .” she looked down at her notes, “Ken-tuc-ky.” We explained that we were just spending the night on Kos as part of our trip to Patmos to see where John was exiled. “But sure,” she chirped. “You speak English very well,” Georgia told her. “But sure,” she chirped, “I want to visit the U.S.” “Oh yes?” I said. “But sure,” she replied, “only since . . .” she hesitated, looking for the right word. “9/11?” I asked. “But sure! Since 9-11 it is very difficult to get a visa.” We all shook our heads. “I’ve been trying to get off Kos to come to the U.S., and here you are getting off the U.S. to go visit Kos.” We shook our heads and marveled at this small world with its little ironies.

And here I would like to insert a brief message to the Secretary of State, if she happens to be reading this trip report: You really need to think about loosening up the restrictions against foreigners visiting the U.S. The world is full of people who used to want to come visit us, but if we keep telling such people to “get lost” we may find that they stop wanting to come and stop liking us as well. I think you call people who don’t like you, enemies. People who like you are called, I think, friends. As a national policy I would like to humbly suggest that we do everything we can to maximize the number of friends we have and minimize the number of enemies we create. But then, I’m from Ken-tuc-ky—not a sophisticated place like Washington D.C., or Crawford, Texas.

We continued to shake our heads and “tsk, tsk, tsk.” But I wasn’t going to forget about the Hotel Koala, no matter life’s little ironies. “The Hotel Koala . . .” I began. “But sure,” she chirped, “how are you going to get to Patmos?” she wondered. “Well, we need ferryboat tickets,” I admitted. “How many?” she said reaching for her receipt book. “How much?” asked Georgia, cutting right to the chase. The amount quoted was more than the on-line information suggested we pay. I saw that look in my sweetie’s eye and saw her open her mouth, but before she could say anything I suggested we needed to speak to each other privately, outside.

“That’s too much to pay for the tickets,” the Secretary of the Treasury exclaimed. “Well yes,” I whispered, “But do you see any other travel agents around?” “We don’t need a travel agent; we can buy cheaper tickets at the dock!” “Do you see a dock anywhere around,” I mouthed noiselessly. “Do you, in fact, see anyone who could tell us how to find the Hotel Koala?” I whispered, looking around for emphasis. “Well . . . no,” she admitted a little more softly, “But it’s TOO much . . .”

I shushed her and we went back inside. “We’ll take two tickets to Patmos for the morning,” I said pleasantly. “But sure,” she chirped, “you catch the catamaran at the city dock.”

Now that the financial transactions were out of the way she turned her attention to the little matter of finding the Hotel Koala: “It’s straight, then right, then left. You can’t miss it.” But we could, and we did. But we did find a coffee shop in another section of town and they told us how to find the Hotel Koala: “It’s straight, then left, then right.” “But sure,” we said, and trudged off deciding that there really wasn’t any Hotel Koala, only a local variation of our Boy Scout snipe hunts, but Sacre Bleu!!! There it was! There was the Hotel Koala!!! And they were really expecting us.

They had a room for us and everything. It was not a large room, and the TV and lights went off when you removed the electronic key from the little slot on the wall, but it was clean, and we had our own little balcony, the size of a box of spaghetti. There were even two chairs out there. You had to put your knees through the railings if you sat on them, but they were there. There was also a very strange sign in the bathroom that seemed to suggest that you should not throw any paper in the toilet. I knew that couldn’t be right that they really meant you shouldn’t throw paper towels in the toilet. Georgia wasn’t so sure, but she is just not able to understand local peculiarities the way a savvy world traveler like myself can. I admit that I did think it odd, as Georgia pointed out, that there didn’t seem to be any paper towels in the bathroom. But I smugly told her that the sign was an old one left over from the time when there used to be lots of paper towels in the bathroom. Like a good wife, she demurred to my greater wisdom, though she did wonder about the diaper pail beside the toilet. I assured her again that it was just a trash can with a tight fitting flip-top lid and a plastic-bag lining. “You’ll see them everywhere,” I nodded. We did. We also saw the little “no paper in the toilet” signs everywhere. Weird. But there’s no accounting for the strange signs foreigners put up in their bathrooms.

Greek TV makes no more sense than Italian. The Game Shows have categories like “Musical Comedy” and “Broadway” and the talk shows use six-way split screen with talking heads in each, all jabbering at the same time. American movies with Greek sub-titles would be okay but they seemed to show only “never-run” movies like Sylvester Stalone’s “Judge Dredd,” which I hope is better in sub-titles than in the English I could hear. “I knew you were going to say that” has got to look more believable in Greek than it sounded in English.

Greek soap operas are completely unintelligible without facility in Greek and are probably no more intelligible to native speakers than “As the World Turns” is to the uninitiated Americans. But they were sure popular with store clerks anxious for you to leave so they could get back to the story.

Lots and lots of sidewalk cafes, lots of little kiosks selling everything. Every shop owner accosts passersby with the excellence of their menu, or their swimsuits, or their cruise tickets, or their hotel. You couldn’t go a block, even at night, without having handfuls of cards thrust out at you. One especially persistent fellow wouldn’t even take “we already have a room” for sufficient reason to refuse his hotel’s card: “for next time,” he insisted. Oh yeah, we come here all the time.

We had a late supper of shish kabobs and French fries just around the corner from the hotel and our first couple (of many) Mythos Beers. Delicious! Then we toddled off to bed with visions of Patmos dancing in our heads.

October 3

There were lots of ferries at the dock and I’d forgotten what a “catamaran” was. Each Ferry lingered at the dock for about 30 seconds so I felt that same sense of dread I’d felt trying to catch my first local bus in Italy. There are so many of them and they move in and out so quickly that if you are not standing in the right place when the doors open you’re going to miss it! It’s the kind of thing that gives tourists panic-attacks the locals just can’t understand. What is the problem? I kept pestering the poor ticket taker who insisted that we’d see it arrive when it got here, and not before. They’d open the gate when we were ready to board. As I went back to report the conversation to Georgia it hove into view—The Dodekanisos Express, twin hulls and sleek as a racing boat. A catamaran, of course! No wonder the ticket taker wondered at my IQ; there was no way to confuse this huge sleek catamaran with the dowdy old garbage scows that lumbered passengers back and forth between some of the islands and the Turkish coast.

As it backed up to the dock I could see a few cars, and a little truck, and a handful of vespas on board. After unloading the cars and reloading new cars they opened the gangway to the pedestrian traffic and we piled on, heading immediately upstairs through the interior cabin to the observation deck. We could have taken our time because it lingered at the dock a good 15 seconds longer than the typical ferry loading only foot traffic. I think the last few passengers had to pole vault onto the retreating gangplank. As the captain gunned the motor you could feel the ship rise up onto its twin hulls and then skim across the surface drawing 35-40 knots. The ride was relatively smooth because the main hull was lifted clear of the whiteheads. I tried to walk forward but the wind was just too much. I had to grasp the rail firmly to keep from being blown backward, and the salt spray stung my cheeks. I soon gave up and returned to the observation deck, aft, to content myself with admiring where we’d been instead of anticipating where we were going. Much like foreign travel or life itself, eh?

Off to the port about 200-300 yards we scooted around a little island about the size of a large shopping center. It was almost completely barren, except for some olive drab scrub brush, but as it was obviously a mountain rising from the seafloor and we could also easily make out lovely little square houses piled on top of each other like a jumble of Kleenex boxes falling down the mountainside. We could even see the open doors and shutters, generally deep blue, starkly contrasting with the lovely pastels or freshly whitewashed houses. They were superficially similar to those we saw on the Cinque Terre but startlingly white and always roofless, absolutely flat on top (with the outside walls forming a low rim on top for the cats to sun themselves.)

There on the hillside we could also see a plume of greasy dirty smoke rising. “What’s that” my sweetie asked. “That’s a volcano,” I replied confidently, “I was a geology major, you know.” My sweetie nodded her head in wonder at the number of things I know. What a paragon she married. The water was a combination of steel gray and turquoise. The sky was partly cloudy but each of the larger islands looked like there was a glass bowl over top of them trapping a brown-gray haze underneath. I thought must be from gasoline and diesel fumes until we landed on Patmos and I could see that it was actually just cigarette smoke. I haven’t seen so many smokers or been trapped in so much cigarette smoke since the time I rode up the elevator with my dad to visit his office in 1956.

On the dock at Skala, the main town on Patmos, we had to run a gauntlet of hotel owners touting the virtues of their establishments, but because of her on-line research Georgia already knew we wanted to stay on Chochlakas Bay because of the “wonderful sunset views” and had the name of a hotel we wanted to check out. The directions from the web were a little sketchy and the warren of streets and alleys facing us was a little intimidating but we kicked a few cats out of our path and set off bravely.

(to be continued)

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