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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 16 of 18: 10/5/06 Monsters of the Deep

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Georgia overlooking the bay at Skalla

It is not difficult to distinguish between Georgia’s squealing and her screaming. Because I’d drifted out beyond where I could actually stand on the bottom I rolled over into my best racing crawl and rocketed toward the shore, expecting, any instant, to encounter the shark that had somehow managed to sneak up on her in 6” of water! Instead, when I reached the shallows I heard the gentle laughter of our two elderly swimming compatriots. Georgia was standing in ankle-deep crystal-clear water that had unaccountably turned jet black. She was pointing down in horror. I could only just make out the form of what looked, for all the world, like a foot-long brown slipper zipping around in mad circles. At first I thought it might be an octopus or squid because of the ink, but it didn’t have any tentacles I could see. One of the Greek ladies laughed happily and told us what it was, reassuring us that it was completely harmless. Unfortunately, she spoke only Greek and we couldn’t understand a word. I think it must have been a cuttlefish, second cousin to the squids. Whatever, I’m pretty sure it was much more upset than Georgia, who said she was just sitting on her rock minding her own business when this bunny-slipper snuck up on her and nibbled her toes. That’s another problem with the ocean; it’s got “things” living in it that sneak up and nibble on you. Georgia decided that we’d had enough of the ocean for this trip.

Back at the apartment, we finished packing and headed for the dock, stopping only at our take-away stand for another little bite of something. Georgia got something from the sea to nibble on, for the sake of parity, though it wasn’t cuttlefish. We ate at the dock, sitting on a bench with an amazingly thin Englishman named Keith who’d retired from working backstage in the English theater. He said that Julie Christie was a joy to work with and that the stained glass in the Liverpool Cathedral was stunning. He was dedicating his retirement to traveling from Greek island to Greek island without itinerary. He’d just catch a ferry then decide where to stay when he arrived. He said each island had its own character and like the small towns of the Cinque Terre they even had their own special foods. He liked staying for a week or so to soak up the sun and enjoy the local dishes. He was as brown as a roasted coffee bean and seemed to be enjoying his retirement immensely.

On the catamaran we had a great time snickering at the “almost-English” signs tacked up around the cabin. Our favorite was attached to the back of the padded airline-type seats found inside the main lounge: “Please do not throw your litter at the front seat’s case.” That is food for thought.

Outside on the deck we saw a young French woman hanging on to her 10-year old boy. There was no father in sight and she was petrified that this boy, whose head could only just reach the top of the railing, was somehow going to slip through and plummet the 15 feet to the car deck below, or missing the car deck, drop like a stone into the turquoise Aegean. I don’t think he could have fallen if he wanted to and he seemed a sensible enough blond-headed kid to me, energetic, but not foolhardy. The mother, mouthing prayers and imprecations even went so far as to pick this kid up and help him stand on the railing to protect him! She was not a large woman, and their center of gravity was now dangerously high, clearly above the top of the railing and the boat continued to rock and pitch as it raced over the waves.

That was the only time I thought the boy might actually be in danger and I began the mental preparation for a quick dip. I’d certainly need to take off my shoes but what was the etiquette for modest heroism? Should I hand Georgia only my wallet before diving over the side? Or hand her my pants as well? Should I dive headfirst like Tarzan from the waterfall, “Aaaa-eeee-aaaah!” or just execute a pragmatic feet-first jump? Much less likely to sprain my back or knock myself out hitting the water. Should I shout, “Call 911!?” Probably wouldn’t mean anything to the Greek crew. “Man overboard!” may or may not mean anything either but the distraught mother would probably raise enough alarm to get the ship stopped. Hmmm. What if she jumped in the water too? She might not trust me to save her little boy and then I’m going to have to contend with saving both of them. I don’t think my French is up to explaining to a distraught mother bobbing in the water that her attempts to save her son are probably going to drown him and me and her as well. What’s the French word for “drown” anyway? Why didn’t I pay more attention in high school? They must have covered drowning the afternoon I completely blew away daydreaming. That’s the trouble with high school kids, they think they can tell at sixteen what is and what is not going to be useful to them when they get to their 50s. Mrs. Atkinson, I’m sorry I dozed through your class on “saving drowning French kids while explaining to distraught mothers bobbing in the Aegean that their efforts are only making a bad situation worse.” I just didn’t know I’d need it.

Luckily the kid had more sense than his mother and asked to be put down. All of us were relieved, I’m sure. When we docked at Kos we intended to walk back to the Koala (a pretty good hike from the docks) but that dockside entrepreneur who forced his card on us “for next time you visit Kos” met us again and wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer this time. He dogged us on his motorbike: “only €40, my hotel is right around the corner!” I told him Koala was only €25 and pretty close to the bus stop. He said “OK! I’ll do €30 and call you a taxi in the morning to take you to the bus stop. I asked how much the taxi was going to cost us. He said maybe another €25. I told him we weren’t interested, walking from the Koala was much cheaper, like free. He disappeared. “Free” is a better talisman than the evil eye (which we saw everywhere in Greece) for warding off evil entrepreneurs.

We stood at the intersection of four or five streets trying to determine from our little island map which road we wanted. Suddenly, our motorbike mogul was back, this time in a beat-up four-door jalopy. “Come on, I’ll show you my hotel, Hotel Marie, €30, and I’ll give you a ride to the bus stop in the morning.” I gave up and we got in. His hotel was just around the corner and it wasn’t bad. He bounded up the stairs without even checking us in, handed us the room key, showed us the view from the balcony and showed us his mother’s door. “Just knock on it, tap tap tap, in the morning and she’ll drive you to the bus stop. He pointed out his mother and an elderly aunt sitting at a round patio table out front then sprinted for his motorbike to catch another tourist or two. “Kalei Meira,” I told them, completely exhausting my Greek vocabulary. “Kalei ______” they corrected me because the sun was clearly going down. We smiled at each other uncertainly, and I pantomimed my admiration for her son’s “go-gettum” spirit. The universal hand sign for “talk, talk, talk” made them both laugh. We all knew that Kaliel will someday own most of Kos.

Georgia had already booked our flight to Athens so we knew we didn’t have time for any snafus in the morning. I suggested we walk from the hotel to the bus stop so that we could time it and then know how long we could wait for Mama before we had to hoof it. If we missed the early morning plane there wouldn’t be another until the evening and I was anxious to see Athens. It was a very pleasant walk through the oldest parts of the city, right through the center of the Agora, or public market, always the center of Greek civic life. What a bedlam of families and children, fruit stalls, souvenirs, olive oil, nuts, cookies, honey, and exotic spices. Completely a pedestrian area. It only took us 15 minutes to walk to the bus stop, so even if we added time for pulling the carry-ons there wasn’t likely to be a problem catching the bus, even if Mama let us down.

Satisfied with Plan B, we headed back to the Agora to shop but ended up on a spooky side street while looking for a restaurant. A very bedraggled homeless man was setting up his bivouac in a vacant lot. Heading back toward a more well-lit thoroughfare we happened on a The Restaurant Emelie with a tempting menu. That is to say it advertised octopus and Georgia, still incensed with her earlier run-in with that clan, wanted more toothsome revenge on the octopus world. We shared a bottle of local wine, and I had roasted chicken. It came with rice and potatoes. What’s with this Greek love-affair with starch? We were the only customers and when I made motions to leave the owner brought us dessert and coffee to keep us from going. He, meanwhile, was spending every available moment trolling for tourists on the street. I decided that he, too, would someday own most of Kos. But Kaliel definitely had the age advantage. When both of us got up and looked longingly at the exit the owner decided he’d have to let us go, he’d snagged a party of five after all and didn’t need us anymore, we’d become expendable.

Back in the Agora we pinched fruit and smelled smells and watched the families taking the air. Glorious.

10/6/06: Friday: Kos to Athens

Seven a.m. sharp we tapped on Mama’s door. She popped out immediately, smiling so brightly the sun blushed in shame. We hopped in her Mercedes (!) and made a quick dash up a one-way street the wrong way. It didn’t even take us five minutes to get to the bus stop. We still had 30 minutes to wait for our bus so we walked to a nearby coffee-shop for more “take-away.”

When the bus arrived it was the same driver as before and this time I noticed that he crossed himself extravagantly before we left and crossed himself as we passed each little roadside shrine—and there were a lot of them. Like the worst stretches of some of our country roads, but not content with just putting up a cross and a teddy bear, the Greeks build little play-house-sized chapels. Then I noticed that his seat and dashboard were chock full of icons, family pictures, prayer beads, and memorabilia. And he nodded to each bus we passed on the road. There were obviously many threads in his life, woven into complex patterns with those around him, both living and the dead. I suspect that his world, though it looked dry and brittle to me was actually very lush and rich. We miss a lot when we judge others by what seems normal to us.

The plane ride to Athens was somewhat depressing, only because each island was covered by its own little bowl of “volcanic smoke.” It should all be crystal blue and white, not hazy sooty gray.

The Metro train at the Athens airport was built for the ’04 Olympics and un-marked except for “Klark” who managed to express himself by desultorily scratching his name on each and every window pane. Half the 30-minute trip to downtown Athens was spent in the open air and half subterranean. Like other public transportation systems we’d seen it was clean, quiet, and fast. We got off the train at Monasteriki street and went up four or five or six flights of escalators to reach ground level. You felt like you were surfacing from some enormous depth, and you were. I thought we were going to get the bends. And we left behind the clean, quiet, fast, ideal world of security cameras and immaculate security guards rousting sleeping teenagers for the real world of filthy, noisy, grid-locked streets where you had to walk around the dogs cleaning themselves unashamedly on the sidewalks. But the city was alive! I loved it all. The metro felt cold and lifeless and somehow monstrous. You’d never find a can of spray-paint down there. But up here . . .

(to be continued)

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