Have Bag, Will Travel
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Tag Archives: Aegaili
Armed with the pedometer Kim had got her really serious walking legs working now so the day after the demanding climb to Tholária we were at it again early and tackling the walk to another nearby village of Lagkada.
Lagkada was about the same distance (two miles or so) but had the benefit of a footpath cut directly through the terraces which did away with the need to slavishly follow the tarmac and we dragged ourselves up the crumbling and uneven steps towards the bottom of the village.
On the way we passed an islander on a mule and it was obvious that he was going about his day and his work on his chosen form of transport. I got to thinking about how infrequently you see this now, much less even than when I first started to visit the Greek islands over thirty years ago and I realised that soon this will be a thing of the past.
This makes me a little sad! When this generation has gone it is probable that no one will continue to use donkeys for anything other than equine amusement. I felt glad that I had been there in time to see this and felt disappointed for those who will come after me and won’t. Soon, I suspect seeing a Greek man riding a mule will be consigned to the dustbin of nostalgia. They will be gone and Europe will be the poorer for it.
Once inside the whitewashed walls we quickly found a bar where we could rest a while. A nice feature in the bars and cafés in Amorgos is the hospitable habit of providing customers with a glass of cold water. I was unsure of this at first because I was brought up with a paranoia of drinking water abroad, so bad that I used to wash my teeth in bottled water in case I inadvertently swallowed a millilitre or two.
In fact the first time that I went to Greece, to Kos in 1983, I had to have typhoid injections and a certificate to prove it! Well, how things change and now, thanks to desalination, if you can tolerate the odd taste, it appears to be safe to drink the water across the whole of the Greek Islands without suffering ill effects or an upset stomach.
We returned to the rustic narrow streets with decorated paving and adjacent buildings all whitewashed and blue. All whitewashed and blue because since 1974 in a law passed by the military government of the time all houses have had to be painted white and church domes blue. Recently a debate has been re-opened between the Ministry of Culture and other authorities about allowing the use of alternative colours but as yet the law remains in place.
In the middle of the village we came across a curious shop with an interesting window display and when I peaked inside the gloomy interior an old man illuminated by a shaft of dusty sun light invited us in. It was what I would describe as a sort of workshop and he explained to us that he was the village carpenter, the village hardware store, the village liquor supplier and the village barber! He obligingly showed us around and explained the family pictures hanging on the walls and invited me to have a haircut but I respectfully declined when I saw the age and condition of the clippers!
Lagkada is a pretty little village but it doesn’t take too long to see all of it (twice) so satisfied that we hadn’t missed anything we made our way down the path to Aegiali for our final afternoon and evening because the next day we were moving to the other end of the island to Katapola.
The bus fare to Katapola was good value at only €2.80 each and after we paid the driver started the engine and left exactly on time. We sat close to the front of the bus and in the seat directly behind the driver there was an old woman in widow’s weeds who was determined to talk constantly in some sort of quest to distract him and thoroughly test his driving ability as he eased the vehicle out of the village and began the ascent to the top of the mountain that separates the two ends of the island. Before 1991 when this road was built the only effective way to travel from one end of Amorgos to the other was by ferry.
As the bus climbed higher into the interior and the engine began to complain and the gearbox groan the sides of the mountain became surprisingly greener with rugged plants clinging stubbornly to the desperately thin soil and then we reached the top of the mountainous spine of the island and we could see all the way down across the Chora and into the port of Katapola and still the woman in the seat behind the driver kept talking.
I’d have backed that woman in a talk-off against my mum!
The bus stopped briefly at the Chora to pick up more passengers and then the driver set off down the hairpin bends of the mountain road and down to the port. I think he liked this part of the journey most of all because he made especially extravagant manoeuvres with increasingly theatrical turns of the steering wheel and he was confident too, even at one stage of the precipitous descent taking time out to make a telephone call while still listening all the time to the woman behind him jabbering away.
After only a few minutes we arrived at the final bus stop in the port of Katapola, got off and met the driver from the apartments, the Hotel Amorgion and were driven quite some distance away from the town until we reached our destination.
To be honest, this was rather further out than we really wanted to be along an unmade road without any lighting and it was immediately clear that we were going to need some form of transport and with a very infrequent bus service and taxi fares beyond my skin-flint budget it was agreed that we would hire a car for our two-day stay in Katapola.
We negotiated a price of €50 and thirty minutes later it was delivered, a brand new Chevrolet Spark already with several areas of damage on the paintwork. The hiring procedure was a refreshingly casual affair, there was no insurance hard sell, the man didn’t even want my credit card details and he said that it didn’t even matter if I didn’t return it with any fuel. Anemos Car Rentals must surely be the most laid back in all of Europe!
“The flavour of the place is pleasant and alert, as you gaze over the rail (of the ferry) you may have a Byronic twinge of nostalgia and decide that one day you might return to settle among those mazy streets and silent dusty squares.” Lawrence Durrell
Being a nervous traveller, normally when travelling by ferry that requires a crucial connection I like to allow a couple of hours or so leeway so that I can be certain of making the transfer.
The journey to Amorgos required a change at Naxos with only forty minutes on the timetable.
I began to get nervous when the first ferry was over fifteen minutes late and when it docked I tried to use thought transference to will people to board quickly and then to get the captain to slip the moorings and leave and it must have worked because everything went smoothly and soon the Seajet was easing away from Mykonos and was soon at full throttle and heading efficiently south towards neighbouring Naxos.
Once disembarked Kim did her ‘Frenchman in a queue impression’ and pushed her way to the front of the line for the connecting ferry to Amorgos. It wasn’t very elegant but at least we were sure to get on board and that was important because if we had missed this connection then we would be stuck in Naxos for the night.
It wasn’t an especially memorable crossing, I always prefer the older traditional ferries but this was a high speed, expensive but efficient and it roared its way across the water to deliver us to the main port of Katapala. This was a shame because we were staying at the opposite end of the island about fifteen miles away and there was no one to meet us as promised.
There wasn’t a scheduled bus for three hours so we found a taverna for a beer and a salad, phoned the hotel owner and he agreed to drive down and collect us. Thirty minutes later he arrived and after another half an hour or so we were sitting on the balcony of our hotel room.
This was a place to chillax, tranquil and slow, perfect for recovering from a nervous breakdown or contemplating the meaning of life and other serious matters; why are British police vehicles called Panda Cars, how did the Trojans fall for that Wooden Horse Trick and just how did Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton become U.S. Presidential candidates? Here, I thought, I might find the answer to something that has always troubled me – how can I be sure that the little light in the fridge has gone off when I shut the door?
Amorgos provided a huge contrast with Mykonos. No sun-beds cluttering up the beach, just towels spread out and held down in the corners by stones, no pesky buzzing scooters, just pedestrians and no tattooed people but instead lots of ageing bearded hippies with pony-tails, wearing white linen and leather sandals, carrying sketch-pads and all that was missing was the joss sticks and the candles, the flowers and the guitars.
The prices too were much more to my liking and more suited to our budget and in the space of about three hours the cost of living had literally halved.
The beach was close to the port but there was no activity of any kind because there were no boats due today. The whole place had settled down to late afternoon lethargy. It is nice to see boats because it means there is still some connection with the rest of the world, or did I get that wrong and it is the other way round?
Not being dedicated beach people we stayed just long enough to dry off and then returned through the village and back to the hotel where we let the rest of the afternoon just slip through our fingers.
After four days it was time for a shave and I mention this not because anyone would be remotely interest in my ablutions but because I have noticed a curious thing about bathroom wash basins in Greek hotels.
In almost every bathroom there is a notice on the wall explaining how precious the water is and encouraging guests not to waste it – so curious then that there is hardly ever a basin plug and if there is then it more than likely will not fit and the water just pours away into the u-bend and beyond. Surely if they are serious about being careful with water then it would be sensible to provide a simple piece of rubber on a chain to make sure that to wash your face you don’t have to keep the tap running continuously!
Later we dined in a restaurant in the harbour where a full moon was decorating the inky sea with silver glitter that shifted constantly and broke and reassembled a kaleidoscope image on the surface of the water that undulated with a gentle ebb and flow and that reassuring sound of tiny waves lapping the shore and percolating through the sandy gravel.
From the hotel balcony there was a good view of the night time harbour that was peaceful and serene with the lights of the buildings reflecting on the surface of the water and providing an idyllic image of the Cyclades.
In this moment I was reminded why I always say that Amorgos is one of my favourite Greek islands.