Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Pegasus

She's getting on a bit. She's around 60 actually, but she's still beautiful and her history is most interesting. Her name's "Pegasus" and she's not a winged horse or even a woman, she's a boat.

Her owners are Kostas, who I have met, and his dad, who I haven't yet had the privilege of meeting. I came across Kostas one Monday whilst spending the day aboard the "Free Spirit", the boat which does the "Bay to Bay" excursion which I'm escorting once a week during this season. Kostas was aboard all day and whilst in conversation he told me that Perry (the owner of "Free Spirit") was his friend and advisor, helping him and his dad get started with their "Pegasus" project. 

Wasn't there a potential conflict of interests here? I thought. The way Kostas described "Pegasus" it seemed that it was a boat of similar age and character to "Free Spirit" and therefore wasn't it likely to take business away from Perry? Apparently not, since Kostas explained that not only would they operate her out of Mandraki, whilst Perry operates "Free Spirit" out of Lindos, but that they would coordinate once "Pegasus" was commissioned, even working in harmony wherever possible.

This was a relief, as the horror stories one sometimes hears about the methods employed by some Greek businessmen to thwart their competitors' efforts would make your hair curl. If your hair's already curly, it would more than likely straighten it! I broached the subject with Kostas, who's a very intelligent and educated man and well aware of his compatriots' darker side. More on that below.
Kostas was delighted when I told him that currently I'm doing a "Rhodes by Day" excursion for Zorba's Travel in Pefkos and that I'm in Rhodes town kicking my heels for 5 hours every Tuesday.
"You must come and see "Pegasus", he said. I didn't need much encouragement. "She's moored in Mandraki, up toward the clock tower end. I'll be there as there's still a lot of work to be done, finishing touches and the like. Come right aboard and we'll have a drink and talk some more."
So, last Tuesday, after having traipsed from the Top Three Bar (just up from the New Market where the coach drops us off) over to a street in that warren of "working" streets (full of workshops, car parts stores and industrial supply stores with dusty windows) just off Canada, which is the other side of the Old Town from where I started out, to find the Suzuki dealer and order a couple of water hoses for my car, I sweatily walked all the way back to Mandraki and strolled along the quay in search of the "Pegasus." Not before having been told, as I'd expected of course, that the hoses weren't in stock and that they'd have to be ordered from Athens. Ah well, another sweaty stroll next Tuesday too then.

Strolling along Mandraki, despite the August heat, is one of the great pleasures of being on Rhodes. Yes it's a bit noisy, with pedestrians, scooters, coaches vans and cars all competing for a few inches of scorched asphalt, but it's vibrant. One has to dodge the endless procession of tourists from every part of the globe, walking as if they'd lost their vision and their hearing whilst in deep contemplation of a map and demonstrating evident failure to quite understand where exactly they are. As anyone who's read my ramblings will know, my wife and I believe that "people-watching" ought to be an Olympic sport anyway; so, whilst it's a little more comfortable to be seated with your frappe in a pavement cafe to make your observations, it's still hugely entertaining to do the Mandraki stroll as long as you're not in a hurry. It's also wonderful to know that back home in the evening all I'll have for company (apart from the beloved significant other, of course) will be goats, Chukas, various other small songbirds and the occasional Scops Owl during the night.

I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, but what I did know was that "Pegasus" was going to be a nice "curvy" boat with a history, making her easy to spot among the more modern yachts and excursion boats, many of which were absent at this time of the day anyway (which was around 1.00pm by now), off plying the waters along the island's East coast.

Then suddenly, there she was, all seductive in her newly painted white hull and stained wooden superstructure. She's a beauty and no mistake. I walked up the gangway (gangplank, passarel, board-thingie, oh I don't know what you're supposed to call them!) and called out. No reply. She appeared to be devoid of human presence. I peered into the cabin and saw the door to the downstairs deck. "Below" isn't it? Give a landlubber a break here OK guys? There were floorboards up in the central corridor, then I saw that the "forward" door (hey, I'm warming to this now, eh?) was ajar and there was the hint of movement from within, plus the strong smell of wood-stain, no doubt the marine variety.

Once again I called, "Kosta! Is that you?"
A familiar face appeared at the door and, as it registered who I was, it burst into an ear-to-ear grin. It belonged to Kostas, fortunately for me, since if it had been anyone else I'd have had to explain why I walked aboard someone's boat without permission. He emerged in his entirety, wearing shorts and a vest top, brush in hand and bade me take a seat on the shady stern deck ("avast behind!" Or something like that, oh I was born to this, don't you think?) while he found something whiffy in a jar where he could place his wet brush. Joining me on the deck he immediately shook my hand with vigour, apologized that there was no food aboard and offered me a cool drink.

"I've only got Coke or chilled water I'm afraid. Should have done some shopping, but you know how it is when you get stuck into a job, you don't tend to stop for little things - like eating." I concurred, understanding completely. Cold water was just what I wanted anyway and he soon placed a condensation-covered glass on the small table between us and kept it filled for the duration of my stay.

"You want to take a look around?" He asked. Silly question. So we did a tour around the main deck, which was all pristine and freshly painted and stained. I expressed appropriate appreciation for the fact that her mast was still the original wooden one. Beautiful though she is, the "Free Spirit"'s masts (she has two) have been replaced with metal ones. The one mast on the "Pegasus" is evidently her original, a fact of which Kostas is quite proud. This mast even has a bit of "rigging"on both sides, which will add to every child's vivid imaginary view that they could be on a "pirate" ship.

Kostas near the bowsprit

"How old is she?" I asked Kosta. "She was built in Kalymnos around 1951," he replied, "and she wasn't used for fishing, she was a sponge boat. At that time the sponge fishing industry was huge, of course. My father and I had the opportunity recently to buy her and so we decided that we could do her up and take guests on excursions. I mean, all these modern boats are OK, no criticism intended, but this boat has history in her deck boards, she has Greek culture stamped all over her (as does "Free Spirit" of course). We felt that people would like to go on a boat like this as it really feels like you're in Greece. It's a truly Greek experience. The other boats are the same of those you can go on anywhere really. Don't you think?"
I could only agree again, as these are exactly the sentiments which I share with my guests aboard the "Free Spirit" every Monday as we depart St. Paul's Bay for a seriously laid-back day of swimming and [for the guests anyway] sunbathing. I usually say that when they get home and show their friends and family the photos of this day, they will say: "That's exactly the kind of boat we'd imagine spending the day on when you're on a Greek island!"
I ventured the question to Kosta of how other boat owners in Mandraki would react to another boat starting up in the excursion business. Wouldn't they be annoyed? His answer was very pragmatic. There had already been "noises" from some directions regarding those who thought they could make life difficult for Kosta and his dad. Someone knows someone in the office that issues permits, someone may "accidentally" damage "Pegasus" during the night, that sort of thing. He isn't phased. He's Greek after all and says he and his dad are ready for whatever comes. In a free market everyone's entitled to have a go. Let's see how we get on shall we?

I admired his attitude and wished them every success. Continuing my tour I could see that they had some very comfortable-looking cushioned pads, made to exactly fit the side seats along the deck as well as the roof of the "below" cabin, so that guests would be able to stretch out anywhere and everywhere whilst at sea. Plus we climbed up to the "bridge" (I reckon I was Long John Silver in a previous life, what do you think?) where I was invited to examine the traditionally spoked "wheel" and the newly installed electronic gismos that the law requires of every vessel these days. We then went "below" (pieces of eight!) and he showed me the cabins and toilets, all looking spruced up, surprisingly roomy, shipshape and Bristol fashion (splice the main brace and watch that lanyard Jim-lad!) before we ended up back on the "aft" (you're impressed, I can tell) deck, well ready to consume some more chilled water, which Kostas had a plentiful supply of.

We talked some more, the conversation consisting primarily of Kostas giving me a Greek lesson by correcting my mistakes, something which you have to accept and listen to if you're going to make any progress, even though it can irritate sometimes. The fact is though, that if someone's bothered enough to offer to correct you, it's usually because they appreciate your efforts and want to encourage you to continue. They often express this in words too, as did Kostas on this occasion. So I enjoyed sitting there, windmills of the Mandraki Harbour within eye-shot, the sounds of everyday life in Mandraki during the middle of August behind me, while this most likable of men gave me my very own private lesson for free. Can't be bad, can it?

All too soon I had to think about going. I knew that Kostas had work to do, but he had been far too gracious to remind me; so I stood up, bade him goodbye with many thanks for both his kindness and his abilities as a teacher, and promised to keep in touch. I told him that he must let me know as soon as "Pegasus" was ready for business, as I'd be only too pleased to remind anyone and everyone of the opportunity to go aboard and pass what would inevitably be a memorable day along the coast of Rhodes on board this superb old boat. He told me that they hoped to do some business before this season ends, possibly throughout September and most of October. I hope they do too.
Ain't she pretty

If you find yourself in Mandraki Harbour any time soon, I'd recommend you stroll along toward the Clock Tower end and see if you can spot the "Pegasus." She's next door to the "Orca", a peculiar looking modern white vessel that has a glass bottom and does thirty-minute cruises out of her berth in Mandraki. If "Pegasus" is up and running, by all means tell Kostas how you heard about his ship and if you take my advice, you'll purchase your ticket then and there.

Update 31st Aug: I've scanned the card which Kostas gave me. You'll notice that this one was when she was still based in Kalymnos, but the e-mail address and phone numbers still apply...

Update Sept 12th: She's replacing Free Spirit doing a "Bay to Bay" from Lindos (St. Paul's Bay) and I've just spent today aboard with Kostas, his dad Spiro and friend Thanassi. Perry was along too as the Free Spirit has some technical problems which is why they're running the Pegasus in place of her. More info and photos from today some time soon. The excursion can be booked by either calling the above number, talking to a TUI rep on Rhodes, or calling Perry direct on (+30)6932-647152. If you do call, please tell them you found out through John's web site, thanks!

Update Oct 13th: She's now tied up again in Mandraki, the season having essentially finished. Roll on next May!!!

(Click on any image above to get a larger view)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Cats and Corners

I was in town on Tuesday with some guests from Lindos & Pefkos and, since I knew I'd have some hours to kill, I took the trusty camera along with me. Wandering into the old town I started turning down any small side street that took my fancy and was amazed to find that, merely feet away from the throngs, there were totally deserted and enchanting back streets that, from the total lack of scantily clad bodies, could easily have deceived me into thinking that it was more likely January, rather than the second week of August - apart from the temperature of course. Even the sounds of tourism disappeared just a few yards down these warren-like walkways, some of which were so narrow that even a moped would have needed to grease its rider's legs with Vaseline to get through - or so it seemed.

Of course I began snapping away and, on reviewing the photos and discarding a few as I went, began to notice that, quite without intention, I was snapping photos with a cat or cats in them. Thus the title of this post. Of course, once I'd realized that the cats were featuring here and there, I sought one out, as you'll see below.

The only thing in some of these photos that reminds one of the fact that we're in the modern day is the ubiquitous motorbike or scooter, which unfortunately are a fact of life in any Greek scene today. Don't suppose you can blame the owners in many cases, since a car would certainly be out of the question, given the narrowness of the residential "streets" in which I was wandering.

So, here, hopefully for your delectation and delight, are some "off the beaten track, but only by a few feet" moods of the Old Town in August (plus an errant one of a fruit and veg seller right next to the taxi park in Mandraki who just took my fancy!)...

As usual, clicking on any of the above will open it in a larger view

Monday, 8 August 2011

Viola's Snapshot

•• Update, Sept 7th: the picture has now changed! so Viola's pic is now below••

The new banner photo at the top was snapped by a fellow rep, Viola, who's a guide from Germany working for TUI over here this summer.

She came to Halki on Saturday as a day out and ended up working all day translating for me for my German-speaking guests. This shot is the moment when we disembark the boat on arriving at Halki, when I hold up my board showing the guests the time at which the boat departs for the return to Rhodes. She caught me unawares!

We had no less than 9 nationalities on my bus on this particular day. We even had a few from the Czech Republic, who, fortunately for me and them, were helped by Rudka (hope I've spelt that right sweetie - if you are reading this!), a young Czech rep who was also with us for the day (phew!!).

When I show the guests this sign whilst on the bus I usually explain that, at great expense to myself, I've prepared something which can be read in all the languages, so they'll be able to understand the departure time. We do this at the butterfly valley too, before going on to Kamiros Skala to meet the Halki boat. Usually gets a laugh. If it doesn't, then I know I'm in for a fraught day.

I'll be preparing a  new post about Kyria Levkosi'a soon, She's the ya-ya who runs a taverna on Halki with her sons and daughters. She's told me some fascinating stories about both herself and the island. See chapter 34, entitled "Moussaka and Maladies" in the book "A Plethora of Posts",  coming up as soon as I can get time to prepare it (if you click these links, you'll find it's now on sale in Kindle format & in book form from the publishers - as of Dec 2011 )