Monday, 2 September 2013

Some Natural History, a Flat Tyre and Some Water Melon

We often take for granted that we know a little about the wildlife here, including the "livestock" with six or more legs. Just the other day on the Seven Springs trip, I asked someone if they knew what was making that noise they could hear as we walked along the path to the glade where the restaurant in the forest, the tunnel and all the rest of the stuff people come to see are located.

"They're crickets," was the reply I received. Using the most tactful tone that my voice could muster, I replied, "Well, actually, they're not." I then offered the info that crickets make that chirp-chirp noise with a short pause in between, whereas this noise was more of a single rasping note repeated, well, like this really...

Yes folks, what you hear predominantly during the daylight hours here during high summer is the humble cicada. There's some stuff about cicadas in this post from 2012. They don't start to make their distinctive rasping noise until the temperature crests 28-29ºC, which is why they're extremely rare in Northern Europe and very common throughout the Mediterranean. If a cicada flies at you it can be a fraught moment, but it needn't be. Notwithstanding their size, which can rival that of a small bird, at least that's the impression they'll give you if they're flying towards you, they are harmless and it's very unlikely you'll see one flying anyway. Usually they'll cling to a branch and emit their powerful sound for hours on end when the temperatures are sizzling. The photo on the post referred to and linked above was one I found on line, but finally, the other day, I managed to shoot a couple (camera-wise of course) in the garden. That's one of them in the video above, and here are a couple of stills for good measure...

Mean-looking they may be, but harmful they ain't. I'm rather fond of them truth be told. They always herald high summer and, in view of their penchant for sounding off when the temperature's over 28 or so, they tend to switch off in unison as the temperature descends during the evening. In a valley like the one where we live, their sound can be deafening until dusk; when, as if one had switched of a radio, they stop all at once, leaving an incredible stillness right across the valley, soon to be filled when the darkness advances by the tree frogs and crickets, who'll do their bit all night.

Another creature that looks like it means business is the Oriental Hornet. I'm grateful to my neighbour up the hill for holding out that they are in fact hornets, since I'd mistakenly concluded a while back that they were a kind of wasp. Having accepted that she was right I Googled "hornet" and came up with this link. Yea, I know, the page is headed "Bees, Wasps and ants", but the info relates primarily to the Oriental Hornet, a bunch of whom I snapped in our garden yesterday as they were busy crawling all over a nozzle on our watering system in their relentless search for moisture...

The page which I've linked above is from Cyprus, which is the island referred to in the first paragraph. But the info holds good for most of the Eastern Med. Now I regularly see people in a deep state of aggravation when they're approached by these feisty-looking creatures, but I'd draw your attention to the second paragraph in the piece on that page, where it says in part:

"It is not normally aggressive and if a hornet alights on you (rare), just let it fly away in its own time. If it senses it is being attacked, it may emit a pheromone which could warn others which could [only could, mark you] become aggressive. ...The best advice is to leave the Oriental Hornet alone and it will do the same."

You know something? this holds true of so many creatures doesn't it. We've been living at close quarters with these babies for years now and to date have never had any issues with them. Yes, they'll come and investigate, but they're not really interested in humans and if you sit still for a moment they'll soon tire of you and move on. They're big it's true, which is probably why so many people are freaked by them, yet we regularly shower outdoors and they'll even fly through the spray while we're doing so without having a go at us in any way. 

I first began to see them in a new light some years ago on holiday in Skiathos. Whilst I was in a near-comatose state on my sun-bed with Chris Rea's "On The Beach" album filling up my eardrums from the Walkman, I began to see these fierce-looking beasts zigzagging along the beach just above body height from the sand. First reaction, had I been more awake, would have been to flail my arms around like the rest of the world, or maybe spring up and run for my life. The fact that I was seriously chilled out helped me to remain still and I soon began to notice that not a single human was being pestered by the Hornets. They were simply going about their business, which necessarily brought them into close proximity to us humans.

I feel quite sorry for them. I mean, fat chance they have looking like they do, don't you think? While sitting at a table at the Seven Springs restaurant just last week, I had my back to a family of three American Greeks. They were evidently on vacation here. Amongst themselves they talked in American English, yet were able to converse in fluent Greek with the waiter. I couldn't see what was going on without actually turning around, but the party consisted of a woman with probably her grown-up son and daughter. The daughter I'd have guessed, was around twenty years old or so. Before long she was up and out of her chair and running a good twenty feet away, from where she emitted all kinds of cries of anguish about something or other and made it perfectly clear that she was not going back to the table at all costs. It seems they'd ordered souvlaki and chips (at least, that was what it looked like when I stole a surreptitious glance) and no sooner had their food been placed in front of them than a few oriental Hornets had dropped by to investigate.

You know, even when they have been a little tardy in making their retreat, I've found that a gentle wave of the hand will soon get them to give it up as a bad job and zoom off somewhere else. Nature dealt them a tricky hand. It's just the same with some hairy, tattooed bikers isn't it? They look really mean, but are really just regular guys. Witness the important lesson in this brill lager ad. Really, don't you think we're conditioned somehow by our upbringing or something, to react violently and over-defensively when coming into close contact with a lot of the livestock with which we share this planet?

On Friday I did the Butterfly Valley and Halki trip as usual. It's the only day in the week when I have to get up at an indecent hour and be at the first hotel stop to meet my coach usually at something like ten to seven in the morning. This particular day I went outside at 6.40am or so to get into the car for the brief drive down to the Rodos Princess, where I was to meet my first guests and the coach at one and the same time, when I noticed that the front drivers-side tyre on the car was only half-inflated. Oh joy, I had a puncture didn't I. There was no time to do anything about it, apart from hope that it would be OK enough to get me the mile or so from the house, down the dirt lane and along the road to the hotel. If I'd stopped to change the wheel at home first, there was no way I'd get to the coach in time.

Driving down the lane and along the road I could hear the wheel making that flopping sound that tells you that the tyre is well down on pressure. Mercifully, I got to the hotel, parked up and went to meet my driver and first guests of the day. So, as you can imagine, I spent all day thinking of how great it would be to have to change a wheel (which would almost certainly be completely flat by 7.00pm or later that evening, when I expected to arrive back at the first hotel for the last drop-off of guests) before I could make the short drive home to a shower and a gin and tonic.

As a rule I carry a small dish in my rucksack when on an excursion. I do this because I like to encourage my guests, if they're willing, to perhaps leave a small tip for the driver. In the UK we have a kind of tradition anyway of having a "whip-round" for a coach driver. It's a unwritten law. Thus, with a small piece of blue tack I'll afix the dish to the coach's dashboard and announce to my guests as we approach our first drop-off of the return journey that should they agree that our driver has done a good job for us, they may wish to leave something small in the dish. I make no apology for this for a good reason. These guys deserve our respect for the long hours that they work, seven days a week for the entire season. They'll often drop me off at the end of an excursion, only to tell me that they then have to begin an "αναχώρηση" [anaho'risi = departure], and so they'll be off to start another run of pickups en route to the airport. By the time I'm home, had a refreshing cool outdoor shower and am swishing the slice of lemon in my G&T, my driver is often halfway back to the airport and not sure exactly when he'll be getting home.

Couple the above with the fact that they don't earn a huge amount and you see why I like to help them out a bit. A driver will often thank me effusively when we reach then end of our route for the day, when I'll un-stick the dish and pour a load of change into his hand before saying goodnight. 

Well, anyway, last Friday, just to make conversation really, I told Kyriako the driver about my puncture and how peeved I was that I'd not be able to drive home right away, but rather have to get my hands covered in road dust as I'd be changing a tyre first. I thought no more of it. Twilight was beginning as we drove up the gentle rise toward the Rodos Princess near my home in Kiotari, where we were to drop off a Belgian family who'd been with me all day and I'd then be saying goodnight to Kyriako. The car was evident as we turned the coach into the hotel's reception area, flat tyre and all.

Our guests climbed down, after first adding to the nice jingle of change now sitting in the dish, and I handed Kyriako his "earnings". He couldn't thank me enough and I was (as always really) well pleased that I'd made his day as I also climbed down from the coach, wished him "kalo dromo" and walked off toward the car. My wife was waiting there too, since she'd walked down to the beach for a swim and was going to hitch a lift back home with me. Kyriako waved to her as we turned into the hotel.

No sooner had I reached the car, thrown my rucksack onto the back seat and begun to empty the boot (trunk guys, OK?) of all the paraphernalia we keep in there in order to get to the spare wheel, jack and wheelbrace, that we felt the presence of a huge vehicle drawing up right behind the car. Looking up as I heaved the spare out of the boot, I was amazed and surprised to see that it was the coach I'd been on for the excursion, and Kyriakos was behind the wheel, gesticulating at me to leave things be. He cut the engine, leapt down from the coach and shooed me away, at the same time wresting the car's jack from my hands. In order to do this he'd had to turn the coach around again from the direction in which he needed to go and then drive up past us, turn again and finally draw up behind us. We're talking about a 59-seat triple-axle bus here too, so long you could put a bowling alley in it.

Both my better half and I almost cried as this humble guy, evidently simply wanting to show me how much he appreciated the few extra Euro I'd dropped into his lap just minutes earlier, set to and changed my wheel while in his driver's uniform. When he'd done the task and stashed the wheel and tools in the car, his hands were black. I offered him a towel from the car, the one I use to lay over the dashboard when it's left in the sun, which he refused, telling me, "I have some water in the bus Gianni."

Kyriakos did all this although he'd told me earlier that, once he got home he'd have to clean the coach before starting work at seven the next morning. How long would it take him to clean the coach properly? About two hours. He stood to get home at around 8.00pm, after which he'd begin the job of cleaning. I drove us both home with the pair of us wet-eyed over this man's kindness. Kyriakos is from Athens and his wife and two young children won't see him until the season ends, so that make's it early November at best.

 Finally, a heads-up for a humble little taverna way down in the remote and sleepy village of Lahania. I have mentioned it before, in a post now to be found in chapter 39 of book four in the "Ramblings" series, A Plethora of Posts.

Chrissy's is owned by an Orthodox Priest, one Papa Giorgo, who is the only man (whom I've met) of the Greek cloth I have time for, sorry to say. Regular readers will know that I don't have much "truck" with pomposity, but this guy's anything but. Sadly, most Orthodox priests seem to me to be the very epitomy of that characteristic, but Papa Giorgos is a really nice, smiley friendly bloke with no side to him whatsoever.

Walking through the village the other evening we saw him standing by the door and so hailed him with a "kalispera sas". He responded with his usual huge grin and bade us sit a while and take some "karpouzi" [water melon]. You know what, he puts me in mind just a little of the American actor and comedian Robin Williams. I don't even know precisely why, but it's who springs to mind when I talk to Papa Giorgo.

I suppose it's true to say that he's ever on the lookout for opportunities to spread the word about his little traditional establishment, but then, oughtn't everybody to be? I can highly recommend the place anyway and if you visit you'll be sure of a hearty welcome and a huge grin from the place's proprietor.Yes he gave us a few cards, but he also gave us a plate of delicious water melon entirely for free.


  1. And this is precisely why I fell in love with Greece (or Rhodes to be precise)Lying by the pool where we always stay and watching the hornets, harmless as you say, drinking from the edge of the water. Or maybe they are having a paddle! The deafening sound of the cicadas and more than anything the generosity and hospitality of the people, which is 2nd to none.
    Oh, and did I mention the glorious sunshine? Great blog, as always, John.


  2. The sound of the cicadas, the smell of the wild herbs, the sun, people and food and some good walks make me love Greece, and whilst not there your blogs often very amusing help me keep in touch. You know you have to up the sun protection when the cicadas start singing (not that I burn easily thank goodness. Will you be doing the Halki/butterfly trip next year on a Friday as we (all 6 of us) will be wanting to go on it? Keep up the great blogging :)