Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Six Coaches and a Smiling Priest

Out of the blue I was asked, quite unexpectedly (but I was very grateful), to do the Halki excursion again last Thursday. I'd only done it once this year, back in June, when I'd renewed old acquaintances and told everyone that I hoped to see them on a weekly basis this season. Rather touchingly, everyone seemed genuinely pleased to see me, but then, you'd expect no less from the people of this smashing little island, the smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese chain. But then I hadn't been back again until this past Thursday, and that was as much of a surprise to me as to my friends on the island.

I began the day feeling apprehensive, because there were six of our coaches converging on Kamiros Skala, which meant there'd be a lot, that's a lot of guests. Fortunately there were other reps meeting me at the quayside and between us we managed to get around 250 people aboard two ferries and off we set at around 9.30am for the voyage to Halki. Well, TBH my colleague Mihalis had done most of the work before I got there. Our guests were from at least six different countries, so that added to the potential for difficulties, but I needn't have worried.

Well, maybe I should have worried just a little. But I'll get to that later. My bus party was split between the two vessels and I, along with a few guests from the UK, Germany and Austria, were on the Fedon, which meant that we'd be arriving about 15 to 20 minutes before the other vessel.

No sooner had we headed out into open water than I had, of course to make a bee line from outside on the rear deck to the modest bar within the Fedon's air-conditioned lounge. The place was packed and the ship began almost immediately to lurch around owing to the substantial swell on the water. It wasn't rough in the sense of having huge waves, but something I've learned (and I'm by no means the great expert on all things maritime) is that there's a difference between waves and the swell. The swell can be present in the best of weather conditions and it'll do a good job of bringing your breakfast up if you're a bit susceptible.

So, owing to the fact that the boat itself was dancing about, I pirouetted my way along the centre aisle from the rear door to the front where the small bar is situated, and received a raucous round of applause from a group of 15 Greek pensioners, who were seated along both sides of the padded bench seats on the aisle. So, as is my general reaction in such circumstances (mainly out of acute embarrassment!), I decided to play to the crowd and so took a bow and declared that this had been my version of a Zembehiko.

A few of the Adelaide crowd...

Turns out that these hearty and enthusiastic folk were friends and relatives from Adelaide in "Stray'ia", all of whom have Rhodean roots and were having a holiday on Rhodes, during which they'd decided that a trip to Halki would be a good idea, which, of course it was. A trip to Halki is always a good idea, after all. I really enjoyed a natter with them and was well amused at the way in which they all switched with effortless ease from Aussie English to Greek in the course of a sentence. Of course, they all knew the area where I live because their roots were not just from Rhodes, but from the south of the island, from the villages which surround me, like Asklipio, Gennadi, Lahania, Vati, Mesanagros (various spellings allowed, right?!) Kattavia and so forth.

Accompanying them, though, was this bloke who I immediately noticed and not just because he was probably not yet 40 if he was a day. He'd been beside me at the bar ordering a frappé and in fact I'd invited him to be served first (I'm just that kinda guy, all right?). At that moment I hadn't really noticed his robes, but it turns out that he was a priest. Now, those who know me well will know that me and priests generally don't sit well together, but this guy, well, talk about "Mr. Cool". I mean, take a look (photos taken with his permission of course)...

At least I didn't actually SEE a violin case anywhere...
I said to him, "If all Greek Orthodox priests were like you, it would make a hell of a difference to your image!" I never got around to asking if he had come all the way from Australia with the group, but he was certainly a very affable and personable guy, even though I confided to him that I'd be a bit nervous encountering him in a dark city street at night, which I'm glad to say he saw the funny side of and laughed (yet again). All in all the presence of this group along with their hip spiritual member added quite a lot to the day's enjoyment, since I encountered them again in Lefkosia's taverna a little later and of course on the return journey.

On the subject of the need to worry. It turned out that on the other boat, the Nissos Halki, there was a small group of four women from the Czech Republic who were assigned to me for their information once they reached the island. Of course, since they were on the other boat and I had no idea what they looked like, we had a bit of a mini-crisis while they telephoned our office back on Rhodes to ask where their helper was. Fortunately for me, Mihalis, my colleague looking after a rather substantially sized French speaking group, was able to spot them and called me while I blithely sat at the café on the quayside wondering how to solve this dilemma, and told me that they were waiting for me in the churchyard, along with his French group.

I high-tailed it along there and, fortunately, they were very gracious and we were soon friends while I gave them the info they needed to know.

Before we set out on the return journey, I ate a delicious lunch of grilled sardines, salad, tuna salad (that's the paste, not the pieces of tuna on a green salad base. Soula makes it herself and it's delicious) and chips with Mihali at Babis taverna with our host Zois, who plonked a big bag of fish in my hand as we left the island. He'd caught them himself and wanted me to see how tasty this type were. In Greek they're called Germanos (which literally translates as "German". How..? where..? don't ask me!) but in English it's apparently called Dusky Spinefoot. Sounds more like a bandit in the old wild west to me...

"Dusky Spinefoot strode into the middle of the street, hand hovering over his holster. He knew them bandits would be down there somewhere, drinkin' in the saloon and a hollerin' again. They called him 'spinefoot' after that nasty accident over at ole Mac's spittoon..."

Anyway, you may find this useful if you can read a bit of Greek. It's a list of all the fish and their names in a few other languages. Click here. Apparently, if you Google it, you'll find it's a species of Rabbitfish. I never had the faintest idea that there even were rabbitfish. Do they eat carrots and lettuce then?

I already had a carton of Lefkosia's fab vegetarian dolmades rammed into my rucksack, so I was going home well laden, not an unusual experience for a trip to Halki. Guess why I like the place then. No, that's not the only reason, but it adds to it.

Quayside view from the rear deck of the Fedon, about to depart.

Germanos (Dusky Spinefoot) left, frozen to help it travel. Dolmades right.
Once we got back to Kamiros Skala, I and the few of my guests that were on the Fedon had to wait about 20 minutes for the rest of our coach-load to arrive on the Nissos Halki, so I had Kostas, my driver, shove the fish into the coach's fridge. Bet you didn't know that did you? Most modern coaches have a drinks fridge secreted under the dashboard somewhere where the drivers can keep a supply of cooled bottled water. When you consider how many hours they spend with the sun beating down on them through that huge front window you appreciate the wisdom of this. Dehydration can be a dangerous problem for coach drivers in the summer season in Greece.

A couple of hours later, as I stepped off the coach and bade Kostas "Kali ksekour'asi" (good rest) I was delighted to see that my better half had made the ten-minute walk down our lane to meet me. It was after 7.00pm and I was dying for a shower. As we walked up the lane I explained all about the generosity of both Lefkosia and Zois, which prompted her to ask, 

"So, where are these fish then?"

Yup, you got it first time.


  1. Great post, I'm just left hoping someone found the fish...soon. x

    1. Oh He'll have found them. The question is, will he have kept some for me next time we work together? I'm going tomorrow, so maybe I'll "luck-out"!!

  2. A quick glimpse at the first photo of the priest and I thought you had Peter Andre on board.
    (Note to self........visit Specsavers) !