Monday, 5 June 2017

Highway Maintenance

Resurfacing - Greek style

The distance up the lane from the road to our front gate is exactly one kilometre. Usually, once a year or so the local council will send a 'grader' [see photo] along to 'scrape' the surface and fill in the 'ravines' that develop during the winter rains. These ruts can be so deep that, if you're inattentive enough while driving up or down the lane to get a wheel into one, there's no doubt that you'd be stuck because the vehicle would 'bottom', possibly damaging the wheel assembly in the process, not to mention some of your bodywork.

When we get storms, the lane can be transformed within minutes into a raging torrent in places and, when you consider that it's composed mainly of dirt and gravel, that means rivers of mud too. You have to time the grading machine's arrival just right, because if it does the job before we've seen the last of the heavy rainfall before the start of summer, then all the good it has done in levelling the surface is instantly washed away, creating large masses of mud on certain low corners and re-opening the ruts that had only just been filled in.

Oh, the perils of living up a dirt track.

If you get the timing right, then as long as you vary your position on the lane's surface when driving up and down, your tyres can help in compacting the newly rearranged dust and gravel into the ruts and the result is a fairly respectable surface for many months to come. The grader (or as we call it the 'scraper' - I know all the technical terms) has the effect of widening the lane considerably and, as long as we residents don't get too lazy and simply drive up and down the middle, we can use our vehicles keep it to the new, broader width and thus make it easier to pass if one happens to meet another vehicle somewhere along the length of the lane.

As time passes the vegetation beside the lane can also begin to encroach again and we eventually end up with long stretches where it's impossible to pass if you meet someone coming the other way, which we occasionally do. Quite a number of locals in pickups (usually including a few old geezers who don't see too well) use our lane to get up to the village of Asklipio. 

The thing is, the grader has only come in recent years if I've telephoned the local dimos and requested it. In the old days it would come automatically, sometimes even twice a year, but what with all the budget cuts and stuff, well, now you have to call them. I'll give the local dimos its due though, every time I phone them up (I use a dedicated number which gets directly to the right office) the lady on the other end is friendliness itself and she'll have that machine up our lane within 48 hours or so.

But this was not so when I called her probably approaching a year ago.

"Kalimera," I began, "Could you send the large tractor with the blade [I don't know the exact term the Greeks use to describe the grader] up our lane please? It's getting difficult to drive it without damaging the car." 

Normally she'd just ask me to describe where exactly our lane is, assure me that she'd schedule it in and we'd hang up. This time, however, she replied:

"I am so sorry, but it's broken down and we haven't been able to repair it yet.

She promised that it would be along just as soon as it was repaired and so I accepted her assurance, along with the resignation that we'd have to drive the lane carefully for a while yet.

After a couple of months I called her again. This time she remembered me immediately and apologised again that the machine was still not fixed. This didn't bode well. Down the road from us toward the village of Gennadi there's a modest yard belonging to the local authority and in it there's an old grader, parked up and fetchingly rusting itself away, that's clearly visible from the road as you pass. I have been of the impression for a few years now that they raid this old one for parts when they're needed for the machine that's currently in use. It was apparent this time though that the problem, whatever it was, was going to incur the kind of repair costs that the local dimos just couldn't afford at the moment.

Thus it was that we and one set of our close neighbours went halves on a ton of haliki (inch gravel) from the local builders' merchant. They sent their truck up the lane (We know the drivers really well after all these years of living here. After all our garden is full of gravel walkways, all of which were created with their help), tipped it out and we worked up a sweat raking it into the worst of the ruts about half way down the lane from the house. We'd accomplished a temporary fix.

About two months ago I was driving along the road near home and passed a low-loader with a grader mounted on the trailer. It was heading toward town and thus, putting two and two together and hopefully making the regular four, I concluded that they'd finally sent it away for repair, possibly even shipping it to Athens.

The thing is, they need the machine not only for lanes such as ours, but to clear the hard shoulder of quite a few stretches of road in this part of the island. The road passes through what in railway terms we'd call in the UK 'cuttings', where frequently during the winter rains erosion causes some quite hefty boulders and even mud slides to come down and 'roll 'into the road. The grader clears the roadsides and keeps the road passable for vehicles in two directions.

Just two weeks ago I was encouraged to see evidence that the grader had once more been at work after many months' absence. I grabbed the phone, called the dimos and asked if they'd got the thing fixed. Yippee, the lady answered in the affirmative and so I put in a request for our lane to be scraped.

Nothing happened. Well, let me qualify that, we had a further ten days of occasionally very heavy rain. That happened. The lane got even worse. We got even more depressed. 

Then the weather forecast from Sakis Arnaoutoglou on the national TV suggested that from last Wednesday the summer would finally have arrived here on Rhodes. Rather late, but better late than never and we had been in desperate need of the rains anyway.

Two days after the summer turned up, so did the grading machine. Bless that lady in the office if she didn't realise that to have sent it any earlier would have meant that the work it may have done would have all been to no avail if it had rained heavily right afterwards. Thus, just when I was considering calling the office again to see where it was, we were both thrilled as we ate breakfast a few days ago to hear the grinding noises of the huge blade being heaved along the lane, coupled with the sound of a labouring diesel engine of the tractor unit.

Doesn't take much to get me excited and thus I rushed out with my trusty iPod to snap the photo at the top of this post, along with these two as well as it trundled past our gate...

Happiness is a machine called a 'grader'!

I tell you. After a couple of years without it, that's a beautiful sight!

Some 'highway maintenance' of a different kind took place while I was sipping my exquisite frappé in the Top Three in Rhodes town during one of my excursions last week. A decidedly ripe 'whiff' began to assail my nostrils and, before I knew what was happening, Maria, a woman fast approaching the wrong end of her 6th decade of life, was out on the kerbside lifting a cast iron drain cover with her bare hands. I could scarcely believe my eyes, because have you ever tried lifting one of these (see example in photo, right)?

As a man who's had both sides 'done' when it comes to abdominal hernias, I don't relish the idea. Yet here was Maria, wife of Spiro, who between them run the Top Three Pub, lifting this solid iron chunk out of its hole in order to place a sheet of metal which was evidently made to measure down under the drain cover to block off the air rising from the drains beneath. In fact, she did two of them and, by the time I'd reached her side to try and offer assistance (reluctantly), she'd got the job done and replaced the covers, both of which are right beside the bar. 

I looked around for Spiro, expecting that he was perhaps serving some customers, but no, there he was observing the proceedings. He'd made no attempt to help, I'm judging because perhaps he has a back problem or something, because I was slightly taken aback at the view before me. It seems that they're quite used to the drains starting to whiff after heavy rainfall and so have fashioned these two rectangular sheets of metal to be dropped into place in order to protect their clientele from the pong.

Once Maria had replaced the second of the two covers, after shooing me away when I'd tried to help with the second of them, she went back behind the bar to wash her hands and I said to Spiro, 

"Strong woman your wife! I never knew she had it in her!"

To which he replied, 

"Now you know why I don't cross her!"

Here's Spiro in the kind of pose that I'd assume he would have adopted had he come to his wife's assistance. It's a shot of a framed photo that's hanging in the bar, maybe taken after he'd done what she just did on a previous occasion?

I'm still amazed that Maria didn't do something similar after what she'd just accomplished. 

And finally, some more shots taken around Mandraki and the Old Town last week for you...

These remnants of the days of Turkish rule are fascinating and surprisingly common around Rhodes Town.

Amazingly, this is just around the corner from the Casino. Gaze through the railings at the old Jewish cemetery and you'll spot it.

Maybe the odd hobbit lives in the Old Town too, eh?
Just one more from down our way...

Lunch anyone?


  1. The joys of living up a rough track. How on earth did she get that drain cover up? I've tried that in the past it's impossible! :)