Wednesday, 26 July 2017

People People

If all the Dutch are like this, I'm going there!
Sunday 16th July

On the Bay-to-Bay trip I had with me this lovely family [above] from the Netherlands, Eric, Linda and their two extremely likeable sons. Eric's English was amazingly good and the whole family were a joy to have as guests. In fact, they enjoyed the trip so much that they wanted to do it again. so I put them in touch with the other company I work for who run a similar trip on Tuesdays and they did that one too. I've yet to hear how they got on, but I hope they had as good a day out as they had with me. If all my guests were like this family I'd be doing the dream job. It's not far short anyway.

It was while I propped up the bar (with nothing more in my hand than a frappé I hasten to add) at the Konstantinos Hotel during our stopover for lunch at Stegna, that I ran into none other than Nikos Papas, who runs the brilliant Jungle Tour here on Rhodes.

That's Nikos on the right, by the way. Don't I look though like I ought to be on stage with Seasick Steve?

Nikos is one of those guys we need many more of on the Greek islands. He's a true original and he reminds me of wonderful 'round-the-island-BBQ' trips we'd done in decades past while holidaying in Greece long before we moved out here to Rhodes.

I almost didn't recognise him in near-normal clothes. When he hosts his Jungle Tours he usually dresses in distinctive kind-of traditional garb with a bit of a twist... 

I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like Niko. If you've been coming to Greece for years you'll know what I mean by the above comment about boat trips from a bygone era. Those were the days when you'd set sail in the morning on a 'Shirley Valentine' boat and during the afternoon the Captain would pass around the Ouzo or Metaxa, play some scratchy old recording of the Sirtaki and get his guests dancing on the deck of the boat as they became mildly inebriated. He'd always be larger than life and would engage in banter with the guests and make sure that they had an unforgettable day on the flat-calm azure Mediterranean sea aboard a boat that reeked of traditional history from bow to stern.

I don't know quite when all that disappeared, but by and large it has, sadly. I'm not knocking the people I work with here on Rhodes, and almost without exception the guests still tell me at the end of the day that they've had a splendiferous day out, but those quirky Greeks with oodles of character, who'd charm their guests, beguile them, don't seem to be in quite such an abundance any more. Most of the boat crews I've worked with in recent years simply get on with the job of sailing the boat and often seem to have little or no inter-action wth the guests on board. I miss the days when you'd never know quite what to expect, but you were never disappointed.

The bowsprit of the beautiful Triton, one of the Bay to bay vessels we use on Sundays.
Nikos Papas, now there's a man who still retains that old-fashioned eccentricity that simply sets his excursions alight for his guests. The nearest I've had to him here on Rhodes was Mihalis, Captain and owner of the Captain Mihalis that runs trips out of Mandraki harbour in Rhodes Town. When I worked on his boat in 2013 he used to go catching octopus while his guests swam and this was often the result: Watch video. Antonis too, who runs the gorgeous boat Magellanos, from Kolymbia also sometimes has fun with his guests, and always engages with them, all credit to him for that.

When you're on the plane flying home from a Greek holiday though, doesn't it add that something extra if you've come across someone with huge personality, someone who is truly passionate about giving his guests a special experience for that one day while they're in his care? Look no further on Rhodes than Nikos Papas and his Jungle Tour.

While we sat at the Konstantinos, he told be all about how the Jungle Tour developed. Where on earth did he get the idea from? He said that it goes right back to his childhood, when his mother helped him acquire a love of the natural environment. He used to go into the hills with his mum when he was young, while his dad (who was a priest and the first person in Arhangelos to own a car) was going about his church business, and his mum would rustle up a salad from the wild plants she'd find and pick. She imbued him with a love of the outdoors and nature in general.

Then in the 1980's the family owned a modest hotel. It was during this time that he got the idea to take his guests up into the hinterland for daytrips and from that evolved the idea of making an excursion out of it. I was surprised to learn quite how many years he's been doing the Jungle Tour, because I've only heard of it in the past couple of seasons; yet he's been doing it since long before I moved to Rhodes in 2005.

Nikos prides himself on the way he looks after his guests. He truly believes that everyone who comes with him is his relative, irrespective of nationality or language. He takes them to the starting point in a battered old pickup, or perhaps on top of it, and throughout the day surprises them with chilled drinks and food that he's secreted in various hiding places around the route. The amount of preparation he, his wife and small team put into each tour is no doubt very time consuming. When they day is drawing to a close and they arrive at their final location, he shows them the 'Rolls Royce', which is a beaten up old car that he does start up now and then. He usually gets his guests dancing and gets up to all kinds of other antics.

His personality makes the whole trip a very special experience. Long may he continue taking holidaymakers into the 'jungle' here on Rhodes.

The above couple, also on the boat on Sunday July 16th, are Frank and Wendy Pickering from an area close to my heart, Trevone in Cornwall, UK. It's near Padstow (or Padstein as it's so often called by locals these days - you'll only get that if you're reading this in the UK!), not more than a stone's throw from Little Petherick, where two of our closest friends from many years live, George and Allison. They own (G and A that is) one of the loveliest places you could go and stay for a relaxing holiday in Britain, The Quay House. Go check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Anyway, getting into conversation with Frank and Wendy revealed that he too is a budding author and has recently published his first novel, Ice. It's on Amazon, and you've just read past the link! I promised him that I'd flag it up for my readers. It's not to do with Greece, but judging from how articulate they both were I'd expect it to be very well written. Frank was an English teacher and not, as I joked, secretly living a double life as Eddie Jordan, the eccentric Formula One pundit who used to run his own team (the one that morphed eventually into Force India).

I was in danger of hogging their day as we compared notes about getting a book prepared for publication and finding a target audience. Lots of other stuff too. Hope if you're reading this Frank and Wendy that I didn't crowd you too much!! It's only enthusiasm, that's my excuse.

Our other boat is visible here, the Madelena. She's not as pretty as the Triton, but I describe her as a 'valiant little vessel with a big heart' and I thoroughly enjoy spending the day on board her equally as much as I do on the Triton.

Oh, nearly forgot. Also on one of my excursions to Rhodes town last week I had a young couple with whom I got into conversation. Forgot to ask their names, but I know the guy's name now [sort of] because he's the synth and guitar player with The Shimmer Band. Well, best I can do is refer to him as Schmidt, because that's how he's described on the website. I think I surprised him a bit because I don't think he thought I'd be into their kind of music. If you do get to read this Schmidt, I've checked out your web site and the videos therein and I'm well impressed. Seems to me that you guys are the modern equivalent of my kind of music. There's a lot for the old rocker in me to like in what you chaps are doing. So I'm happy to place the link to your site in this post. It was a pleasure meeting you and your lovely lady. Also, the band has a Facebook page: HERE.

And, finally, just one shot I took whilst ambling around Rhodes town just the other day. I don't know why, but I thought the sign was amusing. It reads in English around the perimeter "Access Only for Pedestrians" No chance we'd bring the coach down there then without drawing some flack, eh?

Live long and prosper.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Living up to the Name

Yeah, well, this blog is called "Ramblings" after all, so here a some truly rambling bits and pieces from the past few days.

Then I'll shove some photos on toward the end.

Talking to a couple of guests on one of my excursions recently, Russell and Paula, we got to comparing notes about our experiences with local Greeks and they told me an amusing tale about something that happened to them while on Corfu some time ago. After we'd agreed that the negatives about the Greek people (don't cross them where business and money are concerned etc.) were well outweighed by the positives (they'll always remember you when you re-visit, even after some years have passed, they exhibit a generosity of spirit that's without parallel, that kind of thing) - we swapped stories about what makes Greece unique. I started with my thoughts about a recent promo ad I'd seen on a Greek tourist website. It concerned a tourist walking in the countryside and helping himself to an orange or two from some trees beside the road. Well, maybe you've seen it before, but I love it. Check it out here. It's called Cretan hospitality, but it applies all over the country really.

Russell and Paula told me about a time when they were staying on Corfu some years ago, when they'd decided to take a shortcut across an olive grove on their way back from the beach to their accommodation one day. Normally we don't associate Greeks with rowdiness or of groups of youths mocking tourists by cat-calling and the like. Yet, as they set out through the trees amongst some fairly rough ground underfoot, they'd seen a pickup truck on a nearby track with a few Greek men inside the cab and also on the flatbed behind, who'd shouted at them and generally made gestures with their hand and arms.

"Huh," thought my friends, "Not the kind of behaviour we'd normally associate with Greeks. We're blowed if we're going to react to that." So they simply ignored their apparent mockers and continued on their way.

Later that evening, whilst sitting in a local taverna they'd spotted one of the young men they'd seen in the pickup. What surprised them still more was the fact that he approached their table to talk to them. Not sure if I have all the details correct, but maybe he was even waiting at tables in the taverna in question. I rather think that he was. Anyway, he came over, patted Russell and Paula on their backs and said, "Well, I'm glad to see that you're both OK. Didn't you hear us this afternoon? We were trying to warn you that the route you were taking is renowned for its high snake population! People have been bitten while going that way in the past. We did try to warn you!"

I've made an unlikely new friend of late. During my "Rhodes by Day" and "Rhodes by Night" excursions, I frequently carry a large plastic bag full of empty plastic water bottles with me, which I have to deposit in the coach's luggage bay before we set out from Kiotari to pick up the guests along the way. It's a constant source of annoyance to us how difficult it is here on Rhodes to recycle plastic. There are now, thank goodness, plenty of sky-blue coloured, bell-shaped bins at the road-side all over the island for people to deposit glass. There are even a few rather impractical metal cages about the place for cardboard too, but not nearly as many as there ought to be. I also get frustrated when I come across the occasional wheelie bin that's clearly marked as having been provided for the recycling of say for example, metal cans, yet the Greeks locals have usually stuffed these full of regular household rubbish, but plastic recycling is virtually non-existent outside of Rhodes town.

Even within the town there are only two places to recycle plastic bottles that I know of as of now. Each of these is a machine which requires members of the public to deposit plastic bottles one at a time, and still uncrushed too. Neither of these machine is very well positioned and if you go there with a vehicle it's a near impossibility to park anywhere near them. That doesn't encourage folk to have a go, now does it?

So, if you have a couple of dozen 1.5 litre table water bottles, you have to leave them uncrushed, which means carrying a huge plastic bag full of mainly fresh air and then stand at the machine for a quarter of an hour while you feed in one bottle at a time, waiting for the automatic mechanism inside the machine to crush each bottle individually before it deposits it into its inboard receptacle. I have spent many a quarter-hour at this machine and, even worse turned up there with several large plastic bags full of bottles, only to see that it's broken down again and leaning against it when I arrive are already innumerable plastic bags which others have brought along and simply left there out of frustration rather than take them home again or deposit them in a regular bin, most of which are to small for that anyway.

So, almost once a week of late I've arrived in town with my guests, extracted my plastic bag full of bottles from the luggage bay of the coach and carted it with me to the Top Three bar before giving my guests all the useful info that they need before they go off exploring. Once they've all gone off happily and I've finished my frappé I lug my huge-but-very-lightweight bag a few hundred metres to the machine that's situated beside the Old Town wall facing the fishing harbour, where I expect to pass about ten minutes or so stuffing bottles in one at a time. I know how to live.

A few visits ago I arrived to find a man who quite resembles Grizzly Adams (only older!) already busily feeding the machine from one of four or five huge plastic bags that he'd brought along - on his moped! Instantly he greeted me and we began talking. He apologised for the fact that he had lots of bottles still to feed into the machine and explained that he'd pushed the button for a ticket. The machine has two buttons at eye level, beside the feeding aperture on each section (sections of the machine are demarcated for plastic bottles, cans and glass). You push one button to waive the right to any reward for recycling your stuff, the other counts the number of items you insert and then issues a ticket that you can use in several supermarkets and stores to get a discount on your shopping bill for that visit. To be honest, you'd have to feed in probably a thousand plastic bottles to get as much as a couple of Euros back, but this man was going to get what he could anyway. From the look of him his clothes had no idea what a washing machine looked like, yet he was friendly, talkative and well mannered.

I offered to let him add my bottles to his ticket, an idea with which he seemed delighted and so, with a couple of his huge plastic bags still to go, he stepped back and allowed me to get mine done while he waited. It was while we talked that he said that he spends most of his time scouring the town for plastic bottles, stuffs them into his well-used and quite holey plastic sacks and then ties them to his tiny moped and trundles to the recycling machine. Pure diligence and tenacity leads to his being able to do a bit of shopping for bread and milk, basic staples.

In fact, since our first encounter I've spotted him several times going about the town on his moped, often almost completely concealed amongst a cushion of huge plastic sacks, full of bottles that he's going to take to the machine. He looks like he's about to take off.

Since our first meeting we've met at the machine quite a few times. Seems he goes there at the same times each day and thus when I get there our paths are fairly sure to cross. He says how it drives him barmy to see so many plastic bottle discarded on the streets anyway, but that in all sincerity he also needs any help he can get with his shopping bill, which is an added incentive to do what he does. He is a pensioner and has seen his income diminish by 50% in the past few years, yet the electricity bills, the property tax and the water bills (for water that many don't even have coming out of their taps this current summer) increase relentlessly. I find him to be gentle, friendly and deferential. Old style Greek in other words.

I'm glad now to have made his acquaintance and sorry that I'm not really in a position to do much else for him. Each time I arrive at the machine to find him already there he breaks into a huge smile and greets me with "Αχ, καλός το! Τι κάνεις φίλε μου; Ολα καλά;"

In fact, the last time I went I'd chosen a different time of day and this time encountered a woman. She was what I'd describe as scrawny of figure, ageing hippy in style, and ever so slightly shabby to the point where it was evident that she had fallen upon hard times. As I approached I'd seen her pressing the ticket buttons on each section of the machine, evidently in the hope that someone had deposited their recycling and gone off without bothering to retrieve their ticket. From this I deduced right away that she was looking for any way she could to augment whatever meagre income she has.

Once I'd begun feeding my bottles into the machine she stood to one side, just a couple of metres away and displayed an air of "will you look my way?" about her. When I did she asked me, in an entreating manner: 

"Do you want the ticket for your bottles?" 

Of course, I told her that I'd push the button but that she could have the ticket. Her gratitude was way out of proportion to the meagre financial gain I was offering her and, as I walked away with the job done, having handed her the ticket that the machine had spewed out, folding up my plastic sack for the next time, she could still be heard saying "Σας ευχαριστώ πάρα πολύ, σας ευχαριστώ, σας ευχαριστώ".

And so to some lighter stuff. A bunch of recent photos...

This is the Triton, one of the two boats we use on my Bay-to-Bay excursions on Sundays. She's a beaut, eh?

The Triton at anchor, while the guests work hard at enjoying their dip.

You'd probably never guess, but this balcony overlooks the Top Three Pub, where I usually sit with my first frappé of the day when I arrive in town on my Rhodes excursions. A little piece of tranquility amongst the hubbub of the town.

An almost hidden windmill at the junction just up above the old hospital

House in Eleftheriou Venizelou street.

The brand new and much improved menu at the wonderful Odyssey Taverna in the old Town.

I just liked it...

Peer through a wrought iron gate half-way up the Street of the Knights after dark and you'll see this fountain.

This is the Nimmos taverna, situated right near the Akandia Gate entering the Old Town from the South East corner. I've seen it many times but never eaten there. I recently discovered my old friend Antonis (2nd photo down from this one) working there and he told me about their very good value set meals for 2 (see sign in 3rd photo down from this one). I'll definitely give it a try some time soon. 

Another view of the Nimmos. That's the Old Town wall to the left.

Antonis is a really nice chap. Don't buy him a comb as a present though.

I'd say that those are pretty good prices for two people together.

I bumped into Nikos who runs the Jungle Tour while sipping a lunchtime frappé at the Konstantinos in Stegna yesterday. We had a chat during which he revealed much about his background, which I found fascinating. Next post folks!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Nothing Quite Like it for Cooling the Blood

"The Hippopotamus" was one of the most popular songs of Flanders and Swann, a British comedy duo that were regularly to be heard on the radio when I was growing up. Part of the lyrics of that song go like this:

'Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood.
So follow me follow,
Down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow
In glorious mud."

Now, if you're a hippo then those sentiments will no doubt resonate with a degree of truth. If, however you're an excursion escort and you're only at stop number three at 8.20am on a full-day excursion on a Greek island, then you may have good reason to disagree. Having stopped twice to collect two couples on our Rhodes-by-Day excursion last week, we arrived at the bus stop near the Lardos Beach and Olive Garden Hotels in southern Rhodes for our third 'pick-up'. There, as per usual, we pulled up and I jumped down from the coach to receive the tickets from two more couples, who duly climbed aboard. 

You may be aware that of late we've been experiencing some unusually high temperatures here and, thus, the landscape is parched and the vegetation straw-like and yellow. So the last thing you'd expect to find just a couple of feet behind you as you stand with your clipboard at the side of the road checking names and ticket numbers is a huge, wet, gooey, sticky patch of deep yellow-brown mud.

As I was about to climb back aboard the coach, the wind took one of the tickets that I'd just collected from my guests, who were now safely aboard the coach. I need to retain all of these tickets and get them back to the office for them to tally the tickets with the lists to make sure that all who booked the excursion turned up and so on. Ever the diligent rep, I instinctively gave chase to the flying ticket, not realising that literally right behind me there was a sprinkler going full pelt watering an unnecessary lawn on the grass verge in front of the Lardos Bay Hotel. Don't even get me started on my view of sprinklers and hotel lawns with the current water crisis here on Rhodes.

Anyway, no sooner had I given chase to the escaped ticket when I found myself in at least six inches of very wet mud, not only very wet mud, but very wet and slippery mud. Just as I managed to grab the offending ticket I became aware that I was sliding and losing my balance. Beneath me was a sea of gunge with just the occasional green blade of grass poking through hopefully.

You know how at some moments, perhaps owing to your senses not accepting the current status quo, time seems to stand still momentarily while you mentally deny that what's actually happening to you is really happening? You don't? Ah well, that's my theory out the window then. In my case though, there was this split second when my mind was telling me, "No, no! You've got clean shorts and a clean t-shirt on, you have to get back on board a clean coach with guests already aboard, you aren't really going to go flat on your back in a morass of filthy, wet mud are you?" 

In this case, I was wrong. Before I could do anything about it I was laying in this clingy, gluey, glutinous, viscous cloddy mass of mud. My feet, clad, as luck would have it, in a pair of 100% plastic sandals, were shod in the stuff, to the extent that you couldn't even see what I was wearing on them. Both of my hands went into it up to my wrists as I tried to break my fall. The back of my shorts and the lower back area of my cream-coloured t-shirt had inch-thick clods of the stuff clinging to them. I'd just been able to fling my clipboard clear before hitting the ground, so at least that was virtually mud-free. Apart from a few spots of collateral spray that is. The act of getting up necessitated more shoving of my hands deep into this horrible mire. By the time I was vertical again the six or eight guests already on the coach must have been crying with mirth. Well, perhaps those who'd already calculated the potential disruption to our day's schedule might just have displayed a degree of dismay over what was going to have to be done to get this show back on the road. I managed to squelch my way to the doorway of the coach, so that Nikos the driver could see what a sorry sate I was now in, having absolutely no idea how we were going to fix this situation. 

There was no question of my getting back on board the coach. Everything was absolutely filthy and huge clods were still clinging to my shorts, my arms and legs, my feet and my back. Let's face it peeps, you don't expect to discover such conditions when the temperature's already 40ºC at 8.20am on a parched Greek island in July, do you? I was in a state of total disbelief, coupled with panic at what we could do about it.

Nikos, fast thinking fellow that he is (well, occasionally) got down from the bus, not sure whether to fall about with mirth or punch me for screwing up the schedule of pick-ups for the morning. He gazed around and, sure enough, just the other side of the narrow access road below this pointless stretch of would-be lawn (where the sprinkler was still going, offering me just a slight element of relief from the oppressive heat), there was another lawned area in front of the hotel's reception pull-in. Laying coiled on the edge of that lawn was, amazingly, a length of yellow hose pipe, which was connected just meters away to a tap, where the water pipe rose out of the ground. 

I only had two alternatives, take all my clothes off or get Nikos to hose me down in what I stood up in, to get all of this hideous yellow, viscous mud off of my clothes, hair, skin...

Only the second option seemed to make sense and so I told him, "Go on, go for it." Did his eyes display the faintest hint of exhilaration and glee as he hit me with the water jet? Surely not. Fortunately, this got most of the mud off, but still left me standing in sopping wet clothes. No way could I sit on the rep's seat at the front of the coach in this condition. Nikos had the solution. 

"Stand up until we get to the Pefkos Office, Johnny [he always calls me Johnny, grr!], and then I'll pop into the supermarket next door and buy a towel for you to sit on."

Thus, having only lost about ten minutes in the end, we set off again, with me asking the guests over the mike if they'd enjoyed the floor show (You have to display humour in such circumstances, don't you?) and I then found myself fretting over the fact that my rather posh pen was still almost completely covered in mud. Nikos had to lend me his for the day, while I allowed mine to sit on a piece of tissue and dry out. This is how it looked when I got it home that evening...

...and this is how it's supposed to look...

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was covered in mud in much the same way as that pen! My wife, bless her, cleaned it up for me [the pen] when I got home (little treasure she is) and it's now back where it belongs, inside my clipboard. By around midday of course, my clothes had all dried out, but as I walked around Rhodes Town killing time I'm sure people who looked at my shorts and t-shirt, not to mention my forearms, from which I was still picking dried clumps even hours after the event, must have thought I was a construction worker on his break.

Only when I got home that evening, desperate for a good thorough shower, did I find out that I'd spent the entire day with a couple of clods hanging from the back of my head, enmeshed in my hair. Must have given a few people cause to wonder, eh? I do often feel like my brain's muddied after all.

That very same evening we did the excursion again, as "Rhodes by Night" this time. Nikos is never a particularly cheery soul, it's just his nature. But I've never seen him laughing so much as he did that night when I turned up to start our run of pick-ups. On occasion his head hit the steering wheel he was laughing that much, all the time repeating "Johnny, Johhny, ααχ, Johnny!"

See, now, here this event gives me cause to sound off about the water situation again. Just two days ago the local paper reported that some political bigwig in Rhodes town has referred to the situation here on Rhodes as critical. 

Right, so, now, let me get this straight. In the UK, where it rains any time of the year, you get two weeks of dry weather and there's a hosepipe ban right away. Here they shut off the water supply to entire villages for hours, even days, at a time to ensure that the tourists can have showers in their en-suites and the hotel pools remain full to their infinity brims. Of course, they're still guzzling gallons using sprinklers to water their ridiculous lawns, as I found out to my cost. In fact, on the Facebook page of the local Rodiaki newspaper just this past week the report about this eminent politician's comments carried some interesting responses from local Greeks that well echo my own sentiments.

"Tell the hotel owners that the villagers will be turning up this evening, all bringing their own soap and shampoo, so they can have a wash in the hotel pools."

"Why the hell have we still no desalination plants on Rhodes? Τhey've seen this coming for years."

'Why not levy a condition on every new hotel - compulsory - install your own desalination plant, by law. After all, the vast majority of these are right by the sea?"

"I wonder if the areas where the politicians live are having their domestic water shut off."

One poor ex-pat (in his 70's by the way) who I used to work with posted on his Facebook page that his village was without both water and electricity during the hideous heatwave we just endured here. Temperatures were in the mid 40's (over 110ºF) for several days and still the upper 30's overnight. He railed against DEYAR, the water company, who'd rather unhelpfully told residents to be patient. Some know-all Brit living in the UK had replied that my friend was a whinger and ought to count his blessings. I would venture the suggestion that if your WC was stinking due to being full of c**p for a couple of days and you had no way of either washing or keeping cool you may just think slightly differently - especially when the charges for domestic water have skyrocketed in the last few years.

OK, rant over. But it is a really serious situation that's developing here on Rhodes, with yet more huge multi-pooled hotels under construction (brown envelopes flying in all directions - allegedly). In fact, there has now been an announcement that anyone caught washing their yard or terrace with a hose pipe instead of a mop and bucket risks a fine of 1,000 Euro. As someone pointed out (also on Facebook) though - who's going to police this then? How about fining hotels 50,000 Euros for every sprinkler that's still working?

Next post will be lighthearted. Promise! Now, where did I put my old Michael Flanders and Donald Swann LP..?

A postscript to the rant about the water situation:
In no way am I criticising tourists. Well, apart from having major issues with the 'all-inclusives" of course. No, we need tourists and holidaymakers to come to Rhodes and indeed Greece in general. Yes tourism is exasperating the problems with the water supply, but that's not the fault of the tourists themselves. It's the fault of the water company and local government, who have failed abysmally to plan ahead for the explosion in hotel construction coupled with successive dry winters.