Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Hora and the Bougotsa

So, there we were, sitting at a café in the main square of the Hora, looking at the menu for lunch. Now, on most of the Cyclades islands, the Hora (or Chora) is the main village perched on top of the highest hill over looking the main harbour. The Cyclades islands are those postcard picture-perfect islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, between Turkey and Greece. Most all the homes and businesses are painted bright white with blue trim (the traditional Greek colours), presumably every year as most are pristine. They really do look after their homes and villages with pride.

The Hora's were built many centuries ago, mostly to afford protection against the pirates that controlled much of the Aegean, on-and-off over the years. There's a long history of seafaring here, but that's another story. What would happen when an unknown ship showed up in the harbour was that everyone retreated to the Hora to wait for them to leave. If they didn't leave within a day or two, they would send an old woman down to ask what they wanted. If she came back alive, they knew it was ok and they could relax and get back to life as usual, trading, tending to their fields and goats or fishing boats.

Part of the protection against attacks was to build close together with narrow lanes. There is also limited room on top of a these steep hills so everything got packed together. Today, there's usually a narrow switch-backed paved road up to the base of the Hora, but from there on, you're walking up steeply stepped lanes. It's all very charming and laid-back. Most all the buildings are masonry to keep it cool in the hot summer. It's also very windy in the Aegean during the summer and stormy in the winter, so everything is built very well.

Still today as has always been, donkeys are used to get supplies, food, water, building materials, etc. up to your home. Being a donkey operator is an old and respected, not to mention invaluable business. They can also make an extra buck giving silly tourists a ride. They're lovely animals, gentle but strong, true beasts of burden, a long standing companion to humans. Imagine donkeys loaded with bags of concrete and piles of brick trudging up narrow steep lanes. They're always grateful for an extra carrot you might be carrying in your pocket.

Anyway, back to that menu. It was unusual as it was thick and packed with poems and quotes, mostly in Greek. But the first one was in English by a Greek philosopher.  God (I mean Zeus of course) knows there have been many Greek philosophers over the centuries, but this one is more contemporary. In our travels, I find it all so interesting to try to understand how the local people think, what's important in their lives, their views on life and death, and the daily trials and tribulations they deal with.

So, here's the quote that says it all:

" The Hellenic way of existence denotes 4 types of behaviour.
  • To accept the truth that derives from nature, not the quasi-truth that the human mind creates
  • To live according to morality of knowledge, not the molarity of superstition
  • To deify beauty because beauty is as mighty as your mind and corruptible as flesh
  • And what is most; to love man. How else! Man is the most tragic being in the universe."
              Dimitris Liantinis, "The Greek"

On June, 1st 1998 Liantinis disappeared, leaving a letter to his daughter, Diotima, where he stated his decision to vanish by his own free will after a lifelong and step by step preparation. As it was natural, his unexpected disappearance, evoked public opinion and led to many controversial speculations. After seven years (July 2005), Panagiotis Nikolakakos, cousin of Liantinis, revealed to Diotima the crypt in the mountain Taygetos, where her father layed,as has been instructed to do so by Liantinis himself prior to his "departure".

And so goes life (and death) in the Greek islands, year-after-year, century-after-century, which of course brings me to "Bougotsa". Bougotsa is a Greek speciality, found in most all bakeries in all the islands. It's a cream filled, usually semolina custard wrapped in phyllo dough and baked to perfection. It's usually served hot out of the oven, if you get there in time that is. When you're too late getting to the bakery in the morning and it's all gone, you tend to think about Dimitris as you walk away, shoulders slouched over, and moist eyes. But when you do make it, well, life couldn't be any better and you think Dimitris spent too much time in the city and not enough in the island cafes and bakeries.

So, that's the news from EQ, where the winds are fair (somewhere on the planet), the seas calm (on very rare occasion in the Aegean), and the crew content (that it's finally cooling off after 3 years in the topics).

With Equanimity and Joy,


Monday, 7 September 2015

Glorious Greece - Part V: Southern Cyclades and the mouse

packed quay at Serifos
Serifos view to the Chora
We are working our way slowly back east across the Aegean to Rhodes and then to Turkey. We've stopped at Serifos, Sifnos, Kilimnos, Milos, Folegandros and are now sitting at anchor in Ios with the Meltemi blowing strongly. Each of these islands has it's own charms and challenges. Serifos has a beautiful Chora (main town) perched high atop the cliffs and a small harbor town below, but the anchorage was small and we decided to tie up to the quay when the winds looked like they'd come up into the bay from the south. They quay was jam-packed and people were noisy all night... not our thing.

Kilimnos Hora
We anchored in Vathi, a small bay on SW Sifnos island. It has beautiful turquoise green waters but not much else and with good conditions we decided to head on to Kilimnos then Milos. We found a lovely little spot just north of Psathi on Kilimnos and enjoyed a long swim through rock arches and along the coast. We didn't go ashore here either and the following day headed for Milos and to check out a few possible anchorages for the upcoming Meltemi blow. The Milos bay harborfront was generally uninspiring, but we picked up a solid mooring, which we liked. We decided we didn't really want to spend more time in Milos and headed back for a good anchorage we spied along a sandy beach under Kilimnos and happily sat there for a few days until we could continue on to Folegandros.

Folegandros Hora
The "main" harbor of Folegandros is small with a little bay and quay. There was only one boat tied there and we decided it would be better to tie up then to anchor... bad decision. Although it was easy to check in/out and the bus stop was steps from our boat, we had the typical issues of boats muscling their way in and being packed like sardines. And then there was the mouse.

There is always a possibility of getting rodents on board when tied to shore, but there were tons of cats around so I thought it was unlikely we'd have a problem. We took the bus that evening up to the Chora, then walked a zigzag path higher to the summit and enjoyed spectacular views across the island from the church above. We found a place for gyros (yummy!) and a Greek salad for dinner and then returned to the boat for a good night's sleep. And then there was the mouse...

Roger woke during the night feeling something tickling his hair and got up to take a look around. He spied a tiny mouse in the cockpit, which jumped up and through the open windscreen. Although I love mice, having any sort of rodent on board is awful because they love to chew on electrical wires, which would compromise our navigation and other critical systems on board. We needed to get him out. So armed with a fly (mouse) swatter, we moved the dinghy around on the bow, hoping to scare the small beast out and off the boat the same way he came. We discovered mouse droppings on the stove top the next morning so there could be more than one and they could be anywhere. Off I went to the only hardware store on the entire island, to buy a mouse trap. Once back on board we decided to leave the quay and anchor so we didn't acquire any additional unauthorized crew on board and to get away from the incompetent cruisers tied up next to us. We set the trap and our expectations of hearing it go snap in the night, then went to bed. Next morning, empty trap and no droppings. We were considering the possibility that our stowaway thought better of remaining on board and headed to shore. Two days later, still no sign of him. We're still keeping watch but we're hoping he made it off safely. On further consideration, all the cats at the harbor were pretty skinny, so what's up with that?

With Equanimity and Joy,