MY ROUGH GUIDE: I had my revenge on the octopus
Sunday 04 May 1997
Coming off the early morning ferry from Hios, not having slept, I was in a frightful state on arrival in Lesbos. I needed some sort of restorative besides breakfast, and with a full day ahead of me, sleep was not an option until evening. I'd been told about the Yera baths just five miles west of the harbour, but doubted they'd be open off-season. Luckily they were, and proved exquisite: a vaulted chamber with a large marble-lined pool fed by three ornate spouts gushing 38C water. Every time I'm on Lesbos I make a point of going back, except perhaps in mid-summer.
There are plenty of neo-classical luxury restoration jobs, such as the Hotel Alyki on Symi, and the Villa Themelina on Kalymnos, cropping up across the Dodecanese and east Aegean, but for me the Captain's House Pension on Halki wins out for homeliness and the warm welcome from hosts Alex (ex-Greek Navy) and Christine Sakelarides. Just four doubles, one single, all non-en suite. Breakfast is served in the garden, drinks up in the "crows nest", a sort of tree-house affair.
On the face of it, Taverna Vafeios doesn't look a likely venue for a good meal, being just three miles east of the mega-resort of Molyvos. But curiously, relatively few tourists seem to make it here on non-coach- tour nights, when the clientele is mainly Greek. The local delicacies are served in generous portions and at reasonable prices, and the house wine is deceptively powerful.
Looking for rumoured hot springs in the floor of Apollou Bay on Patmos, I disturbed a huge octopus. The creature reared up, hissing through its beak, and made a lunge for me, tentacles a-flailing. Panicking, I stumbled backwards through the shallows without looking, and trod on a sea urchin nearly as large. A fisherman in his boat at mid-bay came over to see what all the fuss was about. "I can't walk," I said melodramatically, but truthfully. "I'll give you a lift back to town," he said, "but first where's the octopus?" I pointed; soon he was tenderising my ex-assailant on a rock. Parts of the urchin spines stayed in my foot for three months, while I limped painfully; finally I got up the courage to dig them out with a scalpel, needle and olive oil.
Upon returning to Nissyros in September 1991, I set out on one of my favourite island walks: a 600-year-old cobblestone path circling the western half of this round island. After 600 yards, it abruptly disappeared; that April, it had been bulldozed by the Greek power company to make a dirt track towards the volcanic crater forming the heart of Nissyros. The geothermal project which the road was supposed to serve never materialised: the islanders voted it down in a referendum, so this spectacular vandalism of the landscape was all the more pointless.
So often you see something like a shopfront, a museum, a ferry-ticket office that you haven't the time just then to give the attention it deserves, and return later repeatedly only to find it constantly shut. Ti ora klini? (What time does it close?) will usually elicit a more realistic answer than any posted sign. Next, mentally subract a good 20 minutes from the reply, as they'll lock up early on the slightest pretext. See "Biggest Mistake", below.
I once trusted a ticket-agent's posted schedule, and having bought an expensive fare to Athens and chucked my luggage in for storage, I returned in good time only to find the place securely locked. Rather than kiss the ticket goodbye, I forced the door to get my bags, and made for the ferry dock. A plainclothes man, then another two, appeared like magic . Still more police had to restrain the ferry agent himself from carrying out the revenge he was announcing for me. I was allowed to board ship only upon reimbursing him for damages to the door, somewhat less than the cost of the fare.
Soumadha, or almond juice, identical to Italian orgeat syrup, is made only by one woman on the island of Nissyros, who luckily is fairly young; my previous source died recently in her eighties. I keep it for use in summmer (diluted one-to-three in cold water) or winter (as a flavour for hot milk).
Marc Dubin wrote `The Rough Guide to Rhodes and the Dodecanese'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter `Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.
Lesbos has charters from Britain in addition to scheduled connections (with a stop in Athens) on Olympic; about pounds 210-270. Halki is two hours south-west of Rhodes by ferry, the closest international airport. Symi is slightly closer, with more frequent hydrofoils and ferries. Kalymnos is 90 minutes by ferry from the harbour of Kos, the nearest island with air connections. Patmos is served by main-line ferry and hydrofoil from Kos or from Samos. Elysian Holidays (01791 225482), Sunvil (0181 568 4499), Direct Greece (0181 785 4000), Greek Sun (01732 740317) and Laskarina Holidays (01629 824881) all offer good quality packages.
Extensive seasonal network of ferries, hydrofoils and miniature STOL aircraft. Buses are cheap and relatively punctual, taxis are dearer.
Villa Themelina, opposite Archaeological Museum, Pothia, Kalymnos (0243 22 682). Hotel Alyki, Yialos quay, Symi (0241 71 665)
The Captain's House, Emborio, Halki (0241 45 201)
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