the Long's Strange Trip

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~  Islands of Pleasure ~
July 24 through August 10, 2000
$1 U.S. = 365 Greek Drachmas
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for enlargements of the photos)

Island of Kos, Greece
July 23 through July 31, 2000

Archway and bougainvilla, Kos town  (ccl)  One of the things that I learn again and again on this trip is that I should never underestimate is the amount of energy that traveling takes.  I'm not talking about "traveling" in general, I'm talking about actually, physically moving from one place to another.  Somehow, when you're making arrangements, an overnight bus ride followed by an early morning ferry sounds like a good idea, but by the time you've executed all of those moves, you're typically physically and emotionally drained.  By the time we arrived on the Greek island of Kos, I was barely functioning mentally, and we were both exhausted.  The spontaneity of this trip is exhilarating 99% of the time, but there are those times when you wish you'd get off the plane or boat and you'd see a uniformed limo driver holding one of those write on/wipe off boards with "Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Long" on it.  This was definitely one of those times...

Kos is a popular package tourist destination for travelers from northern Europe.  When we walked off the boat and into the town, we were accosted by hoards of partying Swedes and Germans, none of them looking much older than 24, and most wearing little more than a bikini.  I quickly realized that my Muslim-friendly attire was going to be extensively out of place here.  

A quick check a few of the hotels recommended by our guide book told us that finding a place to stay wasn't going to be a snap.  This was something that varied wildly throughout the Greek Isles.  On some of the eight islands we visited, locals crowded the debarkation areas at the harbors, trying to yell louder than the person beside them in order to advertise their accommodations.  On others, no one met the boat, and we frantically ran through the towns, attempting to beat out other tourists for the few remaining rooms.  In the Greek Isles, many people rent extra rooms in their houses to tourists during the summer.  Usually these places, called domatia,  come equipped with kitchen facilities, and most are located close to the beaches and nightlife.  We found these places to be very comfortable and usually spotlessly clean, and we also welcomed the chance to fix our own breakfasts and lunches, as eating out can get pretty old after six months on the road.  In fact, many Greeks vacation this way, taking the whole month of August, traveling to several islands by ferry, and staying in these little apartments for many days at a time.  We really liked this type of accommodation, as it gave us a chance to kick back in a somewhat "homey" atmosphere, eat cereal for breakfast, and even cook a few dinners in house.  Not that you can do much with the raw materials available at your average Greek mini-market, but I used all my powers of creativity and managed to produce something that was usually edible.  

The Poodlescootch Gang, Global Division  We quickly settled into life on Kos and ended up staying seven days there.  It wasn't my favorite of all the Greek islands we visited, but I think I've mentioned before about how inertia will overtake us and we will stay in one place for longer than normal, simply because it's too much trouble to go anywhere else.  We rented a scooter to get around on.  Everyone on Kos seemed to have one, and it was an extremely handy way to get around town and to explore the island.  The first guy we tried to rent one from asked Wiley for his "international motorcycle license".  When we told him that we only had international driver's licenses, he wouldn't rent to us.  So let me get this straight: all of these 22 year-old Swedish girls who are riding around town in their string bikinis have international motorcycle licenses???  Right...  We went down the road to another place and got set up there.

Remains of the Temple of Apollo at the Asclepion  Kos was the birthplace of Hippocrates (460 - 377 B.C.), the father of medicine, and he lived and taught throughout his life on the island.  There is a plane tree just outside the main square under which the local Chamber of Commerce (or its Greek equivalent) claims Hippocrates taught his pupils.  Since plane trees don't usually live more than 200 years, it's doubtful that this is much more than legend.  After his death, a medical school dedicated to Asclepius, god of healing, was built.  There Greek doctors learned their trade for well over 1000 years.  As Wiley is interested in health and longevity, one of our main purposes in visiting Kos was to see this facility, called the Asclepion, and also to try to attend some events associated with the Hippocratic festival.  We managed to catch some folk dancing put on by some dancers from Cyprus one night in the main square.  There was much slapping of boots and stomping of feet, and it seemed like the whole town (the locals, not the 22 year-old Swedes) turned out to watch the festivities.  In Greece, apparently real men wear tights

On Kos we quickly settled into the pace of Greek island life.  It seems that all of Europe vacations on the Greek Isles, and August is the high point of the season.  Kos had no shortage of bars and clubs (one of the main streets is even named "Bar Street", just so there's no confusion about what goes on there), and the Europeans party all night, sleep late, then spend the afternoon on the beach or at the pool.  After a few days of this hedonistic lifestyle (weren't the Greeks the ones who made hedonism popular, after all?), I began to look at our time in Greece as something of a demarcation in the timeline of our trip.  So far, we've been to Mexico and Peru, which were both somewhat challenging, then to Morocco and Egypt, which were both very challenging, then to Turkey, where we kept up a fairly frantic pace.  Now, Greece, and its many opportunities for doing nothing.  A perfect chance for some R & R before we finish up the last six months of the trip in India, Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia.  While Greece is definitely the most expensive country we've visited, it's nice to know that as a traveler, all of your needs can be met.  There's no hassle, no cries of "Baksheesh!", few beggars, and a well-defined transportation infrastructure.  All of these things allowed us to relax and take it easy, perfect our tans, and prepare for the rest of the trip.  The only appointment we kept day-to-day was with the sun for sunset.

Not to say that Greece is perfect.  There are problems for the newest member of the European Union, like water shortages, inflation, and terrorism, to name a few.  One day we took the scooter into the interior of the island and visited several of the many picturesque villages in the mountains of Kos.  At one point we lost the thread of the main road, and instead of finding it, we found the island's dump.  Now, we all realize that the trash we generate has to go somewhere, but somehow it's shocking when you find a big, smelly dump in the middle of an island paradise.  As I looked around at the hundreds of plastic shopping bags that littered the landscape, I remembered an article I had read a few months back about how the world's population of loggerhead turtles is in imminent danger of extinction.  In fact, their numbers are so small that many environmental groups consider them to be extinct at this point.  The reason: plastic shopping bags.  The turtles see a bag floating in the water and, thinking it's a tasty jellyfish snack, gobble them down, with often fatal consequences.  So allow me to get upon my environmental soap box for a moment and urge all of you to be aware of your plastic bag usage.  Ask for paper whenever possible, and remember to forgo the bag when purchasing only a few items.  Not on the Tourism Board's recommended sight-seeing agenda

We had no real agenda in the Greek Isles, except that we wanted to visit an island recommended to us by a couple we met in Egypt, Amorgos, and we had to be in Santorini on August 10th to meet up with our friend from Atlanta, Paula Attaway.  Getting to Amorgos wasn't the most straightforward plan, but it allowed us to see several smaller, less-visited islands along the way.  Read on... 

Island of Kalimnos, Greece
July 31 through August 3, 2000

Jet catamaran  If you've done any island-hopping in the Greek Isles, you know that there is an extensive transportation network that links all 1400 of them together.  There are three types of boats which ply the waters of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.  The slowest and most pervasive type is the standard ocean-going ferry boat.  Some are bigger than others, and the really small ones can be tubs straight from hell on days when the seas are rough.  The really big ones hold hundreds of passengers, plus motorcycles, cars, and tractor-trailers.  Standing in the hold of a huge ferry on a hot day while hundreds of people and vehicles prepare to debark is not an activity for the claustrophobic.  Hydrofoils are quite a bit faster than the ferries.  These boats, which scoot along on the top of the water, look like the submarine in "20000 Leagues Under the Sea", and hold only a hundred people or so and no vehicles.  The fastest, most comfortable, and most expensive way to travel between the islands is on the catamaran boats.  They have jet engines and they glide along on the water at quite a pace.  Looking out the windows as the boat cruises along, I was reminded of those dreams I have where I can fly, but only about ten feet off of the ground.  The insides of these boats are slick and comfortable - you are definitely traveling in style on a catamaran.

There are twenty or thirty companies who run these boats between the islands, and it seems that the travel agents on each island only know the schedules for the boats coming to and going from their island.  This makes planning a bit difficult, but you have got to figure, what's the worst thing that can happen if I don't make the right hop at the right time?  So I get stuck on one island, which is paradise, and can't get to another island, which is also paradise, on the exact day that I planned?  You get all this in perspective, and you start to relax about traveling between the islands.

Kantouni Beach, Kalimnos  Our only real reason for going to Kalimnos was to catch a subsequent boat to Astypalea, because we believed that was the best way to get to Amorgos.  When we arrived on Kalimnos via the hydrofoil on that Monday morning, we only planned to stay one night, and leave on the following night at 7:30 for Astypalea.  We filled our day and a half on Kalimnos by exploring the port town and sunning ourselves on the beach.  The beaches on Kalimnos were some of the best we saw in the Greek Isles, and the towns in the islands look just like all of the pictures you've seen of Greece.  White-washed houses, blue doors and shutters, and breathtakingly beautiful profusions of bougainvilla and geraniums, all set against a crystal clear azure-blue sky.  Getting lost in one of these little villages is pretty much impossible, and you're almost guaranteed to meet a friend and strike up a conversation along the way.  lovely_church.JPG (72025 bytes) 

After waiting for our ferry for over an hour, it finally arrived, bringing the news that it would not be continuing on to Astypalea that evening, as the seas were too rough.  The next boat was in two days at 7:00 AM, so we re-shouldered our backpacks and found another two nights accommodation at a domatia on the other side of the island.  Although this setback gave us only two days on Amorgos ultimately, we really enjoyed our time on Kalimnos.  Our new place looked right down the cliffs at the ocean, and we spent the time getting in a workout and lounging on the beach.  One day, we were looking for a shady spot to eat our lunch outside our room.  The only spot was a somewhat cramped place on the steps leading down to the town, and when a local woman spotted us sitting there, she invited us into her garden to a seat at her table.  She spoke no English and we spoke no Greek, but we communicated with a series of smiles and nods.  She brought us pears from her tree and eggs from her chickens.  

Island of Astypalea, Greece
August 3 through August 6, 2000

The sun-kissed hills of Astypalea  We finally got on our way to Astypalea, and a few minutes into the boat ride I began to understand why it might not have been a good idea for her to sail in rough seas.  I snagged a bench in the snack bar and slept for the three hour ride.  By 10:30 we were in Astypalea, and on the hunt for a room.  The first four or five places we checked were full, which always makes me nervous.  August is a big vacation month in Europe.  I have heard that Paris and Rome are virtually empty during that time, and apparently this is also when all the Greeks leave Athens and come to the islands.  I always wonder - how can they all go on vacation at the same time?  Who answers the phone in the offices?  Anyways, this was contributing to our struggles with securing a room, but we finally found a nice domatia with a three night minimum stay required.  Perfect - the next boat for Amorgos was in three days.  

Astypalea is a quiet island, which explains its popularity with the Greeks.  There may be discos here, but we never saw them.  Most people spend the day on the beach with their families, playing in the water, then sit in small restaurants at night, eating local specialties like grilled octopus and drinking the national drink of Greece, Ouzo.  We did no real sight-seeing on Astypalea - basically just walked to the beach every day, napped in the late afternoons, and cooked dinner in or ate seafood out.  I had my first octopus on Astypalea, and I'm pretty sure I'm done with it.  They serve the tentacles grilled over a charcoal fire, and while the flavor is pretty good, the texture is somewhat chewy, and the suction cups are right there, staring you in the face, which is somewhat disconcerting.  This man enjoys his work, for some reason

Damn!  I never have any change for these phones!  On Sunday we finally caught the ferry to Amorgos, but not before meeting the island's unofficial mascot at the port, a large pelican.  He entertained many travelers that day by doing things like taking their arms (gently) in his bill and walking with them up the gangplank of the ship, but few people were around when we got this shot of him entering a phone booth, presumably to call a close friend on another island and ask how the fishing was there. 

Island of Amorgos, Greece
August 6 through August 8, 2000

Breath-taking waters of the Aegean  Finally, Amorgos - the island we had been trying to reach for almost a week.  As the ferry pulled into the little harbor and docked, we knew that we were going to like it.  Interesting music, nice restaurants and bars, a small town square with a huge, spreading shade tree, and a lovely beach.  We debarked, and headed towards two hotels we had seen from the ferry.  At both of them, we were told, "full".  No worries.  We'd hit this snag before, and knew we'd eventually find something.  We walked into town and began asking at each of the places we came upon that displayed the sign "Rooms to Let".  Everywhere we asked, we heard the same answer - "full".  After several minutes of this, we began to pass the same travelers again and again, all in the same predicament as us.  Figuring we could cover more ground without the packs, Wiley sat down and guarded the gear while I scampered around town, trying to beat out the other tourists in what had now become a competition.  I ran into the Hotel Minoan on the main square, figuring it was a long shot - but there were rooms.  We settled in, and later ran into some German travelers Wiley had met earlier in the day.  After two hours, they still hadn't found accommodations, and they had camping gear with them, so even the campgrounds were full.  This traveling by the seat-of-the-pants is not for the faint-hearted.

Our plan was to be on Santorini a couple of days before Paula arrived, in order to check things out and find a good place where all of us could stay.  That left us only one full day on Amorgos, and we made the most of it.  We rented a scooter again and spent the day exploring the island.  Our first stop was the island's most prized tourist destination - the Moni Hozaviotissis.  This Greek Orthodox monastery clings precipitously to the side of a cliff on a windswept, rocky stretch of the island.  Monks still inhabit the place, although only a few.

Greek Orthodox is the official state religion of Greece, and 98% of the population claims it as their faith.  Founded in the 4th century by Constantine the Great, it is the third largest sect of Christianity, and its traditions and ceremonies are inseparably intertwined with Greek life.  On any visit to Greece, you will see older women clad solely in black clothing.  These women are mourning a death, most likely their husband's, as Greek women are typically much younger than the men they marry.  Greek Orthodox doctrine dictates that a woman must mourn her husband's death for five years.  During that time she must wear only black, must visit his grave daily, and cannot see other men or have any real social life except interaction with family.  For men, as you might imagine, the rules are different.  A man must mourn the passing of his wife for only forty days, after which time he can get right back out there in the dating world.  We observed people all around the Greek Isles genuflecting as they passed a cemetery, no doubt paying their respects in silence to loved ones who rested there.

refuge_in_the_rocks.JPG (129910 bytes)  Built in the 11th century, Moni Hozoviotissis contains a miracle-working icon that supposedly arrived un-aided from Jerusalem by sea on the rocks below the monastery.  Once we arrived there, it dawned on us that we weren't dressed appropriately, as I had on a bathing suit and a sarong and Wiley was wearing shorts.  We decided to climb up to the building itself, as much to see it from the outside as to gaze upon the jewel-like waters of the Aegean crashing on the rocks below.  The climb up to the monastery took about 15 minutes, and followed a rocky stairway build right into the cliff side.  At the top, I realized that if I put on Wiley's t-shirt and made my sarong longer, I could go inside.  So we had a little clothes exchange outside on the rocks and in a few minutes I was inside.  The monk inside the doorway greeted me, and at that point I saw that he administered a whole line of fashions, reserved specifically for improperly-dressed tourists.  

Mind the head!  The inside of the monastery was remarkable.  The passageways and stairways followed the natural rock formations of the cliffs, and the whole place was white-washed silence.  At the top of several flights of stairs, there was a small, ornate chapel.  Greek Orthodox churches are quite elaborate inside, and contain much silver and many rich paintings of important saints.  Outside the chapel I was led into a small museum, where I was offered candy that resembled Turkish Delight by a young monk.  Another young monk then came by with a tray containing large glasses of water and smaller, shot-sized glasses of a pale golden substance.  I took one of each, and asked what was in the smaller glass.  In broken English he told me that grapes were boiled with water to make it, and one sip told me that it was some type of brandy.  Interesting hospitality for a monastery, and at 11:30 in the morning!  Wiley went in after I came out, after being fitted with a particularly attractive pair of baggy pants that were too short and had no waistband. 

Last sunset on Amorgos  Our last night on Amorgos we tried to take it easy by eating dinner early and going to bed, as we had a 6:00 AM ferry in the morning, but nightlife on the Greek Isles evolves slowly, and we found ourselves caught up in that as we sat down to pizza at midnight.  The next morning we were up, bleary-eyed, and on the ferry at the appointed time.  Our plan for the day took us by small ferry to the island of Naxos, where we would then catch another boat to the famed island of Santorini, where we were set to host the first special guest star of the Long's Strange Trip.

Click here to continue in Greece with "No One is an Island"




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