Thursday, November 6, 2008
On the Ink-Blue Aegean Seas
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Blue Star Ferries Superferry II was our mode of transport from Pireasus Port in Athens to Mykonnos. As we rolled our pull-along bags on the streets of Syntagma Square at dawn, long before any other signs of life became visible, I was so excited. Here we were at last--setting sail upon the ink-blue Aegean Seas as Ulysses had done so poetically in the stories of Homer and as Jason had done with his faithful Argonauts--we were launching upon a journey, as Tennyson put it, "not unbecoming men who strove with Gods".
Pireaus Port, by contrast, did show signs of life. Lots of them. Men ran back and forth between giant 'ferries' that lay brightly-lit in the gently rocking waters. Travelers pulling suitcases, ran bewildered, trying to find the right boarding ramp for their destinations. Llew and I joined the few dawn-risers and found our boat, stashed our cases in the luggage hold, then stepped out on the deck to enjoy the launch-off and to bid a temporary goodbye to Athens.
For the most part, our cruise was uneventful. There was only a small smattering of passengers on a ferry that seemed huge by comparison. Deck after deck was absolutely empty. A few TV sets played programs in a desultory fashion--it was, of course, all Greek to us! We looked desperately for English coverage of the historic US elections but we got only a few snatches of Obama's acceptance speech. But because all we heard on Greek TV was "Obama, Obama, Obama", we got the general gist of the jubilation that surrounded the nation. I sat reading. Chriselle's recommendation The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards served me well on the long sail for soon the novelty of watching the harbor fade in the distance failed and we needed to sink down and find useful occupation until we arrived in Mykonnos.
The ferry stopped at Siros, en route, allowing us to enjoy the harbor-side views of a bustling port and the pastel shades of the low buildings of the island. Two structures towered above the rest--a campanile (bell-towers) of sorts and the distant steeples and dome of a church (which we discovered to be the Church of St. Nicholas on our return visit to Siros). Then, we were sailing again, passing only occasionally a group of islands or one massive one, some adorned with snow-white light houses, others barren, rising majestically from the waters in apparent volcanic crags. It was all beautiful and very haunting but nothing had prepared me for the vivid blue of the waters--none of the Homeric adventures, as far as I can remember, had ever mentioned the startling ink-blue seas and I was repeatedly struck by the color. We took our rest on this quiet day, enjoying each other company when we were not snoozing off as the ferry rocked gently.
When the next island arrived, at least an hour ahead of schedule, we disembarked, delighted to have come upon Mykonnos. On land again, we looked out eagerly for Stelios, the man in whose pension I had made online arrangements to stay. There was no sign of him as most other passengers found their onward means of transport. I whipped out my phone to inform Stelios that we had arrived earlier than expected. At this point, a Greek woman came up to me and said, "Tinos, Mykonnos?" I responded, "Yes, Mykonnos". She looked dismayed. "This Tinos, no Myko...". Llew and I did not even wait for her to complete the last syllable. We were racing back to the passenger embarkation ramp which even as we looked at it had been raised. Luckily, the larger ramp, the one that boards vehicles on the ferry was still in place, and we rushed on to it. Both of us were thinking of a similar escapade we had at the port of Tangiers in Morocco, a few years ago, when we actually had our feet on the ramp for our return sail to Gibraltar, but were not allowed to board as we hadn't gone through ticketing formalities. This time, board we did, and as the conductor checked our tickets, we heaved a huge sigh of relief, together with our suitcases, and made our way back to the window seats for the last leg of our journey. So, while we may not have encountered any Cyclops or gone in search of the Golden Fleece, boy, did we have our own hair-raising adventure!
Less than an hour later, we alighted on Mykonnos, an island whose structures gleamed in the bright afternoon sunshine. Stelios was there, as promised, holding up a placard with the words Pension Stelios on it. Five minutes later, literally, we were gazing out at the waters from the balcony of our double room, watching the ferry's chimneys puff smoke into the clean, unpolluted air. The town seemed to be in deep slumber, however, for there was not a sight of any one stirring. We realized later that Greeks take a long siesta in the afternoon, when life comes to a full-stop, only to start again at 5 pm.
We decided to follow suit and had a lovely long and leisurely nap before we stirred out again at 4pm and walked along the five minute stretch of sand on the beach that took us directly to the Chora (pronounced "hora"), the village of narrow streets whose brightly-painted balconies seem to reach out to kiss each other over black and white streets composed of large black flagstones bonded together with pure white mortar. All shops were still firmly shut, though a lone souvlaki stand offered delicious sustenance in the form of those roasted kebabs served in pita bread with slatherings of tzaziki--the cucumber yoghurt. We found an internet cafe and were able, finally to catch up with The New York Times online and become a part of the election euphoria which, unfortunately, we had completely missed in Greece having severely lacked English TV coverage.
An hour later, when we emerged from the cafe where we also took a coffee break, the entire village had been transformed. A cruise ship had arrived in the harbor bringing with it hordes of Japanese tourists with heavy wallets who walked briskly through the tangle of tiny streets in search of Mykonnos' pricey treasures. Lights had been switched on in the stores and artificial light flooded the streets to take the place of the day's bright sunshine for night had fallen suddenly over the island. Just a little earlier, we had run into Vince Libasci, my NYU student who was also in Mykonnos for a week of "uninterrupted chilling" and we hung out with him for the next couple of days.
Mykonnos was just lovely and I found myself connecting immediately with this fabled island whose visitors return year after year for its combination of sun, sea, salt air and sand. We were glad we had made plans to visit the sacred island of Delos, the next day, and hoped very much that the local boat would ply to carry us to the Birthplace of Apollo.