Sunday, 31 July 2016

With Becky and the Boys - chilling and high drama

On Wednesday 27 July Simon drove up to the airport to meet Becky, Andrew, Kai, Charlie and Bobby who came in on the early flight.

They were exhausted after flying from Birmingham overnight, so we left immediately to motor up to Lipsi, where we tied up on the quay. Charlie helmed brilliantly out of Lakki harbour, but then they all slept all the way up.

Lipsi was quieter than usual - plenty of room on the quay - but not nearly as quiet at Leros. There are a lot of people with second homes on Lipsi and many of the tourists are regulars, so they are not as affected by the scare stories in the press. In Lipsi we went to the beach on Wednesday afternoon and on Wednesday evening we had ouzo time

before going to a very good dinner at Nicos's taverna. We stayed in Lipsi on Thursday, again a day on the beach and dinner at Manolis's new taverna, which is in the most beautiful neoclassical house in town.

It was still windy on Friday, so we motored up to Arki in a solid force 5-6 wind. Charlie hid under the storm hood, which was Kai's favourite place when he was little.

 Kai, of course, played Pokemon Go. He had found a load of ocean Pokemons as we sailed up to Lipsi and a load more in Lipsi. He could not find any on the way up to Arki, but found loads more in Arki. This is obviously uncharted territory for Pokemon hunters.

In Arki we got a place on the quay. After a couple of boats left and one more came in there were only four boats on the quay and none at all came in on Saturday - apparently the port police in Patmos had forbidden any boats to leave because they said it was too windy. Nikolas is very worried - July has been incredibly quiet, with many fewer yachts and tripper boats and not many bookings for his rooms. Saturday was especially quiet with so few yachts. Barbarossa was meant to bring 60 trippers from Leros for lunch, but cancelled because of the high wind. He is hoping that August will be better - at least they have got quite a lot of room bookings.

The ferry from Patmos to Lipsi, Lampi, which is the island's lifeline broke down in Arki on Wednesday and the passengers had to be taken on to Lipsi by fishing boat. They have had an engineer coming and going from Leros. It was finally fixed on Saturday evening, but they could not leave until the Port Police had checked it and Saturday was too windy for the port police to come from Patmos. Eventually a policeman and diver came midday on Sunday to inspect the boat.
It passed the test and set off for Patmos, ready to resume normal service on Monday.

We had lunch at Nikolas's taverna on Saturday and Charlie played happily with Nikolas's son Alexandros.

Nikolas's dad, Christos, has added to his toy marina, which the kids love and the adults admire.

On Saturday afternoon Nikolas's cousin caught a Galeos, a toothless shark, and a baby Galeos. Nikolas skinned it by the sea as a little crowd gathered round to watch.

After lunch Charlie went swimming off the boat with Lin. He won't take off his arm bands!

There was high drama at about 5 o'clock. Simon slipped and fell from the passarelle, grabbed on to something to stop himself falling in, and came up pouring blood from a gaping wound on his arm (don't look if you are squeamish).

Everybody gathered around, Becky bound up the wound with towels and teatowels and Andrew rushed off to get advice from Nikolas, who had just got back from a family trip in his motor boat. He immediately brought his motor boat alongside us, got Simon and Becky aboard and headed off for Lipsi at 16 knots, phoning the doctor and arranging a taxi to pick us up at the jetty in the bay at the north end of Lipsi. We got the taxi to the clinic, where the doctor was waiting. He was a locum from Syros who had only been on Lipsi for two days. He blanched when he saw the wound. He obviously did not have much experience of such things and took Becky's advice. The tendons were all OK and there was not much bleeding now, so they decided that it just needed stitching, otherwise we would have had to go to Leros (I guess by helicopter!). Becky offered to stitch Simon, but she was shaking so much that she asked him to take over. He did the first four stitches, but he did not know how to tie them properly, despite Becky giving advice, and they all fell out, so Becky took over and tidied it up with 25 stitches, which took about an hour and a half. At the end the doctor was very modest, he told Becky she was an incredible nurse and said that she had been the doctor and he the nurse. He proudly photographed the stitched up wound, with Becky in the picture so we don't think it was to add to his CV. Meanwhile, back in Arki, the drama had created a community of the various yachties. Kai was an absolute star, calming everyone down and sensibly going over all the possible courses of action.
We expected that we would have to stay overnight (Becky said that at home Simon would be kept in overnight and put on IV antibiotics), but Becky phoned Lin, who by then was eating in Nikolas's taverna, to ask if someone could come and pick us up. Lin said she could not ask Nikolas to come out again, but he told Lin that they were not too busy and Carolina could look after things. He grabbed the phone and told Becky he would order a taxi and meet us back at the quay. The taxi arrived, we dropped in at the pharmacy for a tetanus jab and antibiotics (only 17 euros - the doctor did not even ask to see Simon's EHIC card), and drove back up north where Nikolas was waiting at the quay, getting us back through heavy seas (wind north 5-6) just before 9pm. 
Simon is now bandaged up, so no swimming for a month, and so far all is well - the big risk, says Becky, is infection, so we need to keep within range of Leros. If Becky hadn't been with us we would have been in deep shit, because the doctor could not have stitched Simon up, so I guess they would have had to take him to Lakki.

To be continued

High season but very few tourists

Although we are moving in to the high season there are still very few tourists and almost no charter yachts so the shops and tavernas are really suffering. There is no reason for people to keep away - if you want a wonderful holiday, come to the northern Dodecanese.
On Monday evening, June 27th, we went for dinner at Ostria, since To Petrino was closed for fear of the social insurance inspector. Maria and Christos’s father were rushed off their feet as all the tables were full and they were running the restaurant without any paid staff.
On Tuesday morning Tacis explained that the social insurance inspector was here from Athens and there was a fine of 11,000 euros for anybody caught not paying an employee’s social insurance, with only the immediate family members of the owner being exempt. As everywhere, the inspectors go for the easy pickings in the family shops and tavernas, while the tax-dodging rich swan around on their yachts.
One delivery boy had been taken off to the police station an interrogated for two hours, as a result of which his employer was fined 11,000 euros. Tacis told us that everyone is in arrears with their social insurance payments. He said that some of the taxi drivers are ten years, 30,000 euros, in arrears. Moreover, none of the doctors on Leros will take people on the self-employed social insurance scheme, so he has to go to Rhodes if he needs a doctor.

On Tuesday, 28 June, we left Lakki to motor down to Palionisos (again no wind), where we picked up a buoy. That night we were awoken by the noise of a motor – it was the water pump running, which meant a water leak somewhere. We switched off the pump and first thing in the morning immediately found the leak, one of the connections that Simon had made last month had come undone. There was still a bit of water left in the tanks, so we decided to pump out the bilges and stay here.

On Wednesday morning we went picking herbs – mountain tea and savoury – and then checked with Pothitos how to prepare them. He told us that today is the saints’ day of the local church, St Peter and St Paul, so there would be a festival this evening.

We went up to the church at about 7.30, where an open air service was in progress – there were over 100 people there, outside the tiny church. Christianity came to these islands very early and there are the remains of many early Christian basilicas on Kalymnos. There was a real sense of observing very ancient rituals of one of the many bizarre middle eastern religions.  

Part of this church is ‘very old’ with old wall paintings.

We went for dinner at Pothitos’s Taverna Kalidonis before going back to the church for the music and dancing. By the time we got back food had been distributed to everyone: goat in tomato sauce, souvlaki etc. and there were even more people than had been there for the church service, coming from all over the island (though with only a handful of tourists like us).

 The band was superb – they were Pothitos’s cousins – his father’s cousin Nikolas Kalidonis and his three sons, playing two lutes and two violins and the music was traditional Kalymnos music. The songs were obviously familiar to many of the people there, who sang along to them. Nikolas also plays the bagpipes (you can download a track for 69p ), but we left for bed before he played them.
We stayed another day chilling in Palionisos before sailing back to Lakki on Friday July 1st. . When Simon was shopping in Lakki he bumped in to Rehat, who was very excited because they had the papers to go to Germany, though he did not know when they would be going.

We motored up to Arkhangelos on Saturday, July 2nd, for a quiet, but increasingly windy, weekend with Sue and Steve, who had come down from Samos ready to lift on Monday, We motored across to Partheni early in the morning of Monday 4th July, where we lifted out at 8 am, ready to fly home on Tuesday 5th. We had a car on Monday and went over to lunch and swim at Blefouti and later to swim at the little beach at Agia Khioura before going to Pandeli for dinner. Pandeli was absolutely packed with Turks, who were enjoying their extended Ede holiday.

While we were in England there was worrying news from Leros. First, there were more or less sensational reports of riots in the hotspot and in the streets of Lakki (
Once we got back we managed to piece together something of the story, though even now there are many conflicting reports. It seems that the trouble started when 70 troublemakers of Pakistani origin were transferred to the Lakki hotspot from a camp on Evia, having previously been shipped to Evia from Athens, probably because Lakki was reputedly the calmest hotspot (there have already been fights at the Chios, Samos and Lesbos hotspots). Pakistanis are the most stressed refugees because they have been given to understand that they are most unlikely to be granted asylum, but are held in limbo. It seems that some of the Pakistanis trashed the office in the hotspot and started to rampage around the camp. The handful of police then withdrew. Subsequently police and port police brought the situation under control. The Syrians (and presumably the Pakistanis) were locked in the camp and the police announced that there would be no access to the hotspot for volunteers or NGOs and no food or water until the culprits were handed over. There was no response from the refugees. The hundred or two Yazidis were shut out of the hotspot and were afraid of being attacked, so they walked into town, where they (and volunteers accompanying them) were attacked by a couple of dozen fascist thugs, supposedly encouraged by the mayor, while the police, at least at first, stood by. The police escorted the Yazidis back to the hot spot, where they spent the night sleeping in the bushes outside the camp.
On Tuesday 12th July a notice appeared in town calling for a demonstration against the refugees and volunteers outside Pikpa for Friday 14th July at 5 pm. Pikpa was locked down, with volunteers in the lobby to defend the refugees. As 5pm approached lots of Leros residents gathered outside Pikpa in a counter demonstration, called by a doctor at the hospital, against the handful of fascists who turned up. 

The fascists went away with their tails between their legs and the mayor realized that he was only isolating himself by supporting them, so everything, at least superficially, calmed down. However, the police had meanwhile arrested quite a lot of young male refugees, some of whom had apparently been innocently in the street, going out for a coffee, and locked them up in the police station in Agia Marina. Matina lobbied hard to get them released, but according to some reports some of them at least were shipped off to youth offenders’ institutions in Athens.
The other worrying news was of a big bush fire at Partheni, where our boat was in the yard, involving fire-fighting planes and helicopters. Although it looked as though the fire had moved away from the yard and the airport it was not until we got back that we found out what had happened. Apparently the fire had started with a spark from an electricity junction box and had spread rapidly up the hillside, driven by a fairly strong dry wind. The boatyard has extensive fire-fighting equipment but they and the municipal fire engine could not contain the fire. The danger was that the wind was driving the fire towards the central munitions store on the island and if that exploded the north end of the island would be obliterated, so the planes and helicopters were called in to put out the fire. They managed to stop it just short of the first ventilation shaft of the munitions store. When we got back we could see the burnt out hillside, but the house and taverna at the bottom of the hill were untouched and the wind had blown all the dust and ash away from the yard, so Mia Hara was not, as we had feared, covered in ash.
We flew back to Leros overnight on Saturday July 16th and had Sunday in the yard before we launched first thing on Monday morning. Our new instruments had been fitted, as arranged, and everything worked well, so now we have all the information we could possibly want on wind speed and direction, depth, boat speed and course.
When we launched on Monday July 18th we went straight over to Arkhangelos to see Dimitra and give her some tarragon from our garden to add to her herb collection. As it was getting windier we did not stay but had a good fast sail down to Lakki, arriving at 11 ready to meet Frank and Lin for lunch at Poppy’s.
Vadim, Natasha and Anya arrived at 4.30 am on Tuesday morning on the ferry from Athens and immediately settled down to catch up on their sleep. At 11 we went off to a volunteers’ meeting at Pikpa. As we arrived we met Reger and Rehat, who had still not left but were expecting to go to Germany the following Tuesday, and then met Imtiaz who had been allowed back from the hotspot with Amjad and was now staying in the Villa Artemis. At the meeting it was confirmed that the mayor had ordered the closure of Villa Artemis, but at the same time the Ministry had agreed to take over responsibility for Pikpa as an official refugee centre. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means that Pikpa is now an official state institution, so can no longer be threatened by the mayor, and the state will finance a professional staff, including guards, cleaners, psychologists, social workers etc.. On the other hand, it means that Pikpa will be under state control so that what the volunteers can do will be strictly circumscribed by the new administration. This makes it very important that we get Keith’s Residents’ Council up and running before the new regime gets into place – which could be months or even years if our experience of Greek bureaucracy is anything to go by.
Vadim and Natasha stayed with us until Saturday 23rd July, but it was too windy to take them sailing anywhere so we stayed in the marina. We hired a car for one day for an island tour and lunch and time on the beach at Blefouti, 

but otherwise Anya was very happy to spend every waking hour swimming off the town beach, which she loved, gradually collecting every little shell that she could find. On Saturday 23rd Vadim, Natasha and Anya moved over to the Panteli beach hotel for the rest of their stay. On Saturday afternoon Reger, Rehat and Ahmad arrived at the end of our boat, so we gave them a tour of the boat and a cup of tea, before going off swimming with them. Rehat noticed that Simon’s croc had a hole in the sole so promised to bring him a replacement the next day. Sure enough, he and Reger arrived on Sunday with a pair of trainers (too small) and a beach mat (a UNHCR sleeping mat), to replace our worn out mat.
Lin has continued to help Anna with the English teaching, but it has become a little more complicated because Anna cannot any longer use her classroom as a result of threats she has received, so is now teaching in Pikpa without her usual teaching aids (computer and white board). Scheduling is difficult because of the disorganization at Pikpa, so last week the lesson for the older students had to be abandoned because the dinner arrived early. On Monday, 25th July, Anna was ill, so Lin took the class on her own, once she had managed to round up the children and waited for another group to vacate the room. While Lin was teaching, Simon cycled over to Pandeli, see Vadim, Natasha and Anya while Lin was teaching. On the way back he got some new crocs at the Chinese shop for 4 euros. In the evening we had a small party in Pikpa for everyone to say goodbye to the Yazidi four, Zerevan, Wavin, Rehat and Reger, who were flying to Germany via Athens on Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning we went to the airport to see them off. They had got there before 11 for a 1.30 flight so we had a drink with them in the taverna before they checked in. There were smiles and tears as we said goodbye

Reger and his best friend Ahmed - Ahmed said he was sad to see Reger go, but he was happy for Reger.

and waved to them as they were led to the plane.

In Athens they were met by the police and taken to the police station to wait for their flight to Frankfurt at 8.15 next morning. On Wednesday morning we heard that they had reached Frankfurt safely, where they were still in the hands of the police, but they had met their father. Later we heard that they had got to Stuttgart where they were reunited with their family, who they had not seen for more than two years (mother, father, older brother and married sister and three younger brothers) and had a big party.

Next morning, Becky, Andrew, Kai, Charlie and Bobby arrived.