Nisyros: snakes and time-warps

A lot of rambling on Friday.  Feel free to change channels if, sorry, when, you get – bored.

As predicted I was distinctly sluggish this morning.  I blame it on late-night carousing with the Dutch couple.  You will appreciate that ‘carousing’ is a  euphemism for putting the European Union to rights, he being an Economist and she something to do with The Sock Market (many apologies, finger fatigue, that should read ‘Stock’ Market) and me … well happy to witter on about anything.  It was generally concluded that Greece should be declared ‘An Exception’ and funded by Germany and France in perpetuity in recognition of the unique contribution the Greeks make to a relaxed attitude to life and the fact that it was those two countries which bent the rules to let Greece into the Euro-Zone in order to dish one in the eye to the recalcitrant UK.

I digress.  The slow start to the morning was reflected in the slower than usual walking pace.  I had changed my mind and decided that late-night politico-economics was not conducive to the body-stressing walk I had originally planned.  So I decided instead to walk up to the ancient Minoan settlement of Nifios and spend a couple of hours poking around there rather than whizzing through en route elsewhere.   A slightly delayed start because I met the Dutch lady on her way back from the shops stocking up for the walk she and her husband had planned to the caldera and the crater.  I also stopped about 100 metres from the hotel to photograph some onions.

Now there's a gardener who knows his onions!

But I can’t blame it on the Dutch or the onions, I was very sluggish anyway.

I eventually got up to the monastery of Evangelistra but the pace completely failed to trigger the ‘aerobic walking’ recording on my pedometer (60 steps a minute.  At home I normally walk at 100 per minute).  Downed a good part of my 1½ litre bottle of water  at the monastery and then set out on the path signposted to the Volcano.  Within a couple of hundred metres I had barley ears and thistle twigs inside my sandals and had to stop to get them out.  For those who have never harvested barley-straw, the ears are so designed to catch on flesh and are so serrated they cut through the skin in microseconds.  I was right grumpy and sullenly watching every footfall.

You know when you subconsciously monitor something which jerks you in milliseconds into 100% focus mode?  Well, that happened.  I suddenly saw the rear 30cms of a large snake slither across the path and disappear down the wall of the terrace to my right.  I could literally have caught hold of it and given it a yank.  Fortunately, in focused-mode I’m rather quicker thinking than that so I went to the edge to see where it was going, got my camera switched on and ready for action at the same time, thankfully without falling over the 6 foot drop … and there it was on the terrace below about 5 feet long and looking peeved. We first saw a large snake in Greece a number of years ago on Symi and I have been trying to photograph one ever since.  Triumph!!  It’s difficult composing a shot accurately using the screen on a compact camera in bright sunlight but this one didn’t come out half badly.  I’m afraid I haven’t identified it yet, internet connection being a problem, but my guess is on a rat snake.  I was pleased to photograph the snake-in-the-wall but a snake-in-the-grass was far better.  I was buzzin to use David’s jargon.

Upwards of 5 feet long snake-in-the-grass

With lighter step and faster pace, I continued up to Nifios.  I headed to the far end of the ‘valley’, really an old, extinct crater I suspect, and sat on the rock Enfys and I used to sit on looking straight down into the two craters of the volcano.  I used to say then, and I said to the Dutch couple last night, I would love to be sitting on that rock with my camera in hand when the volcano erupted.  The Dutch couple said that if that were to happen they would find my camera in 1000 years time and then I would be famous.  It strikes me that the best time to be famous is when you’re dead.  No problems then with handling it.  Who needs Max Clifford!

The Rock-at-the-end-of-the-Universe

After spending some time on the Rock-at-the-end-of my-Universe I backtracked into the valley and spent an hour or so exploring it.  It is an amazing place.  Many tiny houses built into caves in the rocks, an underground church with a natural rock pillar in the centre, free-standing stone houses used as a dump for rocks to clear the surrounding flat-floored agricultural fields, water storage ‘sterna’, steep terrace fields going up the mountainsides.  A lost world where only the imagination can fill in the pieces.  My guess is that there were people here before the Minoans but probably not organised enough to be called a ‘civilisation’.  To my un-informed mind a lot of what I was looking at was Neolithic, stone –age stuff.  I’ll probably not go back again this trip.  Too nostalgic.  Too easy to get lost in the time-warp.

Semi-underground dwelling, spacious and barre-arched inside

Arches in the main settlement complex

Photographer in Neolithic well

Cut to an hour or so later and I’m back in the town.  And my priority ….. to have a haircut.  Last year I brought my hair trimmer with me and cut my own hair but this year decided that because of  the weight I would find a local barber.  I usually cut it once every two weeks and as I have now been here nearly 3 weeks decided it was time for action.

I had eventually tracked down a barber on the island.  More complicated than you might think because his shop is only open a couple of hours in the evenings and is behind a closed blue door identical to all the other closed blue doors and with no sign outside.  No red and white striped barbers poles here!  I had had a vague description –  “Just before you get to the little square with the Shipping Office behind the town hall”.  In the end I got someone I knew to take me there.

So, after a shower and with hair cleared of salt I ventured forth.  Another time-warp.  The blue door opens into a room about 8×10 feet maximum.  There is a large mirror on the far wall, a small table in front of it with neatly laid-out haircutting implements identical to those my barber used when I was a lad, a padded chair in front of the mirror and two very basic hard chairs in the corner behind the door for waiting customers.  I had got there just after he opened so no waiting.

I had been apprehensive about whether a barber on the islands could give me the short crop which  normally have. The reason for this doubt is simply that all the blokes have either long hair which may be cut a couple of times a year, or ‘short’ hair which is still pretty long.  No cropped heads at all. …. so possibly no electric hair trimmers.  .  Thankfully there was an electric hair-trimmer hanging on the wall.

The barber spoke no English at all and my Greek on the technicalities of hairdressing was woefully inadequate.  I managed “I need a haircut, please.  Short” and we then set about agreeing on the implements he would use.  I avoided having it ‘skefto’ which I think meant he would have used the hair-trimmer without the comb on the front, thereby giving me a Kojak-cut, a ‘cut-and-polish’ job.  It turned out well.  After every few minutes cutting he brushed my head with a soft-bristled distemper (sorry, emulsion) brush to remove the copious quantities of hair coming off.  Then he applied talcum powder before a finishing flourish with a pair of scissors.  And then he applied some oil which he rubbed onto the hair.  By the end I had a haircut which met my exacting standards but I smelled like a tart’s boudoir.  Not, I must hasten to add, that I have a ever visited a tart’s boudoir.  Or any other kind of boudoir for that matter.  Working class lads don’t go in for that sort of thing.  We leave that to Members of Parliament, actors and the like.

Much relieved that my hair was restored to its streamlined look, I could set about the evening’s inactivities.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the European Union Luncheon Voucher Scam.

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