Thursday, 2 August 2012

Kefalonia - Part Four

Thursday 19th

A fair night's sleep; as normal I woke up about an hour before the alarm and waited for its tones to signal it was time to emerge. With the car parked we scooted out of Agia Efimia at about half seven. I'd felt ill upon waking this morning, and wrestled with an upset stomach through most of the plunging cliff-side roads. Eventually we arrived in Fiskardo - it's changed a lot yet again since I came in 2007; the harbour has been enhanced and the town expanded further round the corner from the main bay and into the surrounding hillside. Despite all this it retains its charm and beauty. We arrived about 0810, and saw Jamie (and his new deck-hand Jan) aboard the ship. A little background on his boat; called Agia Kyriake (Saint Sunday to us English folk), it used to be a trading vessel, or Kaiki, for fifty or sixty years, plying the waters of the Ionian islands until Jamie bought it as a rotting-hulled, near scrap piece 13 years ago. After a major overhaul, and some modern touches, she became the tourist boat she is today.

Katie and I had found a small taverna on the waterfront from which to order a drink from (and in Katie's case, the biggest croissant with chocolate sauce ever!), before returning to board for the trip. By now my stomach had settled, and with everyone present, we set off. Accompanying Katie and myself were four groups - a couple, both primary school teachers, another couple with their three young boys in tow, yet another couple who were holidaying alone, and one more couple, with their late-teens daughters along for the ride. Jamie began the trip with a safety talk; including an ingenious gag that almost had everyone fooled - that everyone had to go toilet in small buckets up on deck behind a screen of cloth! For our first stop we went across the Gulf of Ithaka to Pollis Bay; the bay some people claimed was where Odyseus set out from in Homer's Odyssey.

Here Jamie took the group through the standard snorkelling know-how before setting off in search of creatures for us to see. As a veritable veteran of the trip, I had the privilege of helping him catch an octopus he had found along one side of the bay. He signaled me over where we were swimming and showed me where it was residing, and once ready we both dove down to the seabed to bag our prize. Jamie went first and used a water bottle to squirt fresh water into the octopus' castle, changing the pressure inside its home and making it scoot out and right into me! Aided by Jamie, as the octopus didn't take very well to me and kept trying to escape, I wrestled it to the surface and into the net bag we had.

I first met Jamie a little while before my thirteenth birthday, on holiday in Fiskardo with my Grandma as my birthday present that year. I returned to Kefalonia in '07, and made it a point of priority to visit Jamie's trip once again. He came to Kefalonia for some Marine Biology research in the area, having just completed his degree in the same subject at Bath University. Once the research finished he decided that he didn't want to leave the lovely island and took a job repairing boats in the capitol, Argostoli. Having found Agia Kyriake rotting in the corner of the ship yard he worked in, he decided that he didn't want to let her go to scrap, and bought it. First working the trip out of Lassi on the southern coast of the island, he learned how to handle the financial aspect of the business and eventually moved up to run from Fiskardo to get away from the cut-throats of the area.

Back on board he explained how cephalopod is broken down into tow words - cephal, which is head, and pod, which means foot. An Octopus only has bone around its eyes, meaning if it can fit its eyes through a gap, its whole body can follow! We each had a turn holding or touching our specimen, depending on the whim of each person and the reaction of the creature to each individual. Some, it swam away from, others, it latched on to. A few people it just touched with its tentacle - its way of smelling them, and changing colour based on its reaction. Red means it's angry, or trying to look scarier, and white is scared, like humans. Unlike humans, they have three hearts; one for the blood flow to their brain, and two for pumping it around their tentacles!

Releasing the captive we crossed back to Kefalonia to a place called Porto Nikoutso. Armed with net-bags we scoured the bay for creatures to fill the on-board aquarium with (essentially a large perspex food container ret-conned into a new use). I managed to score a few urchin shells for Katie to take home as souvenirs, whilst the lady herself added a dark-red starfish to the on-board collection. Jan and Jamie called us all back on board for lunch, a delicious spread of various cheeses, bread, pasta salad, meats, salad and, for dessert, melon and an absolutely to-die-for banana load (so flavourful without being overpowering and yet so moist to boot!). Whilst we digested, Jamie talked us through the various marine creatures we had gathered.

Sea urchins, which have five teeth in an arrangement called Aristotle's Lantern (as it was this famous Greek philosopher that noticed they are arranged in a shape resembling a lantern!), Sea Cucumbers (some which spray a rubbery string-substance as a defence mechanism, though all species are prone to a parasitic fish that can live up its bottom! It's true; look it up if you don't believe me!), Mussels (a variety that can grow up to a full metre and a half in height!), and starfish. We had three types on board in our tank, the classic type you imagine when you hear their name, a brittle starfish and the spiny starfish. Old spiny is a nasty bugger - he rips other starfish to pieces! All starfish, however, eat disgustingly - they grab their prey and vomit their own stomach out of their mouth, surrounding it. Digestive enzymes in the stomach lining turn said prey into much and the starfish sucks it all back in, stomach and all!

Following a short swim to cool off after our meal, we shadowed the coast of Kefalonia back towards Fiskardo, to our final destination - Dhoulika Bay. According to Jamie there used to be three wrecks here, but a few years ago the local mafia lord bought (or maybe attained by other means) a piece of land to one side of the bay and built a large, steel-girder dock there. Tired of maneuvering around the main wreck of the bay every time he came and went in the dead of night with his dodgy cargo, he utilised a crane from his massive ship to pick it up, take it into the middle of the Kefalonia-Ithaka channel and dump it into the deepest trench! We anchored mid-bay (not too close to the dock OR the daunting mafia ship) and, as there were no shallows, jumped ship! In amongst the wreck of an old trading galley (just the rotting ribs left now), Katie and I used the majority of our under-water camera's film. Once the wreck was nicely explored and catalogued, trio of boys, their parents and I, took turns in diving/bombing/flipping off the side of Jamie's boat into the crystal bay; great fun!

Unfortunately though, it eventually had to end, and we set course for Fiskardo with weary bodies. Even sadder, Jamie confessed to us that he may well move back to England soon, as his daughter will be starting school in the next few years and Greek (or at least, Kefalonian) schools aren't up to the same standard as the UK. If they move he will sell the business, though without his passion and enthusiasm it will be a lesser trip. I remarked that if our euromillions ticket back home in Coventry was a winner, he'd be getting a call about that sale soon! Ah, to live here and swim these gorgeous waters daily. I'd soon burn my skin into becoming acclimatised to this sun! Anyway, fanciful dreams aside, we moored up in Fiskardo and said our goodbyes; I bought a T-shirt as a memento from Jamie, and soon we were back in the car, en route to Agia Efimia.

It was a long drive, especially when exhausted from the full-on physicality of the day, but by 1730 we were home to the apartment, showering the salt off our bodies and admiring our sunburn/tan with the ritual application of aftersun. We relaxed a bit (indeed, Katie relaxed so much she fell asleep!) and read, before heading out to dinner. We returned to Finikas, where I once more sampled their Feta cheese with phyllo pastry and honey, whilst Katie had Saganaki with tomato, feta and peppers. We both then tried a spaghetti souffle each- it would have been best to share! With the days excursion and the battle of sunburn playing heavily on us, we called in the towels, leaving a bit left over from each bowl. Re-applying aftersun back at the apartment, we plan an easy, lazy day tomorrow to relax and recover. For now, to bed; heavy slumber awaits!

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