Chapter Twenty-Nine  July 20- September , 2006

 

We overcame our engine problems and despite our dim view at the time, we have been able to explore much beyond our expectations. We departed our winter marina and moved around the corner three nautical miles to test our engine and repairs and to continue the watermaker investigation in clear water. Engine and repairs working well, we were elated. Until we went hard aground. We were obviously out of practice. A nice Englishman and fellow Italian friends gave us a good pull and were free within the hour. Emotionally, we recovered within the week 

So off we headed down the west coast of Sardinia stopping in two wonderful harbors getting our last doses of pasta and gelato. The weather cooperated beautifully and we were thrilled to be “running” again. We arrived in Tunisia ten days following our Sardinia departure and were enthused with the foreign surroundings. In essence we were here to abide by EU regulations regarding yacht VAT. (Any non EU yacht must exit the EU after eighteen months to avoid paying full value tax.) We pulled into a small fishing harbor called Telibia and were with an English speaking native. He works for an American Pharmaceutical Company and was happy to enlighten us on the area. He immediately informed us that the weekly market was two miles away, far too long a walk. We nodded and silently protested by proceeding on foot. Within minutes of blazing sun beating on us we were dashing for the taxi stand. And we thought we were tough! The market was a vast array of corning ware and blue plastic basins in various sizes and shapes. After ten minutes of that we were ready for lunch. Our friend escorted us and advised us on our lunch selection of the couscous special and kubyua, which is an egg baked in pastry. The whole experience was brief and exotic and got us in the mood for adventure.

Our next stop was Malta. We spent a few days in Valletta, the main town of Malta. It was here that the Knights of Malta outlasted the Turks in about 15-something-or-other.  The town is quite medieval, with straight streets, tall buildings of stone, and an enormous wall surrounding it all.  All quite interesting. 

Then we set off to church via bus and ended up in a fishing village miles and miles away.  Thank goodness the captain’s navigational abilities are better than his map skills!  We made our way to the interior of the “old city” of Mdina.  It is charming with vast amounts of stone, narrow streets and small squares.  Again, a wall all around.  We had lunch in a café perched at the wall, and the views were fabulous.  A very interesting stop.

Our landfall in Greece was on the island of Cephalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands.  Our passage from Malta began beautifully, then ended with seven hours of heavy thunderstorms with torrents of rain. Fortunately, the winds never reached “danger” proportions, and we just had to wait it out while getting drenched in the process.  The Captain sent his crew below for safety. Besides, why should both be wet? Every ten minutes or so Sharon peaked through the companionway to check on the very wet captain. Much to her dismay, the last glimpse found the Captain with inflated life vest around his neck. The wind had apparently detected he needed some rescuing. Fortunately it was a false alarm. It poured once again before we pulled safely into the harbor.  But we were safe and happy.

Argostoli is the capital of the island of Cephalonia.  This is the setting for “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” which you may have read or seen.  Unfortunately, the entire town (and most of the island) was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1953, so everything appears relatively new, but we still liked it very much.  We toured the island via local bus.  This was a first. We enjoyed the laziness of the day but didn’t find the guide to be as informative as we would have liked. We did, however, enjoy the splendid views of vast beaches and hoards of boats in motion in the magnificent bays.

It was exciting seeing the food markets and getting accustomed to a new culinary agenda.  The best part (for some) is the home-made goat’s milk yoghurt which is available everywhere. All kidding aside, this is the prime ingredient for “tzatziki” served as a starter in all restaurants. Smeared on fresh bread it’s wonderful. Restaurants and rooms with a view abound. Our favorite harbor on the north coast was a tiny village called Fiskardo.  Blissful touring days like these remind us the thunderstorm was well worth the effort.

Then on to Ithaka, where “The Dream” actually began in 1960 when John studied Homer’s Odyssey in high school.  We dropped the hook in Vathi, the capital right next to old friends from the Azores.  We actually knew they were there, and the meeting was planned.  When we hired a car to tour the island with them, we made a little “detour” just before lunch (a picnic in an abandoned monastery on the top of the island’s highest hill) to see what was going on at the site called “School of Homer.”  We followed a narrow dirt road for several miles and encountered an active archaeological site.  We were about to leave, as the climb was too strenuous for one of our party (not me; I did the scouting), a middle-aged Greek woman asked “What would you like to know?  I am the lead archaeologist on the project.”  It turns out that this woman and her colleagues are convinced they have at long last located Odysseus’ palace.  She gave us a tour of the site (there was an easier track up the hill), and we took a look around.  I will admit that we could make out little.  There were several pits, and young people were busily cataloguing, measuring, and noting hundreds of artifacts which they were dusting and placing in specific bins. Dozens of numbered bins were accumulating.  Large dressed stones 4-5 feet below ground level were reportedly the outer walls of the palace.  The bulk of the palace, they are certain, lies underneath a later building, a crumbling church of uncertain age.  The little church is certainly old, and quite small, so it could well be over 1,000 years old, but she said it would have to be dismantled to unearth the palace.  The crew working on the project asked that we take no photos, as they had yet to purchase the land and acquire the needed permits.

But it was quite a thrill, thinking that we may just have seen the actual site of the tale itself.  Homer speaks often of Ithaka, but no certain signs of Odysseus have yet to be identified.  There are many coins and other artifacts from the island of a much later date bearing the likeness of Odysseus, but nothing “contemporaneous.”  But maybe now…

By the way, Ithaka by sea was quite spectacular too.

We left Ithaka after a week’s stay, and made our way east through the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth making several significant stops, the grandest being Galixidi.  This is a very nice small town by the side of the sea.  They used to build wooden fishing boats here, but that business is no more. Here we were reunited with friends who we met in the Balearics last year. We had a wonderful evening with Joshua and his parents.

The neighborhood wasn’t too shabby either.

We loved the small harbour in Galixidi, too.

Another lovely spot enroute was a place called Trizonia.  This is the only inhabited island in the Gulf of Corinth, and there is only room for a few hundred inhabitants.  One public beach.  And one or two small hotels.  And three or four seaside tavernas.  The “super market” also supplies the tavernas.  All this within a village 200 yard x 200 yards.  Oh, and no way for visitors to get their cars or motorbikes onto the island, either.  It is a very simple, very charming little place, and we stayed three nights reluctant to leave. But the forecast said we must.

Twelve kilometers away lies Delphi.  Delphi is way up in the mountains perched on the side of a cliff overlooking a deep gorge and the Gulf of Corinth beyond.  The ruins date back to about 1400 B.C., and they have displayed the most important bits in the adjacent museum.  Without a doubt, this is the best presentation of a historic site either of us has ever seen.  What makes it even more interesting is that much of what we read about in Homer this past winter is here to see, first hand.  All the clothing and other things of value were here in actual real-life examples.  All in all, it was an exhausting (100 degrees and a climb to the peak where the stadium resides) and exciting day.

We thought we’d seen the best with the precipitous cliffs of Delphi. But then we passed through the Corinth Canal. It is 3.2 miles long, 25 meters wide (81 feet) and the limestone from which it is cut rises 250 feet above sea level at the highest point.  It is so narrow that larger ships are towed through very slowly so their wash won’t damage the sides.  From the look of it, there could be less than 5-6 feet clearance on either side.  It took us 35 minutes to transit. And $188.50, of course. That works out to over $350 per hour! When you clear the bridges you have entered the Aegean Sea. What a thrill.

We have made contact with Costas, our host for the coming winter.  He is very excited about showing us Greece, and is busily making plans on our behalf.  If half of what he said he has in mind happens, it will be a most memorable winter indeed.

We are enchanted with Greece. Seeing the uncovering of Odysseus’ palace was for John a dream he has been looking forward to for over 45 years.  The other night we dropped our anchor in a small cove where there was perched on the top of a cliff an ancient temple. It was all lit up when we went to bed and a little surreal. As is our life.