It's 1:30 pm on Friday afternoon, we have just been driven to the port by Florian. Yineka-mou and I are, sadly, having to say goodbye to Koufonisia after just over two fantastically enjoyable weeks here. We are now going to get the seajet ferry to Naxos, there catch another ferry to Piraeus, to spend a few nights in Athens, before flying to Toulouse in the South of France, where we'll be for 2 weeks. YM, BL (or 'Wee-lee-am' as he'll now be known) and I are sitting in 'Limani' cafe at the port in Koufonisia, waiting for our 12:50 pm seajet ferry to Naxos to arrive….and waiting….and waiting…and waiting. The wind, or Meltemi as they call it here, which has been blowing non-stop for the last few days, seems to have picked up, and is now blowing a gale!
We need to get to Naxos today, because YM and I have a connecting booking on the 5pm high speed car ferry from Naxos to Piraeus ( Athens). Just when I'd let my guard down, and was thinking how smoothly things had gone for us the whole time we'd been in Europe…. and how the Greeks seemed to have also got it together at last… Florian, the Albanian man who drove us and our luggage to the port, has just informed us that “Ferry not come” ….”What?”…. ” Ferry, he not come”…at first I thought he was having a joke on us, but it quickly dawned on me that Florian is not the joking type. What do we do now I asked. ” You not worry, is another ferry coming, maybe 'alf hour”
He told us to go to the Ferry Ticket office to change our tickets for the ferry that was supposedly coming in 30 minutes. The ticket office is only about 500 metres away, but up a really steep hill leading to the Chora ( The town). I should add here that my mate BL ('Wee-lee-am') had booked a return ticket on the same ferry, and was going to come over to Naxos with us, to have lunch together at Mixali's Restaurant 'Scirrico'. He was then going to catch the same ferry back to Koufonisia at 4pm. BL and I headed up the hill to the Ferry Office to find out the details of the next ferry….The two ladies in the office well aware by now that our 'SuperJet' ferry had been cancelled, (apparently because the seas were too rough!) and as soon as I showed her my tickets, she opened the till and withdrew the 58 euros I'd paid her a few days ago and placed them on the counter. ” But I need to get to Naxos before 5pm I told her. She gave that 'very Greek' backwards shrug of the head that indicates ' your problem, not mine'. What about the ferry that Florian had told me was coming in “maybe 'alf hour'? She patiently explained to me, in a mixture of greek and broken english, that there was indeed a ferry coming in 30 minutes, but it was going in the opposite direction to what we wanted to go…. not to Naxos, but to Amorgos. The next ferry to Naxos was leaving at 5:30pm…too late to make the connection for sure!!! “What can I do” I asked….. was answered by that backwards shrug of the head again.
Just then Kleanthis, one of the guys who works at 'Stella's' Restaurant, was passing by, spotted us in the office and came in to shout yia sou etc.. “Pos Pas” (“how ya going”) he asked…. I told him of the problem with the errant ferryboat. ” den peirázei” ( never mind) said Klianthis ” we will work something out” . He told the younger lady behind the counter to call Captain Costas ( who happened to be her Grandfather….everyone in Koufonisia is related… a bit like Tasmania. There are basically three main families here who control everything… the Mavros, Kokkinos or the Brassinos ( Black's, Red's or Green's)… Captain Costa is a Brassinos.) She dutifully called the captain and informed me that he would be at the Port to pick me up at 2:30, after he had finished his excursion tour of the other island, Kato. He would take his fishing boat to deliver Yineka-mou and I to a small port in the southern part of Naxos Island, where a taxi would be waiting for us, to take us on the 2 hour trip to Naxos Port, where our ferry was due to depart from. ” is very expensive….50 euro for boat, 60 euro for taxi? .. is OK…?” she said. What other choice did I have. “Nai, endaxi (“Yes, is OK”) ” I replied. Klianthis insisted that he call his friend in Naxos town, who would be happy to drive over the mountain to pick us up, and that it would save us 60 euros. I told him no, that really wasn't neccessary, I'll use a taxi, but he told me “It's OK, that's what friends are for” It took about 5 minutes for me to persuade him that it wasn't neccessary for his friend to go to all that effort, a 4 hour return drive, to pick us up (and I really didn't need any complications at this stage, like his car breaking down, or getting a puncture , or not turning up at the correct spot etc..!)
'Wee-lee-am' and I made our way back down the hill to the port cafe, to find that Florian had dumped our luggage on the dockside and dissapeared…. but Yineka-mou was still anxiously waiting, and I gave her the old ” good news or bad news” routine…. “Well, the good news is we have arranged a boat across to Naxos” and the bad news YM asked…..” The bad news is….the ferryboat was cancelled because of bad weather conditions”. YM looked more than a little alarmed “What boat are we going in?”… 'Captain Costas boat' …. ” Mmmmm, is it safe?” ….. 'of course it is, Costas knows what he's doing' …..
I wasn't too sure myself about the safety aspect, as the sea outside the harbour was pretty choppy….lots and lots of whitecaps…and the wind still picking up…but I wasn't going to let my fears be known to YM.
While Yineka-mou popped up to the bakery to get something to eat, (something to line her stomach, was her excuse) Wee-lee-am' and I had time for a couple more beers. YM came back with a ham & cheese pie for me, and a toasted ham & cheese sandwich for herself. We kept a lookout to sea for any sign of our lift, and just after 2:15 we saw a little boat, bobbing about in the swell, but heading in our direction….it was Captain Costas, returning from Kato, in his pretty little traditional wooden greek 'Caique' or fishing boat.
Now Costa has a bit of a reputation as a 'Cavliarος.. or 'lecherous old bugger'…. but harmless I suspected… and when he spotted us on the jetty his face broke into a broad grin and he yelled out in greek..' ah, so it's you two at last' … (he'd been trying to get Yineka-mou onto his boat since last year when we were here…even promising her a free trip over to Keros Island ( yeah right!) …. but she always refused…. (remember the song 'who pays the ferry-man' …. YOU always pay ! )
With Wee-lee-am's help, we hauled our luggage onboard, stowed it down in the hold, and sat in the small cabin of Costa's fishing boat….and quickly set sail….. we waved and shouted our farewells to 'Wee-lee-am'….. and he shouted back…'Καλο Ταξιδηι' …. (Kalo Taxidi or bon voyage) as we headed off into the swell. (He is staying on koufonisia for at least another couple of weeks…. he seems to like it here…but then, what's not to like!)
Now under normal conditions the trip from Koufonisia to the tiny little harbour on the southwest of Naxos island, should take only about 20 minutes…. but these were far from normal conditions. At first Captain Costa hugged the coast line of Koufonisia in order to stay in the lee of the island and to avoid heading out to the rough seas…. at times he came perilously close to the rocks….. but he'd been doing this for at least 60 years, so I had confidence he knew what he was doing.
Eventually though, he had to leave the island behind and head out into open seas, across the channel that separates the two islands…. and even with the wind behind us, it got very uncomfortable aboard….. VERY uncomfortable….. Yineka-mou had gone a whiter shade of pale at this point…. ” are we safe” she asked ” 'Of course we are' I said….. “Then where the hell are the life jackets?”
About half way across, and with the swell picking up ( the wind was being channelled between the two islands) Costa asked again if we were OK…. actually, he only asked if YM was OK. He then told me he was going to change course, and run with the sea, and head to a small harbour further up the coast, instead of the usual harbour of Volakas… it was too dangerous to try to cross the channel 'beam-on' to the swell. 'Endaxi?' he asked…. “Nai, endaxi” ( yes OK) I replied. Whatever you say Captain Costas!
It was a good decision on his part, and about 15 minutes later we were hugging the coastline of Naxos, we were in the lee of the island…and the seas became calm…. we turned into a beautiful small horseshoe shaped bay named Panermos, ringed by palm trees and beaches…..I could see a taxi waiting up on the cliff, and on the beach the cab driver was waiting to help us disembark. Costas told me to go below and haul up our luggage, and while this was happening, and unknown to me of course, he took the opportunity to say goodbye to YM with big hug ( a BIG hug!) and a big kiss ( a BIG kiss!) …. I dragged our suitcases to the bow of the boat, and Costas pointed the boat towards a small concrete 'landing'… no way could you describe it as a jetty. I paid Cap'n Costas the 50 euro, plus a 10 euro tip….I doubt that anyone else would have gone to sea in those conditions for a mere 50 euro…. and now he had to make the journey back to Koufi …. and this time sailing INTO the wind. Thanks Cap'n, for helping us out of a real dilemma…. I passed my luggage down to Nick the cabdriver, and he then helped me as I clambered over the side of the boat. With Costas pushing, and me pulling, we manhandled Yineka-mou over the side and on to dry land….well, a wet beach actually… 'επιτέλους φτάσαμε με ασφάλεια' meaning 'at last we arrived safely' …. “Don't speak to soon son” I remember my Dad telling me often enough.
After paying Cap'n Costas the 50 euro, (plus a 10 euro tip…. we were EXTREMELY grateful that he'd made the journey for us) We waved goodbye to the Cap'n while Nickos the cabdriver grabbed YM's suit case and carried it up the steps to his waiting taxi….and I dragged mine up the steep steps…it was really hot in this little bay… We set off at, by greek standards, quite a leisurely pace …… mainly because we were on a unsealed dirt track…..He made a joke about Captain Costa… Captain Kavliaros he called him ( Captain Horny it means!) which certainly made YM laugh. Nickos then asked me what Ferry I was departing on from Naxos Town….. are you going to Mykonos he asked. No, Piraeus I replied, at 5pm….. still driving he pulled a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and read the ferry timetable….” which ship?” ….. 'the Hellenic Seaways highspeed4' I replied …. at that news, he put his seat-belt on, and took off like a dirty shirt…. so fast I could have had 'whiplash'….. it leaves at 5 pm he said…. we must hurry. ( now all this conversation is taking part in greek…my language teacher would have been proud of me!) To get from Panermos to Naxos Town you need to drive up and over the very high mountains, and then down into Naxos. It's only about 60 kms, but the road is very narrow, and very windy with lots of hairpin bends….and on the mountain, a very long way down if you go over the edge! To Nickos, getting me to the port on time was now the challenge….and one he relished. We skidded around the bends, drove flat-out on the few straight bits, and on the journey I learned quite a few new greek swear words. With his horn blaring at every corner, and many 'malaka's, pousti's, gamoti's, aga-missou's etc, all shouted at high volume at any car who was either in front of us going too slow, or passing us in the opposite direction getting too close! Good old Nikos ( young Nikos actually!) pulled up in Naxos outside the Ferry Office with 20 minutes to spare… I picked up our tickets, and he drove us to the Port where our good ship 'HighSpeed4' was waiting for us…. phew…we made it. Thanks mate. ( by the way, Nikos was the same cab-driver who drove the same trip with my brother-in-law, due to him leaving his passport behind in Koufi… more of that later…. it was like a trial run for today!)
The HighSpeed4 ( is that really the best name that they could come up with for a ship?) is a large catamaran which can carry 188 cars and 1008 passengers, and has top speed of 35 knots. Even better, it was built in Fremantle, at the Austal Shipyard in Henderson, and that makes me very happy, so should be a safe trip at least!
I'm happy to say that we did have a very comfortable, and very unevenful trip back to Piraeus on the HS4, and after just the one stop at Paros, we arrived on time at 9pm.
We caught a cab to Athens, to our favourite hotel there, The Fresh Hotel, in Sofokleous St. The only weird thing about the cab ride was that we were forced to listen to Shirley Bassey for the whole 25 minute journey…. the cab driver was an avid SB fan…. He told me he liked her voice…. as he couldn't speak any english, I wonder what he thought the songs were about….. and it was more than a bit disorienting listening to 'I, I who have nothing' as we drove past the Acropolis, into Syntagma Square. Like a lot of Athens cab drivers, this one also couldn't add up properly…on arrival at the 'Fresh' the fare shown on the meter was 11.50 euro, but to 'Bassey boy' this was far less than he wanted… he explained that there was a 3 euro 'port' fee, 2 euro per bag luggage fee, a 'sunday fee' and maybe a 'tip' fee… 24 euro efharisto! I handed over 25 euro, he thanked me very much ( Efharisto para poli) , didn't wait to give me change, but drove away down Sofokleous St with Shirley Bassey belting out ' Hey big spender' on his car stereo….. Mallacca!