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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lovely Lesbos (where lesbians come from)

The funniest thing we ever saw in the gorgeous Aegean island of Lesbos was a poster advertising a local school play – Benjamin the Lesbian.  Took us a while to realise that, it wasn’t a play about gays……but that if you come from Lesbos, then you are a Lesbian.   Just like if you come from Marlborough you are a Marlburian.
Lesbos attracts homosexual lesbians for a completely different reason. Sappho the poet once lived on the island and apparently left her husband to run off with a woman.  She gained a following amongst the homosexual world who now flock here.  Locals, by the way, deny she was gay – but readily admit she was a Lesbian (from Lesbos!).  Apparently that is where the word lesbian comes from.  CSC_0382DSC_0459
Our arrival in the port town of Plomari didn’t go that well.  In most Greek ports you tie up to the town dock (often for free) and check in with port police which we did.  Next morning a policeman arrived at Bandit bristling with authority and asked to speak to the skipper.  He announced that there was a problem with our paperwork.  “I need to see your passports immediately – I understand you have been to Turkey”.  Our mouths went dry.  We had been back and forwards to Turkey and hadn’t bothered to clear in and out each time. 
Next thing, the policeman burst into laughter and said “ha – I play a joke on you – I am a Kiwi too”.  Turns out he was born in Wellington and went to school there before returning to Lesbos with his Greek parents who had fled to New Zealand after the war.  He’d seen our paperwork the night before and figured that, like every other cruiser, we’d probably been to Turkey without clearing in and out – hence his “trick”.  Kaldis turned out to be a charming chap and later that day brought his ageing father along to meet us.
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He explained the problem with Turkey.  Every night up to 100 illegal immigrants – mostly from countries further afield such as Iran and even Pakistan – crossed into Lesbos from Turkey.  Keeping an eye on all boats including cruising yachts, was a matter of course.
We loved Lesbos. We hired a car for 16 euro ($32) and the chap gave us a rough roadmap and off we went. We took an anti clockwise route around the island and when we got to the top we looked at the map to see if we could take a short cut back to Bandit through the middle – we could, so we did.
Big mistake!  The road was like a New Zealand forestry road – rough, potholed and metal - and it turned out to be a very slow (but scenically spectacular) route.  When we dropped the car off the man was most unhappy to see it covered with dust!  We didn’t tell him about the puncture we got either.
From Plomari we headed around to Molyvos – an equally gorgeous port on the west side of the island.  We couldn’t believe so few tourists come here- they don’t know what they are missing out on.
On the way to Lesbos we stopped at a number of islands that are well off the beaten track. Most we’d never heard of – such as Agathonisi or Lipsi – and everytime we thought we’d found our favourite Greek Island. Then we’d go on and find the next one even more beautiful!
Lipsi is so isolated it doesn’t have any medical facilities so once a year a team of doctors and nurses visits by boat for a round of clinics.  Islanders celebrate by dressing up to meet the fleet.  School children dress in costume, bands play, wine flows and the spit roasts are fired up.  It was an amazing celebration that seemed to go all night – how on earth the doctors were fit enough to hold clinics the next day I don’t know!

Kalymnos was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  We came in seeking shelter as there was a screaming Meltemi blowing.  We figured the port would be sheltered but it wasn’t.  In Greece you go stern to the dock and while Bandit goes well backwards, she doesn’t co-operate in 30 knots of wind.  The space was narrow and it took us several attempts to get in.  We were very relieved when someone appeared to take our mooring lines – I didn’t fancy having to leap from the stern to the dock on top of all the stress we’d already had!
We loved these rugged Aegean Islands and ended up visiting some of them several times – on our way up to northern Greece and again on our way back down.