Posted Aug 22, 2010 in Travel | 0 Comments

Sailing in the GREEK Isles

A quarter of a millennium ago, or something like that, Giacomo Casanova wrote about his time in Corfu with the Venetian Army. I don’t think he’d recognize it today. The Greek island of Kérkyra, tucked in close to the mainland in the Ionian Straits, is now something of a tourist Disneyland, crawling with the dregs of Eastern Europe (such as myself) come for a cheap holiday, and with a handful of bored, tourist-weary Greeks. It’s not my favorite place in the world, but that’s okay. The sea made me forgive it. I could be camped up on a floating turd and I wouldn’t even mind, as long as said turd was floating on the sea.

So there we were, one sunny morning in July 2007, the gentle breeze touching me in places few people have had the privilege to touch, waiting to weigh anchor. Our brave guide into the mysteries of the Ionian waters was a white-haired, 90-something-year-old Captain Kostas. He was my first Captain Kostas, but many others would follow. It has since become quite obvious to me that all Greek captains are called “Kostas”.

We set sail early in the morning in order to avoid the noon sun, or to make sure that we were already drunk by the time the noon sun started grilling us. Of course, when I say “set sail”, what I mean is, Kostas hit some switches, the old tractor engine of our dinghy turned over a few times like an old housewife in her creaky bed, and then started barking at us in foreign tongues; the Captain shifted into first gear with his foot, in a manner not unlike a circus monkey demonstrating the use of its lower limbs, and off we were.

Some 40 minutes into the cruise, Kostas disappeared into the hold for a few moments and came back out with some bottles of wine, which we wasted no time in opening. The stuff was dark red, slightly oily and rather heavy. I found it to be an odd choice for a day under the sun, but I didn’t complain. Hospitality is hospitality.

Needless to say, after a few glasses, the wine started doing a number on my bladder. I am sure I wasn’t the only one who found himself relieved when the Captain announced we were going to stop for a short swim. Like a fish taking advantage of a distracted fisherman, I threw myself into the sea. I unified my kidney juice with the waters of the Mediterranean and then asked my dad for my diving mask and snorkel.

I dived to the bottom, which seemed very far away although it wasn’t, and popped my ears to relieve some of the pressure. I was on the lookout for pretty-looking shells and colorful sea urchin tests. I’d pick the best one and give it to A….. I knew she wouldn’t fall in love with me because of a stupid shell, but I couldn’t help it. Some kind of outdated animal instinct was making me dive for those shiny little things.

I wanted to re-build the summer before, even though I knew it was impossible. Even though I knew I’d be leaving in August. I didn’t understand myself back then, and perhaps I still don’t. But now it strikes me that, against all reason and no matter the odds, man naturally fights for love with the same passion and despair with which a thirsty man licks the last drop of dew off a desert rock.

We got back to the beach later that afternoon, and I had my hands full of shells. I was holding onto them tightly, like a child holding on to his candies. We drank copious amounts of arak before disembarking. One of my pretty sea urchin shells had broken on the way. That made me sad.

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