May Postcards from Symi

Most of those package holiday companies have either dropped Symi from their listings as too expensive and awkward to get to (the shrinking ferry schedule is a self-fulfilling prophecy) or the companies themselves have disappeared, gobbled up in the eternal quest for ever cheaper ‘value for money’ deals that eventually became unsustainable. 

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May is a fragrant month on Symi.   Apart from the ubiquitous jasmine and the somewhat cloying Persian lilacs, many older gardens also have honeysuckle scrambling over fences and pergolas.  On Symi this usually flowers twice a year – in May and then again in September.
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Pomegranate flowers.  Pomegranate trees are quite small, more like big shrubs than proper trees.  As you can see, the flowers are quite solid with thick waxy petals.  The fruit is ready to pick in late September through October.
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The courgette glut is well underway.  New blossoms appear early every morning, shrivelling away in the heat of the day.  The fruits grow so fast they have to be picked daily, even if one does not intend to use them that day.  Today’s sweet tender courgette becomes tomorrow’s tough vegetable marrow if left a day too long.  Courgette fritters in all their incarnations are a taverna staple at this time of the year.  They can also be used instead of aubergines in the making of moussaka, sliced thinly lengthwise and grilled to eat with garlic sauce as a mezze, hollowed out or halved lengthwise and stuffed with rice or meat – in May and June every housewife on the island is working her way through kilos and kilos of fresh courgettes. 
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There are more yachts about now.  I caught this early morning departure from Pedi one clear morning last week. That scar on the hillside on the right is the foot path to St Nicholas beach, one of Symi’s most popular family beaches.
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A novel way to discourage cats from sauntering into a Chorio courtyard.  If you spot this place, take a quick peak over the wall. There are the remnants of an old and elaborate colonnade, a fragment of which you can just see on the left of the aperture.
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A last lingering poppy in Chorio.  As the earth behind the dry stone walls dries out, the plants shrivel away.  Symi’s secret stone gardens turn back into barren dry stone walls until the drought breaks in late October.
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This was the view from the terrace of Agios Thannasis church in Chorio one afternoon last week.   This was most probably a flotilla of charter yachts being delivered to their cruising base such as Kos or even a Turkish port such as Bodrum.

A band of thunder showers passed over Greece last week.  Symi got off lightly with a few muddy sprinkles and a general clearing of the air.  Rhodes and many parts of the Greek mainland as well as neighbouring Turkey had heavy downpours, enough, in some cases, to cause local flooding.  We are unlikely to see any significant rain now until late October or even November.  The Southern Aegean has one of the longest summer droughts in the Mediterranean.  The last time Symi had rain strong enough to set the gutters flowing to fill cisterns was the end of February.  It looks as though 2018 is going to be a very long hot dry summer.

The first Olympic Holiday people arrived on Symi last week, marking the beginning of the official tourist season.  25 years ago there were many package holiday companies servicing Symi, notable among them being Laskarina, Manos, Kosmar, Small World, Travel a la Carte and Hidden Greece.  Accommodation was a mixture of restored traditional local houses, privately owned small studio and apartment developments designed to look just like Symi’s traditional houses and small pensions.  The emphasis was on authentic island life, simple self-catering and lots of convivial dining in local tavernas.  Symi’s tourist businesses timed their openings to coincide with these arrivals, knowing that there would be enough visitors staying on the island to provide them with customers in bars, cafes, tavernas, excursions and the like.

Now that certainty has gone.  Most of those package holiday companies have either dropped Symi from their listings as too expensive and awkward to get to (the shrinking ferry schedule is a self-fulfilling prophecy) or the companies themselves have disappeared, gobbled up in the eternal quest for ever cheaper ‘value for money’ deals that eventually became unsustainable.

All inclusive packages to resort hotels in Rhodes are good for consumers who want to know exactly how much their holiday is going to cost and don’t really care if it is Greece, Spain, Egypt or Turkey as long as the sun shines, the pool is full and the food and drink bountiful and free.  Unfortunately these packages are death to local economies as holiday guests seldom venture forth into the community, prices are pared down to the last cent so wages in these complexes are often below the legal minimum and limited local resources are stretched to breaking point.

Last summer Rhodes found itself in the previously unheard of situation of running out of water.  So much water was being diverted to hotel complexes with their swimming pools, manicured lawns and unlimited showers that there was no water available for the locals.  Villages and towns found themselves without water for days on end. A situation with which Symiots are only too familiar – this is why we all have cisterns – but for which Rhodes is poorly equipped.

Ironically, high value property owners who had invested significant sums in purchasing holiday homes and villas on the island found themselves seriously inconvenienced for the benefit of low value all inclusive holidaymakers whose tourist spend largely stayed in the pockets of the international holiday companies hosting their holidays.  A state of affairs hardly likely to encourage further foreign investment.

That’s probably enough of the serious food for thought for today.  If you are still reading, have a good week!  Remember, you can always join in the discussion by commenting, or by emailing me here.

Regards,

Adriana

 

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Living on the Edge in Yialos

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Shortly after 11 on Monday morning, once the day trippers from Rhodes have safely disembarked into the custody of assorted tour guides, I noticed activity at the stern of the Sea Dreams Symi.
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On closer inspection, this turned out to be a plank.
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Followed by a ladder.
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Don’t look down!
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I hope this takes my weight.
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No, I don’t need the ladder anymore.
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Can’t you see I am still putting the tape on?  I don’t need the paint just yet.
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Marking out the letters with masking tape.
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It looks better already.

Health and safety rules do exist in Greece.  I mean, once a year a road block is set up at the windmills above Yialos to check that people are using helmets when out on their motorbikes.  It is illegal to use mobile phones while driving but no one pays much attention to that one either. We have all seen such Greek island classics as a motorcyclist yakking on the phone while juggling a frappe cup and a cigarette and steering with his knees as he negotiates the waterfront bends in Yialos.

Painters totter at the top of extension ladders, the bottoms of which are balanced on steep steps or out in the street with no hazard signs.  Occasionally someone comes unstuck but this happens remarkably seldom.  This might be because in Greece, particularly in the islands, people grow up taking responsibility for their own actions and don’t count on someone else to look out for them.  If you have survived childhood sleeping on a moussandra loft with a 3 metre ladder to climb up from the stone floor below, the chances are good you have been living dangerously from the outset. Riding to school on a motorbike, clinging to dad’s back along with several other siblings, because there’s no money for a family car brings with it a confidence those of us from more sheltered backgrounds can only envy.

I watched the above sequence of events play out in Yialos yesterday morning.  Harbour balconies offer fascinating insights into island life and if you can handle the steps, it is well worth spending at least your first visit to Symi in one of the neo-classical houses that form the tiers of Symi’s famous amphitheatre harbour.  You may never leave your opera box vantage point for the duration of your stay.  For more mesmerising harbour view observations, visit James Collins’ blog over at Symi Dream – he has to try to work with that view from his desk!

Regards,

Adriana