The Symi summer season starts later than it used to as fewer tourists come to Symi for Easter and spring break. With little pressure, businesses now unfurl from the winter hibernation at a more leisurely pace and most set their targets for the end of May rather than the beginning.
Every day brings more changes, particularly in the harbour where the day boats from Rhodes provide more of an incentive for shops and cafes to open up but here in Pedi things are still very quiet. The first Saga Holidays people have arrived at the Pedi Beach Hotel and the last bus is now at 9.30 p.m. from Pedi. We had supper with friends at the newly re-opened Katsaras Taverna in Pedi and we were the only diners.
The weather is still unsettled, with random red rain showers, occasional blustery days and temperatures ranging from 16 degrees to 25 degrees. Even on the hazy days of Saharan dust it can be very bright and the sun cream days are definitely with us. Over the weekend there were countrywide ferry and flight disruptions due to strong winds.
Tomorrow is VE Day and a local holiday. German General Wagener surrendered the Dodecanese to the Allies at the building on the waterfront in Yialos that now houses LOS club (previously Katerinettes pension and taverna). There is still a big parade here on Symi every year. When I first came to Symi, nearly 30 years ago, veterans and their families would make a point of coming to Symi to attend the parade. Now they are long gone and very few of the people taking part or watching have any real first hand connection with the event. It is still, however, an important part of Symi’s recent history and a reminder that tiny islands are not immune to the ripples of world events.
On the ferry front, ANES released a schedule for the Sebeco that covered the Easter and May Day holidays and runs out tomorrow, 8 May, so we still don’t know which evenings, if any, there may be boats from Rhodes to Symi or which mornings there will be boats from Symi to Rhodes. The promised extra Blue Star Sunday routes also don’t appear on any schedule. The Blue Star 2 made a diversion through Symi this Sunday past in order to pick up morning passengers from the Sebeco who would otherwise have been stranded as the wind was too strong for the Sebeco to run. Generally speaking, if you are making plans, it is probably best to stick with what is on the Dodecanese Seaways and Blue Star websites and regard anything else as a bonus!
A wide range of languages can be heard on the streets of Symi, including Mandarin and Hebrew in addition to the more usual Russian, French, Italian, German, Danish, Norwegian…
June has arrived, hot and sticky with the rumble of far distant thunder storms over the embracing Turkish coast. We actually had a couple of hours of steady light rain one evening earlier this week, enough to make the gutters drip and wash the dust off the citrus trees. Every night we hear the desalination plant, squeaking away on the Pedi road as it frantically turns sea water into an approximation of the fresh stuff to keep our lavatories flushing and our showers running. We had a lot of rain this winter but it came to an abrupt halt at the end of February and cisterns are emptying fast.
The water taxis are back in business. The beach tavernas are opening up, albeit with limited menus at the moment. A wide range of languages can be heard on the streets of Symi, including Mandarin and Hebrew in addition to the more usual Russian, French, Italian, German, Danish, Norwegian… There are still lots of British visitors around but they are no longer the dominant group they used to be. June used to be referred to as ‘the English month’ on Symi. Not any more. There’s a polyglot cosmopolitan vibe that used only to be in evidence in the high season months of July and August.
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.
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.