Footprints to Greece

Of Cliff Sides and Centaurs by Glenn R. Steiner

            Procrastination is a fine art.  I have honed this fine skill from a Bachelors degree up to a mastery level rarely seen.  Call me Doctor Steiner, PhD., from the school of life in procrastination. 

            The time to leave Thera had come.  Once again, I found myself racing back to Annas pension, and then, returning at full gallop with backpack, leaden camera bag and one broken sandal up the steep hill towards Firas bus station.  My means of imminent transportation appeared to be a colorful relic from the summer of love in 1968.  Throwing caution to the winds, I thrust myself in with the other shoe horned, shell shocked tourists.  Off, we jolted, rattling down the road to Athinios Port.  None of us needed to hang on to anything, so tightly packed were we, like barbounia in a tin can. 

            I, for one, was packed in facing the rear of the bus.  Thus, for the first time in my life, I had the proud privilege of hindsight, not foresight, one might say.

            This proved itself most useful.  The bus began the descent down the 300-meter face of the caldera.  A quarter of the way down, the bus encountered a small obstruction on the road which might be charitably called a car in certain third world countries.  There was no passing route on this one-lane road.  The Greek driver of the bus wisely decided to BACK the bus back up the hill, David pushing Goliath, and David once again winning.  It was in this way, that I finally became the nervous driver of the bus, until the small obstruction passed us all with a measured sigh of relief.

            An excellent view presented itself in glimpses, if I craned my neck just so.  Every 20 meters of declination, the bus would dangle itself out and over the caldera.  I could see the color of the pumice change from white to red, and finally to black, reflecting the eruptions of Santorinis storied past.  This was lost on the German couple next to me, who talked in hushed tones, looking down the cliff to the azure waters far below.

            As luck would have it, we finally hit the bottom with a jolt.  The unpacking was not an orderly procession.  It was more like taking a sardine can and turning it on its end.

Centaur! 

            I dragged my pack and bag towards the port, when, most suddenly, I became aware of non-human presence beside me.  Twisting my body, I saw that a small brown pony had joined in my journey.  He stood about shoulder height, dressed in a pretty red rope bridle, garlanded with a couple of yellow flowers.  The ownerless pony had also grabbed onto my pack strap with its mouth, merrily chewing away.  We walked along together, the horse in tow, up to the ferry ticket window.

            I inquired in my best Greek as to whom the owner might be.  The wrinkled face in the booth took a drag on his cigarette, and then said Den xero, I dont know.  I asked what the price of a ticket for the horse might be.  This confounded the Greek.   He phoned his supervisor.  No one had ever done such a thing!  After several minutes of fast, cacophonous jabbering, a decision had been reached.  I could not bring the horse on the ferry, and that was that!

            Thus emboldened, I walked leading the donkey who I will now call Paniotis, to the ferry waiting area.  I dropped my packs and sat down.  I swear it must have been true love.  Paniotis nudged me with his brown muzzle, and then, before I knew it, began to give me a bath. 

            I took the licking quite well, I would think.  Paniotis pink tongue was huge, about six inches wide and at least an inch thick.  He started with my feet, which truly needed cleaning, past my ankles, my knees, my arms, and finally worked his way to my face.  He even adjusted my white little mesh hat, lifting it off my head and replacing it at an angle more pleasing to a ponys fashion sense.  The other travelers in the waiting terminal had begun to move away from us.  The one exception was a small Norwegian child who instinctively knew the meaning of true love, stroking Paniotis neck.

            One could see the ferry still several miles distant.  I turned and walked to the nearest taverna.  Paniotis followed, nudging me in the back.  I took a seat near the periphery, with faithful Paniotis by my side, looking more like an overgrown dog, taking an occasional nibble on the well-trimmed bushes that marked the tavernas perimeter. 

            So it was we finally parted company.  The black Stringis ferry Ithyca swung into the small harbor of Athinios, dropping its stern cargo door, with a thud.  We began to move as one towards the Ithyca.  I gave Paniotis a small hug, and he replied with another lick. 

            From the stern fantail of the Ithyca, I could see him waiting by the ferry quay, the faithful centaur, as the fully laden produce trucks, nervous Greeks, and anxious tourists passed him by.  Paniotis stood there, his head held high, as the ferry pulled away from the concrete quay.  Then, he turned, walking back, past the youthful backpackers, the taxis, the ancient buses, the tavernas, to his stone pen, hollowed out of the black pumice cliff side.         

            Would that I could have kept him.  But what would my wife have thought when I brought this special Greek guest home for dinner?

"My Name Is Poseidon" by Glenn R. Steiner
   I sit here on my throne in the caldera, twenty-five meters below the surface of the sea, on a razor sea ledge made of igneous pumice and black lava.  Bubbles stream from my regulator, as I release my breath.   I watch them mutely, as they climb and separate, frothing, joining, hurling towards the light above.  Each breath comes with some effort at this depth.   I remain calm, as I stare into the heart of the volcano.
   Three thousand, five hundred years ago, a great force tore apart the island then known as Strongili, the round one, and ripped its heart out.   The ancient Minoans, a peaceful and seafaring people, had already left years ago for the safer waters of their home in Crete.   They had heard the rumblings that foretold of Strongilis imminent destruction.
   They could run but they could not hide.
   The subsequent explosion ripped a fifteen kilometer wide section 2000 meters deep, disintegrating the soil, the trees, the houses, the goats, the chickens in a flash of instant fire, and "barbecue" -ing them into outer space.  A displaced surge of water, hundreds of meters high and unbelievably wide, grew in speed.   It washed outwards accelerating to hundred of kilometers per hour.
   Crete stood in its path.  The wave is reckoned to have completely engulfed Crete 100 kilometers to the south, passing over her as an afterthought, like a wave over a sand shell, and then sweeping onwards to the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt.
   After a time, the waters receded, but not before that colossal wave had carried with it all of the vaunted and ancient Minoan civilization.
    I live in a world of silence and measured breath.  Each measured breath empties my tank a little further.  In the dim blue light, I see the regulator slowly shifting, from 110 to 95 to 85.  I remain still.
    I measure the passage of time between the beats of my heart.
    I am compelled to stare into the abyssal deep.
    When seen from my perch, the bottom of the crater does not seem to darken.  Rather, it seems as if it is painted in richer and darker shades of blue, finally turning to the bluest of cerulean blues, pure aquatic light.
    A slow, soft surge hits, no doubt driven from the forces of the meltemi winds that batter the waters ferociously high above.
    Impossibly, I float free of my throne.  I am suspended in this cool unnerving universe, like a dust mote caught in a ray of light.
    Thin streams of discoloration rise from below.  The striations change.  They are not the color of pale mud, as they were, but rather now of yellow and mustard.
    "My name is Poseidon.  I am an old God, and I rule a dying universe.  The clever Greeks, those wily seamen, true descendants of Odysseus whom I truly hated, have fished my world clean.  Once, the richest of baskets to feed my peoples, little is left."
    Hovering, alone in a cold world, there are no fish to keep me company.  The walls of the caldera have vegetation, and white sand borne of volcanic origins.  Yet, only a few shells remain, and wily small fish, that dart within the vegetation for protection.
    The regulator hits fifty, and the time has come to go.  I slowly barrel roll, first turning towards the sky and infinite light, and then spinning back towards the infinite deep.  Is it my imagination?  Is there now a light deep below?
    Each breath comes with more difficulty.  A small shot of water slips past the imperfect seal between my lips and the regulators black rubber, smacking of sulfur and the smell of rotten eggs.  My breathing grows ever quicker, and the only sound that I hear is the beating of my heart:  I have tasted the volcano.
    I follow the bubbles of white, blue and now increasingly yellow, back to the surface, amidst a disquieting security, my illusions stripped bare deep within the volcano of Santorini.
-GRS 2001

Symphony: A Song of Hydra by Glenn Steiner

The morning sun wrapped its arms about me, reaching through my country window, gently shaking me awake. I pulled up the rough hewn, woolen blanket closer to my neck, listening. Not a single moped nor a single automobile could be heard, only the songs of animals, the laughter of children.
I opened one eye and peered out.
My friend, a big whiskered donkey that Ive nicknamed Pavarotti, nuzzled the window pane, fogging its surface with his breath.
I smiled. The morning symphony was just starting to warm up.
A single church bell pealed, a single soprano sweetly spilling from its bell. A minute later from across the valley, another churches set of twin alto bells sang out. Then another church joined, and yet another. Music cascaded across the hills of Italianate houses that ring the valley.
I held my breath. My menagerie was not to be out done.
The rooster started with his preemptory cock-a-doodle-DAAA. The hens clucked in concert. The neighbors yappy dog barked and barked, baring its one good tooth joyously. The gray and white doves coo-ed loudly and sparrows cheap-cheap-ed. The herd of brown and white goats suddenly cried out in chorus.
Pavarotti had nudged open the window.
Then, as if rising to the barnyard challenge, Pavarotti threw back his enormous head, and let fly with a larger-than-life bray: AWWW-HEEE-HAAAAW-HEEE-HAWWWWWW.
Pavarottis bray exploded into the room. I levitated off the bed.


All illusions of falling back to sleep had gone the way of the morning light. I threw on enough clothes to ward off the spring chill air, and set out to explore the day.
In my wisdom after Poros, I had decided to find a domatia as far as possible from the town center. Imagine that Hydra is shaped like a coffee cup, with the cut-a-way open at one end facing the sea. In a sense, I lived about half way up the side of the bowl.
This morning started with a hike down one hundred and forty two steep, marble steps. Whether there were building permits when the steps were originally cut, remains lost in the mists of time. One didnt politely, gently step down in the English sense. One kind of jumped, using the adjacent buildings for additional purchase. Whomever says the Greeks didnt invent the Stairmaster, I would humbly beg to differ.
The Hydriots, both young and old, sprang up and down their ancient staircases with the agility of mountain goats.


At the end of the steps, I turned right at the stately Hotel Aris, the last bastion for aristocracy. A cobble stone path of reddish and bluish rocks marked the way to town.
The schools play yard and Hydras miniature coliseum filled this part of the valley. From behind the perimeter wall, I heard the laughter and shouting of children at play.
A breeze swept down from the mountains crest, lifting a cluster of bougainvillea high into the air and then swirling the flowers forward. I meandered to the port, from one moment to the next surrounded by a halo of wind blown blossoms.


I sat by my favorite  or bakery shop and ate the most sinfully, buttery croissant and fresh orange juice.
Ships of all descriptions filled Hydras smallish, but energetic harbor. Colorful fishing caiques, rusty World War II landing ship troops, massive Sea Jet ferries, sleek Flying Dolphins, and local transport ships worked the harbors inner ring. The larger charter sailing boats and multi-million dollar mega yachts looked on from the outer periphery. Twenty three tavernas, untold trinket shops, domatia, hotels, gyros stands, jewelry stores, clothing emporiums, bakeries, butcher shops and internet cafes ringed the harbor.


Hydra had wisely outlawed motor vehicles on land. Yet, business still had to be done. The Greeks had compensated magnificently, creating a system that blended nineteenth and twenty-first century technology.
Motorized boats would pull into the quay. Forty two donkeys stood at the ready. Those merchants who could not afford four legged transport, used large two wheeled carts, pushing their goods ship to shore.
This was the best show in town.


Teams of donkeys carried everything from rebar, to concrete sacks, to stoves and smallish refrigerators, to suitcases and gaily dressed tourists up the valley walls.
By 12 noon, hundreds of Greeks and  (or foreigners) milled about, further adding to the absolute excitement and perfect confusion.
Yet, peace and quiet lay just around the next cove. From the harbor, I followed the goat track that rose high along the cliffs. The fresh sea breeze carried the salt-laden air, enriching my lungs. The sea sparkled below the gray-stone cliffs, illuminating cerulean waters, transforming them into silver and gold. Pine trees grew into forests and prospered.


After a short two kilometers, my path dropped down into the 19th century seaport hamlet of Vlyhos. You had two tavernas, one cliff top ouzerie, a small pebble beach, several  or rooms, and a small harbor butting up onto the sea. Again, no motorize transport existed. Everything made its way by fishing caique or by sure-footed donkey. Watching old fishermen repair their nets, I dined at the local taverna, and enjoyed a succulent gyros made of roast lamb and a glass of , the local wine. I promised myself that someday I would return with Rose to visit Vlychos, a paradise by the sea.


I walked back past Hydra and up the one hundred and forty two stairs to my mountain aerie. My balcony jutted out over the valley. I sat on the edge of the parapet. Far, far below, I could just make out the port. The burning embers of the fading Greek sun blazed through my canopy of star jasmine. Its flowers warmed gently, giving off a delicate perfume. A breeze swept down from the top of the hill. Somewhere, the rooster crowed again. I heard Pavarotti happily munching some of the purple nettles beneath my window. From the top of the crest high above my room, I could just barely hear the tinkling of goats bells, before drifting off into reverie.
-grs, 2004

            One often thinks: 'What is the Greek experience?'  Let me tell you about a typical day.

            Rose and I made late night/early morning passage on the Ferry Daliana from Santorini to Heraklion, one of Crete's many port cities.  We hustled up a taxi, which turned out to be too expensive, and so shared it with another young German couple, splitting the costs.  After a crazed two hour journey across Greece's largest island, we arrived at our port, Agios Nicholaous, for the morning's continuation of our journey to Rodos in the Dodecanese.  There were no plane rides available.  They either already been shut down by high winds, or were already fully booked.   

            Rose and I were once again thrust into the world of sixty years ago, going no where fast, but loving it. 

             I got a chance to put my Greek to the test on the telephone, and called a local hotel, Hotel Pergola, as listed in Lonely Planet.  A quick bite at the harbor, and we quickly crashed, falling into a deep sleep.  It seemed like minutes, when the landlord awakened us. In staccato Greek, he said:  "The boat is leaving.  The boat is leaving."

                        "O my Goodness!" I grabbed by forty-five pound backpack, my thirty pound camera bag, my 30 pound backpack, and my sixty-nine pound lighting equipment bag, as Rose gathered her stuff.  We hauled ass down to the port.   Just in the proverbial 'nick of time,' we boarded the LANE ferry,  Vitsentzos Kornaros,  to Rodos, a twelve-hour journey. Rose and I mellowed in the first hours of the journey, as we tried to catch up on our sleep.  We stopped at Sitia, and continued on the Kassos. 

             On the fantail, drinking my first coffee of the day, I noticed the winds start to freshen, first from light breeze, to strong breeze.  Then, suddenly, the windstorm hit.

             I mentioned to a fellow traveler that the winds seemed a bit stronger.  Upon closer observation, I could see the tops of the wind waves, whiten, and blow off, starting to drag across a cerulean confused sea.

             "Hmmm! This could be interesting," I mused to my lover.  Rose reached over and  placed my hand over mine. We both hung on to that rail, as the ferry started to heal, pitching first to ten degrees, then to fifteen.

             We pulled in to Kassos our next destination stop.  After three failed attempts, the Captain finally backed the huge ferry up to the quay.  The first line was tossed, and lashed in a hurry.  Just as the second was tossed, a huge sustained gust hit, upwards of 45 kph.  The second line blew free!  The primary hawser line, which was about 5 inches thick, exploded like a cannon shot, whipping back, ripping off both paint and rust from the aged Vincenzo Korneros!

             Despite the full effects of our side thrusters, the meltemi winds pushed against the ferry's high freeboard.  The Vitsentzos Kornaros began its slow inevitable drift toward the rocks, now close at hand off our port side.  The captain made the right move, gunning the ferry's mighty engines and we squeaked out of Kassos tight little harbor.  Taking no more chances, the captain moved onwards back to sea.  All the forlorn people waiting to get on sat stranded at the dock as well as those wanting to disembark.

            Four hours later, in the midst of a stormy sea now laced with a patchwork of white caps dragging across the surface, we pulled up to Karpathos, to Karpathos Harbor.  Again, just as we pulled in, the wind venturied, doubled to Beauford 10 and sent us towards the cliff.  The ship drifted far too close, and but for the phenomenal steep depths of the waters off the Greek Islands, I am sure we would have gone aground.  The Captain tried valiantly FOUR more times, before submitting to the whims of nature, and heading to the next port.

          An excited buzz filled the aid as people talked rapidly in all the languages of Europe.  More than a little apprehension was in the air. I spent my time, firmly gripping the oft painted rail, reading the near hurricane force winds from the fantail, and marveling at nature's primal force.


            We tried to pull into our next harbor, two hours later at Pigadia in Karpathos.  The captain was not going to give up so easily this time.  We tried three times to dock.  Each time we tried to back the massive ferry the winds would catch her bow and swing it towards the rocks.  The mighty stern engines fought the confused seas, and building 5-to-6 foot chop.  

            Bowing to the inevitable, the captain, again, had to compromise, pulling away from port.  It was the only sound decision.  Another Greek buzz filled the air.  'We must unload all the refrigerated produce and vegetables."  A solution had been reached.  We would wait in the lee side of this very big, long island of Karpathos. 

             Some four plus hours came and went.  We were seriously off our schedule to Rodos.  We were in high winds, buffeted by hurricane force winds.  On the other hand, we were in Greece.  The sun was shining brilliantly.  It was a beautiful day.  A deck hand wisely cranked up the Greek music, and opened the bar on the fantail.  There were worse places to be after all.

            Time slowed down, as we lay there in the brilliant Greek sun and forty-knot winds.  Slowly but surely, the Aeolian winds subsided, dropping to a mere 35 knots.  We pulled in nailed the docking at Karpathos, hitching up to the ferry quay with no less than FOUR of the huge lines, to hold the ferry tight.  A quick unloading.  Those going to Kassos would have to wait three days until the next ferry, including a fine Greek Grandfather and Grandmother we had met, who were transporting their grandchilden back to their parents.

            Still traveling in huge seas, we made passage for Rodos, without much ado, some six hours late at 2 AM.  There we stood, crammed into the stairway down to the disembarkation deck, American sardines, stuffed in with peoples of all countries, speaking a melange of language.  The words that came to mind were 'hurry up and wait.'  We were going somewhere pretty darn quick now, it's just that we didn't know exactly where. 


          Leaving the ferry, I kissed the ground more than once with my 140 pounds of junk.  We met an enterprising Greek, Johnny, who invited us to his "Pansyon."  We jumped into his car, sped along the thirty foot thick walls of Rodos' Old Town, before making a quick left into the old fortress, and making our way into the maze to Johnny's "Pansyon."  A lovelier sight I had never seen.....a double bed! 


        Breaking out our emergency stash of megali (large) Heinecken, Rose and I sat on our veranda, above an ancient stone street, one-donkey cart wide.  Staring at the stone buttress holding up the wall of Johnny's place and the Greek Flag waving in the winds, we toasted to the Captain and our good fortune.


-Glenn Steiner, 2000

5 AM by Glenn R. Steiner  

The sounds of animals wake me at Pension Annas.  I let the soft mornings light guide me to the door, drawing me gently from the warmth of my bed.  Always, the roosters rise first, then the dogs calling to each other, followed by the soft braying of the old donkeys yee-haw, yee-haw, yee-haaaaw, making me smile.  Lastly, it is the chirping of sparrows and other small birds searching for their breakfast, hopping from the branches of the olive trees to the dusky low grape vines below.

The immortal Greek sky starts to brighten, first dark turning to silver, and then the light, the Greek light as Helios starts his ride and begins his day, pushing through the morning clouds, rising abruptly from the sea off Anafi.

A soft crunching, the old feet of a Santorian man well past his retirement, walking through volcanic fields, follows an old track, past the newly planted grape vines that hug the earth so closely here.  It was an old path, even back when he was young.  He disappears into a small ravine.

Below me, the earth is white ash and pumice, and intermixed with white and startling black volcanic stone.  The light begins to play upon the golden fields of this land without much water.  The soft crunching of his old feet is heard long after the old Greek has disappeared.

The sounds of morning are in full concert now in KontaChora, a natural symphony.  The Greek sun warms my shared balcony here at Pension Anna, but the air is cold and fresh.  Dressed in long pants which have seen better days, an old worn sweater, and a dusty dark cap, the old Greek returns from the arroyo, leading his team of donkeys past the cubistic white buildings to my right.  I hear the clip-clop, clip-clop recede into the distance, back towards Fira.

A breath of soft warm wind pushes its way from the south.  A catabolic wind born of Africa, this Sirocco brings with it a sudden moisture, driving away the mosquitoes which be me no good will, save the parting a few nightly pints of blood.  Small ants scurry beneath my feet, but do not bite.

The island of Anafi, which lies 80 degrees East of Kontachora, seems to disappear into the now golden seas, and then, reappear suddenly, as if pulled down and then pushed up by the hand of Poseidon, the old Greek god of ancient mythos.

Soft striations of wispy clouds reach out and grasp the morning light.  Echoing Homers rosy fingers of dawn, they turn from soft chartreuse to pink to deep salmon.

I am surrounded by flocks of small birds. I want nothing else than to reach out and fly with them.

Hunger suddenly gives wings to my feet.

I strap on my sandals and walk quietly past the doors of teenagers that have burnt the midnight oil, and consumed most of the wick as well.

I try once again begin the familiar ritual of starting my old motor scooters ancient two-stroke engine.  My mechanical steed has its quirks.  This morning, the old motorbike would give an old donkey pause to wonder.  I try the kick-start pedal while sitting on the bike.  This is how I begin the ritual.  Kick, kick, kick.  Nothing.  Silence is my reward.  Kick, kick, kick.  I dismount.  Standing by the bike, I place my right foot on the pedal.  Kick, kick, kick. Nothing!  Somehow, without explanation, it is always my left foot, and only while dismounted, that starts the engine.  One push and the old engine catches, and then revs highly beyond reason, catching up for lost time.  Holding onto the gnarly handlebars, I steady the bike. I imagine that the resulting cacophony can be heard for miles, echoing down corridors of igneous rock, far out to the sea.  Climbing upon my mechanical steed, I slip the moped into gear.  It jolts ahead with a mind of its own, carrying me down the bumpy road toward Theotokopoulos Square and the promise of strong coffee.

-Glenn Steiner, Greek Island Photography Workshops