Sunday, January 11, 2015

January: The MID-year month

We all know that September is the first month of the year and June is the last. Why else would the school's MID-term tests be scheduled in January? So as I come over the hump of mid-year and see the light of the Greek sunshine on the horizon, I think of those two other months, the ones that equate to paradise, and I fondly think of Yianni.

He and his family live on a boat in the Acheron River during the summer.  Captian Yianni's boat has no frills and is relatively small, but that makes it much more endearing than the overcrowded tourist boats--those with the eyes painted on the side to look like an ancient relic and with wall-to-wall people hanging over the railings with IPHONEs pointed in all directions.    

Our tour on Captian Yianni's boat begins in Amoudia, a village not far from Margariti. As you drive out of the mountains and along the ridge of a delta, the village of Amoudia opens up and fans-out before your eyes. The old people in the area call it Splanza after an Italian general who controlled the area during WWII.

The Map below shows the short drive from Margariti and then the cruise to the Blue Caves, Antipoxos (the smaller island), Paxos and then back to the mainland.

You park wherever it's convenient. There are several areas designated for cars but like many other Greek rules, those are just suggestions and if you find a nice shady tree to park under, that's fine too. The posted signs give information about cruises in Greek, German and English.

Before you purchase your ticket, you might first enjoy a fresh cappuccino or hearty espresso at one of the cafes that hug the riverside. This landscape has changed considerably since I first started coming to Epirus in 1983. Back then there was no cement. We sat under the trees that lined the river and were able to walk into the water without effort.  You can see the 1980s river bank of Amoudia in this link of   AMOUDIA: THEN AND NOW 

From the cafes you can watch the activity as the little village bustles about in the early morning sun, before the heat of the day: fishermen working on their nets, fruit sellers calling out from small trucks overloaded with melons, store owners brushing sand from the storefront walkways and rolling out the awnings.

In addition to Captain Yianni's boat, there are other smaller boats bobbing at the water's edge, from which other captains cheerfully call out to passersby, telling of their river trips which often include a tour of the Ionian coastline near Amoudia. Those excursions are only an hour or two, but very enjoyable.

For Captain Yianni's excursions, however, you'll need the entire day as it's a bit further. You might want to visit the baker and buy one of his small cheese or spinach pies--Greek fast food--for the trip across the water. It takes about an hour to get to Paxos and Antipoxos.

You'll meet Captain Yianni's entire family. His two sons and his daughter help him pilot the boat and entertain the guests. His wife with a cup of coffee and a ticket book will be sitting in the cafe across from the boat. If you happen by that cafe in the evening after the boat has docked, you can find the whole family hanging around, enjoying the company of friends, some of whom were formerly customers on their cruise.

The first stop on the cruise is at the Blue Caves. They get their name from a neon-like turquoise color that emanates from the cave walls underneath the water. It's most likely from a mix of minerals and from the cut of sunlight as it hits the water through the cave opening, but it actually looks like there are blue lights shining from the bottom of the water.

Captian Yianni, unlike most cruise captains, gets into the water and swims with his passengers.  During his swimming tour, he provides his guests with a bit of history coupled with fun anecdotes, and topped off with an impressive dive to the bottom of the cave floor -- no easy feat for a not-so-slim man in his late 50s.

Afterwards, the cruise continues on to the island of Antipoxos where you disembark on a makeshift gang blank that requires you to take a one minute walk along the rocky shore to the beach. There are 3 or 4 choices of cafes but no hotels. The water is warm, the sand smooth and clean and it is one of the most enjoyable swims.

The next stop is the island of Paxos which has many cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels. You can choose a cafe along the port and enjoy a drink or two before returning to the boat for the trip back to Amoudia.

So, as I watch New York's frigid January weather, I'm thawed by warm memories of Captain Yianni and his family. Only a few more months until that last month of the year -- June!


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  2. The link is here