Sunday, 23 October 2016

Halki: Harbourfront Dips and Real Estate Tips

28 July 2016
Rhodes, Greece (Ρόδος, Ελλάδα) 
Our second day on Rhodes began early, as we planned to leave the highly touristic island to venture to that siren we spied from the aft of our ship: Halki. Foregoing our customary swim, we invested that beach time into stocking up on sesame bread from the baker in Masari and hightailing it to the "very picturesque" harbour of Kamiros Skala. After parking and checking our watches, we deemed the hour sufficient enough to sit down with a coffee in the bracing sea air before needing to check into our pre-booked ferry. Sagely, I opted for the orange juice, which (although not freshly squeezed) was apparently far superior to the watery cappuccino that Yannick had ordered.
Leaving the cappuccino almost untouched, we presented our tickets and boarded the little ferry, perching on long wooden benches. As we waited for departure, we observed a man in the middle of his morning swim (jealous!) who swam up to a moored fishing boat and struck up a conversation with the fisherman on deck. I suppressed a giggle as I saw the swimmer glide up to the hull and thrust out his hand, shaking with the man who was moments before straightening a fishing net.

Halki, Greece (Χάλκη, Ελλάδα) 
The ferry ride passed quickly in relation to our previous island hops, and was remarkably almost on time (which is the most you can hope for in Greece). Once our boat had been secured to the quay, tourists scattered like a menaced school of fish and then reconvened into smaller schools separated by their respective tour groups. We let them go on ahead, and then ducked into a quiet side street in stealthy secret agent fashion. They had no idea what hit them. One moment we were there and then BAM!

We quickly spied the two famous Halki bell towers. One is the white crown atop the church of Agios Nikolaos down at the water's edge. Our carefully selected pathway led us uphill past the other, which is the stone pinnacle gazing from above the village. The story behind this tower starts a long time ago, when Halki brought about its golden age through prosperity from sponge fishing in the 1800's. As time wore on, the sponge trade was becoming less lucrative and many residents uprooted their families to seek a living elsewhere. The population dropped from around three thousand in the mid 19th-century to just 250 today. A mass emigration took place to Tarpon Springs in Florida in 1911, where those skilled in sponge fishing could continue their trade. Never forsaking their origins, the expats in Tarpon Springs banded together and presented a sum of money to Halki for the building of a new bell tower.

On we plodded down the pale streets of the old town, over stones and grates and fallen petals.

Curiously watching us, a golden pup licked his damp nose and thumped his tail. 

Seeking the beach, we again utilised our secret agent skillsets and tailed a woman carrying a towel after discerning that the towel would most likely be used for sunbathing. (Full secret agent disclodure: I also called out to her and inquired if she was headed for the beach, to which she replied in the affirmative.) Instead of settling on the pebbly beach with all the other plebs, we clambered over crest and crag to reach a secluded cove.

The water lapped gently at the rock, and we carefully lowered ourselves into the crystal depths. Reemerging from the water was more difficult, as we were quite sure that sea urchins were happily loitering along the stony sea floor and like children playing some inane game, we would glide as close as possible to dry land before putting our feet down and hoisting ourselves to safety.

As birds rustling their outstretched wings in the warmth of the sun, we dried off some before strolling back to the town. A number of houses along the waterfront had been abandoned, some much more recently than others. One such house had direct access to the harbour via a little deck out front with a ladder leading invitingly under the surface. François took down the phone number posted onto the side of the building and called later on, finding that the house had an asking price of €450,000 which is no small sum. Ah well, one can dream.

Though broiling under direct sunlight, we walked the length of the town to fully take in the atmosphere of Halki and found a severely derelict abode. This one had clearly been uninhabited for a long while, as there were no doors, windows or roof remaining. The inherent sense of heartache that can be felt from seeing such a lonely structure was made all the more exquisite from lining up the sky and the sea where the two floors would have once met.
A long and relaxing lunch at the taverna Vasili's was filled with delectable dishes: gigantes (broad beans in tomato sauce), imam, and spicy roasted peppers stuffed with olive hummus.

Though we didn't rush over our meal, we factored in time for one more swim before the ferry back to Rhodes. Slipping into the harbour next to a couple of families was brought to a panicked conclusion, however, as we heard the ferry engines starting up. Scrabbling up the ladder slippery with algae, we threw our clothes on over wet bathing suits and all but ran for the quay, sliding everywhere in sopping jandals, where we realised that it was not our ferry departing prematurely but a different boat (presumably late to boot).
Once our ferry did cast off its ropes, I struck up a conversation with an English woman who was sitting beside me to pass the time and distract myself from my numb backside. Whenever she went on holiday, she came to Rhodes as the island was a reliquary for good memories (she was proposed to on the acropolis of Lindos). Our evening was a subdued one, with a late swim and a languid dinner of wine, bread and roasted tomatoes.

Today's post was almost called: 'Activate the Beach-Seeking Missile!'