June 22, 2016
We spent a long stretch at anchor, three weeks – interrupted only by a day and a half at a small marina to top off water and do some laundry. We anchored off beaches, in small bays, in front of the largest town on Ithaca (maybe 5,000 people, maybe), and the mechanics and pleasures of anchoring were lovely to discover after the long winter in a marina, then few protected places in Sicily and Calabria to drop the hook.
While anchored in the bay of Vathi, Ithaka, we rented a car for a day to look around the island – fascinating in light of a recent reading Herb Jordan’s wonderful new translation of the Odyssey (available through Amazon, published by the University of Oklahoma Press). This is a region of very strong earthquakes, and there is little standing in the way of classical ruins. But the island is rugged, mountainous, mostly in a state of near (but very dry) wilderness. It reinforces the impression of Greece as a very sparsely populated land – except for a few big cities, mainly Athens and Thessaloniki.
This reflects the trend toward “labor saving” devices on boats, which are fun while they work. But they are not reliable like the old mechanical means for accomplishing the same thing without any energy-use, other than burning what you ate for lunch. All is well with Serafina’s excellent and very old anchor windlass (older than the boat, I think). We did notice that our markers for every 30 feet of anchor chain have been wearing off, so those are being touched up during this latest interlude in a marina to take care of some things that involve travel to Germany.
The bay that was our favorite was on the north end of Meganisi – one of the Ionian islands. It was a very quiet spot – just two small businesses in the whole bay – one a terraced tavern with excellent food and a profusion of plants and butterflies. The other place was a tiny outdoor bar and book exchange with gravel paths between tables, and a friendly ouzo dispensing proprietor originally from Albania.
Kittens, cats and dogs were running free, and the display of butterflies was striking, for people from an urban, or semi-urban environment. Some were big lemon yellow, some smaller and black and white, and there were honey bees everywhere. This could well be the result of an island that’s too poor, and not agricultural enough to support the widespread use of pesticides. It did remind me though, of how isolated most of us are from what nature used to be like. Poets and painters who rhapsodized about meadows and streams would find a rather different environment in most parts of the world. But in this quiet little bay, they would feel at home.
Of course, it’s not good to romanticize things too much. Pesticides played a role in reducing endemic malaria throughout most of the southern Mediterranean and Aegean. It was so common that there is even a widespread genetic variation in the southern Mediterranean that offers some protection against the parasite – oddly at the cost of making fava beans potentially toxic to the people that have it. It means that malaria was common enough even a mild protection conferred a significant survival and thus reproductive advantage on those who had the mutation.
This can lead to some further debate about the terrible misuse of DDT in the 1950s and 1960s for mass application for agriculture. In malaria-prone areas, it is still a very valuable tool against the disease – and does not need to be applied in such a way that it exterminates all the insect life in the area.
Current societies and governments seem incapable of unbiased, humane and competent management of such issues. So we depend on out of the way places like Meganisi to remind us of how beautiful and varied the natural world can be.