A Weekend In Nisyros

Feature by Mavis Manus

Café in Nisyros: Fartha Stenochoria (Far from Worries).

We decided to take a few days off from the insidiousness of our drunken Scots neighbors in Lindos and visit our next favorite island, Nisyros. In some things Greece hasn't changed, as we discovered while trying to get there.

The ferry was supposed to leave from Rhodes at 1 pm - plenty of time to drive to the city, get a haircut, our tickets and a newspaper, but at 11.45 Will burst into the hairdresser's. "The boat goes at noon" he panted. "The agency told me the schedule has been changed." I jumped up, tore the plastic from around my neck and offered to pay the hairdresser. He refused, saying "You'll be back." I glanced in the mirror and saw that half a haircut is definitely not better than no haircut at all.

We tore madly through congested Rhodian traffic, arriving at the dock, all asweat at one minute to twelve. As we drove up the ramp of the waiting ferry I noticed that 'Nisyros' was on up on the board. "How about Nisyros?" I yelled to an official. "Oh, that doesn't go until a quarter to one." We tore back to the travel agent, who told us none of his boats really went to Nisyros and that it was another agency entirely.

When we finally got our tickets we were told the boat would leave at 1.30. So… back to the hairdress (how did he know!) then to the dock where, in the end, we took off at 2 pm.

The only place we could find to stay was at the Spa. Nisyros is a volcanic island and has supposedly curative waters. The original spa had been built in 1875 and the hotel attached in 1902, and nothing has been changed since except for the sheets. The corridors are wider than the streets of the main town, the rooms have ceilings twice as high as they are broad; they seem to have been tipped over on their sides. As you sign in, the receptionist hands you a key and a roll of toilet paper, and as there are only three toilets and the majority of clients are ancient arthritics, there is a continuous shuffling up and down the corridors of folks clutching their toilet rolls. But the wide wooden planked floor is scrubbed to whiteness, and within six steps to the sea.

The following day a group of Greeks were moved to celebrate (something or nothing, it doesn't matter to the Nisyriots). A small band was around so they came over to play and sing, with diners leaping up to dance when the spirit moved. We went off to swim, had dinner in another village and returned at around 11 in the evening. The muscians were still at it and had got to the stage of exchanging ad lib rhyming couplets. Not until after midnight did they finally, drunkenly, peel off - eaters and dancers, singers and musicians.

A tiny islet just a mile off-shore is made entirely of pumice and a good part of Nisyros' income is provided by systematically razing the island. Other islanders in the Dodecanese claim this pumice has affected the character of the Nisyriots and call them 'light-stone heads.' But a booklet we picked up says 'the sunset are very pretty and take your brain away.'

There was the usual, nay obligatory, chaos at the dock when leaving, with officials trying with total unsuccess to keep back passengers from embarking until vehicular traffic was in place: everyone shouting, sweating, gesticulating. One dock policeman yelled at Will, "Brosta!" (forward). Will eased the car gently forward. Not fast enough for the official, "Brosta! Brosta!" he raged. So Will went forward, thank goodness very slowly. There was a yell and everyone yelled at one "No forward! Go back!" He had run over the ticket taker's foot. Everyone crowded around. One woman got out two dishcloths and wrapped them around the foot. Then she got a white plastic bag and wrapped that round, then a blue plastic bag with some cubes of ice and wrapped that round too, then a piece of red gift-wrapping ribbon and tied that over everything with a big bow. But half way through this performance, a man came off the ferry with a case of fresh fish to sell. Immediately everyone left and hovered over this more interesting piece of drama.

When the ferry finally got under way, the ticket taker limped into the salon. Will explained to him how it had happened, offered him a brandy and coffee. One could see the guy wasn't quite sure what his attitude should be. Soon a group of ship's crew gathered round his table and solemnly discussed the matter. The conclusion was it was not Will's fault. In two minutes the ticket taker had unwrapped his foot, had his sandals on again and was walking normally. Phew! Will was worried he'd broken the man's foot. "It's a good job it didn't happen in America," he said. But these chaotic scenes could never happen in America - I don't think.