Monday, 31 October 2011

Greece 2011, The Express Skopelitis and Greek Ferries

After the visit to the monastery and the gentle walk around the Chora we planned a lazy sort of afternoon doing nothing at all so after a drink in the main square we took the bus back down to Katapola where we stopped first at the mini-market for drinks and snack food. Behind the till of the shop was an old man with two weeks of beard, an untidy shirt streaked with dust, an old vest that may have been white once a very long time ago and a very impressive money diddling trick! After he had totted up the items, produced the bill and been presented with a note he would ask for change and root about in the palm of the hand and when he had finished it was certain that the transaction had inevitably cost a few extra cents. He did this every time and we concluded that this was his way of compensating for the extra taxes he was now having to pay to the Greek government in the wake of the economic crisis.

My next job was to check on the ferries. The Express Skopelitis was still firmly tied up in port and the news at the ferry booking office wasn’t too good. The Skopelitis it seemed hadn’t been playing by the rules and was operating with a counterfeit safety certificate that had been issued in Russia! It had had a number of warnings about this but the owners hadn’t complied with relevant enforcement notices and now the authorities were cracking down. And there seemed to be an alternative suggestion as well – although this deception was well known the port authorities had always turned a blind eye but now with the Euro problems and the Government’s privatisation programme the country can no longer afford generous subsidies to uneconomic boats so they have to be replaced by more efficient and more expensive big ferries that do not rely on state aid. The Skopelitis it seemed was a victim of the economic crisis and the suspension of the operating licence was perhaps a cynical way of taking it out of operation without breaking a government contract.

I asked if it might be sorted out by Friday and with a casual raised eyebrow and a shrug of the shoulder all I got was a non committal maybe/maybe not response and I knew that this was the best that I could hope for. It didn’t help that other ferry crews were taking strike action so there was no real certainty about ferry times in and around the Little Cyclades for the next day or two.

We had been stranded like this once before, in Folegandros in 2008, and had to alter our schedule and it seemed that we might have travel plan problems again here thanks to the Skopelitis and the strikes and that we might have to change the itinerary to take account of this so while we wasted the afternoon away on the balcony of the room we examined the options but satisfied that there were some others available we decided not to do anything too hasty just yet.

So, we thought no more about it as afternoon slipped into evening and after yet more sunset pictures and a bit of beach combing we had evening meal in an alternative taverna which we both declared to be excellent. One week into the holiday we were in a relaxed mood with a couldn’t care less attitude and after we had settled up and left we walked back to the hotel along a languid harbour with moonlight kissing the water and waves gently caressing the shoreline. It was delightful!

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