Monday, November 23, 2009

Kalymnos - The Final Chapter

Our time in Kalymnos is coming to a close. We’ve got just under one week left before we start our arduous journey home. We leave by ferry on the evening of December 30th and travel to the island of Kos where we’ll board a plane for Athens. Early the next morning (6:00am!) we board a flight to Amsterdam where we have an 8-hour layover. We plan to take the train into the city centre and wander, which Elise is very excited about, especially since we’ve promised her a lunch of Dutch pancakes! That afternoon, we board a 9.5-hour direct flight to Vancouver and arrive home in the mid evening…phew!

Here is Elise playing on our deck with her Polly Pockets and plastic sharks. She likes to make “tide pools” by putting her shells inside a bucket of water.

These are a couple photos of the castle ruin above the village of Hora. This was the ancient capital of Kalymnos due to its strategic position above the cliffs. I guess the port town of Pothia (now the largest city) would be a much more vulnerable position for attack.

The last 2-3 weeks here have been superb. The weather is absolutely perfect for climbing (clear, breezy and cool). Here is a photo of an Australian girl on a route called Gaia at Odyssey cliff.

This is Pam on a route at Arhi cliff. The interesting rock (limestone) is visible in the background.

We’ve still managed to swim on the warmer days. In fact, yesterday was very warm – warm enough for Elise and I to spend 15 minutes in the water “snorkeling” together (i.e. wading with our faces in the water). We saw a lot of interesting fish, and when I flipped over large rocks, all kinds of crazy sea creatures burst out (black urchins, stringy starfish and bizarre slug-like centipedes). In the deeper water, I cradle Elise so she floats on her belly and can look at what’s below. She loves it, but gets cold really fast. Her entire body starts to shake, but she doesn’t want to quit. I’m the one who has to pull the proverbial plug.

These are photos from inside an ancient Necropolis above the beach. I guess this is some kind of tomb, and they are scattered throughout the island.

The evenings here get longer and longer with the wintery darkness and lack of other climbers to socialize with. We go for walks, play games and Elise does lot of drawings (a favourite pastime). I brought a copy of an old favourite movie of ours, the Big Blue, since it’s partially based in Greece. One evening Elise asked if she could watch some, so we let her and it turned out to be a big hit! The movie is a romantic drama based around the obscure sport of free diving and has many scenes with dolphins and interesting sea creatures. (There are also a lot of great on-location sets in Greece). Elise really enjoyed the novelty of watching a film with us and we finished it in two evenings flat. We’re now onto our fourth (yes, fourth) viewing of the same movie and she knows all the characters and sequence of events by heart. There are a few underwater deaths in the movie (nothing morbid) and that took a bit of explaining. She seemed satisfied with the idea that the men in question had gone down to the bottom of the sea to “live with the mermaids”. If you haven’t seen the Big Blue, check it out. The landscapes in the Greek islands are very similar to what we see around here.

Elise continues to climb up a storm! She did three different climbs yesterday, including her trickiest yet. The intimidation is gone, and now the only hurdle seems to be getting her to concentrate on what she’s doing (she’s easily distracted) and actually try some different climbs. We’ve watched her get great satisfaction out of mastering one climb in particular, Eumeo (see all the photos below of her going up and down). Since she’s working on learning her alphabet and sounds, we combine this with her climbing. At the base of each route in Greece, the name of the climb is painted on the rock, so we identify each letter together and then I sound out the word for her. She knows the names of all her climbs.

Here she is basking in the after-climb glow of success (sunset at Odyssey).

Here she is eating her post-climbing treat – a full box of Smarties for getting to the top of Argo (her hardest route)!

Our studio is overrun with cats and a few have taken to coming inside and trying to sleep on our beds (we let them from time to time). This photo is of “Enna” on our bed and, yes, she only has one eye, poor thing.

Here is a photo of Leo (the dominant male) and one of his progeny, Squirt, relaxing outside our room.

Elise is thrilled with the cats and told us she will miss them when we leave. The only downside is one cat in particular has taken to jumping into our window at 6:30 am (first light) and meowing loudly. Typical cat! We thought we’d left that aggravation behind when we left Squamish. This is a photo of the culprit, Bella.

After visiting the archeological museum, I decided I just had to see the cave that produced remains from the Bronze Age. Well, we found it one evening, but it was a bit of an adventure. The cave was in an obscure spot on the coast and, like most sites on Kalymnos, had no map or well-defined trail to help visitors navigate. I traversed along the rocks above the water while Pam and Elise stayed up high on the ridge. It started to get dark, we got separated and Elise got scared when Pam started yelling over the cliffs for me in concern. Elise started crying and said, “But, I love my dad. I love taking baths with my dad”. She was quite upset when I rejoined them on the ridge. All ended well…

This is the cave. It would not be a very nice nice place to dwell, but is very close to the sea.

A few evenings ago Elise and I went for a drive to the highest “pass” on the island where we visited a newly constructed church. The family that built it was there and welcomed us inside. Apparently, they built it as a memorial to their son, who was killed in a motorcycle accident at this remote spot, high on the island. They were expecting a visit from some local priests (the first time) and fed us Greek pastries. Elise and I took pictures and sat on the ridge and watched the sunset together (it was cold). I let Elise take some pictures of the sun with my camera, which delighted her because normally she is absolutely NOT allowed to touch my camera. She wants to take more…

We’re following the flooding in western B.C. and are not relishing the thought of returning to the wintery and wet weather. However, it will be nice to be in our own surroundings and to re-connect with friends and family. We hope you are all doing well and look forward to catching up soon.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kalymnos Part 5

Our village, Massouri, is like a ghost town. In the course of two weeks, the crowds have fled leaving deserted streets, hotels and restaurants. After the craziness of October, it’s actually a little eerie, even lonely. This picture shows the town from the water. We live in a white building just right of centre, about one block above the sea.

On the flip side, the cliffs are much quieter and our climbing days feel more relaxed – we no longer have to battle with the abrupt Euros to get to the climbs we are keen for. All of our friends have left so the last two weeks will be socially quiet, unless we miraculously meet some unexpected acquaintances. Many of the shops have shut down for the season, but since we have a car, we can get what we need by driving 10-15 minutes toward Pothia. A few of the restaurants are still open so if the mood strikes, we can still get authentic Greek food. With the long, dark evenings, our trip here is winding down on a quiet note.

Here are some photos from a climbing day on the small island of Telendos. There are a lot of spiny plants here. The vegetation is very desert-like.

Elise posing on Telendos. It was a windy and cold day.

Showing me her "funny face".

Climbing-wise, we all had a very good, even excellent, week. I did one of the hardest routes I’ve ever climbed away from home, Pam sent one of her long-standing projects (a very overhanging climb) and Elise did two new climbs and absolutely perfected her favourite climb "Eumeo". She now flies up it on demand. Still, the conditions are a tad warm and muggy for good friction, but since we are not freezing, I guess I shouldn’t complain. In fact, in the last three days, we’ve managed to swim twice in the Aegean, although the water is definitely getting more “refreshing”.

We hiked to a small church on a peninsula. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Relaxing on the beach.

Elise posing on the white-washed steps that led down to the sea below the small church. I dove off the dock and swam, Pam opted out and Elise decided to wade in the tide pools instead of swimming.

Elise continues to impress us with her napping skills. She sleeps anywhere, literally. At Odyssey cliff we put her to sleep on a mat between two cacti (no tent – it’s often too windy) and she lays there in the breeze sleeping for two hours, easily. That we can count on this day after day is truly amazing.

Since the summer weather patterns have broken, we’ve had some tremendous storms. Typically, they roll through at night. We hear thunder in the distance that slowly approaches, followed by incredible lightning and torrential rain. Bear in mind we live in Squamish and are accustomed to legendary precipitation, but these storms are on a whole new level. It rained so hard last night one of our walls started to leak. And the morning dawned sunny and dry! I’ve tried to get Elise to sit on the deck with me at night and watch the fork lightning rip across the sky, but it makes her nervous and she quickly darts inside to the sanctuary of her bed and Polly Pockets! The waves have grown large during the storms and again Elise gets nervous at the beach. She’s always telling us to “get back” from the water’s edge. She thinks we’ll get wet or swept away.

The calm before the overenight storm.

The aftermath. Note the muddy run-off along shore, seen as a brown streak in the water.

We visited the Kalymnos Archeological museum and it was very impressive, including the price of admission – free!

We learned that this island has been inhabited by humans since the Bronze Age and has an incredible history. Ruins litter the island and I’m especially interested in visiting a cave where the majority of the oldest artifacts have been found dating back to 4000 BC! In the museum, we looked at all kinds of pottery, bronze figurines, marble busts, glass bowls, fishing hooks, stone tablets and coins (Kalymnos has been minting its own currency for thousands of years). One of the most impressive displays was a collection of bronze, life-size statues that had only been recently discovered at the bottom of the sea, between the islands of Kalymnos and Kos. Can you imagine discovering something like this while diving?

Afterward, we visited the restored mansion of the self-proclaimed “Sponge King” of Kalymnos. The house was a couple hundred years old and incredibly ornate, furnished with items from France circa Louis the 14Th.

The highlight for Elise was picking (and eating) an orange from the orchard out front of the house. The trees are heavy with citrus fruit right now.

We’ve been indulging in Greek pastry. The sweet shops here are pretty impressive, far more so than in Spain, which was totally lame in this department. In particular, we’ve been enjoying the baklava, which is honey-soaked pastry served in a variety of forms. The Kalymnians claim they have the best honey in the world and I wouldn’t doubt it. It has something to do with the species of bees combined with the flowering herbs that grow wildly on the island. We have the honey on goat’s milk yogurt (definitely not low fat) every morning. Its rich, creamy and delicious – a real Greek treat. If the honey yogurt doesn’t kill us, the pastry surely will. I’ve noticed our intake of pastry has increased from a couple of times a week to an almost daily occurrence. We’ll have to keep it under control before we leave or we’ll negate all our hard climbing work!

Elise is very much looking forward to coming home and talks about it a lot. She’s planning a blueberry pancake breakfast (her favourite) with some friends for the week that we return. We’ve been working on her alphabet and she’s getting quite good at identifying the individual letters and naming words that start with the sound in question. She loves to “read” before bed every night. After we give her bedtime stories, she sits in bed with her headlamp on and “reads” books. In other words, she flips through the books and recites all the words from memory. It’s amazing to me what she can recall! We just lie there, watch her and laugh quietly to ourselves.

We’re off to a BBQ with our apartment manager Monica. Tonight is her last night before leaving for Spain and we are about to inherit the feeding of all the stray cats. Elise is thrilled…

Until next week...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kalymnos Part 4

There's no doubt about it, summer is officially over in Greece. In the last week, we've seen the temperatures go from the mid 20s to the mid teens, and there's plenty of frigid wind to go with it. This is generally considered better conditions for climbing, but our warm afternoons of basking in the Aegean Sea may be over. Regardless, we can still enjoy the beach; we’ll just have to keep our clothes on.

We have a nice routine here. We climb 3-4 times per week and, on days off, Pam takes Elise out in the morning while I work in the apartment. Elise naps from 1:00-3:00 and then we usually go for a hike or beach excursion as a family before dinner. Since daylight savings, the evenings are long and dark giving us more time to kill. We sometimes go for an after dark walk to fill the gap before bedtime.

Here is a photo of a church on the ridge above the port town of Pothia. We drove up for an evening and enjoyed the late afternoon light and views. Elise especially liked the large chicken coop behind the church complex.

We’ve been spending some time climbing and socializing with a couple from Boulder, Dan and Kate. They live next door and we’ve had a couple of nice dinners together. Here’s a photo of Dan flashing a hard route (Sardonique) at the Odyssey sector.

This is Elise watching her IPOD during one of our dinners out.

Elise continues to climb and continues to improve. Her latest route is called Eumeo (4b) and she’s done it a few times now. She has climbed it without any help from either of us and lowers back down without incident. Here is a photo of her at the top of the climb with her little friend Koji (from Chamonix) beside her. A little competition never hurts…

This past week was a French holiday and there have been a number of French families here. Elise has enjoyed the companionship of other children. Here she is at the base of the Odyssey wall with Koji (in the tent) and Juliette. They cannot understand each other, but it doesn’t seem to matter. They play together and Elise provides instructions in English, regardless of their response.

The other day, while we weren’t looking, Elise put our belay gloves on her feet and started walking around the base of the cliff. She looked like a chicken and we all thought this was pretty funny. The things she comes up with.

Here is a picture of Odyssey cliff.

Here is a picture of a beautiful little church on a peninsula below Odyssey cliff.

The kittens continue to be a huge hit with Elise. However, there have been some mishaps. After two separate incidents where Elise “manhandled” the cats, we gave her a 24-hour cat time out. In other words, no cats for one full day. This she took seriously and the behavior has improved, somewhat. We still have to coach her constantly on appropriate handling of the animals.

This is one of the kittens.

This is Leo, the dominant male in the area. We’ve seen him fight and chase off a couple of other males and he’s certainly taken some abuse in the process. This picture is about the best I can do for poor Leo. He’s not a proud looking specimen with his scars, scabby eyes and black-spotted lips, but he does have character and is very friendly. However, he scratched Elise in the face the other day – I have no doubt she deserved it.

We celebrated Elise’s first Halloween last night. It was the first time she actually understood it and got to participate in the festivities. Pam made her a cat costume (this seemed appropriate) and we went trick-or-treating in our apartment building. We visited Dan and Kate next door, Monica (the manager) on the first floor, the family that owns the building and our Toronto friends Daniel, Peter and Tom. We had warned them all that we would be coming and they had treats ready for Elise. She did very well, considering she was working a country with no idea whatsoever about the North American significance of this holiday. We finished the evening with a nice dinner out with Dan and Kate.

Here is Elise’s costume. Note the paws on her hands.

Here she is outside our apartment with her jack-o-lantern, midway through the session.

This is Monica, the apartment manager. She’s been very helpful and Elise really likes her. Monica feeds the cats which is one of the reasons they are reasonably healthy and happy here.

Finally, I thought I’d include a couple of pictures of our apartment. The wide angle lens on my camera makes it look a mile long, but it’s actually quite small. In the first picture you can see Elise clowning around on her bed. She likes to play with Polly Pockets (her new favourite toy – grandparents take note) on her bed each evening and I’m constantly putting Cinderella in different dresses. The second picture shows the other half of the studio (minus the bathroom) where we do our cooking and eating. It’s small, but adequate.

Elise is talking excitedly about various winter activities such as skiing, skating and building snowmen in the yard. I told her that it’s going to be cold and she’ll get wet, but that seems to be of no consequence. She assures me she’s ready. Winter will be interesting this year.

Four more weeks in Greece! We hope it doesn’t get too cold to continue enjoying the outdoors.