Writings of Andrew Schiestel

A picture of the Village of Vathy on the Island of Ithaca, Greece.

“Want me to take the picture?”

The family of three—husband, wife and daughter—were going to take each other’s photos in pairs; the plan was: first the mother and daughter and following, the father and daughter.

Tom knew the plan because he heard the three conversing while passing the trio; the daughter initiated the idea as they walked eastward along the southern part of Vathi’s bay.

The husband, in his late forties looked at Tom for an extended moment before responding.

“Yes, thank you.” He smiled graciously.

Tom reached out and the man handed him his mobile phone.

The three were pleasant in demeanour and clearly enjoying the day. The mother was similar in age as her spouse, wearing a light tank-top shirt, worn khaki shorts, black sandals and a modest silver-toned watch; the daughter—around 24 years of age—a younger spitting image of the two, wore a long flowing dress with flowers imprinted on it and a bracelet on her wrist; and the man wore a worn grey t-shirt, dark grey shorts, black sandals and nothing around his wrists.

Tom made sure to take several photos, both portrait and landscape in posture. He also started taking the photos early, before the three put on their smiley-faces, because sometimes, you get the best photo of people that way.

“Thank you,” the husband said, receiving the phone back.

“Where are you from?” the wife asked.

“Canada.”

“Ahh, Canada.”

“You all?”

“United Kingdom.”

“Ahh, England.”

“Yes.”

“I was in London a year ago, March, in Soho” Tom said. “But never left London. Except for the airport. How do you like this island?”

The three nodded.

“An incredible island,” The man looked over at his wife. “The two of us visited this island 25 years ago.”

“Oh wow, that’s a long time ago.” Tom chuckled.

“Yes, it was 1994,” The man recited the year on demand like it wasn’t the first time he had done so on the trip.

“Is it much different?”

“Cephalonia is much different. Ithaca not so much.”

“You mean places like Sami have developed a lot more?”

“Exactly,” The fellow said. “Although Ithaca clearly is getting some interesting tourists these days, like that yacht over there.” He turned and pointed to the prodigal yacht, 150-feet in length, parked on the western side of the bay and chuckled, a hint of sarcasm in his tone.

Tom noticed the yacht, too, last night when he arrived on the island. It was the largest yacht he had ever seen. It was parked south of a row of a dozen sailboats predominantly from the U.K., one from France.

“You should come for dinner sometime!” The man proclaimed with a chuckle.

“You bet,” Tom played along. “Two years ago, I visited Ithaca.”

“Really?” The wife and husband both said almost simultaneously.

The daughter stood still listening intently, keeping very quiet.

“See the mountain over there?” Tom pointed north across the centre of the bay up at Mount Nirito in the distance. “When I arrived in Ithaca, I went into the souvlaki shop at the corner,” He motioned his hand to the west along the southern part of the bay to its southwest corner. All three nodded their heads in understanding. “I asked a Greek woman standing in line, ‘Can the mountain be hiked and how long?’ She said, ‘Yes, two and a half hours up.’ So I thought to myself, two and a half hours up, two and a half hours back, throw a baguette in the knapsack, a bottle of water, maybe an orange, leave at 8 be back by 1pm!”

The three laughed, following along.

“I spent five days in Vathy and was going to do the hike on the sixth and last day. It was the coldest winter Greece had had in 16 years. The day I woke up to do the hike, it was raining outside and gosh was it cold!”

“Oh no!” The husband exclaimed all three sinking deeper into the story.

“Yes, and when I started to make my way up the mountain there was plenty of snow! My left foot was starting to freeze as I walked. It was getting dangerous.”

The three continued listening, becoming more intent.

“Near the top of the mountain I entered a café in the Village of Anogi. The owner of the café knew I wasn’t in good shape, grabbed my arm when I entered, pulled and sat me down on a wooden chair in front of a portable coal fireplace to warm up and laid out nuts and crackers to eat. And when I tried to offer her money for them upon leaving, she refused to accept it.”

The three continued to listen, their attention seized.

“As I was getting ready to leave she went behind a counter and lifted up a woman’s winter jacket, and said, ‘Put this on,’ I said, ‘No, I’m not taking your jacket.’ She said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going back to Vathi, right? My brother works in the coffee shop in the square. Give it to him in the morning.”

“What did you do next?” The husband asked emphatically.

“I put the woman’s winter jacket on, of course! And proceeded to walked four and a half hours back down the mountain! It was 10pm by the time I returned that night to Vathi. And when I got back into the village, I went back to that same souvlaki shop and had a big plate of souvlaki! And when standing up thirty minutes later, I’ve never felt so much pain in my thighs before!”

“Oh wow!” The daughter and mother spurted out almost simultaneously, all three laughing, a mixture of shock and awe.

“The two-and-a-half hour hike one way and back turned out to be five and a half one way, four and a half the other way. It ended up being 34 kilometres in total!”

“Wow!” The husband spurted.

“And if I had known it was going to be 34 kilometres, you bet I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. I wasn’t in shape for it!” All three continued laughing at the thought of it all.

“So where do you live in England?” Tom asked.

“A place called Thornbury, a beautiful country. It’s in the southwest, about 40 minutes from Bristol and the ocean.

“Sounds beautiful.”

“Aye mate, it really is,” The husband said.

“Well, have a wonderful rest of your trip all,” Tom said. “What a pleasure this has been.” Tom placed his right hand, open, in front of his heart.

The three smiled warmly and said their good byes to Tom.

“See you in another 20 years,” the husband quipped jovially as Tom walked away.

Tom chuckled.

The three walked back to their 150-foot yacht named Elysium.

 

The hero image is of the Village of Vathy on the Island of Ithaca, Greece, taken from the northwestern shore. Many sailboats anchored; the centre islet is that of Lazereto, which hosted the island’s jail until the 1950s and today a chapel.

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