Guide Dog on Samos
I’m not a huge fan of animals, being nervous of most dogs and squeamish about wildlife. But just now and again I could cheerfully take a cute little pup or a fluffy kitten home with me: like the winsome little mongrel we met on Samos.
My late husband, known as Merlin, and I flew independently to Kos and hopped through the Dolly Blue Agean on a northerly course to the Dodecanese group of islands. The furthest flung corner of these to which we travelled was Samos, a small but mountainous place with a population of around 33,000 and located just off the Turkish coast. It is dominated by Mount Kerkis which is half as big again as Ben Nevis and it is where the gods Zeus and Hera (his sister) had a 300-year long honeymoon. The son of Cronus and Rhea, Zeus was born on Crete and became acknowledged as the chief god which gave him plenty of scope with females, with whom he produced a long list of offspring.
Finally we arrived at perhaps the most photogenic of all Greek harbours. Pronounced Peetagorion (with the accent on ee) by the locals, its name is a reminder of one of the island’s most famous sons, Pythagoras – born 580BC known for his mathematical theorem that daunted me at school. I recall that it had something to do with the square of the hypotenuse being equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.
As we drew towards the island I noticed one of the ferry staff, who was definitely Greek, was wearing a dark blue set of overalls with the British Gas logo on the back. My amusement was shared by a German guy sitting alongside me and the pair of us ruminated about how he might have acquired them. The German’s English was excellent and he explained that he’d had a heart attack in Wales many years before, and spoke in glowing terms of the NHS and care he’d been given.
In an effort to find lodgings we trudged up the steepest and longest steps imaginable, as if en route to the heavens. They were badly maintained and many were broken. Rather than go back down them with the heavy rucksacks and risk death we paid over the odds for a room with bird’s eye dramatic view over the harbour.
The following morning we hired a crusty old jeep and began a circular tour, the vehicle conking out within the first half hour, but conveniently next to a remote but well-stocked taverna with a near view of Turkey. Several hours later, after it had been repaired, we headed into the hills via a monastery which had a nearby village for lunch.
On the way we were hailed by two seriously-old men wanting a lift. They paused on a sharp hairpin bend at the sound of our vehicle and re-arranged their faces into a pleading gurn as we slowly negotiated the curve. Oddly, they were carrying two washing up bowls heaving with courgettes, but through the lack of any rapport on account of the inability of both parties to speak the others’ language, we never found out why. That night, over a bottle of Retsina, we thought of both sensible and stupid theories that would explain the courgettes, all of them creating a good deal of laughter, no doubt inspired by the Retsina.
That night the bottle of wine, which tastes not unlike the jaw-locking Fever Cure back in the 1940s, helped us cope with the most basic and forgettable of rooms at the equally forgettable village of Vostalaki – a tiny coastal resort with unjustifiably glowing reports in the guide books, despite its pretty setting tucked under the mountain.
Unusually for Greece, there was a thorough deluge in the night and since the hired vehicle was open-topped the seats and floor were thoroughly soaked. There was no hurry to leave and we drank several cups of coffee in the sunshine while it dried out in a couple of hours.
It was coming up to the lunch break by the time we pulled up in the village square of Marathakambos to consult the map. A small dog spied us and came running towards the jeep at top speed. Having caught our attention it turned and set off again, stopping occasionally to give backward glances and bark loudly in our direction. When we didn’t pursue it, the little soul repeated the performance.
We followed it along a narrow road which snaked downhill between rocks to arrive at a rough sand beach with nothing more than a hotel, taverna and clutch of tamarisk trees. As we sat in the shade of one, overlooking the ocean, the owner come out and gave the dog a titbit. Was it on the payroll perhaps?
The three of us dined well and we christened the creature Sam. Although we fully expected it to abandon us once it had had its fill, it remained faithfully by our side and then guided us back to the village.
We wandered into the clutch of shops, buying postcards and mementos, Arthur and me with Sam in tow, and then suddenly it was gone. Another hire jeep was entering the village and the four legged fickle entrepreneur had resumed its duties.
The incident with the dog reminded me of stories by another famous son of Samos, Aesop, whose fables must surely include a moral tale about seizing the moment before it is lost. If Aesop didn’t do one, then William George Plunkett (whoever he was) coined an apt phrase on the subject. ‘There are three things that never come back; the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity’. How true is that?
Featured Image: Pythagorian Harbour