An accident of tectonic plates or the bubbling resentment of giant?

The Greek myth of Polybotes

From the blood that fell when Cronus castrated Uranus, Gaia became pregnant (don’t ask me how), producing a son Polybotes.

One day, Poseidon got rather pissed off with Polybotes, I believe they were having a little war. As Polybotes was swimming away from the island of Kos, angry Poseidon tore off the end of the island and threw it at him.

Poseidon clearly was incredibly strong because the rather large rock that he flung through the air landed on Polybotes, trapping him underneath. This rather large rock became the island of Nisyros.

Now, the fact that an irate Polybotes is stuck beneath it may or may not explain why mathematicians would hold a conference on automorphic representations there. I’m thinking that the good weather might have had a say in the matter, but I can’t see how Nisyros – as beautiful as it is – would be a nice place to visit, especially if you weren’t paying. However, the transport options are limited – ferry or helicopter – and I didn’t see many conference centers. The islands entire population is only about 1000 people. There were twice that many pupils at my school.


Polybotes, whilst not explaining the oddities of mathematicians, does perhaps (if I’m willing to ignore the intensive education I’ve received on geophysics) explain why there’s a volcano bubbling away in the middle of the island. Never mind tectonic plates, there’s an angry son of Gaia trapped under there, and by the smell of it he hasn’t showered in a very long time.

Barefoot adventures – The Island, Kefalos, Kos

Kastri Island, Kos

Just off the bay at Kefalos is an island that, as long as you are a confident swimmer, you can swim across to. The biggest challenge is not to swallow the seawater as the waves splash up in your face.

A less confident swimmer might not find the swim quite as enjoyable.

Barefoot I clambered up the rock to the little church that sits up there. The area around the church is scattered with gravel. If you’ve got thick feet, like mine, this isn’t much of a problem. If your feet never step on anything rougher than a carpet, then you might hobble around a bit and complain bitterly. It’s a pretty church from the outside, but it’s not particularly pretty inside. Rather plain actually, it houses stacks of plastic chairs.

This is also a point where being able to see comes as a huge advantage. If, perhaps, you’re eyesight isn’t as good as mine and you left your glasses tucked in your shoe on the beach so that you wouldn’t lose them in the sea, then you might risk falling over a peacock or stray rock.

I climbed up along the narrow path upwards, towards the seagulls hovering above. Although half an hour earlier there had been a wedding party, and after that – we met them swimming across the sea – a couple of young men had paid the island a visit DeepThought and I were the only people on the island. He remained close to the church while I adventured.

Once we were safely back on Kos, DeepThought declared that to celebrate having survived the ordeal he was going to have a cocktail. I looked back at the island, quietly wishing that there were more times in life you could run barefoot, climbing rocks and exploring.

How tough are your feet?


The island is Kastri Island, you can also get there by hiring a boat from one of the many vendors along the beach. There’s an area marked out with buoys to keep swimmers separate from these boats. The foreground of the picture is an early Christian Basillica of Agios Stefanos which I visited multiple times as it’s freely accessible, and just part of the beach.

Definitely Not Another Mission To A Monastery

On Wednesday, a woman asks for directions for the monastery and the waitress tells her that you can’t get to the monastery on foot. It’s too far.

On Wednesday, I point to the hill that looms over the beach and gently suggest how wonderful the view must be from the top.

On Wednesday, DeepThought says the hill is a very big hill, and not one that anyone should want to climb in this July heat.

I tell DeepThought that I’ve found a path that goes through a forest. He doesn’t believe me.

On Thursday, we watch the sunrise from the village and start walking towards a small abandoned theatre, which happens to be in the same direction as both the hill and the monastery. DeepThought finally believes me that there’s a forest once we’re surrounded by tall pine trees.

The map says the theatre is somewhere nearby, but there’s nothing here to suggest the map’s telling the truth. With caution, I enter the forest through an unmarked gate and wander along what I assume is a track. I’m really worried we’re trespassing on someone’s land when suddenly I see it below, the typical arch of a theatre. There’s not a huge amount remaining.

Behind the stage, the forest drops away into a deep ravine and through the gap in the trees we can see the deep blue of the ocean blur with the bright blue of the sky. It’s all rather tranquil and I can’t help but think how wonderful it is to be here instead of staring at a computer screen in an open office in a bustling English town.

I’m dancing around, taking photos, when I glance up and see a perfect small white house with a blue chimney hidden in the trees. According to the guide-book, this was once a thriving settlement. Now I half expect to be approached by an old woodcutter and a talking animal. I tell DeepThought I want that house. He points out the difficulty of getting here and the minor issues of electricity, sewage and internet.

We return to the main road, and keep walking. It’s only 7.30am, but it’s getting warm. The pine forest disappears and the landscape opens up. You can see the hillside right down to the narrow beaches and then nothing but shimmering blue. A cacophony of cow bells indicates we’re not alone, and I’m thrilled to see we’re sharing this hillside with baby goats.

DeepThought points out what might be tank tracks in the road. This will be more amusing to some readers than others.

At about 9am we reach a sign that points to a café, but we’re aware that the café is unlikely to be open at such an early hour. It can’t possibly have any visitors because in the previous two hours of steady walking we’ve passed four houses, two cars and a cyclist. The goats don’t count.

Instead, we turn to continue along the road up. We pass the sign saying that photography is prohibited and begin the steep climb wondering what’s so wrong about photographing a religious building. I complain that the guidebook had a photo of a white building with a blue roof.

We can’t see a white building with a blue roof.

After some time climbing upwards, and with a couple of pauses for more water, we come to a no entry sign. I reason that this no entry sign might be for vehicles as the road seems to be disintegrating around us.

A little while later we come across more stop signs and DeepThought wonders out-loud how peculiar it is to paint a monastery in camouflage and surrounding it with barbed wire. The radar tower isn’t super godly either.

We consult the map. DeepThought shares his disapproval. We walk down the hill, turn left and follow the signs to the café, which is, according to the map, within the ground of the monastery. We stride through an empty car park and follow the path down to a beautiful white building with a blue roof.

It’s locked, but the key hangs on the hook above the door. DeepThought looks at me with a frown as I unlock the door and step inside – but I’ve read the instructions in the guide-book.

Old religious stuff stares back down at me. DeepThought stands in the doorway whilst I admire the craftsmanship in the silver and gold which covers every wall. It’s all rather overwhelming. Such religious places strike me as both incredibly fascinating and a little unnerving. Maybe it’s my own pragmatic approach to religion?

We step back outside just in time for the man who runs the café to unlock the door. I’m nearly as overjoyed as when I saw the baby goats. We wait politely as the café owner goes through his rehearsed routine of sweeping the courtyard and wiping the tables. There is no rush.

I drink sweet Greek coffee. DeepThought has freshly squeezed orange juice. We debate religion and the role of spirituality in modern life. I’ve been reading Spinoza. We’re getting all philosophical when I suggest ice-cream for the journey. My choice is not really ice-cream but ice-yogurt, which is less sweet but beautifully creamy.

As we walk home we’re passed by quadbikes, mopeds and rental cars. They’re driven by bare-chested men or women in bikinis. They kick up the dust and the heat makes me sweat, but the view is just as stunning and most of the time there’s no traffic about.

Finally, back at Kefalos, we gorge ourselves on pizza. It’s only just past mid-day. Nearly siesta time.

Would you choose a banana and kiwi pizza?

Holidays for the Greek banks and I, but work for Lucy – Kos, Greece

Lucy, the guard dog, who jumps up on the wall and barks as I pass, has a tail that swings from side to side with such excitement that I’m always sorry not to go pet her, yet, Lucy is a guard dog, chained up day and night outside our apartment. This is Greece, and the relationship of an Englishman and his loyal compatriot isn’t mimicked here. Lucy could be lovely. But do I really want to put our friendship to the test?

Lucy’s home is the hillside between the Greek village of Kefalos, where Hippocrates was born, and the beach. Kefalos used to be the capital of the island of Kos, until an earthquake persuaded many of the inhabitants to move east and form the imaginatively named Kos Town. Now it’s a gentle place, filled with cafés for the tourists and restaurants that close in the evening when the buses go home. It doesn’t heave with pleasant. Maybe the ‘economic situation’ has deterred some of the usual visitors, or maybe this place is normally slow of pace. Either way it’s a really nice place to be.

A Greek café owner sums up this village’s outlook. She points to the sea, down to the sandy beaches and up, round her at the marvelous brightness.

“Tourists come, for this, the tourists will still come. If they need a visa,” she shrugs and stamps her hand with an imaginary visa stamp. “They will get visa.”

Life goes on.

Yet, with the referendum happening on Sunday, this entire week is one long holiday for the banks. Money isn’t particularly difficult to come by if you’re using an international bank account. DeepThought managed to get some out of the village ATM. Hesitantly watching a holidaying lady wants cash – even if she doesn’t need it.

“Does it work?” she asks me before DeepThought had even managed to tap in his PIN. She assured me that she’d brought plenty of cash, but… Despite the calm there’s a slight tension amongst holiday makers as they arrive, a tension drummed up by the media. The ATM at the airport was empty.

It’s more challenging for the long-term tourists or the Greeks themselves. If you’re working with a Greek bank account, and some of the more permanent English women in the pizzeria were, you’re unable to retrieve more than 60 euro each day.

I’m reminded of my arguments about national pride by my sister. Can you also have national shame?

A young waiter, tells us of how when he was in New York, he worked one job. Here in Greece he works two. What he dreams of, trains for and spends his money to do is play football for an English club. The unemployment rate here (those looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force) is 25%. England’s is 5.5%.

I drink freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. I eat a gorgeous, light chocolate cake. I have a cone of what looks like ice cream, but is actually frozen yogurt, filled with candied cherries. The sun makes me deliriously happy. I read the travel guide and it explains the tension between the all-inclusive resorts with their captive audience, and the small business owners. All inclusive resorts reduce inefficiencies and require a smaller workforce.

There’s so much sun, so much light I wonder how different this current crisis would be in the depths of winter when depression is so much easier to come by. The heat though can frustrate tempers. I’m in a bubble. The tourist’s bubble of a small village on a quiet island that’s focused on enabling me to enjoy myself.

I drink cocktails and eat more cake.

The path from the village that takes us back to our apartment runs adjacent to Lucy’s garden. Enigmatically pleased to see us, Lucy jumps up on the wall and barks excitedly, her tail wagging like a windmill. As we get closer, she lays down on the wall and I stop to take her photo. She doesn’t seem to mind. Then, suddenly, between the wagging and a full body-shaking sneeze, Lucy falls off the wall.

Her chain pulls her collar tight.

Lucy’s chain is attached to a wire that runs between two trees in the garden. It means she can run the length of the yard quite happily, but she’s restricted to the bounds of the garden. She can’t get over the wall to the path.

Yet now she’s the wrong side of the wall and her head’s against the wall. She’s pinned by the chain. Her front paws touch the ground, but only just. It she wanted to turn and try to scramble up, I’m not sure she could.

I stop photographing and put my camera on the ground. Lucy might be lovely, or she might not be. I watch her very carefully as I approach, she’s still a Greek outdoor guard dog, and having lived in Italy for a few months and heard terrifying tales of outdoor guard dogs, I’m weary of her.

She can’t stay like this though, so, with great care I put both arms around her body, and steadily heave her back onto the wall. Her tail wags faster than ever.