Skala Sikaminias

Last night Andrea was bemoaning the fact that she doesn't spend time in the village. We are always going somewhere. She'd like to walk in the fields around Xidera, and visit people and have her coffee grounds read. Today she can't get out of town fast enough. She's packed before I have finished my coffee. She wants to go to Skala Sikaminias, rent a room by the beach with real beds and real mattresses, and relax. I'm skeptical but hold my tongue. Skala Sikaminias is a tiny port at the bottom of a big mountain. There are no hotels on the beach because there is no beach in Skala Sikaminias. But I have a reason for going there since that is the scene of the book The Mermaid Madonna by Mavrilis, which I had read last year on the ferry leaving Mytilini.

There is a small church on a rock in the harbor where there is an icon of the Virgin Mary. But in this particular representation of her she is a mermaid. It's the only time I have been curious enough about an icon to want to see it in person so I leave Andrea to her image of the beautiful sandy beaches of Skala Sikaminias and take my place as the humble chauffer.

I notice there is a small unpaved road that goes from Fila to Petra that will shorten the trip, as long as the road is not too bad. We leave Pamela's tiles and door handles at the cafeneon and woodshop in Vatoussa before we get on the road. Andrea's leg has been bothering her. She thinks it's some kind of muscle trauma related to sciatica, and wants to spend the next couple days comfortably horrizontal but I'm worried that she is like a rat who has eaten poison, knows he is going to die and crawls into the deepest, furthest most inaccessable corner of the house to do so in peace. As we pass Skalahori there is a small pickup truck in front of us filled with tin pots and pans, ceramic plates, glasses and kitchen utensils. He swerves to avoid a huge land turtle that is crossing the street. I stop the car to pick him up. I hand him to Andrea who screams. She puts him on the floor where he manages to wedge himself under the gas pedal so I have to stop. I have saved his life but he is causing all sorts of problems for me. Amarandi doesn't want him in the back seat either but eventually Andrea convinces her to let him sit on the floor.

In Fila we stop in the square to find a tiropita. Some old men direct us to the bakery but instead of cheesepies they have croissants which the woman smears with choclate sauce. It's not my style of breakfast but I buy one for Andrea and Amarandi. When I return to the square we make friends with the old men who had given us directions. It turns out that one of them is a first cousin of Andrea's mother. He buys us orange soda that comes from Agra.We ask him about the village while Amarandi plays with the turtle in the courtyard that surrounds the church. There are eleven cafeneons in a village of 750. Next to where we are sitting, the butcher who is the brother of Andrea's cousin is making souvlakia on sticks. There is alot of activity but all the people are old. Occasionally a rental car with a tourist couple drives through the square looking for the same shortcut we are taking. Eventually we get back in our car and wave goodbye.

The road to Petra is unpaved but not impassable and when we find a nice spot we release our friend the turtle in an olive grove. In places the road is paved, in others it is being worked on. It won't be long before every village on the island is connected by asphalt. Past the village of Skoutaros we begin seeing tourists on mountain bikes. In Anaxas we see rooms for rent and restaurants advertising mousaka. We stop for a delicious spinach pie to give us strength for the rest of the journey. Petra is a total tourist town, but interesting and attractive. There is a long beach full of topless old ladies from Germany and young British couples, each one reading a current best-seller as they try to add some color to their skin so their friends at home will know they had actually been somewhere.

We get on the road to Sikaminias at the entrance to Molivos but have not gone half a mile when the pavement ends. As we are driving up a hill Andrea suddenly jumps in the air and screams "STOP THE CAR! STOP THE CAR!" I can tell it's fairly serious because she is still yelling for me to stop the car after I have stopped and she seems suspended in mid-air above her seat. "A giant wasp is under me! GET HIM OFF!" she yells. I open her door and a bee harmlessly flies out. But Andrea has aggravated her injury and is now in great pain. She is suffering as we drive on this road which is the bumpiest we have encountered yet. Gradually she finds a position that is comfortable enough for her to survive the rest of the trip and she even takes an interest when we pass a deserted village near Lepetimnas. We finally reach the upper village of Sikaminias and coast down the paved road down to Skala where we park by the so called Church of the Mermaid Madonna. The church, though beautiful and spectacular in it's perch above th e sea where it overlooks the tiny harbor, contains no icon of a Mermaid Madonna. I am deflated. It's like climbing a mountain to see a sacred temple and finding a 7-11 instead. We decide to bury our disapointment in food. There are three taverna's all relatively full of people but the only greeks are the cooks and waitors. I check the fish in each one. They each have the same identical fish and the same food on the menu. They are all out of sardines but one has fried anchovies so we sit there, but by the time we order, the only Greek customers in the port have beaten us to the punch and gotten the last three remaining servings, of which two remain uneaten on their table for the course if the meal. We are forced to eat the whole grilled tuna which is not only delicious but attracts a large swarm of cats that keep us entertained by fighting over the scraps. After we finish we take our remaining bread and feed the fish in the harbor. As we throw more bread we attract larger fish. By the time we are out of bread we see kefalo that are almost a foot long. Next to the restaurant is an excursion boat from Molyvos that most of these tourists have come on. The sign on the boat says: Living 18:00 which I assume means that the boat will be taking the tourists back to Molyvos at four. I wonder what this village will look like then. Last time we came it had the appearance of an intelectual haven. Even now the Greeks at the next table who had ordered the anchovies look like artists or frustrated philosophers. How many people come to this village because of the Mavrilis book which tells the story of it's inhabitants during the years of the expulsion of the Ionian Greeks from Turkey. I look out over the water and remember a scene described in the book of the morning the villagers looked out and saw the boatfulls of refugees approaching the port. It makes me wonder again about the icon of the Mermaid Madonna so I ask the woman in the postcard shop.

"Nobody knows where it is, whether it was stolen or if it was just a creation of Mavrilis imagination", she tells me.