As our visit continues I observe a ritualised behaviour pattern amongst my fellow residents, the bird-watchers, especially those in organised parties. They assemble in the same place at about the same time each evening and produce their lists. They then run through the list identifying species seen by the group that day, ticking off birds seen, sometimes per individual, sometimes per group. There is much comparing of totals and jockeying for position. By about 10.30 most retire, stopping at reception on the way, to check that day’s ‘book’. This contains daily entries from watchers identifying particular sightings and, crucially, giving locations. Some watchers freely share information, others do not and there are some resentful glares as the week goes on. The top end of Kalloni Bay has many different habitats, there is open plain, a river and salt pans and a large marsh, while inland is mountainous. It also has bee hives.
J. frequently attempts to educate me. I recognise storks and herons ( as well as raptors and sparrows ), but otherwise am fairly clueless. Nonetheless, in a quiet moment, sheltering with the bike beneath a tree, I find myself totting up the number of birds I’ve seen and recognised. This is appalling!
There is other wild life on Lesvos, besides birds and bees. There are dogs, not just the lolloping kind who play in hail-filled swimming pools, but the large, ferocious, teeth baring kind who chase unwary cyclists on back roads. And there is the ubiquitous taverna cat. As I sit in glorious sunshine, awaiting grilled fresh sea bass and chilled wine, with the sea as flat as a mill pond, I feel eyes upon me. I am being stared at by a feline. It is stout, dim-looking and ginger round the edges, I christen it Danny Alexander. When, later, I hand it a fish head the cat swipes it viciously and I re-name it Tebbit. A little dog wanders over expectantly, but an icy stare from Tebbit stops it in its tracks and it retreats. I christen the dog Clegg. The weather closes in again and I retreat too, back to the hotel.
The bird watching part of our trip is coming to an end and soon my bike will be replaced by a car. Costa, the hire car man, delivers a battered Fiat. Uninterested in my driving licence, he suggests that, at the end of the week I just leave the ignition key under the mat. Thrown by the casualness of these arrangements, I don’t discover until later that the aircon doesn’t work and the knob on the gear stick comes off in my hand. I suspect I’m playing a bit part in a Brit-abroad sub-Ealing comedy film. Costa does return, however, with an alternative vehicle ( though the aircon doesn’t work in that either, because of ‘dust’ over the winter, apparently ) which we decline, having fixed the first and jammed the knob back on the gearstick. A bottle of fizz appears in our room from Costa, a nice gesture and typical of the friendliness of the islanders.
J. settles our bar bill, only momentarily distracted by news of a sighting of a desmoiselle crane ( Radar abandons his half-eaten meal and the mini-bus is seen heading off into the sunset ). Everything is cheap here, though what you pay and what is shown on your receipt sometimes differs. The country is desperately short of money, but so are many people. Van is in his twenties with a degree in computing, but can’t get work other than tending bar. He will shortly be conscripted for a year, which at least comes with food and lodging. One of the girls on reception has an Archaeology degree.
Van says people go abroad to work. If Greece exits the EU and the drachma returns, the exodus will increase, as the value of foreign currency will be so much greater. The London ‘Polish plumber’ may be superseded by his Greek counterpart. But there is always someone less fortunate. There are illegal immigrants here, usually in the north-east of the island, begging for food. They cross from Turkey in boats, fleeing Syrian civil war and associated privations.
We return the bike to the village, on foot, and are trapped in a bar, where we watch Indian Twenty20 cricket (courtesy of Sky Sports) while the rain pounds heavily on the roof. The barman watches it and us with a mixture of incomprehension and bemused fascination. That night we eat in, at the hotel, where a whole new batch of enthusiastic bird-watchers has arrived. The question is, should we tell them about the bees?
This post describes events before the general election on 7th May 2015.