The Rambling Writer’s Greek Travels, Part 11: Dolphins and Island-Hopping

This series started on Oct. 15 and continues every other Saturday. I’m taking a trip back in time to my 4-month backpacking rambles around Greece in the early 1980s, which planted the seed for my recent novel The Ariadne Connection. Now, as I work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect, I’m reflecting on the ways a writer’s experience can be transformed into fiction. I hope you find the journey illuminating, or at least entertaining.

Again, I apologize for the quality of the few photos I’ve been able to recover from storage; most of these below are borrowed. 

I’m rambling at the moment near the border of Mexico and Belize, so I’ll make this a quick nostalgic trip through the Greek Cyclades islands. I’m VERY excited to be planning a return trip to Greece and the islands this fall, to renew my connection with those mythical, magical lands and seas.

Back those many years ago, after visiting Epidauros and other sites in the mainland Peloponnese, my partner Jim and I headed back to the islands from the port of Piraeus, after a memorable night in a very budget hotel. (Jim insisted that I did NOT want to visit the bathroom down the hall.) We boarded one of the large ferries and sailed out once more into wind, sun, and blue sea, passing close under Cape Sounion and the imposing Temple of Poseidon.

After quick stops at Tinos and Syros – bare, rocky islands dotted with the emblematic whitewashed houses – we arrived at Mykonos, where we wandered the very popular tourist town, a pretty labyrinth of more whitewashed buildings beside the sea.

We then hiked to a campground and pitched our tent, enjoying a lovely day of snorkeling in the clear blue water among a surprising number of colorful fish. Unfortunately, the next day brought an infestation of stinging jellyfish so dense that it wasn’t possible even to wade in the water, so we hopped on another ferry. This one was a smaller, local boat and endearingly Greek: smaller than the more commercial ships, shabbier, and stubbornly meandering through several stops at out-of-the way islands. Instead of tourists, this ferry carried mostly Greeks and their cargo, and at each docking at small harbors there was much throwing of lines, gesturing, shouting, and running about on the part of at least a dozen deck hands and others at the docks.

From my journal:

We headed north into the midst of a lowering black cloud. Lightning, thunder, and the taste of rain drove everyone into the cabin except Demetrios Scleros (Jim the Hard) and me, lovers of wind and waves that we are. We stood at the bow, braced against the dip and spray, watching the sea turn rough and white-capped. Suddenly I saw beneath the purple-blue waters a pale shape. A beautiful black and white dolphin sliced across the surface, dived, turned, and burst up again in a dripping arc through the air. He hung there a brief moment, then broke down into the water to join his mate who shot from beneath the ferry. They rode the bow wake for a while, and I swear they grinned up at me. Then together they dived again and were gone. A good omen!

 

For ages, dolphins have been considered good luck in the Greek islands, and stories of them are intertwined in the mythology of the ancient times. Dionysos and Poseidon had particular bonds with these “horses of the sea,” and the Minoans featured them in several frescoes that have survived in the ruins.

In my novel THE ARIADNE CONNECTION, one of my trio of main characters, Peter Mitchell, is a wounded veteran of the near-future Gulf War III and now a smuggler in the Mediterranean. (I freely admit he shared some traits with my then-partner Jim, a Vietnam-War veteran, since we writers can’t help but borrow from our lives.) Early in the novel, Peter Mitchell takes his boat on a risky job through the Cycladic islands:

*****

Up here on Nereid‘s bridge, bathed in light shimmering over the distant stark-stone islands of the Cyclades and skimming closer above the purple-blue depths, Peter could almost forget looming Doomsday.  These islands had been honed to the bare bones for centuries.  They’d somehow gone beyond time and change, despite the recent earthquake and volcanic upheavals rearranging map contours, like they’d survive anything mere humans could throw at them.

He peered edgily from his chart to an approaching scatter of bare islets.  Hadn’t been this route in years, not since the big Number Three. Most of the old drifting mines, at least, had been cleared out by pukes like himself—ex-puke—but he didn’t like running unknown waters without his depth-sounder. The geomagnetic fluctuations screwed up more than just radio transmissions. Right now, they were getting one of the unstable shifts to null in the global field, as the north and south poles wavered in and out or split into random islands of magnetic charge. Played hell with fine-tuned circuits. And he wasn’t in the mood to appreciate the irony that advances in nanocircuitry miniaturization had come just in time to make the electronics even more vulnerable to the electromagnetic field pollution.

He studied the chart, made a course correction, and stood to scan 360 with his binoculars. No sign of border patrols. Or pirates. Or Sons of the Prophet.

He sat, drumming his fingers, still keyed up. Too easy. So why look a gift horse? If he couldn’t monitor the patrol radio bands, they couldn’t get spotter reports on him. Maybe he’d make it clear. He leaned back, riding the dip and surge over low swells as the twin diesels hummed high.  The sea glimmered around him, breeze freshening, sky gem-clear. Off to starboard, toward one of the rock islets, a gleaming curve broke the surface, then two finned backs—dolphins, breaching in a burst of spray.

Despite his jitters, Peter smiled. Greek sailors counted them good luck.  He just liked to see them around, liked to cruise in the midst of a rough-and-tumble of sleek dolphins riding Nereid‘s bow wake, grinning up at him. No hate or fear in their eyes, laughing through it all at the lunacies of Homo sapiens.

He wanted to believe the islands and the dolphins would survive after all the wars and warriors were long gone. Somehow he needed to believe that something beautiful and pure would outlast human stupidity. His own Noble Quest had certainly been a roaring farce.

Another leap, a splash, and the dolphins were gone.

*****

I’ve been blessed to swim with these beautiful creatures twice – once in New Zealand, and once offshore of Belize, where a mother dolphin brought her baby over to peer into my snorkel mask and greet me. When I return to Greece this fall, I hope to renew acquaintance with these magical beings. Chairete! Rejoice!

*****

You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here on alternate Saturdays. Sara’s newest novel from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.

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About Sara Stamey

Sara Stamey’s journeys include treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean and Honduras; backpacking around Greece and New Zealand; operating a nuclear reactor; and owning a farm in Southern Chile. Now resettled in her native Northwest Washington, she teaches creative writing at Western Washington University. She shares her Squalicum Creek backyard with wild critters and her cats, dog, and husband Thor. Visit her BVC Ebookstore bookshelf.
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2 Responses to The Rambling Writer’s Greek Travels, Part 11: Dolphins and Island-Hopping

  1. What lovely descriptions, both the fictional and the diary entry!

    I so envy you getting to meet dolphins up close and personal.

  2. Thanks, Sherwood. Just got back to our room after snorkeling on the Carobbean reef with Queen angelfish, feeding stingray, octopus, and other denizens — so far, no dolphins….

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