She had taken this trip for two years now, every Saturday. Early in the morning, the
coach would pick up it’s cargo of tourists from Kalamaki and Argassi skirting the
coast and luminous sea and then sweep into the capital, Zakynthos Town and from
there by ferry to Kyllini on the Pelaponese, the south peninsula of Greece before an
hours drive to the town of Olympia and the site of the ancient games.
After a breakfast of toast and strong black coffee, she leisurely strolled down to the
centre of town and sat outside the office of the tour company she worked for.
Maria was always shrouded in a feeling of contentment at this hour of the day. The
vivacious heartbeat of the capital tamed by a somnolent veil, strangely quiet, still,
serene and over-whelming. The drone of a passing car invaded the silence, reminding
her that the calmness was not permanent but an evolving ambience as the capital
awoke from it’s sleep.
When the coach arrived, it stopped to collect Maria and then headed towards the far
side of the harbour to board the ferry. Peter had already finished the ‘dawn shift’ as
he called it. This entailed an early rise before travelling the island in order to pick up
an assortment of passengers in time to catch the ferry to the mainland.
Peter was not the archetypical guide. He leaned towards his middle fifties and
cultivated yellow shoulder length hair that fell out of a Panama-styled straw hat
hugging his shoulders. He resonated a civilised, middle class Englishness expelling
pleasant and charming mannerisms, that conveyed a mature, yet placid character. His
voice was soft, gentle but deliberate and when he spoke, to capture a certain mood or
illustration, he often produced a metaphor to colour his speech and emphasise his
meaning that amused but always held the attention of his audience
“Good morning Maria, I trust we are ready for our day of travel into antiquity” he
offered his hand to assist her in climbing the steps of the coach.
‘As always’ She smiled, accepting his offer and then settled in her seat. As the coach
steered its way towards the ferry he turned to face the passengers,
“Before we leave the capital and let it rub the sleep from its eyes may I draw your
attention to my hat” he touched the top of his hat, “I would be great full if you could
all pay particular attention to it as it will act as a beacon. When we reach Kellini and
disembark from the ferry I will raise my hat above my head and wave it for all to see
we can then all congregate, stay together, and hopefully all board the coach safely.
crowded and busy at Kellini will be busy and especially crowded and we are ruled by
the clock, therefore, I would appreciate if we can all try and stick together, thank you”
Even at this early hour the promenade was dancing to the varying rhythms of life, a
striking contrast, Maria thought, to the drowsiness that encapsulated the centre of
town. The coach crawled along the harbour wall towards a proliferation of coaches,
trucks, cars and the inevitable throng of people .
The ferry dwarfed its surroundings and the white brilliance of its exterior emitted and
emphasised its grandeur, like an opulent palace rising from the sea.
Once on board, Maria climbed a flight of steps and emerged onto a spacious upper
deck. A watery sheet of glass reflected a perfect shimmering and placid
impression of the capital. Like her favourite painting, this view never failed to
impress her. The ferry trickled inexorably out of the harbour through the silver
morning light towards the vast panoramic expanse of the open sea as an azure oasis
capped the silhouetted steel grey hills that lay further inland behind the capital. As
it gathered speed, the ferry cut through the waves, as if they were ripples of melting
butter and gradually Zakynthos Town shrank in size and Maria was struck, as she
always had been, by the omnipresent sense of the sea.
From the open spaces of the deck she could feel the sun growing warm, scattering its
heat as the day rose from its slumber.
Descending into the bowels of the ferry she went in search of coffee. She discovered a
concourse of people queuing for coffee, tea and snacks, sitting at tables in loud
conversations, or lying on seats that seemed to be functioning as communal beds.
In one corner, a television spurted out the familiar Saturday morning onslaught of
Like an island in a stormy sea Peter’s hat hovered, he was waving her over and
pointing to two newly acquired polystyrene cups of coffee.
He neatly folded The Times on the table in front of him, Maria sat down. To her
right two young women pampered a baby and she wondered which one
was the mother.
She pushed her sun glasses onto the crown of her head and took a sip of coffee.
“That’s better, thank you David”
“Your welcome my dear”
David studied Maria and detecting a melancholy air asked, “What is it? You looked
She looked up from her coffee. “Do you remember Angelini?”
Peter took a sip of coffee, “Yes I do, I remember that she worked as a tour guide
before having a baby. You were friends. Do you still keep in touch?”
“Yes, I see her often. In fact she is pregnant again”
Peter looked surprised.
“My word if I am not mistaking will this be her third child?”
“Yes, remember she fell pregnant straight after the first was born”
“That’s right, I do recall that her intention was to return too work. Not a planned birth
“She loves being a mother it suits her”
“It is her husband that is the problem he is not what you would call supportive. Most
nights he works at a disco in town as a bar man, anyway he has developed the habit of
staying out most nights after work the temptations available are obviously, for him, to
strong to refuse.”
“If he loved his wife there would be no temptation in the first place”
“Exactly. Angelini has given him chance after chance to change, Each time he tells
her that he is sorry and it will never happen again but now it is not a secret every one
knows what is going on. She was tired of being treated like dirt so after weeks of
arguments and before there is nothing breakable left in the house she threw him out
and now she is on her own with two young children and another on its way”
Peter watched Maria as she spoke and for the hundredth time he wondered why she
had never found the right person.
Finally he asked, “How is she going to cope?”
Maria continued cradling her coffee cup and glanced at the two women with the baby.
A longing to touch it and smell it engulfed her. She suppressed the ache to cradle it in
her arms. She turned away and caught Peter looking at her.
“Angelini was beginning to make plans, she was starting to do things for herself,
feel a woman again and not just a mother. She once told me that she felt that her life
was just one endless roller coaster ride full of nappies and dirty dishes .”
“We make our own choices Maria and those choices decide the direction we travel
they influence the aspects and details of our life so ultimately as adults we are
There are good choices and bad ones ever choice is a leap of faith I hope Angelini’s
leap of faith brings her a happy reward”
She fingered the rim of her cup.
“That sounds grand and philosophical, I see it simpler than that life can sometimes
just be cruel and unfair, sadistic even”
“It certainly doesn’t distribute its riches equally”
“Why did you never marry?” she asked.
“Because I made the wrong choices” and rising from his chair he winked as if to
prove his point “Time to rally the troops” he continued, placing his hat on his head.
The Morea rose from the sea as the ferry sailed inexorably towards the coast. Maria
witnessed this on the upper deck along with a growing crowd, who sensing the
crossing was culminating, seemed eager to depart- willing Kyllini closer.
Two young boys accosted the attention of their parents by hauling at each arm and leg
in turn as their impending excitement exploded, like fireworks, as the view of an
ancient castle, that seemed carved out of the hill it crowned, grew in size and detail
with each passing minute.
As Kyllini drew near, a reverberant wave of activity ensued as passengers prepared to
go ashore. Maria heard the distinctive tones of Peters voice punctuate the air as he
answered an inquisitive couples question.
“Although small in size, its stature is of great importance in its relation to Zakynthos.
You see, a convoy of goods are daily transported by articulated vehicles that
continually cross the water, as do smaller modes of transport carrying provisions and
other materials. Add to this the continual stream of people who use the Ferries, as
apart from flying, which is the only other form of transport to the mainland, it
therefore Kyllini could well be described as Zakynthos’ umbilical cord. And indeed
today, for our purpose she could be described as the gateway to the Pelaponeese and
finally Olympia itself” Peter emphasised his words with sweeping gestures.
The couple nodded in unison, digesting each word, as if they were children and had
just been taught a lesson by their teacher. He performs best in front of an audience
The ferry slowly cleaved a path into Kallini’s small port. To the right sunbathers
speckled a beach as children played in the sea or made elaborate sand castles.
Maria’s attention was caught by a couple, husband and wife she thought, who
precariously navigating a crop of rocks that stretched out into the sea, like a finger.
With their arms out stretched to gain balance they seemed to be walking a tight rope,
as they tentatively maneuvered over black shinny rocks, that looked slippery
and wet from the spray of the waves.
As Maria observed them the woman sat on a large slab of rock, resting her bare arms
on her legs and clasping her hands together above her knees. The man walked further
on, slipping once, before turning and raised a camera to his eye and it is at that
moment that Maria became aware that the woman was posing for a photograph. After
a few seconds the man turned from her and motionlessly stared into the sea,
reminding Maria of a statue, as white foamed waves crashed against the rocks, leaving
streams of sea water cascading over their surface like miniature waterfalls. Maria
rested her arms on the railing as the woman walked towards him, being careful not to
loose her balance with precise movements. Strands of hair blew across her face. He
handed her the camera and began to cautiously climb down towards the lapping
waves. She waited for him to find a suitable spot and then she crouched down, her t-
shirt flapping against her back, like a sail in the wind as she raised the camera.
Mara noted the colour of the sea, an electric blue shaded by patches of turquoise that
shimmered and undulating before melting and evolving into a striking aqua green.
Absorbed in the colour a minute passed. Her eyes slid over to the rocks where she
discovered that the couple had reached the safety of the flat sand.
He had wrapped an arm around his wife’s waist, the camera dangling from his free
hand. She too had placed her arm around his waist as if they were joined....inseparable
The quay became a sponge into which everything seemed to be absorbed. People and
traffic choked the limited space available. Maria and Peter stood next to their coach,
its engine purring like a contented cat, as they waited for their passengers who were
making their way towards them as Peter waved his hat above the throng of activity
like an island in a hostile sea. Once a head count established that everyone was
accounted for the coach negotiated a maze of narrow streets, progressing at a
crawling pace until it finally tasted the open space of the main road.
A shimmering tapestry littered with tomato and sweet corn fields greeted them as
an army of sprinklers nourished the crops. On the left, a range of mountains
dominated the landscape reaching towards the sky like giant steps that ancient Greek
Gods would have used to visit the earth.
Peter instructed his captive audience that in winter the same mountains were coated in
snow and ideal for skiing as he commenced to paint a surreal image of men and
women climbing to their summits with skiing equipment while outside the
the temperature would have sustained an arid desert.
Maria stared out of the window her eyes unable to acknowledge the passing
landscape. She was deep within herself, under her skin, lost to the
outside world of tourists, day trips and Greek families trudging up snow
covered mountains. She had tried to bury the image of the baby she saw on the ferry
and the attention the two woman afforded it, the couple on the rocks and then their
walk on the beach she attempted to lay them aside like a finished meal, however their
was no waiter to take them away. Filling her time
with work, family and friends allowed a reprieve from the pangs that now ate at her.
It was true that she could go days, even weeks when her thoughts would be free of the
pull that seemed to turn her inside out and then all of a sudden, a word, a picture in a
magazine, a T. V. programme would be the catalyst responsible for opening the flood
gate of an out pouring of emotions would that consumed her. It was not lost on her
that she was not in a stable relationship with anyone, for that matter she was not in a
relationship full stop.
At twenty eight, should she be torturing herself about such things? she was young, in
good shape, her figure attracted men, she was educated, my God, she concluded, at
twenty eight she was in her prime.
Gradually she floated back until the outside world and Peter’s voice pierced her
thoughts. “As the centuries past, the sands of time buried Olympia, however, the
knowledge of its location survived. Archaeologists opened a window of history, an
aperture tantalisingly full of possibilities, insight and discovery. The poverty of
man kinds visual examples of the ancient world was to be presented with a gift of
such magnitude it would forever enrich our perception of that time and civilisation.”
As always he held his audience spellbound, like a performer on stage, they hung on to
his every word. Maria had given up long ago in trying too match his rich and
colourful descriptions by accepting defeat gracefully and sticking to the more down to
earth, simplified language of your every day tour guide.
By now Peter was on a roll as he spoke into the microphone, “In such places one has
to summon awareness and imagination to paint the splendour and grandeur that the
vast sight of Olympia undoubtedly was” he waved his hat, like a conductor’s batten,
“This is not to say that what remains today is a poor man’s version, demeaning its
authenticity as a spectacle of the ancient world” He took out a white hanker chief
from the pocket of his trousers and dabbed his forehead, “On the contrary, a potent
ambience encompasses Olympia, intensifying and haunting, indeed it is almost
spiritual as if one has entered holy and hallowed ground. From the moment one enters
the site, the aura of culture is invigoratingly alive, it is palpable and everywhere. In
fact I can even go as far to say that one is assaulted by it.”
He handed the microphone to Maria who scolded him with a look that conceded,
“And how do I follow that?”