Just Before Easter on Koufonissi and the old Skopelitis

In spring 1995, I found that the Skopelitis (the old Skopelitis, not the later Express Skopelitis) was away for her annual refit. "Much, much paint," one of the islanders had commented, "and after a few weeks she is as rusty as ever." We all know she is at heart a little rust bucket. Rub-a-dub-dub." as we affectionately call her. "Three men in a tub,"

On the Wednesday before Easter, the Skopelitis arrived back in Katapola. Whatever had been done during her refit had not been done to her seats for these were as broken and battered as ever (these have since been replaced - as indeed has the ship itself, by the Express Skopelitis). Her signboard showed that on Thursday she was leaving Katapola at six in the morning to go to Koufonissia, Schinoussa, Iraklia, and Naxos, a route she sometimes does in the summer. Usually she calls at Aegiale and Donoussa before reaching Koufonissia but now she was going direct. I had never been to Koufonissia, so now was my chance. I would go to Koufonissia for the day. The Thursday was the day before Good Friday, Greeks like to go home for Easter, and on her return, the Skopelitis would be one of the last boats to reach Amorgos before Easter. More of that later. If computer ticketing had been around then I would probably not have been allowed on board at Koufonissia. I would have been stranded there for Easter (when boats do not run).

Needless to say, the departure board was a mistake. We went via Aegiale and Donoussa, a long, long way to go for a day trip, especially as on a clear day you can see Koufonissia not that far from the end of Katapola bay. Four hours there and four hours back.

One reason why I was slightly wary about going to Koufonissia was that I needed to change some money before Easter. I had noticed that the Skopelitis had arrived in Katapola too late for me to go up to the Chora to change money on the Wednesday, so I had to change money in Koufonissia. No problem, I decided, there is a post office, one of the guidebooks says so. [note from England: now there are cash machines even on Amorgos - and perhaps on Koufonissi, I haven't been to check - so changingh money is no longer a problem].

I looked around Koufonissia for the post office, but could not find it. I did find a very old-fashioned OTE that seemed to be in someone's front room, but no Post Office. Some time afterwards I saw a map showing the post office tucked away down what must have been the only street I did not find. If the OTE was that low key, perhaps I had passed the post office and had not realised it.

Eventually I asked for the post office in Greek in a small tourist shop. "Change?" she asked. I nodded. Immediately the woman in the shop shouted out something in Greek, two young women appeared and led me to a nearby establishment, which they opened specially for me. Was this the post office? It did not look like it. It was a small travel agency; still they did change my money albeit at a much higher commission than the post office would have charged.

The islanders were busy painting whitewash designs on the paths in readiness for Easter. I tiptoed on the unpainted centres of the stones; the painters looked bemused as I came and went in my search for the post office. The islanders did keep their island spick and span; I saw a group of young people assisting a man with a trailer to remove rubbish from the beach. Even before they started, the beach was clean and tidy by the standards of most Greek beaches.

I reached the harbour in plenty of time to catch the Skopelitis. I had quite a wait before I saw her familiar little outline come into sight, so I had plenty of time to investigate what I had noticed on landing - the huge cracks in Koufonissia harbour. The end of the jetty seemed to be breaking away, and I could see sea at the bottom of one of the holes. Was this because of poor construction techniques, over enthusiastic docking, a small earthquake? I did not find out what had caused the holes, but they had been repaired by the next time I passed through Koufonissia. There were similar cracks at that time in the harbour at Schinoussa.

There were quite a number of people waiting to catch the Skopelitis. Once on board I saw that she was more crowded than I have ever seen her before, not only with people but also with Easter lambs, the carcasses wrapped up in plastic parcels. There was hardly a seat on deck and no seats inside. Everyone was heading back to Amorgos for Easter. Because of the extra weight (or because of travelling the same long, long, route twice in a day) the journey back was and seemed very, very, long.