The land that GPRS forgot

Technology gives way for swimming lessons

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Ionian Blog To the bat-cave!

You were wondering what happened to the sailing blog? Answer: I found a place in the Ionian islands where no wireless works. None.

Well, that's probably not entirely true; I'm sure that if I could have found a mains power socket to charge the BGAN satellite modem up, and another to power the PC, I'd have been able to send you pictures of the dolphins and the bat-cave. That is, if I'd taken any. But I couldn't, and I didn't, so I couldn't. But at least I taught the cook how to swim on his back...

What I can tell you is that Google Earth has its Greek place labels all over the ruddy place. I was searching for Abeliki Bay. You can google for that, and find loads and loads of stuff; but Google Earth says: "Your search returned no data" and I'll have to resort to stealing a snapshot to show you what we were doing.

Google Earth knows the island of Meganisi, which is the fractal landscape illustrated. Unfortunately, if you search for "Meganisi, Greece" it takes you into the Ionian about half a mile south of the island. Oh, sure; you can see the island if you zoom out. You can even see the label on the island saying "Meganisi" - but it's not the same place.

Similarly, the map shows "Vathi" and I can assure you, that's not Vathi. Vathi is a beautiful little village with mooring space for a dozen or so yachts the size of Summer Lightning, and accordingly you will be quick to realise that it must be a place with houses and sea. The satellite photo shows a place with houses and sea, and the detail picture makes it clear, I hope. And to the right of Vathi, you can see another bay, which is a bit like the shape of an elephant's foot. Ignore the elephant's b*ll*x above and to the right, of course; that's a different bay. It's the foot: that's Abeliki Bay, and it's beautiful and remote.

And the cellphone doesn't work there.

I managed to find a way to get to Vathi for essential supplies (beer, of course) - you swim from the boat to the shore, climb the hill till you find a road, and walk along the road for 15 minutes or so, then down the hill until you reach the village. A retail establishment accepts legal tender in exchange for bacon, eggs, beer and so on, and you carry them back over the hill. By the time you get back to the boat, you're really glad of the 50 metre swim involved. Greece, this time of year, may not be as hot as it was in August, but it still makes a brisk walk, carrying groceries, a definite aerobic exercise.

Up to now, in the gaps between power-charging, I've had my life saved by the Vodafone data card. No doubt it would be better if its high speed download packet access (HSDPA) abilities worked. They would, if there were any 3G wireless signals with HSDPA. But there aren't even any 3G signals, so GPRS it has had to be - but in a pinch, GPRS will do. Here at Abeliki Bay, there isn't even GPRS.

So the bat-cave. Well, the map doesn't show it, but on the big picture above, you can see that to the west (left) of Meganisi island, there's another land mass. That's Levka. And the furthest point south shown, is where the bat-cave is.

The thing is, I don't have a waterproof camera bag, and the only way of getting into the bat-cave is to swim. Also, there's nowhere to anchor; the water is too deep. So while the ship owner and the Irish rugby player taxed their intellects by minding the boat, the cook and the skipper (me!) got into the dinghy and rowed over to the foot-high entrance to the cave.

It was at this judiciously chosen moment that the cook revealed that he couldn't row (why did he take the ruddy oars?) and was scared of swimming in deep water. I had to tie the dinghy to an outcrop of sharp volcanic rock, and gently talk him into the water, and into the cave.

Yes, there were bats; and there is, also, the most incredible blue light. The entrance above the water may only be a foot or two; but below, the entrance goes down about 40 feet or more. And that's where the light comes from - filtered by masses of sea water, only the palest blue gets through. It's worth the flight, the sailing, and the swim, just to see it. If I had a picture, you'd say: "Photoshop". You have to see it.

And this was the moment where the cook revealed that he didn't want to swim out on his tummy, and didn't know how to swim on his back. Of all the places to start swimming lessons, a dark cave, 40 foot deep, with a gap that is two foot high when the waves are still but only an inch or so when a wave comes...

The fact has to be accepted: I succeeded in my teaching. If I hadn't, the cook would still be in the cave, but he isn't. The cook can now swim on his back, and both of us got back to the boat. It turns out that he couldn't get into the dinghy from the water, either...very fortunately, my life-saving training, 20 years ago, taught me how to pull a 14-stone man from the water onto the side of a swimming pool, and the lesson needed only slight modification to enable me to land the cook in a dinghy.

We're nearing the end of our Odyssey. I hope I'll be able to tell you about the dolphins, but apparently I have some beer-drinking duties...so "another time" will do. ®

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