Corfu – Je t’Aime by Robyn Boswell
Ever since I was young and read Gerald Durrell’s wonderful ‘My Family and Other Animals’, Corfu seemed like a far distant, magical land that I never dreamed I would visit, but here we were. Half-way though our European camping tour, we had a few days of rest and relaxation with the opportunity to explore on our own.
We’d heard too many tales of travellers gone awry on mopeds, so unlike most of our fellow travellers, we hired a car for a day. Helen bravely volunteered to go into town and join the convoy of hired cars and mopeds back to camp. There was some hilarity when she turned up with the tiniest of cars – a Fiat Bambina. We were four strapping Kiwi lasses, but with a bit of a squash, we squeezed in.
The first challenge came with the realisation that we would be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. None of us had ever driven on the right before, so Helen, with her 20 minutes of experience was unanimously voted in as the first driver. The second challenge was discovering that the map from the rental firm had the placenames in the English alphabet whilst the road signs were in the Greek alphabet. Undaunted, we decided to explore wherever the road might take us.
As we drove out the gate, we were instantly surrounded by Gerald Durrell’s Corfu. Pastel coloured villas with wild gardens tumbling down the hillsides, tiny coves with azure waters and, across the shimmering ocean, mysterious Albania, smudged along the horizon. We came across a sun-drenched beach with crystal clear water and I could envision the young Gerald Durrell paddling his ungainly little boat, Bootle Bumtrinket across the bay.
We met some friends who’d hired mopeds. They were already dusty and shaken on the rough unsealed roads. We had been told that for every camping tour that stayed on the island at least one person broke their collarbone on a moped. Later we found that our tour had kept this record up. We were glad we had our tiny car.
We drove high into the steep hills with sweeping views of the sapphire Ionian Sea. Olive trees grew on the stony slopes and the fat, ripe olives had rolled onto the road, leaving splodges of oil in the dust where vehicles had run them over. The roads became increasingly rougher until we found ourselves in a tiny, sleepy village. The only sign of life was a couple of elderly, moustachioed gentlemen sitting in the sunshine, no doubt carrying on a conversation that had been rolling on for years.
The temperature was rising, so it was time to find a beach for a swim. It was my turn to face the trial of driving on the ‘wrong side’ and I initially set out at an extremely sedate pace, barely above walking speed. Everything was ok until we came to an intersection and I suddenly had no idea which side of the road to exit it on. Luckily there were no cars to be seen and I had plenty of pithy advice from my travelling companions.
Rounding a corner, we were confronted by a large green snake in the middle of the road. Coming from a snakeless country, this was our first ever encounter with a live snake in the wild. Having no time to stop, I simply ran over it and continued on. It wasn’t until later that we discovered from our Aussie friends that running over a snake wasn’t a great idea, especially with the sunroof open.
We thought we could find the beach, but found ourselves high in the hills again with the road getting narrower and narrower. We drove into another tiny village and suddenly the road in front of us disappeared and became a flight of steps. We seemed to be stuck as there didn’t appear to be room to turn even our tiny car around. Next thing, we were surrounded by a crowd of people from the village all laughing with us at our dilemma. With our only shared language being smiles and hand gestures, the car was manoeuvred around and we set off back the way we had come with many friendly waves from the villagers who had had their excitement for the day.
We never found the beach we were seeking and ended up at another beach just over the hill from the camp. Out came my precious blanket ‘Red’ which has shared so many travel experiences with me that it deserves its own memoir. We spread it on the beach ready for an afternoon in the sun.
From high in the mountains the water looked gloriously clear and deep blue. The beach was stony but nothing daunted, we headed for the water. We had missed swimming in real seawater. Close up, however, the water was slightly green and a little slimy and seemed to have rather a lot of unidentified livestock. However it was hot, the clear, searing heat of Greece, so we dipped our bodies in the water long enough to cool down and then lay in the sun to dry off.
It wasn’t until we went to leave that I discovered that Red was attached to the beach. Many of what we had thought to be stones turned out to be globules of oil, black and tacky. Red had to be peeled off the beach and for several years would bear the scars of the black, sticky ‘stones’. For the first time, we had discovered ocean pollution and we longed for the clear, clean waters of home.
Arriving back at camp to find a very sunburnt, ouzo-fuelled group who had taken a boat trip around the island and the dusty, battered and bruised mopeders we decided we had had the best of the day. The perfect finish to the day was a succulent, spit-roasted lamb and dancing and singing under the stars with our exuberant Greek hosts.
Corfu, I love you.
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