The coast road to Vathi wasn’t the most attractive I have ever driven but it swooped around the sides of the hills and gave good views out to sea and the neighbouring island of Pserimos until suddenly and without warning it turned inland and after climbing for a while we emerged into an unexpected fertile green valley full of citrus trees in neat rows in carefully cultivated fields which was in complete contrast to the barren appearance that we had become accustomed to. The road suddenly turned back on itself until it reached the village of Rena and reached the sea and could go no further.
Rena was a delightful place, quiet and unspoilt with a narrow natural harbour where a few boats were tied to the jetty, fishermen were fussing with their nets and rich yacht owners were sitting under the shade on their polished decks checking their emails with one eye and watching the girls with the other. After walking along the harbour we turned and strolled down the single road lined with houses and a few shops and we stopped to examine the sponges.
Kalymnos is famous for sponges. This was once the centre of the Aegean sponge fishing industry but it has all but gone now as a result of over fishing and synthetic competition but there were some genuine sea water sponges here so we bought a few and the shop owner seemed grateful for the trade.
I didn’t know this but sponges are living animals whereas I had always assumed that they were plants and sometimes you just have to marvel at man’s inventive nature because I have to seriously wonder who first came up with the idea of scooping an unpromising little black creature off the seabed and turning it into something really useful!
My guess is that the first inclination was to cook it and try and eat it because like the French, the Greeks will eat anything that swims, slips or slithers through the sea. It probably tasted awful (you never see sponge on a menu) but as they were about to throw them back in the sea I can see one man saying, “hang on a minute fellas, I’ve got another idea, if we leave it in the sun for a few days so the flesh rots off and then we rinse it several times in seawater to remove all the excrement, and then we tenderise it with a rock and then we bleach it and then we rinse it several times in fresh water and then we hang it out to dry and then dye it yellow, I think we could find a use for it”, and that’s possibly how a piece of aquatic life becomes a bathroom essential.
Actually, sponges have been used for all sorts of different things over the years, washing with, painting, for drinking from, medicine and under armour padding. The Romans used them for wiping their bottoms in the public lavatories and ancient Greek prostitutes began their use as a contraceptive pessary and hence the term ‘sponge’ as a derogatory term for a woman of ill repute!
There was a relaxed and informal restaurant by the side of the harbour and although we only intended to have a drink the food looked so good that we stayed longer than planned and had an excellent lunch and then we left the charming village of Rena and headed back to Pothia. We didn’t stop this time but drove straight through and out the other side on the way to a mountain top monastery with commanding vies over all of the island. We stayed there for a while and looked inside the dazzling white churches and the bell towers and then continued to the tiny beach resort of Vlihadia Bay where we swam in the clear warm water and I managed to get stung on the ankle by a jellyfish!
It was getting late so we drove back now the way that we had come and took the main road back to Myrties but on the way I had to stop for some fuel. Being a self-confessed skinflint I didn’t want to put more petrol in than I needed to so at a garage I put an optimistically small amount in the tank and drove on. To my horror the needle on the gauge barely moved so I was obliged to find a second garage to top it up. This time I put too much in and then sulked all the way back on account of the fact that by trying to be too smart I swindled myself out of €5.
After returning the jeep to the car hire office we spent the rest of the daylight sitting on the balcony and waiting for another sunset moment. It was nice here, it was relaxing and quiet and we had both enjoyed it despite Kim’s wobbly start. Our plan for tomorrow was to take the late afternoon ferry back to Kos for the final time but with a morning to spare, over dinner, we made plans to visit the neighbouring islet of Telendos.