From cruise ships to rubber rafts - reality bites the shores of Lesvos!
My office in the next week happens to be a 4X4 jeep. After capital controls hit the Greek consciousness in July and cancelled some cruise ship arrivals, the economic wheel of tourism has again kicked in and the island of Lesvos is welcoming cruise ship tourism with open arms. Since I am an independent guide, my life was turned upside down a bit with the economic burp of our present situation. Thank god for good friends who reach out and extend a helping hand. Sigrid, owner of Pandora Travel which tailor makes tours for clients gave me an opportunity to do what I do best - specialize a day for the client. The trip I designed highlighted our beautiful island with some of their wishes.
Yesterday, I consciously packed the car with bread and water and set out to meet some clients off of the cruise ship. Since I hadn't been off of the mountain for some days, I really didn't know what the situation on the island was? I would soon find out that the reality bug bit the island of Lesvos.
I am very honest with my clients when it comes to the refugee situation. I brief my clients that they will encounter refugees on the road, in Mytilini and most likely we would witness history in the making with a boat crossing as we approached the northern coast past Skala Sikiaminia to Ligaria. I told them all, I had packed bread and water and that we may stop if we needed to distribute it.
The colliding reality of tourists and refugees who arrive by boat on the island is somewhat of an unbelievable situation - a cruise ship vs. a rubber boat. This is the reality of Lesvos the summer of 2015.
This rubber raft was just coming in as we passed by on the nothern dirt track. We could hear shouts and cheers as the refugees in the raft came closer to the shore. In the jeep, my clients were absolutely blown away. They said, "unless you see it with your own eyes, you just can't comprehend the intensity of the situation." In the foreground of this picture were people on the Lesvos side handling the crossing. (I don't know if they had already arrived or if they were placed here by the traffikers on the Turkish side?) There were a few photographers probably from the international press.
Immediately we all jumped out of the jeep and started throwing water to the refugees. It was a bit of a chaotic moment.
I asked, "Where are you from?" "Syria" was the reply! Phones were being unpacked from their plastic, women helped to the shore and then I threw them down some bread. With prayer hands, they thanked me. "Thank you" "Thank you"! And with that small gesture, I held back the tears because I just knew how many more were before and how many were right behind this group.
Here's a view of the aftermath of a refugee crossing. One man looking on as three men haul the motor away. The motor is worth some money and this happened in a matter of 3 minutes. A Syrian woman regains her footing on land in the left foreground as rubber tubes, life preservers and plastic boats litter the shore line.
My tour continues down the road towards Cafe Paradisio in Ligaria and we come across families with small children walking in the hot afternoon sun. We have given all our water and bread to the Syrians at the arrival point two minutes ago. My clients just keep documenting and saying, "I had no idea, it was this bad. Look at the children."
One of my favorite places in the world is now a huge mountain of plastic rubbish.
We make the round trip journey back to Mytilini. Here are refugees who have made the trek from the Northern shores to the Port in Mytilini. I drop off my clients at the same place that thousands of refugees are waiting passage on a ferry boat to Athens and my clients head to their tender and back to their cruise ship and to their next destination - Ephesus. As I walk back to my jeep, I see this....
I have some Norwegian friends that told me a ship was being sent from Norway to help with the border control. It's docked and I have no idea if it's Norwegian?! Border control - what border control? I drive back to my tiny mountain village and have an ouzo with my friends. Life goes on!