Tuesday, 27 March 2007


Approaching Molyvos, the first building you see on your left is the Hotel Delphinia. It was the first hotel in Molyvos when it opened at the end of the fifties. It still has a certain charm, but in the sixties it was really a hot place to be. Famous people like actors, film producers, writers and the jet set took the then still dirt road from Mytilini to unpack their suitcases in the luxury rooms of Delphinia, so that they could show off their newest bathing suits at the swimming pool by the sea. Nowadays the real glamour has gone.

Real former splendour is to be found a little further on, besides Hotel Delphinia. There is Hotel Arion, a pretty big hotel that opened in 1985, but was shut down a year later because they could not pay their debts, so the bank took the hotel. That truly is a shame, because the hotel is in a prime location by the sea, with a beautiful view of the medieval town of Molyvos.

The hotel is now falling apart, but nobody dares to invest into this huge hotel. Doing business with the banks here is tricky. It can easily be that when you want to put money into the rebuilding of this hotel, many family members will show up in order to get a slice of the pie. Which means it'll be a nasty project to find your way through the complicated labyrinth of Greek bureaucracy. A friend of ours who bought a piece of land had to collect 26 signatures from 26 different members of a family. And this was a family who all agreed on selling the land and did not have any debts.

So it is a shame that Hotel Delphinia and Hotel Arion do not make a united front for the tourists. Because dolphins, the translation of Delphinia, and Arion belong to each other.

In antiquity Arion was a famous musician from Mytilini. He is known for creating the Dithyramb, at that time a hymn to Dionysos, sung by a choir. It is even said that the Dithyramb was the precursor of theatrical plays. Arion worked at the court of King Periander of Corinthe. When once he went to Sicily, to attend a music contest, he won every prize. When he returned with all his wealth, the sailors decided to rob him. Arion asked for one last favour: to play a final song. His music was famous and for his performance even the dolphins came to listen. There are different versions of the myth: either Arion threw himself into the sea or the sailors dumped him into the water. Anyhow, Arion ended up in the sea where a dolphin took pity on him, took him on his back and brought him ashore so that he could return to the court of Periander.

Also the god Dionysos was once attacked when travelling at sea. Pirates abducted him because they thought he was a mighty prince. On boarding the pirate ship, Dionysos bewitched the boat: wild animals appeared, vines grew along the ships sides and the oars changed into snakes. The sailors became so afraid that they jumped into the sea. Dionysos, god of wine and wild partying, took mercy upon them. He changed the bad sailors into good dolphins.

Dolphins belong to Greece. Some 2300 years ago Aristoteles had already made scientific reports about these mammals. In his 'Historia Animalium' amongst other things he wrote that dolphins could age to 25 or 30 years.

Dolphins are not everyday sea creatures. You have to be lucky to encounter them. However, in the Ionian Sea, for a lot of money, dolphin lovers can help scientists to study dolphins. In the Gulf of Amvrakikos they seem to swim around a lot. For 2349 dollars the EartWatch Institute organizes an expedition so that for 9 days you can follow the dolphins in specially equipped boats (with GPS), try to find their patterns, and try to recognize them by their scars and bites. On the shore you can help the scientists entering and organising all the data. The islands of Alonissos (Sporades) and Crete also offer boat excursions where you can see dolphins.

Besides a Dolphinarium, EarthWatch is offering maybe the only 100% certain chance to see dolphins in Greece. I doubt that you always see them during such a boat excursion offered on different islands. When you travel the waters of Greece, you always have a chance to meet them, so taking a special excursion to meet them... Also, around Lesvos, you regularly see dolphins jumping around in the sea. You don't even have to take a boat to see them.

Sunday afternoon was hot and the sea was like a blue mirror. A little grumbling fisherboat was looking for fish. And suddenly there they were: a school of dolphins, their fins cutting through the water, some happy dolphins jumping out of the water. It is forbidden to fish for dolphins and anyhow, a dolphin in the net brings bad luck to a fisherman. So the fishing boat lay still on the water and the watchman in the mast was enjoying the breathtaking view of the jumping dolphins as much as we did.

I think every spring the dolphins pass at least once at Eftalou. But also they are often seen in the bay and harbour of Molyvos. My advice: when the sea is as smooth as a mirror at the end of an afternoon, go to a taverna by the sea where you have a good view over the blue water. Like Anatoli in Eftalou. While enjoying the Greek food, stare out over the water and if you are lucky, you will see them. The costs of this excursion? A dinner of your own choice!

Photo: Earthwatch Institute

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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