Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Surprising waste

(The 'open air museum' near Old Andissa)

Nature on Lesvos is still very green, although summer is seriously colouring the landscape yellow. In quite another way, the island is slowly greening: the landscape is being cleared of illegal dumps and the recycling of waste is starting.

This spring the environmental group Lesvos go Green distributed flyers telling us what to do with the waste that can be recycled (batteries, electrics and electronic appliances, cooking and frying oil, light bulbs, old cars and so on). You may have to search a little to find the different containers, but they are here and in this way Lesvos is becoming a greener island.

Recycling Aegean came in 2001 to Mytilini and is now a huge recycling-plant. Here old iron, metal, tires, cars and packaging materials find a new life. Some 1300 tons of metal, 10 tons of wire, 40 tons of batteries, 40 tons of paper (mainly books) and 30 tons of aluminium packaging are gathered annually.

There is also a second recycling firm in Mytilini. But having different possibilities of recycling does not mean that the illegal dumping places on the island will disappear. The question is how all this waste material will reach the plants. There are some traders like the gypsies who gather old iron. But the average inhabitant of Lesvos doesn’t take his recycling items to Mytilini every week (although I have heard people say that they take their empty bottles to Mytllini because there are containers where you can dump them). I do hope that with better information – like the flyer from Lesvos go Green – more recycling will be done.

Apart from the waste to be recycled the normal rubbish also forms a problem. Written in 2009, the essay Moving Up the EU Waste Hierarchy in Remote Area, Exploring the Case of Lesvos Island, Greece written by Faikham Harnnarong predicted what is now going on. The central refuse plant of the island has been opened somewhere in the mountains between Mytilini and Mandamados. The problem now is how the local rubbish vans can get there, because those from Molyvos (and those of other faraway districts like Plomari, Polychnitos and Sigri) cannot drive each day up and down on a three hour journey. The crisis is not making things easier because, of course, there is no money to buy bigger trucks, for more petrol (the prices of petrol is rising by the week) or to pay more workers. So in the faraway regions (like here in the north) we have a huge problem. The local dumps are closed and now where can we go with the rubbish?

In Molyvos they found a solution, but already lots of people are protesting. In the municipal car park, a little outside of the village, but where people also live, they installed huge containers that each day are filled with rubbish. The containers were meant to be taken to the central refuse plant every second day, but because of the crisis this is not happening, so now the rubbish is piling up, causing a terrible stink and can be a danger to public health.

The village of Petra is also having problems with waste. As many public servants have not been paid for months sometimes they just do not collect the rubbish. Last weekend I saw the army coming down to the village in order to clean the streets and beaches.

So the refuse problem is not an easy one to handle, even though there are recycling plants and a central waste plant on the island. Let just say this: there is the willingness to treat refuse according to European standards and they created the places to do it; we now only have to hope that the crisis will soon end in order to solve all these logistic problems.

When you drive from the beach at Kambos along the coast to Old Andissa, you are driving along a river where you will see tons of old iron. The company Recycling Aegean would be happy to receive all this recycling material: there are tens of old trucks and shovels that –cleaned and polished – would belong to a museum.

Lots of museums in Greece are closed now because the state can no longer pay the staff. However, this ‘open-air museum’ would involve no cost as it would not need any personnel (assuming the trucks are not cleaned and polished). As the trucks are on the public road, there is no way other than to drive through this ‘museum’ if you want to continue your travel. But my guess is that lots of car lovers will jump out of their cars in order to take photographs.

Let’s hope that the collectors of old cars do not decide to remove this organised scrap-iron park, because this ‘drive-in-open-air museum’ is just another nice surprise that shows how some Lesviot people are creative with rubbish.

(With thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2011

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Orchid Hunting

(A 'rasta-orchid' or Comperia comperiana)

Orchids form the biggest flower family that we know on earth. Their 21.000 – 26.000 officially accepted different species twice outnumber the birds and four times outnumber the mammals. Their beauty is recognized worldwide but when we look at their history, it seems that orchids are very dangerous flowers because they make many an orchid collector crazy. Collecting orchids can be a dangerous business.

When the first Asian orchids came to Europe during Victorian times (19th century) people were so enthusiastic that an orchid fever arose that killed several people. Europeans were sent deep into the unknown jungles of Borneo, Colombia or Peru in order to collect new species of orchids and to ship them back to Europe. During these perilous travels orchid hunters drowned in wild flowing rivers, were killed or eaten by cannibals, had lethal bites from dangerous snakes or died from malaria and other tropical diseases. Even in the 20st century people paid with their lives for their passion: around 1900 a group of eight orchid hunters left for the Philippines. One got eaten by a tiger, another was doused with cooking oil and burned alive, five just disappeared but the one survivor returned to Europe with 7000 species! Little decades later a group was taken hostage by natives in Papua New Guinea and some of them were beheaded before a rescue team could save the rest.

The stories of the surviving orchid hunters could be horrific. If they were not killed themselves they at least were witness to local wars with barbaric rituals and tortures or they might find a village full of breathtakingly beautiful orchids, that however smelled so bad that you even could not approach them.

Orchid hunters were not a kind people. They fought with each other, they burned down whole areas where they found precious orchids or they destroyed all they could not take with them; they caused huge damage so that their competitors could not find what they had discovered. It is even said that when the boxes with orchids were ready to be put on the ships to Europe they would pee on those of their competitors so that the flowers would not survey the journey. Of course during these sea journeys whole bunches of precious orchids got lost. The exotic flowers were often not good seafarers, ships were sunk or burned out.

Orchid hunters still exist and because the Asian orchids are most precious commercially, it is they that are collected by the most crazy people. The book Orchid fever of Eric Hansen gives an entertaining vision of how eccentric this orchid world of crazy people is.

In Greece where you can find some 200 species, the orchid hunters are a more friendly lot. In Greece they do not look to sell or smuggle orchids; here they are peacefully shot by cameras and before there were camera’s they were drawn or dried for a herbarium.

Between 1879 and 1889, when at the other side of the world many an orchid hunter got lost in the jungles, here on Lesvos people also researched plants and amongst them orchids. Father C.A. Candargy and his son P.C. Candargy noted about 27 species on the island. I suppose the Candargy’s were not eaten by tigers or cannibals, but they disappeared without trace into history. Their herbarium is still lost and besides some minor biographical points the only thing that is left of them is their book Flore de l’Ile de Lesbos, published in 1889.

Now they say that here on Lesvos there are some 70 – 90 species, of which about ten are pretty rare and the search for them will bring you to the most unexpected and beautiful places.

I would become crazy from such an orchid mania; the island is so big that it is absolutely impossible to look everywhere on the island and most orchids like to hide in their natural environment so that even if they are big, you just look past them. On top of that, you have to be in the right place at the right time. It can be that they have just finished blossoming, or that they are still to come.

Last week I joined an orchid hunt in the region of Megalochori, where some rare species must be hiding. I am not that fanatical about these flowers, so I also look for other flowers. My fellow travellers promised me I would see flowering peonies. But they were just finished, just like some of the tulips and fritellaria. So, I was a little disappointed. Happily enough there were plenty of nice orchids and I got very lucky to find a rare Comperts orchid (Comperia comperiana), an orchid with crazy wild hairs, therefore I call it a rasta-orchid.

Not only orchid hunters are crazy, so are the flowers themselves. They do everything to seduce their environment: they develop the most crazy perfumes, colours and forms to attract insects to help with fertilizing.

A late summer – still a little cold, especially in the mornings and evenings – has one advantage: the whole of nature is late and tourists who know the island from previous May months may be surprised by the explosion of flowers and the near tropical green colour of the landscape right now.

For the orchid hunter it means that he has to reschedule his search: the species that flower in May are still not to be found due to the weather or you just do not find them, which can be pretty confusing. But it means that the orchid season, on Lesvos starting in February, can last until late in July.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2011