“And I live here…fishing with my son, around the small Delos and the Great Delos.” ~Captain Panagiotis D. Faroupos
As soon as Panagiotis D. Faroupos, the captain, and his splendid ship, The Quarantine of Delos, come into my view, I know that the gods have smiled upon me. What I do not know is that I am about to embark on an adventure that few people ever dreamed of and that it will be one of the most enchanting experiences of my many odysseys in Greece.
The Quarantine of Delos. What a beauty. What a seductress. Only two of her kind remain today. The other is “The Dolphin of Delos,” also owned by the Captain. Seafaring men who know their ships call The Quarantine one of the most perfect crafts ever made. She is the long-time mistress of Captain Panagiotis and she serves him alone. Meticulously handmade by Greek craftsmen Kalavoskaro-style from wood, she is a sailing cruiser and her slender frame stretches over seventeen meters. Her look is one of pure elegance. When you see her ,you are captivated and when your hands caress the smoothness of her rich, nut-brown timber, it is difficult not to fall in love. You do not have to even board her or wait until she sets sail to know that few ships have more stability.
Originally an old ferryboat, The Quarantine has been converted into a cruise boat with totally modern elements and equipment, yet retains traces of ancient times. This is her distinctiveness and charm.
This ship serves the tourists who come to the beautiful island of Mykonos, known as the most cosmopolitan of all the Greek islands. It attracts a sophisticated, international clientele of movie stars, rock stars, models, world-famous athletes, politicians and royalty. The rich and the powerful are known to vacation here, along with the savvy sun-seekers who save all year for two weeks to party, shop and sun on one of the most dazzling vacation spots in the Cyclades.
Tourists can board The Quarantine of Delos for the trip from Mykonos to the sacred island of Delos with its ancient monuments. They can go as individuals or with a group, (it holds 45) and cruise around the Cyclades. The ship can be chartered for a private cruise that ends with a barbecue on a private island.
The Quarantine is approaching me and I see the Captain. It is difficult to picture anyone else at the helm except Captain Panagiotis. In his youth, he acquired the distinctive nickname “Dillanos,” (meaning “from Delos”) given to other men in his family. He carries this with pride; not many men can claim the place of their origin as “Delos.”
Delos is considered by the Greeks to be “a sacred island,” and for a long period in ancient times no one was allowed to be born or buried there. Pregnant women were taken to nearby Rhinia to give birth and warriors and others who died were buried on Rhinia.
I wait near the ancient ruins on the sacred island (called Great Delos or Big Delos) to board The Quarantine; we then set sail for Rhinia (Little Delos), a nearby island where again there are restrictions set by the Greek government. No one is allowed to live on Rhinia except the Captain. I will spend three enchanting nights alone here with a cat who will be my constant companion before I board The Quarantine again and set sail for my sea-side room on Mykonos. While on Rhinia, I will be enveloped with silence and solitude and the rosy-fingered dawn and black-robed night will reward me with shameless displays of their splendor.
Before I share with you the enchantment of my time on Rhinia, let me set the scene:
THE ANCIENT TRIANGLE. In the heart of the Cycladic islands, there are three islands forming an ancient triangle. They are cosmopolitan Mykonos, sacred Delos and mysterious Rhinia. These sisters have distinctive and contradictory personalities and show visitors three tantalizing faces of Greece. Visitors from all over the world come to Mykonos for its night life and pristine beaches; on Delos they walk among the ancient ruins that some consider sacred. Very few foreigners, however, have ever set foot on Rhinia and no one is allowed to live on the island, except Captain Panagiotis.
THE QUARANTINE OF DELOS. The ship is named after the period before the 1900s when ships entering the Cycladic islands had to remain in quarantine on Rhinia for forty days until they were judged free of disease. The sailors were examined by doctors and received health certificates before being allowed to sail to the commercial harbor of Syros.
While in quarantine, the sailors were looked after by Captain Panagiotis’s grandfather, Panais Faroupo, a fisherman married to Catherine Fournista. The couple tended to sheep, goats and a few cows and made traditional cheeses, such as Kopanisti and Tyrovolia. They plowed the arid land and with great care and labor and cultivated black-eyed beans and barley, said by some to be one of the best types grown from ancient times up to the Venetian and Turkish occupation. As a result of their industriousness on this small piece of land, they nourished the sailors with excellent food that today would be as highly prized as it was then.
The house was passed on to the captain’s parents, Dimitris and Spiridoula Faroupos; until a few years ago, the Captain’s mother lived there year-round. It is now maintained by the Captain, his wife, Dionysia, son, Dimitris and daughters, Spyridoyla and Konstantina.
It remains the only home on Rhinia. It is spacious with a commodious bedroom and a stocked kitchen complete with wine racks. Food is grilled on a brazier (grill) on the large, outdoor, covered patio facing the deep vistas of the sea. The grill is supported with timbers brought from the sea, water is carried to the house from a well and a sturdy outhouse is nearby. There are a few, less sturdy structures on the island used for temporary shelter.
“I grew up in Delos with the boats, the rocks, the sun and the sea. I live with the waves and I will die close to them.”
Captain Panagiotis was born on Rhinia into a family of fishermen; his father fished during the day and in the evenings served as a night watchman on ancient Delos. He grew up on Rhinia and went to school on Mykonos, completed the obligatory military service in the navy, and when he married, he followed his father’s footsteps as a fisherman and a night guardian on ancient Delos. Within a few years he purchased the two ships and began taking tourists on cruises, one of the most popular excursions for tourists.
THE CAPTAIN’S STATEMENT
“Born on Delos and coming from a family lineage that dates back to the time of sailing ships, I was brought up in the aura of the island’s immense cultural heritage. Of all the charters I run, it is the day trip to Delos, birthplace of the god Apollo, that I personally enjoy the most.
Whether we first stop at Delos to see the ancient site or sail directly to the nearby island of Rhinia, we eventually decide on an anchorage that could be at any number of beautiful isolated coves. To round off the day, just before sunset we arrive at my family’s original seaside stone cottage on Rhinia. Here we dig into a cookout of charcoal grilled fish in true traditional Cycladic style.
When we finally sail for home at the end of the day my biggest reward is that I know this day’s adventures will guarantee everyone on board the cherished memory of a lifetime. Nothing can match the experience and joy of your own, private cruise.”
THE JOURNEY LEADING TO THE DISCOVERY OF MYSELF
I asked the Captain for special permission to stay alone in his house because I wanted total solitude while I read and corrected the final proofs for the manuscript of my new novel, Labyrinthine Ways. I had been doing research and writing for the past eight and one-half years and it had been my dream to read it one last time alone on an island before sending it to Cosmos Publishing, my publisher. I wondered how I would feel about being alone.
I felt favored by the gods to have connections leading me to the Captain. After a brief tour of the house, Captain Panagiotis sailed away; I was then alone on the island, or so I thought.
I heard purring sounds that were so sweet and gentle I thought it was the wind. Soon my ankles were being circled and caressed by silken fur and I looked down to see a golden cat looking at me with total trust. “Meow,” she said, and I answered likewise. She captured my heart and I wondered what name she had or what name I could give her.
I walked around the house and then down to the sea for a long stroll. When I returned, I remembered to place my Greek-style picnic basket—plenty of bread, fruit, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, olives, tomatoes— in the cooler. I was glad I included a few cans of tuna, because this golden-haired feline at my feet appeared to be hungry, so I opened a can and she went right to it. She appeared well cared for and I guessed (correctly) that the captain fed her during his many back and forth trips. “What shall I call her?” I wondered, then decided I did not know her well enough to give her a name.
After feeding her I took another long walk by the beach because it looked so beautiful in the afternoon sun and because it was mine alone.
How often does a person get to be alone on a island with the sand and sea to herself? My companion followed along after me. I took advantage of the solitude to swim au naturel in the sea and then rested on my towel and allowed the sun to dry me. It was still light and bright and I wanted to give myself time to finish editing the manuscript for my new novel. I relished having the experience of doing my final edit in absolute peace; not many authors can do this.
I was also discovering how content I felt being alone. (I wondered if Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was a writer and an editor, ever worked on her books while living on Skorpios, the private island in the Ionian Sea owned by her husband, Aristotle Onassis. They were married on Skorpios and lived there from time to time. It was tantalizing to think that if Mrs. Onassis worked on her books while alone on the island, then she and I had something in common.)
I took a slow walk back to the house, found a comfortable spot on the expansive patio, spread my manuscript over the table, popped open an iced-tea and began to edit. It was so peaceful with just the sounds of nature. I wished I could freeze these moments and remember all of the sensations. The time went by so quickly that I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to eat. So I prepared my picnic lunch, opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed the stillness. The cat nibbled again at her feast of tuna. Feeling tired but relaxed, I decided to take a little nap and then awaken to watch the sunset.
I slept soundly and do not know how long I dozed. I was awakened by the cat rubbing against me and purring. “Okay cat,” I said, “I am getting up.” She moved away, looked back at me and gave me signals that she wanted me to follow. The bedroom had one small window and light bathed the room. I seldom wear a watch while in Greece, and I had no idea if it was day or night. I went back on the patio, she jumped next to me and actually cuddled, and together we watched the dazzling setting of the sun. Her eyes were fixed on the scene before her, gazing intensely with the look that only cats have; the amazed , startled and utterly concentrated look of someone seeing something for the first time.
I knew that her actions in the bedroom were deliberate and that she was summoning me so I did not miss the evening ballet of the orange sun setting and the white moon rising. I envied her the ability to see the same scene anew each day and night with total wonder. Cats have that gift. So I looked at her with true awe, gave her a hug,and decided I would give her a name to describe not only my feelings for the journey the captain created just for me, but my feelings for Rhinia and her. I called her Aphrodite. I wanted to be just like her—alone on an island, seeing each day and night with fresh eyes and awe, enveloped in the enchantment of my very own Aegean adventure. Like the poet, C.P. Cavafy, I yearned for my journey to be long.