Thursday, 21 July 2016
A bus ride, Greek style
After another afternoon in Kefalonia, lolloping by the swimming pool under the scorching Greek sun, Mrs Jones and I followed our usual holiday routine. We returned to our apartment, showered, admired our tanned skins in the mirror, plastered our flesh with generous splodges of hydrating lotion, and dressed in smart night-time attire in readiness for the evening meal in a local restaurant.
Our holiday accommodation overlooked the sea, and on previous nights we’d dined in nearby tavernas, reachable via a five-minute stroll along the beach front. On this particular evening, however, we’d decided to try The Olive Lounge restaurant as recommended by Trip Advisor. Located a mile away, access to this eatery could only be achieved by traversing a harsh and winding incline, known to the locals as ‘cardiac hill’. Even at 7.00 pm, the temperature was still pushing 30 degrees so walking was not an option.
At our secluded resort, taxis were as rare as a drug-free Russian athlete and, as with most things Greek, the local bus service was unreliable, seeming to follow a covert timetable capriciously determined by the whim of the driver. So as we left our apartment on this particular evening and spotted the green minibus pull up at the foot of cardiac hill, it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. Transiently forgetting the heat and humidity, my short, 57-year-old legs sprang into piston-like motion propelling me – hands waving – towards the bus, Mrs Jones in my slipstream.
By the time I was climbing the steps to pay the fare, I could detect rivulets of sweat darting down my spine and trickling into the dark recess between the cheeks of my arse. The fare was 1 euro and 20 cents each, but I only had a 20-euro note; the driver sighed and seemed to spend an age fiddling with his coins to give me change. The interior of the non-air-conditioned bus was suffocating and when I glanced towards my fellow passengers their glares and communal panting indicated that my late arrival had not been appreciated.
The bus was almost full, occupied mostly by tourists in swimwear who had spent the day frying on the beach. The only vacant seats were on the back row. As we staggered along the aisle - the walk of shame – a pungent mix of burning flesh, Ambre Solaire and mosquito repellent assaulted my senses, causing me to gag. My eyes streamed as if irritated by the chlorine gas used in the trenches of the 1st World War.
I managed to sit before I stumbled only to discover that the German gentleman next to me reeked of stale tobacco. Furthermore, Wilhelm Woodbine was in the process of rolling himself another cigarette, the contents of which smelt like camel shit. A lady directly in front of me was holding two stainless-steel hiking sticks – what the fuck! - one of which intermittently jabbed into my thigh. A bikini-clad woman, three rows in front, held a 2-metre-long inflatable dinghy on her shoulder; each time the bus turned a corner, the plastic monstrosity pressed against my face, further accelerating my rate of perspiration.
Half way up cardiac hill we could stand it no longer. The potent combination of sweat, smog and suffocation propelled me to stand and stumble towards the exit, begging the driver to let me out. He obliged and opened the doors, his face conveying a ‘what’s your problem?’ expression. A German lady at the front, who appeared calm and unflustered, and typically much more dignified than her British counterparts, announced, ‘I sink I will get off here too’.
Once off the bus into the relative cool of the Greek sunshine, Mrs Jones and I crouched, gasping, heads between our knees. Composure regained, we abandoned our pilgrimage to the Olive Lounge and rolled into a nearby bar. Two hours later, feeling refreshed after imbibing copious quantities of cold Mythos - the local larger - and with the sun now set, we free-wheeled down cardiac hill to dine in our usual taverna.