Sunday, May 9, 2010


We visited Greece for the first time during the Olympic Games in 2004. Though we were disappointed to not get to Athens on this trip, due to the airline strike, back then we had visited sites along the parallel at Delphi, Olympus, the canal at Corinth, and of course, in Athens.

Many memories of Greece came flooding back while on the island of Samos--- suvlaki (Greek kabobs), blue and white domed churches, gardens everywhere, olive trees, vineyards, clear blue Mediterranean Sea water with curiously little sea Mythos beer. The white skies we remembered from before remained-- is it something about the humidity in the Mediterranean or particulate pollution coming down from Europe, or are we just spoiled from the crystal clear air in the Mono Basin?

This time, a Turkish ferry from Kusadasi took us in the back door to Greece via the island of Samos, 37°46'N, 26°57'E. Gulls nesting on an islet as we approached made us feel welcome. Along the waterfront, we noticed an open door to the “Samos Ecological Society.” There we met three very nice, helpful people, though only one, Michaliadis Michael, spoke any English. The others nodded and smiled and answered his questions; Nicos Noou (editor of their newsletter for many years—they gave us 2 back issues) and Sofia Hatzinicolaau. On the wall were posters about World Wetlands Day last month, and about Monk Seals. The group works on education and environmental issues, but specifically mentioned the Monk Seal and concerns about oil tankers and wells in the area causing problems like those in the Gulf of Mexico right now.

We had not realized the significance of Samos to the very rare and extremely endangered Monk Seal. An environmental group here called Archipelago is leading the campaign to protect the seals from being killed by illegal fishing with dynamite (a seal washed up dead in April this year) and even concerns about uranium in the ocean that originated with military missile exercises a few years ago. So, the next day, in our rented car, we explored to the west end of the small island (it can be driven in about an hour if you don't stop at the beaches and overlooks and birding spots along the way) and hiked from the end of the paved road to an area that has been protected for the seals. Alas, the rare Monk seal remained elusive.

On our first afternoon we had crossed the island to the south shore and found the Eupalines water tunnel near Pythagorio, built through a mountain in 524 BC...that's 2534 years ago! It runs for over 1000 meters, was hand chiseled from both ends, the two crews met just fine in the middle, and its job was to bring water to a thirsty city of 80,000 people. (Today, the total island population is 32,000 and the biggest towns are on the north coast). They had no surveying equipment or compasses then, but used a series of right triangles to figure out the distances and direction. These were mathematics and engineering feats of major proportion, though Pythagoras (remember his theorem from school geometry?) was not born here until later. But what an intriguing connection this offers us to Mono Lake: a thirsty city reaches out and diverts surface water into conduits that bring it to a tunnel beneath a mountain, so it can enter an aqueduct to reach the city. A major engineering feat of the day. Does this ring a bell for those of us in the Mono Lake Basin, where Los Angeles reached so far to divert streams and completed an audacious engineering feat of tunneling beneath the Mono Craters to deliver the water to the L.A. Aqueduct?

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