My early morning bus from Athens wound its way through the Greek countryside, climbing into the mountains and passing Delphi before zig-zagging back down to the coast to the town of Itea. From there it’s a short drive to the small village of Galaxidi. I spent the next three weeks here working as a field assistant for a Dolphin Biology Conservation group. Early mornings meant I could sit with my coffee on my doorstep and watch the sun rising before moving to spend the day in the office cropping and matching dorsal fins of dolphins or rushing out to get the boat ready for a day out in the Gulf of Corinth spotting and monitoring dolphins and their behaviour. The days on the sea were sweltering, keeping constantly alert for any sign of dorsal fins in the water but so worth it once a group was spotted and the following minutes or hours spent recording data, watching the graceful dolphins interact, swim, jump and dive. In perfect conditions the sea mirrored the sky and it almost wasn’t clear where one ended and the other began. The splash of the dolphins barely broke this mirror unless they leapt out of the water. Every time I saw them move I had to marvel at natures amazing design – if only my swimming was so effortless! Of which I don’t have any pictures but there are plenty on the official Dolphin Biology website.
The research the group does is extremely important and they have years of experience working in cetacean research around Greece and the Mediterranean so I soaked up as much information as I could and learnt some great new skills. While the work hours were long, days at shore when the weather wasn’t great were broken up by a short post-lunch siesta and evening swims in the nearby bays followed by extended dinners with wine and conversations dealing with either dolphin conservation or food (the joys of working with Italians again – they appreciate food as much as I do, and the joys of working with scientists – they have fantastic opinions on the natural and social sides of life). I still remember the receipe for THE ultimate gazpacho which I have yet to make once the weather in Dublin starts playing nice, which is on my to-do list crammed with extra things to research for my own interest.
As for Galaxidi itself, it seems like the kind of lazy little village you just stumble upon and then never decide to leave. Crowned by a little church overlooking the village, the streets lead down to two small marinas lined by shops selling trinkets, bars offering fresh fish and ouzo, cramped but packed mini-markets, random stores, delicatessens displaying delicious chocolate covered oranges alongside other sweet treats and scattered restaurants offering the best of greek delicacies, notably Bebelis with its delicious house salad, moussaka, cinnamon flavoured mussels, stuffed onions and a dish with aubergines tomatoes and cheese that reminds me of my Italian favourite, melanzane parmegiana. When not busy eating there are tiny little “private” coves lining the way across the bay which are perfect for swimming – just don’t forget your swimming shoes since sea urchins crowd the pebbled waters. Day trips to Delphi and Amfissa further up in the mountains are a must, even if just to get the view over the expanse of the valley below.
Through it all you can clearly see Greece is still hurting with abandoned empty houses scattered across the countryside, but the Greek people I met never failed to rustle up a friendly smile and positive attitude. Those three weeks kept my mind alert and busy gathering knowledge and learning as much as my brain could about conservation research in practice – but the combination of blue seas, blue skies, yellow sunshine, golden fields and green olive groves in front of rocky mountains along with lazy mornings under hazy sunrise and star filled heavens at night (plus the occasional firework display from a wedding) & with fresh diet (tomatoes, cool cucumbers, olives, fresh bread from the bakery, mussels from the local farm, crumbling blocks of feta, dark dark coffee, wine from Italy and cold Greek beer) were perfect for my soul.