I should have known better than to come to the island of the damned on a full moon. The Greek island of Leros was home to a notorious psychiatric hospital where 4000 ‘untreatable and unmanageable’ patients were housed from 1959 until the 1990’s. These poor wretched souls were locked away and received little medical attention; instead they were subjected to regular and systematic beating from their minders. Surely the stigma that surrounded this Greek Island was now a thing of the past I tried to reassure myself, as the small plane touched down at the tiny airport. Anyway I was only to stay one night - what could possibly go wrong?
Only four passengers disembarked from the plane two strangers, my wife and me. We passed through the tiny, empty airport quickly. As we exited the airport I saw an empty cab drive off into the distance. Already I was starting to regret coming here.
My wife and I headed over to the deserted taxi rank. We rang the number on the notice board and requested a cab. The operator reluctantly offered to send a cab. Fifteen minutes later it arrived. We hopped into the cab. The driver drove over to a police car and became embroiled in a heated discussion with the police officer and the other two passengers from the plane. The argument raged for several minutes with the taxi driver heading off and finally returning to continue with the disagreement. All the time the meter continued to tick over. Next the other couple jumped in the cab and said that they would share the fare. There was no discussion the cab was racing down the
road to our hotel at Alinda.
The cab pulled up at our hotel and the cab driver demanded 18 euros for the five minute ride. I offered the couple in the backseat 10 euros for half the fare but the cab driver wanted me to pay the full amount. Soon my wife and I were embroiled in an argument with the cab driver and the couple in the backseat. No, we were to pay the fare to here and the other couple the rest. I abused the driver in a few choice Greek words which I had learnt from a Greek friend in high school. Suddenly the disagreement intensified and the driver was out of the cab and threatening me. Wishing to avoid being knifed or facing some retaliation later that night I handed over the money. I was not prepared to fight a crazy cab driver for 18 euros even if I was right!
My wife and I now very shaken by the recent ordeal went to the hotel front door only to discover it was locked. We rang the bell and the owner arrived some ten minutes later. I told the hotel owner what happened with the cab driver. He too became very irate and then rang the cab company. He told me
the head of the cab drivers would come and see me soon to make amends. He also told me to go the police to report the incident.
Later that afternoon I met with the head of the cab drivers. His main concern appeared to be that I had verbally abused the driver and refused to pay when initially requested. He suggested I go and see the police to sort out the dispute but I doubted the meeting was going to be for my benefit.
That night my wife and I dined at a local taverna near our hotel. As we watched the full moon rising in the sky we watched the local hoons speed up and down the main street. Nowhere else in my travels have I seen so many hotted up and brightly coloured cars and motorcycles. The stand out performer was a bright Kermit green car with words Drift King emblazed down both sides of the car. When the hoons did not own the road there were other cars with megaphones blazing out advertising passing us. The scene was just crazy.
That night was one of the only times that I have felt uneasy and vulnerable while I tried to sleep. I was half expecting a revenge attack from the cab driver for he knew where I was. My main goal all the time I was on Leros was probably one familiar to many before me. That is to get off the island to find some peace and tranquillity.