Letters From Kos

T+1 days since the end of the world.

Not really. Not even close in fact…just keep reading and it will all become clear.

Yesterday at 1:31am was when the 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the Grecian Island of Kos where my family is vacationing. This scab of rock 5 miles off the coast of Turkey is a remarkable area for sightseeing, eating, and relaxing, and yet few people know about this place – let alone visit it themselves. While islands such as Mykonos and Santorini receive far more tourists, Kos is a truly remarkable destination. For example, today we swam in crystal clear waters on white sand beaches in the Aegean Sea to a small rocky island that offered panoramic views of the area. We enjoyed a plate of shrimp, octopus, squid, snapper, and sea bream before taking a tour of the world’s oldest hospital built in 400 BCE.

But if you Google search this place today, you won’t learn about the history, or see pictures of the serene landscapes or the platters of seafood. All you will find is the earthquake that struck early yesterday morning.

I knew it was bad when I looked up and saw the walls of my hotel room shaking left to right. I rushed outside of my hotel room with my family and we laid down in the street for an hour until the aftershocks had passed. We had yet to be informed of the magnitude, injury count, or the destruction that had been caused by the quake, and waited for the sun to come up.

6.7, millions of euros in damages, city plaza destroyed, 2 dead, 200 injured (as of Saturday at 11 pm the count has increased to around 500).

Walking through the town, we stopped and talked to people and heard their stories. Some shop keepers hugged us and cried in our arms. Others were more stoic, but everyone was thankful that while devastating, more people could have been harmed. A tsunami was expected to come in the aftershock, wiping out the entire Island. If that had happened, I would not be posting on Hey Hank.

A local bike rental owner named Nikos repaired his shattered storefront as he told us how the insurance on his store had recently expired. The renewal documents had been sitting on his desk for a week, and now he is faced with paying thousands of euros in damages.

The couple who own the shoe store a few blocks from the main plaza tearfully sold us a pair of socks when they picked up hundreds of boxes of shoes from the ground that had been thrown off their shelves. A headless mannequin lay splayed out in the middle of the store.

“Fine Greek Pottery” was a sight for sore eyes. Hand made Greek vases were shattered all across the floor and glass display cases were flipped upside down, their contents destroyed.

While the people with the most severe injuries have been life flighted to Athens or Bodrum (a nearby Turkish City), passersby could be seen with bandages strapped to their legs and arms, a sign that it wasn’t only objects that had been battered by yesterday’s quake.

The aftershocks continued throughout the day and into today. While walking through the main squares, the ground began the shake, our family and other tourists spirited in all directions and the top of a nearby minaret and other structures came crumbling down.

Yet through all of this, our local tour guide was livid by the western media in its portrayal of the events. He argued that the news made it sound 10 times worse than it truly was, and in doing so tourism will find a sharp decrease this year. He described how a similar thing had happened two years ago when 20 thousand Syrian refugees settled in camps along the coast of Kos (an island that has only 20 thousand locals). BBC and other News Sources reported on the havoc that the Syrians had created, and the following year tourism dropped by 75 percent.

While he may have been concerned about the PR impact of the quake, it is not fully accurate. He argued that many of the major buildings did not collapse – hotels and restaurants successfully withstood the quake. Even though this is true, the fact of the matter is several of the newest buildings did collapse, 2 people were killed and hundreds injured. This is an island that is not new to earthquakes. Last year there were 28 significant shakes. A 6.7 brought down buildings, the island is still not prepared. Kos is damaged and the repairs will be costly.

Okay so it isn’t the end of the world. No apocalyptic verbiage necessary I guess. Yet through this natural disaster, I have learned more about this place then any one guide book or historian could teach.

The people here are resilient. However they could learn a thing or two from the medieval brick-layers. The most ancient structures withstood the shake, standing tall and mighty amidst the crumbles of brand new cafes and shops.

The beautiful views, delicious food, and bountiful history remains at the core of what makes this island special. For those interested in coming to Greece, consider visiting Kos. Stop on by, but you may want to bring your hardhat.

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