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THE MULES OF HYDRA

 

Mules at the harbourside

 

The winter months in Hydra are used for construction work. The sand, cement, bricks and other materials are brought from the mainland opposite.

 

Cold January morning

 

For the last two days, January storms have prevented the arrival of the islandís cargo boats. However this morning the wind is veering from north-westerly to southerly, so conditions are calmer. The morning is cold; there is snow on the mountaintops in the distance.

 

One of the islandís cargo boats

 

From the early hours the islandís muledrivers have been at the harbourside helping to discharge the boatís cargo. They work with teams of three mules per driver.

 

The first load of cement

 

Patiently waiting

 

The mules have special pack-saddles designed to carry both people and freight. They are made of wood and leather, with iron fittings. They are padded at the point of contact with the animalís back.

 

A new pack saddle

 

Leather, wood, cloth and iron fittings

 

Saddles are made by a craftsman in Epidauros, on the mainland, who visits the island to make saddles to order. The harness and trappings are made of leather, worked with decorations. There is a harness-maker, Mastro Elias, who lives and works on Hydra. The animals sometimes wear ornamentations of beads and bells.

 

Intricacies of loading

 

Each mule has 25 metres of rope attached to its saddle, half on each side. Generations of experience have created particular knots and loopings which guarantee the safe carriage of goods in transit.

 

Insulation materials in transit

 

With deft movements the muledrivers arrange ropes and slats of wood into the configuration required for the freight in question. Bags of cement, three at a time; stacks of aerated bricks; sacks of sand; scaffolding timbers.

 

Riding into town

 

On another occasion it might be crates of bottled water (another of the islandís necessary imports), or crates of oranges, or a full-size fridge. Care is taken to ensure that the loads are evenly balanced on both sides of the animal.

 

Loading goods from the passenger ferry

 

Donkey carrying ferry passengersí luggage

 

When they are not off-loading building materials, the muledrivers may transport luggage and parcels from the ferries and hydrofoils that arrive throughout the day from Athens.

 

Heading round the harbour

 

This morning the work is completed in a couple of hours. Trains of mules can be seen heading round the opposite side of the harbour. Periodically they might stop for a minute or two Ė the muledrivers are required by law to clear away their animalsí droppings (and to carry a special bag for this purpose).

 

Moving off

 

The drivers with their mules are a striking sight as they make their way through the town.

 

 

Not least because they sport some of the finest moustaches in the Mediterranean.

 

 

Hydra town: the view from a mule shed

 

 

 

Hydra, 17.i.05

Text and photos: ed.emery @ thefreeuniversity.net