Up until 2005, scuba diving was essentially illegal in Greece.
In a country that boasts over 9,300 miles of coastline, only about 62 miles of it was legal to dive, and that small portion was heavily guarded and restricted by the government. It made sense, really. With thousands of unexplored shipwrecks and literally entire cities submerged during ancient earthquakes, the Greek authorities were trying to protect antiquities from poachers and treasure seekers.
That all changed in 2005, however, when the government decided to risk contamination of Hellenistic underwater sites for the benefit of diving tourism dollars. As a history teacher specializing in ancient and medieval studies, the decision gave me pause. But as a diver, I couldn’t have been more pleased!
When planning the trip to Greece, we had hoped to sail all the way from Rhodes to Kalymnos so we could dive the Frontiers of the Sunken City, a portion of the island that had disappeared beneath the waves during an earthquake in 554 AD. But, alas, our ambitions were too big for our budget, and we couldn’t afford the extra days needed to get that far north.
So we settled for diving from the island of Kos instead. As soon as we made port, the boys and I hit the harbor boardwalk in search of dive shops that could take us on an excursion with little (or zero) notice. Since diving was still relatively new in Greece, there were only a few dive shops from which to choose, and most of them didn’t know how to handle a family who had lugged scuba equipment all the way from the United States.
Sidebar: Yes, we carried four full sets of scuba gear, including BCDs, regulators, fins, and masks through all of our previous destinations on this vacation. We hauled them up and down sketchy staircases, wrestled with them through customs, and tripped over them repeatedly during the yachting adventure. All for one measly day of diving.
Travel tip: Don’t do this. Rent your gear instead.
We settled on Liamis Dive Center, mostly because they didn’t blanch when we said we would like to use our own gear. And, as it turns out, their initial accommodating demeanor was an indication of their overall professionalism as we had a pleasurable experience with them during our dives and throughout the day.
Since there aren’t many dive sites on the eastern side of Kos, we boarded a diveboat/ferry that slowly churned its way across the ten miles separating Kos from the sparsely-populated island of Pserimos. The Aegean Sea is deceptively cold, even during the summer months, so we donned 5mm wetsuits with hoods and explored the Potteries and Trigger Reef dive sites that day.
While there were certainly some interesting things to see, like the frozen volcanic rock formations that make up Trigger Reef and a seabed littered with shards of ancient amphoras at Potteries under which octopi liked to hide, we didn’t experience the incredible coral structures and plentiful marine life we had come to expect from Caribbean diving.
But this wasn’t the Caribbean.
This was an ancient and storied sea. Dominion of Poseidon. Traversed by Odysseus and later by an ill-fated Xerxes. Stage of countless battles, unanswered pagan prayers, and the ringing song of joyful homecomings since the dawn of time itself.
And it was enough that we had come here. Sailed across this sea. Dived into its depths. Like an anointing, we had been baptized in the waters of history. And we would emerge as more than mortals, yet less than gods.
Somewhere between man and immortal, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like an outlaw. Like I was breaking a rule by diving in this—until recently—taboo destination. There were the ancient pieces of pottery, ripe for the taking. The perfect stolen artifact to adorn a curio cabinet or trophy case, and yet, once removed, becoming sterile and bleached and anathema, like a pilfered bone from a graveyard.
But responsible divers resist the powerful urge to touch. And they abhor the need to take what should remain, forever, for others to see. And so, I give you no pictures of the amphora. And I don’t tell you exactly where we dived, because I hope that you will go there someday, resist the urge to be an outlaw, and leave the mystery for others to see.