My 1987 Greek Island Adventure

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Saturday 31 August, 2013 by Uncle Spike

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Twenty-five or so years ago I was ‘on the road’. Now that narrative could be applied to several lifestyle alternatives; from life as a travelling salesman, selling brushes and cleaning equipment door to door to housewives who really weren’t that interested, to one whose existence meant long periods working away from home as a long-haul truck driver. It could even in fact, be applied to a local council employee working hard in all weathers six days a week as part of a gang tending the shrubs and flowers that adorn the central reservations, those narrow strips of colour separating multiple lanes of some major municipality thoroughfares. But no, I use that turn of phrase in the sense that I was living from place to place for a few years, a young guy of no fixed abode, wandering aimlessly at times, and with relative purpose at others.

It was the summer of 1987 I believe, and for much of that summer I was wandering around the islands of Greece, in particular the Cyclades. As with most of my life, it hadn’t happened by way of rigorously following some ingeniously designed and well thought out life-plan, no, that is definitely not how you would describe my philosophy back then. The endpoint for each singular piece of travel was unplanned, and by and large, was dependant on a dual point variable I referred to as the Maiden Name solution.

images (4)Now the first word, ‘maiden’ represented a significant influence in the matter of selecting where next to travel to… obvious really, I was a young single male, so naturally I would go wherever there was a fair maiden to be wooed, be that a place where I knew of a certain girl, or simply as a result of tagging along with a group with a rather attractive lassie where some micro-second of eye contact was enough to instantly fall in love and thereby determine my imminent future, or at least in terms of where my travel planning was concerned.

NZs-longest-place-nameThe second word, ‘name’ was the limited thought process whereby I would select a bus, ferry or hitching destination due to the sound of its name; you know, “…hmm, that sounds exotic, that’ll do for me…”. Of course there were times where there was no feminine influence and no cool place names that jumped out at me, well then it was a more simple deduction whereby it was wherever the next bus was going to. You know, why wait another four hours to go to place A, when you can leave for place B straight after finishing the next cigarette…

The funny thing is, I can’t quite remember if it was the tall Yugoslavian hippy-chick with the woven purple shoulder bag and the brightly coloured friendship bracelets all up her left forearm, or simply the name of the place that drew me to purchase a late night ferry ticket from the nearby larger island of Naxos, to the tiny and back then, hardly known island of Folegandros. Whatever the history to my decision to try Folegandros as my next island hop, it was a wise move by all accounts, and a place that would always be locked safely away in my memory bank as The Island.

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Folegandros, Cyclades, Greece

I spent 3 weeks on the island, and no, I never did return, even after all these years travelling. In fact, we had a family vacation in the Dodecanese Islands, the neighbouring Greek island chain to the east of the Cyclades. As much as I was tempted to retrace my steps from all those years ago, I have chosen not to. Maybe in tribute to the sanctity of my memories, you know, where you risk spoiling a sacred memory by trying to relive it years later, only to find that the place had since changed beyond measure, or had been the unwitting victim of ‘progress’, or simply that in all truth, I was no longer that carefree youth who existed back then. In those days at least, the island had a magical simplicity. There was a single road, virtually no electricity, one central hilltop village some 2km from the port, very few inhabitants and an almost non-existent tourist industry; it’s lack of appeal perhaps largely due to the irregularity of ferry connections to the more mainstream islands, or perhaps the virtual absence of amenities for which the modern vacationer yearns. But for me, it was a little slice of heaven.

indir (2)With its vast population of perhaps two hundred, it wasn’t more than a couple of hours after my arrival that myself, along with Purple Hippy-chick, and 1 or 2 other newly arrived travellers from the early morning boat, set off on the promise of remote beaches and the odd taverna on the northwest shore. The single track road had no route number that I recall, partly I guess as it was basically The Road on the island. Nevertheless, it had a bus service; or rather the route was served once a day in each direction by a dilapidated smoke-billowing old minibus driven at a snail’s pace by a native who probably remembered personally half or more of the Greek gods from his school days. He dropped us off on the side of the road late that morning in early August, so by my reckoning, the temperature would have been in the mid 30’s (or in the 90’s in old money); that part of Greece being significantly cooler than the mainland, due to the constant breeze coming off the Aegean Sea.

It was then a simple matter of navigating our way down a 1km path set in a craggy ravine that cut its way from the high ridge of that top road, down to the equally craggy shoreline. As it happened, there was a service available for the wearier of tourists; another ancient Greek, this one with a knackered old donkey in place of a minibus. After a brief negotiation, we start our decent, on foot. After all, there was only one donkey and there was no way it would carry all of us, but all was not lost, as the old mammal, and the donkey, led the way down, with our overstuffed backpacks strapped precariously atop and on either side. The little beast seemed contented though, in no obvious distress and seemed at ease in his role, having probably done that route for more years than certainly I could handle.

indir (1)At the bottom of the ravine, we reached a small settlement, well sort of; it was a single taverna, two shacks and a short half broken-down wooden jetty at which a couple of local fishing vessels were moored. Excellent we thought, a bit of genuine Greece. By the late afternoon, we had confirmed its authenticity by way of sampling the local Retsina, Ouzo, Tzatziki and a freshly caught octopus. The commercialism ideals of tourism hadn’t arrived really, and thereby neither had the tradition of seafood associated extortion. It was a cheap, healthy(ish), and wholesome affair by all measure of standards.

During our sampling at the taverna, we learned of a small sandy deserted beach some 1km to the north, favoured by the more adventurous travellers, albeit very very few in number. And so that was that, we set off a little later along a small animal track that followed the coast in a rather hairy fashion, with narrow ledges high up over perilously sharp rocks below, the cliff-top path took us, thankfully, even if slowly, in the right direction. The beach at the other end was worth the elevated heart rate brought about by the short trek. It was a narrow cove; inset between rocky hills, with what was by now almost a normal sight; that of a crystal clear azure bay stretching out in front of us, and overgrown vegetation behind.

images (2)I didn’t leave that place for over two weeks; that is unless you count the regular treks back and forth to the taverna for supplies, a badly needed square meal and to partake in some more sampling of the local triumphs in the field of liquid refreshments. The others I had arrived with soon moved on, and I met up with some fellow beach dwellers, this bunch from the Netherlands, and with whom I shared some wonderful days and nights. As with all my blog stories, I prefer not to use actual names, but there was a guy with a guitar, of course, almost obligatory for any beach scene with a campfire, then there were two girls in their 20’s who made a lovely couple, and an aspiring Dutch professional photographer about my age and his girlfriend. I don’t think they were all associated before, or whether they were there together by chance, but it was a great mix; another example of Dutch hospitality I guess. In fact, later that year, I spent a number of weeks in the Netherlands, visiting the same guys in Utrecht, a city of some 300,000 inhabitants southwest of Amsterdam and up in Groningen, the beautiful university city, in the north-eastern corner of the country. As it happens, the last guy I mentioned was my host for quite a while, including my rather unforgettable 21st birthday. Thanks to the power of Facebook, we are back in touch after all these years, and it’s to you Mister S. that I dedicate this story.

Days not crammed with activities such as a trek to the taverna, were spent fishing, swimming, sunbathing and snoozing, for there was little else to do. No electric. No radio. No tv, and certainly long before that modern plague hit the world, mobile cellular technology. I do recall one rather excellent day, when Mister S. and yours truly trekked to a peak overlooking the other side of the bay. It took a couple of hours slog each way under the Greek summer sun, but the breath-taking views were well worth it.

This photograph shows the two of us at the peak; me with beloved old Suzuki shirt (where did that go?), and Mister S sporting his trademark cap. Healthy and tanned perhaps; but what a couple of skinny young chaps we were. Where did those 27 years disappear to I wonder…? The foto was a ‘selfie’, taken by his SLR camera propped up on some rocks, with the 10 second self-timer running. Bearing in mind there was no digital preview back then, it turned out pretty good.

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Great days… with no ropes, no trauma kit, no radio or telephone or GPS, just a sunhat, shorts and a pair of boots, oh, and a camera. The boots were pretty useful by the way too: you can see how ‘not so very friendly’ the walking terrain was ! 

This shows the beach in the distance on the other side of the bay where we were camping, and where we had to hike back to after these shots were taken.

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Naturally, nights were spent sat lazily around a campfire, but I have to add that the fire was more for the purpose of cooking anything of a seafood variety we had caught during the day, rather than for the provision of warmth. Also, Mr Guitar Man required a campfire of course, a focal point for his efforts and pretty well obligatory for whiling away starlit evenings as the waves slowly lapped the shore, washing away our sparse footprints in order to present us with a new beach every day. I slept in my cave. Well, not quite a cave, more of a stone built hut set into the rocks on one side of the bay I suppose. Set a little away from the others, it was so peaceful and serene, watching the moon meander slowly across from one side of the open doorway to the other.

I often wonder what ever became of that beach, that taverna, and what form of ‘progress’ replaced the old man and his donkey. Perhaps I should have returned these past couple of years, perhaps something to plan for the future… or maybe I should leave those memories alone, leave them intact, the way they were, the way they are supposed to be?

12 thoughts on “My 1987 Greek Island Adventure

  1. dayphoto says:

    Great story! I have enjoyed reading this and seeing the Island. Hats off to you and your friend. Life is good, as they say!

    Linda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] This is the full story if you are interested to read all about it… […]

    Like

  3. kazg10 says:

    Lovely story Spike. Oh the traveling years of our youth!! How lucky we were to have them and all the memories and how lucky to still travel albeit in more comfort these days! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. cindy knoke says:

    Learned about you from Sarah’s blog. What a interesting life!

    Like

  5. Wow..looks awesome, looks like THE greek island I would like to visit.

    Like

  6. Anonymous says:

    Oh god I’m frothing. Which one are you? The tall one with the great legs or the shorter one with the jaunty hat? Oh my god!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Yes, this is an update to a travel adventure story that I posted just last week ==> The Island. […]

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  8. Good story, I enjoyed reading it. I visited Folegandros every year between 2007 and 2009, three times in all. A lovely island but now seems to have been discovered by the boutique people. Now that the lovely old Greek ferries have gone and have been replaced with speed jets and hydrofoils it is just too easy to get to!

    Like

    • Uncle Spike says:

      Then it sounds as though my decision this summer was correct. I guess it was not on the package list (yet), but the boutique direction does not surprise me; close as it is to Santorini. Guess I’ll stick with the memories… and islands closer to home 🙂

      Thanks for your comment Andrew.

      Like

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