Cycladic Nomads: A Tale of Adventuring on the Greek Islands.
Wild camping on nudist beaches, avoiding angry shotgun wielding Greek ladies and showers that give you electric shocks. Just your average family holiday.
“One of the many wonderful things about travelling; the adventures that you experience, the places that you end up visiting through simple acts of kindness.”
Accompanied by my sister, Fiona, the renowned editor in chief of LeftRight Repeat, and our father, Marc, it was a yearly summer tradition for us to spend a fortnight on the Greek islands. Usually flights booked just a couple of weeks before, we relied on only our trusty Lonely Planet, a sleeping bag each, and a backpack with a few days worth of clothes. Every year the plan was to travel lighter than the last, never an easy feat, especially homeward bound as our bags became stuffed with trinkets and inflatable lilos, not to mention, the sand from sleeping on beaches had a tendency to weigh us down.
These holidays usually began with a midnight arrival in Athens airport, then a brisk bus ride to the port, Piraeus, where it was custom for us to celebrate having narrowly made our flights by sleeping in a cafe until the next ferry out of the mainland.
Our adventures began in 2003 on the island Serifos. We stayed in a campsite inhabited mainly by young travellers and backpackers. Some of these backpackers weren’t so much there for the all Greek experience, but more for the cheap wine, namely the French guys who found themselves hurling over the tents of other campers in the middle of the night, luckily, not ours. This was also the place that I was granted permission to ride on the back of a motorbike, as well as being explicitly told not to relay this particular event back to my mother. However, I was four years old, and couldn’t not tell mum of course.
The next island this year was Koufonisia, where we became reacquainted with some accomplices from Serifos. To reach the campsite a 2-mile walk in the dark was required on account of us having missed the bus and it now being 1am. After the expenditure of blood, sweat and tears, we finally made it to camp.
The most memorable aspect of the campsite was its facilities to people ratio. Two hundred people, 7 showers. To make matters worse, after the forty-five minute wait for a shower, the shower handle would electrocute you when in direct contact with human flesh. Needless to say, two years later, this camping site closed down due to the inadequacy of the facilities. My father recalls me enjoying an ice cream whilst sat on a fellow camper’s lap while she was in an immense state of hungover, myself still blissfully unaware of the perils of alcohol at my ripe young age.
Our final stop was Hydra; a small, stunning island just off the coast of Athens where we jumped off rocks into the water, while our dad expertly demonstrated his belly flop.
2004 took a similar fashion to the previous, yet with less movement, and more beach. 2005 was more of a family holiday to Cyprus.
2006, the year of the giant beans. That’s about it… we ate a lot of gigantes plaki, which are, it has to be said, extremely delicious. This holiday took place primarily on the island, Ikaria. We camped on the beach and my sister and I learnt the art of enticing turtles out of a pond with biscuits.
Anafi, one of the more remote Cyclades islands, was the island visited in 2007. We met two travellers on Roukolos beach, called Antonio and Zeita. I recall Antonio playing a song on his guitar for my birthday on that beach, and I still have in my possession the watercolour picture of the beach that Zeita painted for me. It was here that we returned one afternoon to find our tent poles missing/stolen, and thus ended our reliance upon a tent, opting instead to shove our backpacks behind a tree and sleep near the shoreline to keep cool and ward off mosquitos. We were blissfully happy camping here, now tentless but happier than ever, and took to feeding lizards with tomatoes from our sandwiches at the beach. It’s the simple pleasures really. This year’s adventure also included the several mile alternate route around a beach that was inhabited by a Greek lady with a shotgun, a somewhat terrifying experience actually. Essentially a mad old Greek woman brandishing a gun threatening to use it if we didn’t get off her land.
2008 was spent mainly on Iraklia. Upon arrival some locals took us to explore a nearby cave. This is one of the many wonderful things about travelling; the adventures that you experience, the places that you end up visiting through simple acts of kindness. I like to think it follows the ‘pay it forward’ lifestyle. It was on Iraklia that we resided on a nudist beach and I can safely say that I am scarred for life to this very day. We also ventured to Domousa, but sadly this was too touristy for our taste. With no suitable beaches to camp on for free, we opted to sleep behind a wall at the port where a ph-phat puddle splash woke us every time a car passed. And so, we returned to Iraklia where I first acquired my love for the game backgammon, or as the Greek call it, tavli.
We finished the trip with a return to Hydra where we rode donkeys and again jumped off the rocks. I also learnt to hate the sun through a particularly bad experience of sunstroke, which is now merely a hazy memory of the whole port spinning. The holiday ended with us in Athens enjoying our purchases from Tanakis’ Souvlaki, and haggling with old Greek shop owners, both common Greek holiday traditions for us.
2009 brought us back to Koufonisia, which, even in the space of a short few years, we found remarkably changed and tourist stamped. This is partially due to its famed pink sand beaches. Travelling on to Kato Koufonisia, its smaller sister island, we found a secluded beach which suited us perfectly, though we spent less time in the water than usual due to our fear of sea urchins and the horror stories we’d been fed by locals. Later we also visited Santorini, an island known for its breathtaking sunsets and rugged landscape. Santorini is what remains of an island devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century, now littered with quaint blue and white houses that overlook the clear Aegean sea. Whilst it is perhaps a little more touristy than our usual customs, we still made some memories. On Santorini, waiting outside a supermarket for our dad, I befriended a German Shepard who then proceeded to follow us for the rest of the day and into the evening and eventually decided to camp with us that night. I named the dog, Jaffa. I won’t lie I was disappointed when I checked its collar later to find its name was Leila. We avoided the typical tourist trap by seeking out a beach to camp on, which, as it transpired, was very stony and not all that comfortable. But, we’d spent a fair while trying to find somewhere to camp, and it was pitch black by this point, so it’d have to do. On the plus side, we had Jaffa to protect us. And she did so ferociously, barking semi-manically when in the morning a few early risers had made their way down to the beach.
“Cut into the rocky hill above the beach we had now claimed as our campground, was a seafood tavern, complete with a zipwire from the sea to pulley fresh fish up to the kitchen. “
Santorini’s more touristic ways meant less hitchhiking could be done, resulting in the rental of a BMW convertible that I can only describe as the colour of puke yellow. Shortly after hiring it, our father made the questionable decision of driving across the beach, wedging the car in some sand, and forcing us to seek help from a couple of Greek men in speedos to dig the wheels out.
2010 was a very different holiday. Brighton is not the UK equivalent of the Greek islands for anyone wondering.
Let’s jump ahead to 2012. I know we’re crazy to not stay in London for the Olympics, but…well… we just don’t care. We headed to Sifnos, now with our dad’s girlfriend (now fiancée) Magda, in tow, and rented a couple of bikes for the four of us. Fiona perhaps a little too zealous on the turns came out with a rather gravelly foot injury, which was not a pretty sight. Later, enjoying the view of the sea at a beach restaurant, what seemed like thousands of cats approached us, begging for food and making us realise just how many strays Greece has.
On to Folegandros, now one of our all-time favourites. This began with a sweaty one-hour walk over a hill, only to find on the other side, there were boats we could have taken for the ample price of just one euro. Cut into the rocky hill above the beach we had now claimed as our campground, was a seafood tavern, complete with a zip wire from the sea to pulley fresh fish up to the kitchen. Soon realising the logistics of walking to and fro town each night, and not wanting to spend all our money in the restaurant above, we stocked up on supplies, including a 5-litre plastic bottle of wine to keep my sister and dad happy. We met a couple of Swiss ladies, Martina and Jenny who presented us with their circus talents which included stick juggling and tarot reading. Needless to say, my future is prosperous as a writer.
Also on the beach was a lady who sold jewellery she made from beach finds, shells, pretty stones and the like. Incredibly, this was the same lady we had met way back in 2007 and she was able to fix a necklace my dad had bought from her five years earlier. This trip ended, predictably, back in Athens at Tanaki’s Souvlaki.
Onward to 2013: Amorgos. Just me and my dad this year as Fiona was in the Southern Americas, finding herself or some such. Amorgos is the island on which the Luc Besson film, The Big Blue, was shot. After the brisk Express Scopelitis boat journey, on which I may or may not have been sick, we arrived at the port. Having enjoyed the use of motorbikes the year before, and without Fiona to induce any foot related injuries, we took to a nice 50cc. After a couple of days, we figured that this wasn’t quite getting the job done and upgraded to a 125. It’s a truly a magnificent island that I’m sure I will return to one day.
These past few years haven’t seen any more Greece trips with all that’s been happening. Fiona went away travelling and to university, Marc and Magda have had another baby, giving us a little half brother, and are in the throes of starting their own property business, and I’m sitting my A-levels soon to head off to uni myself. It seems that the Greece chronicles have been put on hold for the time being, but they have by no means ceased. Greek island trips are a tradition that have been in the family a long time, and will no doubt continue through the generations.