7 months overdue
We drive precariously in a minuscule rental car through the patched up country road, trying to avoid the holes on the tarmac whilst looking down at the steep hills, filled with olive and pine trees, finishing dramatically in a deep blue sea. After a sharp bend we brake abruptly, map and water flying to the ground, as the road is filled with approximately twenty goats as well as a shepherd and his dog. We lower the windows and a distinct odour fills the car as well as tinkles from the cowbells. We stare incredulously at the sight in front of us, laughing whilst the unimpressed shepherd attempts to crowd-manage the fiercely independent goats. Welcome to Greece.
The Sporades are an archipelago located along the eastern coast of mainland Greece, above the island of Euboea in the Aegean Sea . Their sense of remoteness is both literal and metaphorical; we flew into Skiathos but continued our journey by boat to the other two maidens, Skopelos and Alonissos.
Here water and cypresses and shade give one back a sense of plenitude and peace – particularly on Skiathos whose perched capital neatly divides a harbour like mons veneris; its dazzling white houses built as if from lump sugar, its labyrinth of quizzical churches.
LAWRENCE DURRELL . The Greek Islands. 1978
I remember Durrell’s words as I walk through the paved streets of Skiathos towards the harbour, octopus’ hanging out to dry outside the fishmongers and lazy cats sleeping in the shade. White hued houses come down to sea level, reflecting on the turquoise waters as cacti grow freely from any space available. Ergon‘s Smoked Aubergine spread will stay on my mind long after I have left the island.
Our first swim on the Aegean is well deserved and completely unobserved. We leave the car up on a hill and make our way down towards the sea through a tiny track lined with rockrose and hawthorn. No sounds can be heard but solitary birds and the crashing waves below. When we finally step into the beach, the sun has already set and the still water is of a pearly grey. I undress unceremoniously and dive into the ocean, relishing the feeling of being surrounded by water, floating weightlessly as the sky above turns orange at dusk.
The thunder rings clear now, just as we hand the payed bill to the waiter at a harbour restaurant in Skopelos Town. Nobody seems to be bothered by the imminent storm approaching; local fishermen play some sort of card game on the table next to ours and shopkeepers stare out to the harbour, expectant but relaxed. I can feel full drops of rain falling on my face as we start walking upwards through the never ending streets and stairs of this seaside town. Its narrow lanes and complete disregard for straight lines make the use of a map fruitless; you must pinpoint geographical and architectural details in your own mental map, it is the only way to stay on track. Lightning strikes as we run up the whitewashed steps , passing the tiny stone church with the fuchsia bougainvillea. My hair is drenched, water running down my neck and back and the deafening sound of rain against the cobblestones. Which of the Greek deities have we offended today?
I step into our terrace at Ilya Suites in Alonissos and take a moment to drink in the morning view. A small garden stretches before me, Cherry and Olive trees shine under the sun whilst Lavender bushes give a relaxing perfume. Our early bird host is already wind surfing at the otherwise deserted beach, tiny pebbles gleaming in the sun and the blue waters reflecting the neighbouring island of Peristera. I pick a few cherries from the tree for breakfast. Bliss.
I have hundreds of memories, almost photographic, of our Greek escapade, all sun drenched and filled with olives and cheese. Evenings of driving back from a secluded beach, taking a wrong turn and stumbling across a tiny run down village or a hidden bay. Walking through the all white streets of Hora, peering into antique shops and stroking lazy cats or trekking through the pine woods in search of a mythical chapel overlooking the sea.
I can almost feel the greek sun on my face, even in this December evening.