Friday, September 19, 2014

The Cyclades

It does not feel like an entire week passed! The boat was an adventure. When we arrived in Paros we were happy to find it not packed full of tourists. Sure there were tourist shops and restaurants and lots of ferries coming and going, but compared to Crete it was downright tranquil.
We met our skipper and fellow passengers the next day. The skipper was French, one couple was also French, another couple was Belgian, and the final couple was French Canadian. Everyone spoke French but us. No one wanted to speak English, least of all the French Canadians who could speak the most English. We went shopping before departure to stock up on food for breakfast and lunch. I really had no idea what was going on. There would be much discussion in French and 5 words of hurried translation into English. It seemed from the information we had received in advanced that we would prepare simple lunches together. I was confounded by what we bought. Cauliflower? Rice? Mushrooms? Eggs? Apparently no one else had a clue either. The only things that were entirely consumed from our first grocery haul on the entirety of the trip were the bread, cold cuts, and case of beer that wouldn't have made it in the cart if Steve hadn't put it there.
The first day (Friday) we ate lunch more or less before leaving so no one made much lunch. Our first stop was a dramatic cove between two islands: Antiparos and Despotiko. Despotiko was seemingly only inhabited by a couple shepherds with their donkeys tending a bunch of goats and sheep. An active archaeological dig was going on so the skipper dropped us on land to hike up and check it out. This was also our first opportunity to jump off the boat to go swimming which was wonderful, though the water was a little colder than we had expected. The skipper caught an octopus for us to check out. I think this was to prove there was actually life in the Aegean which at times felt more like a really big swimming pool. We let it go, but then we ate his brother at dinner. Dinner was on land and family style. Good, but by the end of the sailing trip we would be absolutely sick of Greek food.
Saturday we sailed to Sikinos which was a scarcely inhabited island, but big enough to have a bus to transport us from the port up to the tiny village above. From the Hora (the main villages on all small islands seem to be called Hora or Chora) you could see the sea on both sides of the island. We hiked around a bit and got some lunch, as we had not been impressed by the offerings we had available on the boat. The only downside to this island was that that we were eaten alive by mosquitoes that night. I was seriously in hell for the next couple days until my bites started to heal.
Let me talk about the boat food situation here a little bit because it was an annoyance that became funny once we were off the boat. We put money into a kitty that went to pay for the food on the boat, but it was totally self-service, grab what you can style, pretty much because no one on the boat wanted to cooperate or eat the same thing. The first full day of sailing (or, rather, chugging) one of the French Canadian girls started making an enormous salad fairly early, I think it was maybe 11 a.m. Mistakenly thinking that she was obviously intending it for everyone, I asked if I could help. Perhaps she didn't understand me, but she gave me a somewhat panicked look and said, "I am hungry!" So I backed off and waited for her to finish and then made something for Steve and me later when I could get into the tiny kitchen. By the way, the  Qu├ębecians were totally American size.  You might ask how it would be possible for 9 people to prepare their own meals in a small boat kitchen. The answer of course is that it wasn't, but no one was interested in being cooperative most of the time. The Belgians ate bread with jam and butter every morning - even on the morning that the skipper went and got us some of those delicious Greek pastries. They went through a pound of butter over the course of the week without much help. On the third morning I was determined to try to be more cooperative so I made scrambled eggs. The eggs were awesomely fresh with bright orange yolks. I asked around before starting to cook if anyone wanted eggs and people nodded so I made 8. Only us and one of the Canadians ate any and I ended up throwing many of the beautiful eggs away.
The third day we went to Santorini. We hadn't really wanted to go there, but there we were so we went ashore to check it out. After our first two stops it was crazy. The geography was amazing but there were so many tourists it was a shock after coming from those small idyllic islands. We stopped in Thira. There were nice views but too much shopping and tourist schlock. We went on to Oia for the famous sunset but oh what a crush of humanity! We counted at least 3 or 4 super unique and special weddings going on :) The town I'm sure was adorable sometime after the last volcanic eruption in the 50s, but now it's so packed with high end hotels and shopping it was hard to see the charm amongst the throngs of Chinese tourists. When we were ready to return we barely made it on the last bus because there were about 3 buses worth of people waiting to get on.
We had tried to make it clear in advance that we did not want to go to Santorini so we figured that someone requested it. But we were the only ones who really went ashore. Well, the Belgians did but it was only because there had been a minor crisis that afternoon because we were out of cold cuts! The Belgians, who were older but looked like runners, only ate (in addition to their morning bread and butter) afternoon sandwiches with cold cuts and butter, and up to 4 bananas a piece each day on the boat. They did eat at dinner, but always seemed unhappy with what was ordered. (The French couple was younger and French sized. They barely ate during the day but smoked about a pack a day.)
Now at this point "sailing trip" had become a misnomer because we had yet to put the sails up--we just chugged along under the power of the boat's little motor. The fourth day we finally sailed a bit. It was exhilarating for the first bit but after an hour or so we realized that while we were sailing, it was so rough that all we could do was hold on. It was no use reading, and having the sails up rendered most of the deck unusable without getting splashed regularly and risking being tossed overboard. That was when I really noticed how small our boat was for the number of people on it.
Our next stop was one of the "Little Cyclades" islands, Kofinissia. Here we anchored and went to shore. Steve and I hiked almost halfway around the island because our guidebook promised a fantastic beach for our efforts. We passed many smaller beaches and swimming holes on the way with the sunbathers becoming more and more naked with each successive spot. When we reached the final destination, we were not disappointed. It was the most beautiful beach I saw in Greece and up there with my all time beach experiences. The water was calm, warm and shallow for a distance out. And naked overly tanned expats were further tanning their nether regions all around us, though that wasn't exactly a positive.
We returned back slowly, stopping for beers and snacks because dinner had been after 8 every day so far, and we came back around 7:30 to find they had left for dinner without us. We were upset because we had even seen the Canadians at the beach and told them we would see them at dinner. The entire trip, little helpful information such as when and where we would go to dinner was ever disseminated to us. Steve blew up at them a little bit. But a little bit more communication effort was made after that.
The next stop was Amorgos. We took the bus across the island and took pictures at the monastery perched on the cliff but didn't go inside because it was closed for most of the day and we didn't have the patience. We met some Canadians (western, English speaking ones) who offered us a ride back down to port. Steve was so excited to have someone to speak English with he tried to prolong the ride as long as possible and we missed out on any opportunity to explore the rest of the island, but that was OK because there wasn't much to see and most things shut in the middle of the day anyway. They had seen our catamaran and aptly called it a "hippy boat". I hadn't noticed before, but they were right; it looked particularly, " bohemian" when it was docked beside a modern looking catamaran. It was still earlyish so we took the opportunity to get some pizza and lots of beer. There was more swimming and dinner. This was another slow, sparsely populated island with only a handful of tourists and you could just sit back and watch life go by slowly.
The next day we sailed, even more nauseatingly, and went to another of the small Cyclades. Now I won't say that we only stopped here so our skipper could see his dealer, but I will say that as soon as we dropped anchor he was anxious to go see his "friend" which was a very short visit and he came back with a bag of something. Here I decided to attempt a joint meal again and this time it worked. We laid out cheese, bread, cold cuts, fruit, tomatoes, olives, wine, and everybody ate together. (One of the mornings the Canadians did make crepes for everyone with maple syrup they had brought from Qu├ębec and nutella, which was really nice.) Other than that the last island was a bust. There was little to see and all the land seemed to be subdivided into private lots preventing free movement about the island.
By the time we started the chug home we were exhausted. Mosquitoes, loud ferries leaving early in the morning tight by our boat, heat, and hard beds had prevented any decent amount of sleep. We laid in our cabin as long as we could, even through a swim stop, until it became apparent that we had finally caught the wind. We sailed for a while and actually had a group of dolphins ride our wake for a little bit. Of course they were gone by the time I got my camera. We sailed for a while and then lost the wind. Sailing and chugging under the power of the small engine was equally nauseating--getting back to Parikia Paros we were chugging straight into a strong headwind.
We finally returned and were the first off the boat. We hadn't eaten much that day, so we dropped our luggage and went to devour an entire pizza and enormous salad with some cold beers, of course. I also had to replace my scarf that I think I left in Crete. We then went back to the hotel to scrub a week's worth of sunscreen, bug repellent, sea salt and general grime off of ourselves. We intended to revisit the best gelato shop thus far but I needed to sleep. Steve will forgive me for that one day!
Off to Turkey we go!
Pictures are:
View from Sikinos Hora, view from Thira Santorini, sails up!, sailing with Steve and one of the French Canadians, gorgeousness, more cute Cycladic villages, and the Paros airport (not necessarily in that order).

1 comment:

  1. This was great! I felt like I was traveling with you. Your stories about what everyone was eating are super funny. Can't wait to see more pictures. Totally know how you feel about all the tourists. Even though I know we are part of the problem, being around a ton of people really takes away from a city. Have fun in Turkey!