Trip Reports

The Greek Islands (24-Jun-2002-22-30):
10:30 PM local time, Monday, June 24 (1930 June 24 UTC) 37 25 N 025 19 E. Temp. 81, Humidity 67%, Cloud Cover 0%. Anchored at Ornos Bay on the island of Mikonos, Greece.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick. Captain, you say, you've told us about the geology and Alexander and the sailing and the motor scooters, but what about the Greek islands themselves? OK, whatever. It's your nickel. Mind you, you'd be far better off perusing the Lonely Planet Guide for the Greek Islands, or reading Lawrence Durrell, or come to think of it, doing almost any other conceivable thing, but here goes:

But first, a little more history, this time about the Persian navy, and some geology, about where all that limestone came from.

Only kidding.

Let's just start with the fact that all the Greek islands have windmills that don't work, so we've gotten that out of our system.

Symi and Rhodes I've described, at least to my satisfaction. Next we went to Nisiros, which has or is a volcano that kind of came out of the limestone like a pimple. It's pretty quiet but they bring boatloads of tourists from Kos who get on busses and go to the crater.

We saw the crater but weren't there long because of the threat of bad weather we've described previously. We went to the lee of Kos which people think is somewhat touristy but I didn't mind. From there it was a bumpy sail to Astipalaia.

Astipalaia is not a bustling destination. It is the kind of place I would recommend to those of you who wish to indulge themselves in amusements which, to the unsophisticated observer, may be indistinguishable from inactivity. July, we hear, gets busy, although if June is our benchmark that's not saying much but you never know. There are a few tavernas and a bakery and you can rent motor scooters, and if you do rent one, then take a ride to Vathi on the other side of the island, and I don't see how you could fail to find it as there is really no other place to go. Now at Vathi there is really nothing going on. There may be twenty people living there but I don't know where you'd find them. There's a little bay that seems more like a lake, and some old stone walls and a few houses and some goats whose bells are the only sound. I think there are people there who would fix you a meal if they were around and probably rent you a room, but I'm not sure. It's a Zen thing. Dollar to a donut it is.

On all the islands except maybe Mikonos but probably there too there are places you can find to be completely alone on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, or on a beach that you have all to yourself. The natives confine themselves to three or four little villages and don't seem to be jogging all over the place or riding mountain bikes as if they were from Marin County so you probably won't run into them while you're doing your chanting. Not that they're unpleasant or anything. You can certainly get away with camping on the beach on many islands including even the, by comparison, heavily populated Naxos. There are an amazing number of stone walls and terraces that must in many cases date back to at least classical times. Some of these are still in use on the island, but most just look like geological strata on otherwise completely uninhabited mountainsides, like we observed back in Eritrea. The ancients, from Egypt to Stonehenge, seemed to be way into carrying stones around, the bigger the better.

From Astipalaia it was on to Amorgos, which has the dandiest topography of all the Cyclades, and also one of those monasteries that is impossibly placed on the side of a cliff overlooking a frightening drop down to the sea. If you go there they give you a shot of raki, a local liqueur, for some reason, maybe to compete with the other monasteries, but you don't get to talk to the monks and ask them all those questions that are none of the Captain's business. Above a window in the monastery overlooking the sea as though it were starring behind the titles of one of those films about unrequited love amongst the flower gardens of the rich in the Mediterranean, I spotted a scale model of a World War II era warship. I could venture a reasonable guess as to its reason for being there, but it's better this way.

On to Dhenousa. Didn't go ashore. Know nothing about it, but it looked unlively. Decamped for Naxos as soon as we heard the weather report of the last missive.

Aside from the travelers' woes we related about Naxos in the last post, it has the distinction of being the largest of the Cyclades and Naxos itself is a reasonably large town. Out in the country I observed the classic Cycladic blue and white country churches. All buildings in these islands are white, and rarely is any other color than blue used for trim, which makes it easy on the paint dealers but hard on you individualists. In the ubiquitous olive groves on Naxos, both cultivated and wild, the cicadas sing so loudly they nearly drown out the ring-ding-ding of the motor scooter. Sometimes I would stop to listen but they're so loud they make you go deaf, like Peter Townsend warns you about, so I'd start the motor scooter so I couldn't hear them. Because of its size Naxos holds a lot more water and by Aegean standards is rich in flora so that explains the trees.

In Naxos town you'll find a good representation of those narrow, labyrinthine, flagstone walkways and stairways amongst whitewashed stone houses and ruins that you may think about when you think about Greek Islands if that is something you ever do which I doubt. I went to a movie there, "Spiderman," at an outdoor theatre. I hadn't been to a theatre since Fiji and I like theatres. Before the main feature, Britney starred in a Pepsi commercial Man, I can't believe she sold out. There was popcorn and even an intermission. Spiderman was about as good as the other films of its ilk but I stayed till the end anyway. It seems to me sometimes, when I'm not busy having more profound and cumbersome revelations, that much of the world is becoming a suburb of LA. But this is not one of my major concerns.

And so on to Mikonos, the slut of the islands, disporting herself with the tourists without a care. I am not one of those people who complain that places are too "touristy." It seems that this is just about as disingenuous a critique as can be dribbled out of someone's mouth with his ice cream. What was Pompeii but a Roman tourist resort? There are plenty of places that don't have tourists, but to borrow from Yogi, no one goes there. Borneo. Oman. Eritrea. Closer to home, that great plains state, North Dakota. That southern belle, Alabama. Not many tourists, although you'd be surprised, and you get good value for your traveler's dollar enjoying a no-nonsense meal at the local truckstop. Any of these places can be just as wonderful as the Greek islands if you're there at the right time with the right company, and as Long John Silver would say, you may lay to that. So you tourist-haters don't have to go to Mikonos if you don't want to.

In Mikonos there is supposedly a gay thing going on, but whoever wrote that has apparently never been to Maverick's home port. There are wilder Lutheran churches in San Francisco. There is probably a gay part of the island and some gay events but the main scene in town is way hetero. It's true, there are underdressed men and women of both sexes, and you can just bet they're probably tourists, strolling down the boardwalk, which is a stonewalk, and flaunting their stuff. And there are more of those labyrinthine alleys and by-ways like the ones we found in Naxos, so they flaunt it there too. I'm so, like, bummed. There's nothing I hate more than seeing gangs of scantily clad tourist girls and I'm going to make a note of it.

It hasn't been particularly expensive here in these fabulous Greek Is- lands. Food prices are up and diesel is way up. But the only place we've been charged for berthing is Naxos and that was about $4.50 US per night. Otherwise, for the crew of Maverick, a special deal, nada. Tomorrow we take a short ferry ride that costs about $5 to Delos, the birthplace of Apollo and the heavyweight of the Greek Islands in terms of cultural importance. There are some building materials that the Greeks left lying around well over two thousand years ago and people like looking at them so we're going to go see why.

Next report from this location: Delos

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