June 27, 2005

Slowly in Greek

My whole life I wondered exactly what it was like to holiday in the greek islands.

I had read novels where people lose track of time and life as they immerse themselves in a world of questionable retsina and sultry men. The experiences described invariably seemed to have been born of a need to escape the known world in favour of something unfathomable. For this reason I had failed to comprehend any sense of scale or balance for these mystical islands - they were veiled in a haze of literary license. I was arriving without pre-conceptions.

From a distance the water is blue, the islands are barren, and the literary haze is replaced with a far more solid variant due to salty air and constant sunshine. Getting closer to any little island reveals a whole new measure of character. The sparsely populated hills and cliffs become dotted with little white houses and churches, the bunches of herbacious shrubs are interspersed with roaming goat herds, and the waters themselves reveal enticing colours ranging from royal blue to jade green. The real measure of each island is it's pockets of community in any given harbour. Now one must get closer still.

Most of the year tourists are few and far between. The very height of summer yeilds masses of travellers flooding down from European countries to the north, but in the pleasantly warm months to each side the islands hum gently with the ebb and flow of greek holiday makers and charter yachts. You are rarely alone, except when making passage from one island to the other. The company of locals and other sailors affords services and comforts - these pockets of population are jewels, sparkling with delicate cuisine and friendly conversation.

There are of course places where the influence of tourism has indelably defined the island, but the solution is simply to sail around to the other side and enjoy the more peaceful coves. What ever reputation that a town has earned it rarely applies to the entire island. And for those who do not have a yacht at hand to make an escape, the option is to wait for the next ferry. These are always varied and poorly scheduled. Some are very large, taking on an appearance closer to that of a cruise liner than a ferry, and others are unsettling small to the point of instilling a sense of wonderment as to how it floats at all. And then there are the ex-fishing boats which find service in getting small groups around and off an island.

The key to enjoying the travel in these islands is to leave the schedule behind. Very little happens at great pace, and even less happens on time. You never seem to travel to a particluar destination but edge your way closer to it. Slowly slowly. Remember, there is very little in between the towns and coves. Nothing is really all that close. It is often better to sit back and enjoy where you are. Slowly slowly.

In this way you have the time to enjoy a drink other than retsina, to enjoy the company of men or women who are far friendlier than you might imagine, and take a peek into the lives that fill the unkown beyond the haze.

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