– Pigeon, where should we go this May? – I was jumping with excitement anticipating our annual trip with Sofia the way a small black car jumps on MyTaxi app when an order is confirmed. (I remember one friend asking us: “But why, why do you call each other pigeon?” The world might never understand best friends but together, best friends will understand the world.) – How about Malta? I have never been.
– I have been, I would go again… What about Spain? Check out the top beaches I sent you.
– Spain, mmm… – Somehow I have never connected with Spain. I love Barcelona – but then we already went there together, – had a good time at Tenerife (more than a decade ago, running away from November in Finland), and was absolutely not impressed by Madrid. And Madeira. – Or we can go to Montenegro. You know, because when else would we have an opportunity to travel there on an exploratory mission, and who else would sign up for it?
– Or I can take you somewhere romantic, where the green dissolves in the blue, a place with gorgeous beaches, nature, waterfalls and serenity. And the Greek food, of course. Like Kythira.
A few weeks later we were boarding what turned out to be a very small plane (with barely any luggage head space, a note to a savvy traveler) to Kythira, a tiny island a short flight away from Athens.
We were fastening our seat belts, when Sofia gave me one of that dreamy smiles of hers and said, with gusto: – I hope it is a nice island.
– You… hope? You mean, you have never been?
Another dreamy smile: – No.
45 minutes later we landed on a tiny strip of land in the middle of nowhere. I have only seen once the place that would fit the definition “middle of nowhere” better, and that was in Iguazu, in the rain forest jungle between Argentina and Brazil. Vast (and very green) slopes for as long as you can see and a symbolic one-storeyed building, what you would hope is an airport and gates to civilization. There was no other sign of civilization though.
– Mmm… maybe we need to take a car, – said Sophie with a shade of deep reflection.
This is how we discovered Panayotis.
Panayotis Rent A Car is a perfect example of an industry monopoly in a closed space of an island. In fact, it is true for Kythira in general: there is THE four star hotel, Kythira Golden Resort Hotel, where we stayed because some of Sofia’s well-informed Greek friends told us that on this island that was the place to go. Then there is Il Mercato, THE bar the entire island comes after 10 p.m. (it really is after 10 and not before, we checked, – and some of us more than once). In Mercato you meet other Kythira monopolists: Spiros who has the boat, Yannis who rents the scuba-diving equipment, Pavlos who is organizing sky-diving, – you get the picture.
And here comes the Greek culture: not only everyone knows everyone, everyone seems to know YOU. Once you step on the island, multiple accounts about your whereabouts (and deeds) spread across Kythira at a lightning speed in this seemingly relaxed atmosphere of the Greek sun.
– Do not underestimate the Greek culture, – Sophie smiles at me, this time mysteriously. – They already know what we will have for linner – and where.
Linner is another vacations tradition of ours: combining lunch and dinner in the magic of the sun falling over the horizon. Linner by the sea.
I will write a more meaningful post about Kythira later (and #travelhacks to it, of course), let this one be all emotions – and another moment to savor the beauty of this unique place.
We did find the nature though. Not only the green fields, the waterfall as well (with almost no water though but a cute pond). On colors, there is more than enough of yellow, too. The plant at the photo is all over the island. The owner of our hotel, “a very professional lady from Sparta”, as Panayotis (the car rental) called her, told us that this plant always blossom on the Eastern part of the island, “it is always alive”.
So it Kythira – always alive. I called this Greek island pristine because that should be what all the Mediterranean islands used to be like before the world got the wanderlust bug. There are gorgeous – clean! – beaches with sunbeds and a lonely bar here and there, a few tourists, but mostly it’s all about the Greek people (even Google maps would give mostly Greek names when you start searching). People, on the day you come across them on a beach, just drop their towels on the sand (or on the pebbles) and munch on cold watermelon and ice coffee, best Greek contribution to humanity. And wine, of course. There is no Greek summer without the wine, wanderlust or not.
Most of the times though you are left to yourself (and your company), driving alone on the gorgeous hills, looking at the most beautiful sea in the world, contemplating life (that’s where the Greek philosophy kicks in). Savoring the moment. Understanding how little one needs for happiness. Dreaming.
Kythira is all about the charm of Greek villages. All the roads lead to the island capital (as they always do), called Chora (as it always is). Right, that’s where Il Mercato is. Milopotamos is another must, a cute village with the finest souvenirs and cafes (our favorite was Platanos).
Oh, I have to tell you this one. The first time we saw this sunk ship at the Diakofti beach, I was wondering what it should take to sink a ship like that (a big one) in a practically open sea with a single dot of a rock on it. It was more of a rhetoric question but than the Spartan lady told us the story. The ship was famously sunk by “the six Russian men after they drank a lot, a lot of vodka”. So much for the stereotypes. “It is good for us”, – added the Spartan lady. I guess she was referring to the hundreds tourists’ photos of this ship that probably made Diakofti the most popular beach on the island (this and its white sand). But then who knows.