Lambi's magic island

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Ios - memories of a small island

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An Ios Meditation
  Arrival on Ios

  A small windswept island, emerging from the deep blue sea of the Aegean – who would have imagined it would have such an impact on the lives of the people who drifted there. I first travelled to Ios in the early 1970’s, looking for the perfect beach to sunbathe & swim and for open-air discos to dance the night away. The journey took 10 hours aboard a ferry which stopped at various islands before sailing into the port of Ios. As there were no docking facilities, little fishing boats met the ferry out at sea and with difficulty we struggled with our bags down a ladder to board these boats, which were rocking madly on the waves.

 The first glimpse of the island was not particularly impressive. It was summer and there was very little vegetation, so the land looked rather like a barren, brown rock with a few white buildings down in the port area and a few white Cycladic style houses leading to the top of a hill, which had a similar shape to a snail. A few churches seemed perched on the rock. The village was hidden from view behind the hill. Later, I found out there was a reason for this – pirates had attacked many islands in the Cyclades, ransacked them and stolen the womenfolk, while their husbands were away fishing. To counter this, the houses were hidden from view, so that pirate ships would think that there was nothing to be had & pass on by.

As we alighted in the port, we were greeted by a few elderly locals, advertising rooms. Having visited Myconos for a number of years, where all the action was centred in the port, I decided to look for a room in the port. I followed a stooped, elderly man, who told me that his name was Algiris, away from the port, along a dirt track road at the side of a rather nondescript beach to a large house with a number of rooms, just off the beach road. My room was small & basic: whitewashed, comprising 2 beds and a wobbly chair and table. There were a few hooks on the wall for clothes. There was very little room to move around. However it contained all that I thought necessary and, more importantly, it was cheap. I had the end room along a corridor which had about 5 more rooms leading off it. The window looked out onto a small courtyard. There were a few containers with geraniums outside and a vine growing up the pole supporting the pergola. The only bathroom and a toilet were at the other end of the corridor. We had to queue up for the cold shower, which was more of a trickle than a shower.

After changing out of my salt-encrusted clothes (it had been rather a rough journey on the deck class of the ferry, and the waves had drenched all the passengers) and standing under the trickle, I was ready to explore. Heading back to the port, I found a Caique (fishing boat) with a sign advertising boat trips round the island. From experience of other islands, I had found this was one of the best ways to find out about a new island, so I noted down the time it left the next day. In fact this meant the first beach I visited happened to be one of the most beautiful beaches of the island & contributed to my falling in love with the place.

There were a few restaurants scattered around the port square with tables & chairs outside. Choosing one with a number of tourists, who seemed to be enjoying themselves, I marched into the kitchen to inspect the pots. This was a very common way of choosing a meal in Greece at the time. I cannot remember any menus & I cannot remember what my first meal was, but I do remember a couple at the adjacent table starting up a conversation with me and arranging to meet them later at a small bar/disco called the Marina Club, situated down along the port beach. The magic of Ios had begun to work its enchantment – everybody was so friendly!

 However, the evening ended in disappointment: the Marina Club was not what I was searching for. It was small, enclosed, but far worse – it played Greek music. You might think, well, yes – it was a Greek club on a Greek island, of course it played Greek music. But this had not been the case on other islands – we had danced to the latest British/American hits with a few French & Italian songs thrown in – dance music in other words. I was not impressed with this ethnic stuff & folk dances, where the man had the best moves. Oh no, I was used to dancing by myself & letting the music flow through me, dictating the moves as I went along. Obviously in the next few days I would have to explore the village & see what else was on offer.

 




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Waves over island

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I made this picture when my mother was very ill in London and I was spending my time commuting between Athens and London to look after her. I managed to go over to Ios for a few days and revisit my favourite beaches. I found listening to the waves crashing against the shore very soothing and helped me to find my balance. When I got back to London, I started sketching this painting & on my return to Athens I finished it. Throughout the time I was painting it, I could hear the sound of the waves in my head - it helped to keep me going during a very difficult time. Now it hangs in our village house on Ios and in my mind I've dedicated it to the memory of my mother, who also loved the sea.

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Waves in Mylopotas
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Manganari from the road

        

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Manganari
  BEACHES, BEACHES, BEACHES           



After a rather hurried breakfast in the port, it was time to get the caique which professed to sail round the island. In fact it
headed down the island to one specific beach, but this only became clear later. We bought our tickets and clambered onto a scruffy-looking fishing boat. There were about 20 of us in various stages of the tanning process from milky white & freckled to the deep tan of a long-timer. Wrapped in sarongs & flip-flops we waited, scrunched up next to each other, hugging our beach bags and our straw mats, for the captain to finish his frappe and his shouted conversation to a colleague so that our sea adventure could begin.

We travelled in a southerly direction out of the port. To our left, we could see a little white church picturesquely perched on a rock before we left the protected bay of the port. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sea a deep blue I have only seen in the Mediterranean and there was a slight breeze. Luckily the Meltemi wasn’t blowing that day. We passed by a couple of small beaches before coming to a long stretch of golden sand with two groups of white cubicles at each end. No, this was not our destination, the boat chugged on.


The caique passed by about 5 little bays – a couple with a few houses on them, others completely empty, none of them with any people visible on them. These bays looked entirely inaccessible except from the sea, although later we found out there were footpaths leading to them. Little sparkling gems set into a rocky landscape; it looked quite possible I might find my perfect beach on this island. How would I get to it, though?

After over an hour a vast bay with 4 or 5 little bays within, came into sight. It was awesome. The sand was pristine white and the sea in front of the largest stretch of beach was a turquoise blue, usually only found in the tropics. But before coming into the beach the captain stopped and broke into laughter. Well, he had been having a go at the ouzo bottle en route. But what happened now? Were we supposed to swim to shore? Luckily not. The caique’s horn boomed out loudly and suddenly a couple of rowing boats appeared at the side. Oh, no, we had to disembark onto the rowing boats which would take us to shore. I was not a happy sailor or that agile in
getting on & off vessels and the owners of the boats seemed to be jeering and making ribald comments at my inability to connect feet to boat. In the end, with much mirth, they gave me a helping hand. We had arrived at Manganari.

We got off the rowing boat onto the first beach. There was a little taverna at the corner at the end of the beach. Many of the passengers headed for this, but I decided to walk along the sand to the long stretch of beach I had spotted from the caique. The boat was due to pick us up in the afternoon, so there was plenty of time for a snack & a drink before we headed back. Walking through the sand, my feet overturned numerous multicoloured shells, some of them very shiny pearl like ear-shaped ones. These, I collected & put in my
bag.

The long beach was a wide stretch of white sand. There were a few houses at the back in some scrub-like area and then a backdrop of mountains. In front was the turquoise sea. I fell instantly in love with the place and it has remained one of my favourite beaches for many years now. The sea itself was crystal clear and very shallow and the sea-bed was sandy (which accounted for the colour). It gave me a great feeling of joy to wade through the water towards the deeper sea. The day was spent getting in & out of the water, sunbathing and thinking how lucky I was to have come here. I collected tiny little shells from the water’s edge – various shades of red & orange with pretty patterns, a few emerald green ones and some Shiva’s eyes. These were flattish shells, orange on one side with a spiral pattern on the other side. They weren’t really shells in their own right, but the protective cover to the opening of larger shells. Tradition has it, they are supposed to bring good luck. They also make very beautiful jewellery.

Sometime in the afternoon we heard bells and a flock of goats crossed along the beach on their way home, accompanied by a little boy and a black dog. Before the boat left to take us back to the port, I went up to the taverna for a drink and a Greek salad. Looking out over the bay from the taverna, I knew I’d be back as soon as possible. How very Lou Reed! What a perfect day!



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Shells from Manganari
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Island of new beginnings

Discovering the village

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The village
There was a donkey path that connected the port to the village. This was made of flagstones, outlined in white lime that led up the hill in steps. It used to take me about 15-20 minutes to get to the top, with a lot of huffing & puffing and going at a steady pace. ¾ of the way up, there was a plateau lined with eucalyptus trees, where I usually stopped to take a breather. Along the donkey path were a few scattered whitewashed houses on either side. Reaching the top, in front of you loomed a large church with a blue dome. Behind this was a hill, dotted with little, cube-shaped white houses: these all sported shutters and doors of varying shades of blue. It looked incredibly pretty.

Having come up by dusk (on a mission – where was the nightlife?), I did not take time to linger and explore the various narrow alleyways, but followed the main path, lined with houses, a couple of bars & restaurants & shops, up to the main square. The place was buzzing. I remember 2 coffee bars on one side and a coffee bar on the other side with, maybe, a boutique next to it. There was an olive tree in front of the single bar.

I had arranged to meet Graham & Ali here. This was the English couple who had befriended me the first night. You had to go into the shop to order your drink – a rather terrifying experience as the café was full of Greek men, without a woman in sight. I was greeted by a tallish, gruff Greek man with a handlebar moustache. He didn’t look too friendly. Graham had suggested ordering a bottle of Retsina and fizzy lemonade as it was the cheapest alcoholic drink and would take a long time to finish. He was right; I could only sip it very slowly as I was not used to resinated wine & was not at all happy with the taste.

When the others turned up, we sat chatting, listening to the pop/rock music coming from the café across the square. This café was packed, mainly with a group of international tourists who all seemed to know each other. They were dressed in the most amazing clothes. Brightly coloured Indian & African fabrics which looked the genuine article & not bits & pieces picked up from Kensington Market. My flower-patterned harem-pants looked pretty fake in comparison. I found out later these people had been coming to Ios for years and counted themselves as travellers, not tourists, as they spent part of the year in India and Africa. They seemed to be having great fun.


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Watching the sun go down from the Ios Club

Our café was far quieter and still retained a Greek feel to it. The owner, Andonis (of handlebar moustache fame) warmed to us gradually: Graham had been a regular customer for a number of weeks & I could speak Greek. I felt at home & very secure, though I did envy the group at the other café – we were to meet them later.

The night was growing longer and the Retsina had started to work, it was time to dance. Graham, being more of a drinker than a dancer, hadn’t a clue where to go, so Ali & I decided to follow a group leaving the square & see where they led us. We walked up this slightly winding narrow road which ended in some steps leading up to a couple of windmills. Next to the windmills we found what we had been looking for – an open air club playing rock music, called, strangely enough, the Windmills Club.

Here, we danced the night away, nursing a Metaxa & coke the entire time. We were joined by various characters from the group in the square. Alan was from Liverpool and was the main supplier of drugs on the island. He was basically the leader of the gang. There are many stories about him. One of the stories I liked best was when the police arrested him for nude sunbathing. They took him round the island in a small rowing boat as penance and he was supposed to paint signs on rocks where people sunbathed saying: NO NUDISM. However the police could not read English, so Alan wrote: NO CLOTHES much to the amusement of future sunbathers. Wayne, his closest friend was Canadian, as was Danny. There was Pavlos, a Greek Egyptian, who was going out with a stunningly beautiful Swiss woman, Brigitte,  and had a bar called the Little Elephant; Jill and Debbie, 2 English girls from east London who made any dance floor come to life; Carrol, a red-haired partner in crime both on the dance floor & in various bars;  Aris, a Greek artist, whose brain was frazzled from taking too much acid but who organised various eccentric happenings and, rumour has it, put acid into the drinking water in the village & caused all the islanders to have some very strange dreams; “old” Pam, the English artist, who taught many of the young locals what fun it was to lose their virginity; Stone, an American meteorologist and photographer who took photos of the various groups and captured us for posterity. He also used to be asked to forecast the weather a lot; usually he would just look up into the sky and make some succinct remarks, sometimes if he was in Adonis’ Restaurant, he would look up at the ceiling and forecast the weather from that; Robert who was a French artist – you could never leave your unfinished drink down anywhere near him as it would speedily disappear and many more colourful characters.

Eventually, when we got to be friends, Debbie & Jill explained to me their take on the different cliques of long-stay ex-pats who dominated the island. There were the number ones: people who spent part of the year in India; the number twos: people who had gone to India; the number threes: people who were planning to go to India; and the rest of us plebs. Travelling to India was such a criteria of street cred in those days and most people were wannabe hippies. I had always wanted to go to India, but I had never managed to make it as my travelling companions always dropped out at the last minute & I didn’t want to go alone. Obviously I wasn’t a number one, but how I yearned to be. It took a few years before the number ones accepted me and that was through my dancing and through the nudist beach, Kolitsani, which we all frequented.


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Main square, almost deserted during the day
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Bottom square
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A picturesque alley in the village
 And so I came to be an Ios regular – I had found my perfect beach and open-air discos to dance in. I worked in various restaurants, bars, hotels and discos to enable me to stay the season; made the best friends of my life, met my future husband and woke up everyday reliving the magic of the island. The different seasons melded together and now it has been very difficult to distinguish one year from another. There have been times when I’ve hated the place, but many more times when I’ve loved the rock and …… I still come back. You can check out but you can never leave ….. the magical island of Ios.

 

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Church near my house
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Donkey waiting for owner outside supermarket
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Covered passage near my house
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Graham, Ali and me
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First view of Theodoti
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The waves you see in Theodoti when the meltemi wind is blowing


 A trek to Aghia Theodoti

I am an urban creature, and I was even more so in my youth. Although I had grown up near a sleepy Hertfordshire village, by the time I was 16, we had moved to central London. My amusements were urban amusements. A walk in the country meant a train down to Brighton and a walk along the pebble beach there. Hiking as such was a totally alien concept and I had no idea of what clothes to wear, or more importantly, what shoes to wear (what, I shouldn’t wear my favourite canvas Biba platform boots?)

We had been talking about beaches on the other side of the island and Graham suggested we set off early the next day and walk over to Aghia Theodoti. There was no road at the time, we had no maps, but Graham had heard we followed a footpath which started at the windmills.

After a boozy, dancing night, we arranged to meet at the windmills the next morning at about 10 o’clock. Of course we were all late. Ali and I were in our favourite beachwear – skimpy tops, a sarong wrapped round our bikinis and flip-flops. Graham, at least had trainers. Well, we were going to a beach, weren’t we? Our saving grace was that we had all brought bottles of water.

It was mid-summer and the temperatures were high, by the time we set out at 11.30 it was extremely hot. At the windmills we saw a rock with an arrow painted on it which said Theodoti – we must be on the right track!

We strode at a brisk pace along a footpath which cut through cultivated fields. Our pace grew progressively slower after we had scrambled over numerous dry stone walls, separating the fields. Every so often there was an arrow on a rock at the side of the path, so we followed these. We came to a field with a couple working in it. They greeted us with broad smiles and asked where we were going. When I told them, they had a quick glance over our attire & beamed even more widely. They insisted we eat some melon which they cut open for us and gave us some grapes. They wanted to invite us to their house to drink some tsipouro, but we were already late so we promised to come back another day. We were overwhelmed by their friendliness and hospitality. In fact, everybody we met in the fields greeted us enthusiastically and with great warmth, always offering us some fruit or a drink. It was so easy to love these people. I imagine they had a good laugh about these crazy hippies walking over the mountains, so badly prepared for the excursion.

After about ¾ of an hour, the arrows veered right and the path seemed to follow a dry river bed. Well not exactly dry, the bed was filled with a lush assortment of plants and vegetation – varying shades of green. We came to a trickling stream which crossed our path – stepping stones allowed us to pass. There were trees all around us and a little house with a church set up on a hill. We were enchanted. I cannot describe the feeling of seeing luxuriant green after walking through barren brown shrub land. We knew we had to climb the hill and pass the house, but first we stopped to enjoy the coolness of the area. So nice to walk in the shade! This area was called Perivolia and years later some good friends of ours, Rania and Hugh, bought the house and the surrounding land and made it into a small oasis of fruit trees and flowers – very verdant, very beautiful.


I won’t go into too many details about our ascent of hills, descent of hills, getting lost in the mountains. Suffice it to say, flip-flops were not the ideal covering for the soles of our feet. At one point we came to a peak where we could see the back of the village on one side and the bay of Theodoti on the other. I have never found that point again since that day.

We were dusty, sweaty and very tired. The descent towards the beach was extremely steep and hair-raising. I have vertigo and a fear of heights anyway & there was the thought at the back of our minds that we would have to climb the slope again to get back. Not a happy idea! However the sight of the vast deserted beach gave us courage. In a way from the top, it looked as if some gigantic monster had taken a bite out of the mountain to form the beach.

Suffice to say, we reached the bottom and flung ourselves into the sea. It was icy cold and choppy; the salt stung our various scratches & insect bites, but it was utter bliss. It had taken us nearly 3 hours and we were exhausted.

After relaxing on the beach for a while, collecting some stunning flat white stones and frolicking in the water, we started to feel revived and hungry. None of us had eaten any breakfast apart from the fruit we’d been offered along the way and the walk had been the most strenuous thing we’d ever done in our lives. Looking around we saw a little house with a pergola a little way up a hill and we decided to head for that. We couldn’t stay much longer as we wanted to get back before dark.

Luckily for us, the owners of the house were operating a small taverna/snack bar. They could offer us egg and chips, Greek salad, homemade bread and cold drinks. As we were wolfing everything down greedily an English couple turned up on 2 donkeys, led by a small tousle-haired urchin. They had had a far easier journey than us, although the woman – a blonde siren called Mercedes, looked very sunburnt and rather cross. We chatted excitedly about our various experiences of Ios life and Bill, Mercedes’ husband, showed us an easier route to take for the homeward journey. I’m not sure that it was any easier, each step felt like we were walking on glass. Both Ali and I fainted a couple of times and Graham had to drag us along.

By the time we reached the village again it was dark and we were all a grubby, aching, limping mess, but extremely proud of ourselves. We had gone on an exploring trip and had survived! What an accomplishment for 3 urbanites with no experience of mountain walking! And we had a story to dine out on.



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Fishing boat moored in the bay
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The verdant greenery of Perivolia

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Theodoti beach seen thru' the trees

Kolitsani Dreaming

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Island of dogs & divers - a painting for a friend
The first time I went down to Kolitsani Beach was one of the most hair-raising experiences I had on Ios. Graham & Ali had been meeting up with me on Koumbara beach up till now, but as they lived in the village it was a long trek for them. They insisted I should visit the beach that they had discovered which was closer to the village. Naturally I agreed – always ready to get to know a new beach, so we met up in the village. Near the Ios Club there was a track, which led up a slope, & this was the path we followed. Not too difficult so far.

We were meandering along, chatting away when the path took a sudden downward turn. In fact it no longer looked like a path at all, but more like a mountain gorge. There were big rocks, overhanging vegetation – bushes & trees & it was steep. Surely we didn’t have to go down there. 
I started getting a panic attack & my vertigo kicked in big time. There was no way I could go down there. Graham grabbed my hand & by him pulling & Ali pushing from behind, I stumbled down the track. My heart was in my mouth the whole way down, while Graham & Ali were in fits of giggles at my terror. It’s no easy thing having vertigo on Ios!!


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The way down to the beach taken by Malcolm Kinnear this year

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The approach to the beach taken by Malcolm Kinnear this winter
By the time we got to the bottom, I was shaking & could not really appreciate the view in front. Kolitsani was a beach with 2 coves – a longer beach that was sandy & a smaller one that was made up of flattish stones. There were 2 ways of getting to the sandy beach – we could climb up the rock separating them or we could wade through the water – I chose the water. Holding our straw mats & beach bags above us we waded through the water. This was not as easy as it looked as the same slippery stones that covered the smaller cove covered the seabed. At last we were there. Plonking ourselves down near the rocks at the nearest end of the beach, I could finally calm down. What a little gem!


The beach was enclosed by rocky hills, which meant it was very protected & the sea was a clear turquoisy blue, the sand a pale yellow. At the other end of the beach were some people. Squinting at them, I could see that these were the same people who frequented the popular café in the village – an assortment of hippies. More to the point, they were all naked. Oh joy, oh jubilation, it didn’t take me much time to strip off & fling myself into the sea. Well, I lie; I kind of stumbled into the sea & fell over, as the rocks underneath were very slippery.

Anybody who hasn’t swam in the sea naked cannot understand the immense pleasurable feeling it is to feel the water on your body without a soggy bathing suit/bikini coming in between. Also feeling the sun beating down on your body without any barrier is really a feeling of pure sensuality. Note – you prudes out there, this has little to do with sex, although perverts blighted Kolitsani at certain times.  We spent a very pleasurable day swimming & sunbathing & speculating about the group at the other end of the beach. Throughout the day more people appeared, trekking down the path we had taken & joined the group. There must have been about 20 of them in the end. As we only had 1 container of water between us & Graham was afraid of getting sunstroke, regretfully we decided to leave. What a fantastic place! Ios was definitely the island of perfect beaches.

We huffed & puffed up the steep hill (much easier for me than the way down) & decided we’d be back the next day, carrying more water with us & maybe a bite to eat.  In fact Kolitsani became a pivotal point of my life on Ios. We got to know the hippies, made friends with most of them & used to wait eagerly for the various faces to come down. We bought silver Indian jewellery off Stephanie, who set up a little stall in the middle of the larger beach, sarongs off Allan, pots of amber paste from Wayne & smoked a lot of spliffs, which were offered around. 

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The main cove in winter by Malcolm Kinnear
Over the ages, I’ve watched Kolitsani change. I well remember the consternation when 1 year a caravan appeared on the beach. Yiannis set up shop, selling drinks. At first, he was ignored & then people drifted up & started to buy drinks. In respect for him, we’d don sarongs & sit up near the caravan, chatting with the rest of the group. It became quite a meeting point for many of us.

Yiannis died & Scottish Stuart took over the drinks market. Jean-Pierre (from 1 of the Kolitsani houses) built a ‘boathouse’ behind the caravan & Stuart expanded his offerings. We could soon buy delicious cheese, ham & salad buns & toasted sandwiches as well as cold beers, soft drinks & water. Stuart was quite a character – he had a drink problem, but when he’d had a few beers he became a fount of one-liners & kept us in stitches! As he didn’t think it was right to serve people completely nude, he’d wrap his sarong round his head, his willie waving merrily as he moved around. A few of the Greeks who found their way down to the beach were horrified, others accepted it as part of the character of the beach.

In the Stuart years, the beach was kept spotless, he’d rake the sand, collect & dispose of the rubbish & even cleared away some of the stones on the seabed to make a little path into the sea. He planted some trees in front of the caravan & these grew to provide some well-needed shade. The beach grew far busier & noisier. The nudists grew fewer & beach tennis became one of the irritations of the beach. Countless times, some beginner lobbed a hard ball that hit you on some part of your anatomy. As for Frisbees………& worse still, ghetto blasters - no, better not go there. We found that if we got there early & left about 3, we could avoid these sportive & noisy types. However this meant a hike up the hill at one of the hottest times of the day. Luckily more paths had opened up to the beach & I tended to use the one that started next to Scorpion – it was a far gentler slope. But even still, I was drenched in sweat when I reached the village.

On one occasion Chris made us laugh, by jumping off the rocks & swimming into the beach yelling, “Is this Paros Island?” A couple of naïve newcomers who hadn’t met Chris yet, replied, “No, it’s Ios.” “Oh, shit! I wanted Paros”, muttered Chris & jumped back into the sea & swam away. The newcomers looked shocked & spent the afternoon discussing where he could have swam from – maybe Piraeus!!

Another year somebody asked me to trim their hair on the beach. I had no hairdressing experience whatsoever, but used to cut my own hair by snipping bits & pieces off every so often. I brought my scissors down, & blow me if I didn’t have quite a clientele that year!

I remember one day with great clarity. I had partaken of my favourite mood enhancer & was enjoying the different colours & shapes when I wandered into the sea & spotted a jellyfish. No, not one jellyfish, there were at least 2 hundred in there. I am paranoidly afraid of jellyfish & I could see no way out of the water, the jellyfish had surrounded me. I must have spent 2 hours walking up & down in the waist-deep water trying to find a way out. Finally Uli took pity on me & came in & led me out. There had only been one jellyfish, he assured me. Well, sometimes mood enhancers have the opposite effect!!

I can’t tell you what Kolitsani is like now, as I haven’t managed to walk easily the past few years & so haven’t gone down there. Stuart left a good 10 years ago & went back to Scotland. The caravan was hauled to the smaller cove & lies rusting, unused against the rocks and I’ve been told there are very few nudists any more………..ah well, different times, different moeurs. I’m sure whoever goes down there still has a fabulous time.

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The crystal clear sea
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My mysterious world

My Ios - then and now

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Then .....
It wasn’t always the case I’d go to bed early and miss out on the nightlife of the island – when I first arrived on Ios, I was quite a party animal. Thinking back to those days, I realise how much my daily routines have changed over the years…….and not only over the years, but different seasons bring different routines. Of course being on holiday on Ios is not the same as living or working on the island. Staying in your own house gives you different chores to renting a room/staying at a hotel……

When I worked for the first season in the Satisfaction Bar, my daily routine was as follows: Get up about 10 am, grab a cup of coffee at Adonis Restaurant, just up from the house, maybe even a fried breakfast, then head to the bar to clean and paint the white lines (once a week). I was sharing a house with Adonis at the time, who was the dj and part owner of the Satisfaction. I’d try and get the cleaning done as quickly as possible, fill up my water bottle from the public tap and head for the beach. In those days, my beach of choice would be Kolitsani. There, I would spread myself in the sun, read a book, doze off & try and catch up with some sleep. Gradually people would drift down to the beach & we’d sit around chatting, relating stories of the night that had passed, looking at Stephanie’s jewellery stand and, of course, swimming. The water was crystal clear and very enticing. When there had been many southerly winds during the winter, it was often difficult to get into the sea as the seabed was a mass of slippery rocks. Every year somebody would clear some of the rocks away and make a passage into the water. We would also rake up the seaweed and clean away any rubbish. When Stuart took over running the canteen/caravan & sold drinks & snacks, he kept the beach in pristine condition – raking the sand everyday and disposing of the rubbish. Once Stuart opened up, we would congregate outside the caravan, sipping our cold drinks and chatting. It was a great meeting place. Even before caravan days, we used to cluster in small groups with our sarongs and chat. I seem to remember a lot of chatting!



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My topsy-turvy world
At 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, when the sun was still burning down, I’d head up the hill again to the village. Most of the others on the beach, would stay down there until it was cooler, but I had to get ready for work. There was no bathroom in our house – only a non-flushable toilet (we had to fill up pails of water) and a kitchen with running cold water (a great luxury!) I’d fixed up a shower from the kitchen sink & used to wash down in a large washing up bowl. Sometimes, I’d treat myself and go for a shower at the neighbour’s house next door, where you could get a trickle of hot water, or when I was feeling really flush, I’d queue up at Irene’s Hot Showers – now that was a real treat! I’d get myself ready for the evening’s work and go and grab a bite to eat. Sometimes this would be a pie from Margarita’s pie shop, or otherwise a sit down meal in Adonis’ Restaurant. There would usually be people I knew there and I’d probably end up having coffee with them in the main square after our meal. Then it was time to head for work. I won’t go into the work experience now as I’ve written about it elsewhere, but it was a load of fun working on the rock. I’d be longing for the last punter to leave, so that I could head up to the main square again and then to one of the discos – usually JCs or Scorpion - to dance the night away. There was a tradition that if you worked on the island, you often drank for free or with huge discounts at other establishments – this could prove lethal. Fortunately for my liver, I wasn’t a big drinker – I’d have a few Metaxa and cokes to give me a buzz and then hit the dance floor. I cannot describe the feeling of freedom it gave me to dance in the open air discos, the music just seemed to flow through my body and force me to move…..I loved it and often stayed until the place closed for the night. Then it was time to head to Billy’s toast place for a toastie, a banana milkshake, a chat with Billy, a smoke and watch the sun come up. Time to stagger home and fall into bed for a few hours sleep, before doing much the same the next day. 
From time to time sleep deprivation would get to me and I’d skip the beach & sleep for a day and catch up with chores/shopping

Nowadays my routine is slightly different, especially at this time of year - off-season.
I have not felt much like going to the beach since we got here, The weather hasn’t been too good so I haven’t been rushing to get things done and dash to the beach – these days it’s usually Mylopotas. There’s a much more leisurely feel to my daily routine: On getting up, I put the kettle on and check the internet. When I’ve replied to any posts I may have on the various social media sites I subscribe to, I feed the cats and have a cup of tea – I don’t keep coffee at home, so this forces me to get my chores done and go for a caffeine hit outside the house. Uli and I talk on the phone and tell each other about any plans for the day. We often arrange to meet up in the main square or the Crazy Cakehole for coffee. I take great pleasure in pottering round the house until it’s time to head for my first coffee of the day. The time seems to fly, but it’s a time of day I get many ideas flooding into my head – I store these for future pondering. On my way to my cafe of choice for the day, I often take photos of things that catch my fancy – a plant growing out of a wall, an archway, a house with strange shadows, a patch of flowers. Sitting in the chosen cafe, waiting for Uli, I chat to any friends, sipping at my coffee and watch the world go past. This time of day, it’s mainly the locals & the workers going about their chores. After coffee, if there is any shopping to be done, I stroll towards the supermarket, stopping to chat to any friend who accosts me or stopping off at friends’ boutiques.

After a quick bite to eat, I settle down to 2 – 3 hours of writing or artwork, then I might rest or read a book on my kindle, before heading for the main square to meet up with Uli. We tend to eat out in the evening and have really a good choice of eating places to go to. Mainly we go to restaurants run by our friends so we have a chance to catch up with them as well as have a meal. I sometimes stop off in Lord Byron’s for a nightcap of tequila before I head home, or I might sit sipping one of Molly’s fabulous cocktails. There are usually people I know there, so I’ll sit and socialise for a bit…….. then home calls and I wander back as the younger people are getting ready to go out clubbing. Do I regret I’m not going out with them? Not really – been there, done that and enjoyed it thoroughly at the time.  Yes, there are nights where I’ll stay out later and drink too much – especially since I have an obsession about odd numbers (I only like to do drinks in odd numbers: one doesn’t count so it’s 3, 5, 7…) – but these are the exceptions and not the rule anymore…… Maybe this routine sounds very tame to you, but I can’t tell you the deep satisfaction it gives me. I get a lot of pleasure having my creative space, pottering and meeting up with people. 
Many of my younger friends have asked me how I first came to the island and why I’m still here. 
It’s difficult to answer this question, but I’ll give it a try: In my case, I came to Ios because a German guy called Thomas on Mykonos told me he’d just come back from there and it was like Mykonos had been 10 years before and far cheaper. He also mentioned that it was still a hippy haven………I figured I had to check it out. I’d been going to Mykonos 6-7 years in a row prior to this, but Mykonos was getting more and more expensive and more geared towards minor celebs and celebs with boutiques of designer clothes – the hippies were dying out……..it wasn’t really my scene anymore.

My dream was to find a place which was sunny and had beautiful unspoilt beaches and enough nightlife to be able to dance the night away under the stars. 

On arriving at a new island, my first step was to try and go on a round trip of the island, so I could see the lie of the land and get an impression of the place. So this is what I did when I first got to Ios. There wasn’t a round trip, but there was a Caique going to a beach at the southern tip of the island. That’s how Manganari became the first beach I visited on Ios. I’ve written about this trip in Beaches, beaches, beaches……… it was – and is – close to being the perfect beach of my dreams. Over the many years I’ve been coming to Ios, I’ve discovered a multitude of beautiful beaches – each with their own charm. The huge plus over Mykonos was that many of them were within walking distance from the centre. Kolitsani, Valmas, Koumbara, Mylopotas, Zan Maria, the Port – I could get to by walking. Nowadays, I’m not so adept at walking long distances, so I tend to take buses. But as more roads have been built, in summer Theodoti, Psathi & Manganari are accessable by coach and Mylopotas an easy walk when it’s not too hot. I don’t drive, but Uli often suggests little outings to different beaches and our jeep is a good car for this purpose. 

So the beaches on Ios played a large role in making me fall in love with the place. Then there is the village itself. I love the Cycladic architecture – little whitewashed houses with coloured shutters and doors, perched on a hill, winding lanes, covered archways, plants and flowers bursting out of walls. No cars are allowed within the village, so mules & donkeys have to do any heavy carrying and are used for transporting building materials etc. On my walks from our house to the main square, using the back alleys, the village hardly seems to have changed much from the time when I first arrived on the rock. There is a certain agelessness about it. Locals going about their daily routines have time to stop for a chat or to exchange pleasantries. Even though they might look at me slightly askance – I’ve tried to keep my appearance & clothing original, so I am looked at as an eccentric by many – the locals have always accepted me for who & what I am. This freedom to be myself, I do not find in many places: I’ve never felt the people were judging me in any way. A few old ladies mutter as I go past –‘ Did you see what she was wearing????? And her hair!!’ ‘She’s been coming here for ages, she’s really an islander by now’ ‘That’s true’ ……. Then they smile and greet me, I’ve even had them come up to tell me they like my hair. The friendliness of all the islanders and the way they make me feel I’m part of the community all contribute to the magic of the rock.

When I was younger, the vibrant nightlife was a great draw. I loved dancing and especially dancing to rock music in open air discos. There were many to choose from here: The Ios Club, The Windmills, Fanari’s, JC’s, Scorpion, Galaxy/Top Club……I frequented them all and had great fun dancing the night away. There were numerous bars to meet up with friends in, and of course, the square. The island was buzzing with the sound of music and the sound of young people having fun. Things have not changed much on this account. The discos are now covered to prevent noise pollution, but there are still many little bars and the square is still a fantastic meeting place. My revelling days might be over, but young people from all over the globe still congregate on Ios in the summer and have the time of their lives. Not only young people – older folk who visited Ios when they were young, come back years later with their children and families and relive the magic.

Maybe I’m not so interested in the nightlife any longer, but I appreciate the many good new eating places that have sprung up over the years. My enjoyment now is to sit with friends over a meal and converse about this & that. And one of my favourite places is still the main square. Sitting, watching people go by, chatting with friends, sipping coffee – not in a hurry to be anywhere, do anything – just enjoying being. 

Perhaps it is village life itself which is the main draw of Ios for me. Here, I know so many people – the locals, the workers, the visitors who come back at set times every year – and I also get to know new people every time I’m here. Not only do I know the people, I know their pets too. A walk through the village involves many stops to chat to the butcher, the baker, the boutique owner and also pat their dogs and talk to their cats. This feeling of community and lack of anonymity is common to most villages, but Ios offers something else as well. Because of the tourist nature of the island, there is a metropolitan flavour and a break down of barriers. Visitors are mainly cheerful as they are on holiday and this creates an open, joyful atmosphere. One day I may meet an artist or musician, another day a bricklayer or a carpenter. The millionaire rubs shoulders with the back-backer. The young mingle with the old and nobody looks askance at the 83 year old artist who comes every year to drink her retsina and dance the night away.

Then we come to the major reason why I’m still here & why I always feel the pull of the island when I’m away from it – my friends. From when I first came here, I’ve made many, many friends. Not only amongst the locals, but amongst the foreign contingent, who either live and work on the island, or who gather here every year. These friends come from all over the world – I would never be able to meet up with them all in their own countries, but because a lot of them still come back to Ios, the island is a great meeting place. Those who can, come back in May/June & September/October – quieter times of the year, but still with good weather and a few places open. It’s amazing to be able to catch up with friends & get up to date with their lives. Internet & better communications in general have made it far easier to stay in contact, but there’s always that extra thrill in chatting in person. I do love chatting……….
Chatting, now as then, still plays a large part in my enjoyment of island life. How lucky both Uli and I am to be able to live our dream on this magic island – to be together, but at the same time to do our own thing……….. 

All these things contribute to why I’m in love with Ios and I hope I have managed to convey the “Hotel California nature” of the island – I am not the only one who keeps returning. Even those who do not visit the island for years, often come back with their families to show their partners and offspring the magic of Ios. It gained its reputation as a party island in the 1980s, but in truth, it is much more than that. Ios caters not only for the party animals, but also for those who seek peace & serenity. It may be an island for youth, but older people also appreciate its charm. The locals have seen various tribes of visitors pass through their land – from the hippies to the Goths, rockers, punks – you name it. Many eccentrics have graced its shores. The Niotes (people of Ios) have looked on with acceptance (and amusement) at the various antics that people get up to. They embraced us with hospitality and love, although our customs are so different to theirs. They allowed us to be ourselves and to act out our dreams. On Ios I can be as silly as I like & find people to join me in my silliness – it is the only place in the world that I feel I have the freedom to be me – and I think that is the real reason for its magic.

Perhaps the biggest pull is that we are very lucky and are able to live here off season. We can watch the island wake up from a sleepy winter state to a throbbing party island – we actually leave for a few weeks in August – back to a serene autumn beauty again. I believe you can find whatever you want on Ios: If you want to party – there are great places to party; if you want serenity and peace, you can also find that, and the beaches are some of the best of the Cyclades. If you don’t believe me, come and see for yourselves……….




























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