Sunday, 29 November 2009

Greece 2009 - Day 14, Ios, Beaches & Walks

There was a good start to the day with a blue sky and no wind. Robin was up early and in the breakfast room but he wasn’t fully recovered from the previous night’s drinking and he joined in the conversation only intermittently and with vaguely relevant contributions.

After breakfast we walked down to the harbour and headed south towards our favourite beach. After the rain what grass there was seemed much greener and I am sure there were some new shoots taking advantage of the unexpected watery bonus. On the way we bought our ferry tickets to Naxos and stopped for a drink and met some people who by chance happened to come from the same village as Kim, which meant an incredible thirty minutes of ‘all our yesterday’s’ and ‘down my way’.

The road out of the village runs past the business end of the harbour and there were some brightly painted boats that had just landed their overnight catch and were negotiating sales with local people and restaurant owners in a babble of animated activity. It looked like a good nights work and the trading was brisk. The fish looked interesting and on closer examination of the produce it soon becomes clear why we have to put up with stock shortages whilst the most of the rest of Europe have such an abundance of choice; we are just far too fussy about what we will eat and our preference for fish is restricted to two or three species that we have fished into crisis and near extinction whilst in Greece they will eat a much greater variety of sea food. We like to buy our fish in little blue polystyrene trays without heads, tails or entrails and ready for the frying pan but here the trays were brimming with fish so fresh that it was still alive and flapping about and winking at the prospective purchasers who were examining it. The colours were fantastic, sparkling silver, gleaming green and radiant red and I looked forward to being reacquainted with one later on my dinner plate.

The little beach at Valmas is delightful with a shaded terrace that overlooks the shore and the little bay and it is run by an old woman who probably should have retired years ago and who has a limited but interesting menu and with the sort of prices that I really like. Going to the beach and the taverna is part of the Ios routine and everyday we did the same things as the day before, walked along the same path, went for a swim, went to the taverna and sat at the same table and today had the calamari that she had promised yesterday. The naturist Swedes were there again but the amusement today was provided by a half-pissed man (who seems to be there every year) who drank a final bottle of wine and then went to the beach stripped off completely and crashed out on a sun bed, much to the amusement of the young Greek boys playing there, and proceeded to fry his delicate bits in the hot afternoon sun.

The walk to Valmas is interesting because of the derelict terraces and dry stonewalls that separate the hillside into individual plots of land. Ios is just one large inhospitable rock that has been baked in the sun but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and the stones to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables. There is very little useful land on Ios so this must have been almost unimaginatively difficult and Antonia told us of her memories of life before tourism. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun. The terraces are all abandoned now to thistles and what other few plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again. There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day.

We spent the afternoon at the pool but by five o’clock it was beginning to get cloudy again so we abandoned sun bathing and sat with our friends for a couple of mythos. Today we met Tony from Ireland who was here for an incredible twelve weeks just for the clubbing. He had arrived in mid August and six weeks later he was still as white as a sheet on account of the fact that his daily routine consisted of sleeping until about five o’clock in the afternoon and then preparing to go to the clubs when they opened a few hours later.

As part of the Ios routine at the end of every day we would go to the Chora in time to see the sunset over Sikinos to the west just in case it was any different from the night before. This involved a strenuous climb to the very top of the town and past a succession of small white churches that got smaller and smaller the closer to the top we climbed. We did it tonight even though there wasn’t a sunset and later, being creatures of habit, we visited the same taverna over and over because once we have found somewhere that we like I have to confess that we are reluctant to go anywhere else. On this, the third night we had a meal of red snapper and when it arrived on the plate I was certain that I recognised it from the catch of fresh fish in the harbour that morning and I am sure that it winked at me as I prepared to eat it.

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