Free Camping out of season in Eristos, Tilos.
The main focus of our trip to the Dodecanese islands, as arranged by my friend Lisa, was to camp out in the Greek wilderness. So called ‘Free camping’ has become something of a craze recently, with Eristos (on the tiny island of Tilos) being hailed as one of the top spots to partake in this mysterious backlash to glamping. But I never really knew what the adjective was supposed to add to the experience. Essentially free camping means camping somewhere where you don’t have to pay, and you don’t have the comforts and facilities that basically defeat the object of camping. So it’s basically what normal, non-hipster people refer to as camping (don’t even get me started on ‘free swimming’… )
Except Eristos doesn’t really conform to that definition; in the summer there is a bar, supermarket, toilets and showers. It’s basically a free campsite. Free camping for dummies. Despite my pedanticness I was actually quite looking forward to spending a few days in a hippy haven, picturing camp-fire sing alongs, skinny dipping and hungover sunrise yoga. However when we finally pulled up to the beach after a day of hiking to remote coves, Eristos seemed to pale by comparison. While it was undoubtedly beautiful, being the only real sandy beach on the island, its beauty lay in its desolation. The beach is vast, framed by trees to camp under, and engulfed by rocky hills on either side. Behind the trees is less poem-worthy. The shells of bars that had been closed all winter, teasing us with faded advertisements for mojitos and other treats. Shower and toilet blocks where you half expect to find someone tied to a chair.
While we had initially planned the whole trip around our stay on Eristos, I was beginning to feel grateful that weather and other circumstances meant that we only actually made it for the last night.
As dusk began to fall my hippy bravado started to wear thin. While I can imagine the beach in full swing being atmospheric, the full moon rising over the abandoned toilet blocks and the odd empty hammock was slightly eerie. While there were traces of people, the only two we saw were the guys building a shelter on the opposite end of the beach, who drove slowly up and down the track before leaving. I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that we were two girls in the middle of nowhere, but not far enough out of the way for that to offer us any safety.
I started coming up with plan Bs and counter attacks. I decided that leaving the moped in plain sight when there was no one else around was basically an invitation to our potential rapist/murderer. I convinced Lisa that we should hide it, and we spent a good 15 minutes wrestling with the thing. Our initial plan to move the industrial bins into place to shield it was thwarted by our lack of physical strength, which only served as a further reminder of our vulnerability. We finally managed to push it into some bushes to the side of the toilet block, and returned to our spot to settle down for the night. Or so I thought.
I couldn’t help but keep looking over to where the bike was ‘hidden’. At this point it seemed all the more blatant, except now, when (yes, we had progressed from if to when) our rapist/murderer arrived, we would be helpless, as he would obviously be able to hack us down before we managed to wrestle the bike out of its hiding place. At this point I was in serious danger of giving up all pretence of being a happy go lucky traveler, and running for the hills/back to the nearest guesthouse. . I finally plucked up the courage to tell Lisa my fears, realising that rather than mocking me, she was also slowly getting infected by my paranoia. I promised her that once I moved the bike, that would be the last she heard of it. And I kept to my word.
A few hours passed, and while I was still slightly wary, the warm buzz from the Raki and the magic of the full moon had me cocooned in a safe place. Lisa went off for a wee and I was probably mulling over whatever big life question we had just been discussing , when she came rushing back and knelt down to whisper in my ear ‘Kiki! Don’t look now but I’m sure there’s someone over there!’
Two weeks worth of backpacker’s constipation threatened to resolve themselves all over my brand new sleeping bag. What. The. Fuck. ‘Where?? Are you sure’ ‘Yes! Over there, by those trees!’ I don’t know if I was more angry or relieved when I realised that our crouching rapist was none other than the moped that we had so painstakingly parked… That’s not to say that I was reassured by any means… Once I’d stopped laughing at her, I too decided to go for a pee in the bushes, this time taking my phone with me to check out any mysterious dark shapes. When Lisa went to sleep , I decided that I wasn’t going to be so easy a target. I resolved to play dead, so that as soon as I heard a sound in the bushes I would leap up with my empty Amstel bottle, and show them that they messed with the wrong girl.
After a while I started to console myself with the fact that if someone were to make a move, they would have made it by now, and the Raki addled side of my brain that had been absolutely seduced by the full moon was arguing that if this was my time to go, there are definitely worse places to exit the stage. I drifted in and out of consciousness, and only when I was aware that I’d seen the moon make its journey across the entire sky, and that the glow coming from behind the bins was the sunrise and not the headlights of a psychotic mass murderer did I allow myself to fall completely asleep. I’d like to say that I finally knew peace, but with the alcohol wearing off and the wind rising, my body now decided that it was time to be cold. I spent the next few hours in eager anticipation of the sun making it past the trees to bake me in my sleeping bag, but by the time it made it around I became aware of Lisa packing up her things and shaking out the map. she was well rested and ready to rock and roll.
The verdict? While we didn’t exactly have the chilled out experience we were looking for, I wouldn’t write Eristos off completely. Accounts of the beach during the summer sound like the experience that I was hoping to get from Ko Pha Ngan’s Full Moon Party (don’t eeeven get me started on that) – a great place to meet likeminded people and dance barefoot in the moonlight. If I was in the area I’d definitely go back to see the place in full swing, but for travellers to Tilos in general, I’d say the island has far more to offer than Eristos….(Stay tuned!)