All roads lead to Rhodes…Hiring a car on the island.

All roads lead to Rhodes…Hiring a car on the island.

For our island-hopping escapade this summer, we decided to make the most of cheap Ryanair flights, and use Rhodes as a base for exploring the Dodecanese islands. Unfortunately for us however, that’s about as far as our trip planning went. With everyone being too busy with work/exams/life we just assumed everything would all fall into place, and ended up being thwarted big time by Greek ferry timetables…

Still, there are worse places to be stranded, right?

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Ok, not exactly paradise…

 

After walking around the crowded city for a whole afternoon, becoming borderline offensive with pushy restaurant touts, and  finally conceding windswept defeat and leaving the underwhelming beach, we agreed that we could not stay put in Rhodes for another three days. Feeling the drop in morale and sensing the inevitable tensions that it would bring, I quickly suggested that we hire a car to explore the island.Being twenty-five didn’t seem so bad any more once I realised I could now  hire a car for 30€ a the day…And  after spending a few days blindly following people around Athens, I relished the freedom of literally being in the driver’s seat.

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The perks of making it to  25!

Making our way down the east coast we began to ask ourselves whether we had gone from the firepan into the fire, as the ugly towering blocks and seedy looking clubs of Faliraki prompted choruses and variations of ‘who on earth would come here on purpose?? Instead of the beautiful, winding sea road that Corfu has taught me to expect, we were on a highway to a very specific kind of hell, where a full English comes with a free shot of Sambuca and  a side of chlamydia. (unfortunately for this post I wasn’t inspired to get my camera out) 

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The Acropolis of Lindos…Parts of it date back to 300 b.c.

Having persevered for about 50km, we were soon rewarded with the unique view of Lindos, a pretty impressive town/archaological site towering over a cluster of African looking white houses against a backdrop of blue sea. While it wasn’t exactly the island paradise we were searching for, it was certainly worth a frappé stop.

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Not a bad spot to have breakfast either…

After heading a bit further down the coast, we decided to take a mountain road over to the other side of the island, which we were promised was undeveloped and a tourist free zone. We finally started to see the Rhodes that we had craved, the wild craggy mountains, olive groves, and the thick island air that you can almost taste. The landscape is semi African, with barren rivers and dusty rolling hill-sides, none of the verdure of the Ionian islands.

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Bit of a shock for a Corfiot girl like me!

After dropping over to the west coast I took the first little dirt track down to the beach, a fairly anti-climactic stretch of greyish littered sand, but one of the most beautiful seas I’ve  ever seen. I stripped off, not even waiting to change, and ran straight into the waves. I didn’t have time to feel the cold as I was thrown around, jumping in elation. The others waited on the beach, probably wondering what the hell I was doing, but I can’t describe how happy a rough sea makes me. It’s almost as if the energy of the waves recharges me. sea.JPG

It wasn’t really a place to hang out though, not without a bit of planning (which we’ve already established, is not our forté) so we decided to head to the most southernly part of the island, a little peninsla called Prasonisi. Here we finally found our paradise. A massive expanse of two bays, one for windsurfers and a rougher one for kite-boarders, linked by a little hill for hiking. While it was too windy to sit comfortably on the beach and perve, the hike to the top of the hill was well worth the view, and after scrambling back down the other side for about twenty minutes we were finally rewarded with the secluded beach paradise we’d been dreaming of…

prasonisi
That’s more like it!

 

Unfortunately for us, having spent most of the day trying to find our island paradise, we now had to head back to civilisation, and more worryingly, I had a Skype interview. I’ve always been inclined to consider no WiFi a plus when it comes to island paradises, but when it came to dragging everyone away from the beach I wasn’t so sure any more…

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Where have you been all my life?

 

Anyway, the moral of this story (actually, this whole trip) is plan,plan,plan,plan,plan!  I know it sucks the joy out of exploring, but with an island as big (and as charmless) as Rhodes, it definitely helps to do your research and to head straight for where you want to be, especially if you have a time limit. In this case I would have loved to have spent more time on Prasonisi, which also had a campsite and a few bars, and just a generally nice atmosphere. It all turned out well in the end though, I got the job in Colombia, and we ended the day with a terribly british night out in Rhodes…

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That night we slept on the beach…

That night we slept on the beach…

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.

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We could have been back in Wales…

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.

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Creepy but beautiful

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.

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Definitely an improvement…

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!)

Checking out the check-in desk for Corfu…

What goes through my mind as I’m queuing up for my flight back to my second home…

Approaching the check-in desk for my flight to Corfu has always been a bit of a game to me. I never bother to check the screens for the desk number, instead I look for clues to guide me. Sometimes it’s a cluster of silly hats, usually of the cowboy variety, with pink feather-boas, sequins or flashing lights. The inevitable matching group t-shirts with inappropriate and highly contrived nicknames…Ranging from ‘Sex Bomb’ to ‘Sex Hopper.’Sex Hopper? – Really? Do people call her that? Did her parents drop her off in that?? Another tell-tale sign is the skin tone- girls, and regrettably guys, who have self-tanned to a darker tone than they could ever hope to achieve naturally, even after a month in the Kavos sun.

It’s usually their first holiday, and they’ve definitely come prepared, suitcases packed with hair straighteners, beauty supplies and home comforts like Apple Sours. I imagine a Kevin and Perry-esque scenario where a security guard opens a bag to find it packed with condoms. I hope that this is the case and that they haven’t just called ahead to book an STI check for when they get back, like my charming cousin and his friends. They’re taking last minute selfies, already in their beach outfits even though they won’t arrive at their hotel before 3am. They’re going to freeze on the plane, if the shots they do at the airport bar don’t keep them warm. This is Ryanair, we’ll be lucky if we can turn the AC off, let alone get bloody blankets. I usually keep my headphones in as I queue, even if I do miss out on gems like ‘What does E.U stand for?…Why aren’t we in EU??’ (overheard in Leeds). But it’s the chanting that I can’t handle.’Let’s go fucking mental,’ how about let’s wait until we get there, yeah?

I see the check-in girl’s tired face and decide that she’s hardly better off than the poor soul who will be cleaning up these guys’ vomit in the morning. I want to say something to her, tell her that I’m not going to Kavos, that I’m not like them, that I can feel her pain. And then she tells me that my bag is overweight, and I decide that she can go fuck herself. I transfer the two offending kilos into my hand luggage and smirk to myself that the joke is on her, because by the time I fly home I’ll have gained at least two kilos of pure feta cheese and souvlaki. But I suppose it’s only a matter of time before they start charging for that as well.