Milos, Cyclades, Greece
The airport bus dropped me off in the heart of Athens, awash with the dust and bustle of frantic Olympic preparations. After wandering around lost for a few hours, I spent a fleeting part of the night tossing and turning in the steamy heat of my room at the Hostel Zeus and raced off by subway early the next morning to the port of Piraeus.
Collecting the tickets from the office of Hellas Flying Dolphin was fairly simple but I was running late. If I didn’t make this ferry I would have to wait another twenty four hours. Spurred on by my unfavorable impression of Athens, I made a 500 yard dash and stumbled aboard with the last few stragglers. A few minutes later we were underway, the rumbling engines somewhere deep in the hull churning the water.
I had eight hours of travel ahead and was afraid it would be tedious, but an eight-hour ferry ride is far different to an eight-hour plane ride. I spent the time pleasantly, wandering around the three decks. I propped deck chairs in various nooks and crannies of the ship and squinted through the powerful ocean breezes. I lazed in the sun and read a book. I stared out to sea, watching islands drift into view on the horizon and fade away again. I was mesmerized for long stretches of time by the wake of the ship against the rich aqua of the Mediterannean.
Finally Milos appeared and grew steadily larger. It’s the last stop on this particular run, and I was pleased that on first sight it was the most attractive of the islands we’d seen. The ferry rounded the coast and we slid past barren, rocky shores empty of life and movement. Even the few buildings looked deserted. These small, whitewashed structures were scattered lightly across the landscape, and the feeling of isolation and stillness they created in the Mediterrannean heat stayed with me during the whole trip.
As we entered port the deep hue of the ocean gave way to a bright, luminescent green which in turn became pale creamy froth as the ferry reversed into its berth. Adamas is the main point of embarkation, and although only a fraction of the size of Piraeus, it was the largest port we’d seen since our departure. Travellers, suppliers and locals all milled around waiting for the ferry to dock. Nearby, yachts of every size bobbed gently at their moorings. In the background, a small but steady crowd wandered amongst the cafes and shops. To me it seemed ideal as an arrival point. Clearly travellers were catered for, but it was compact enough to retain its Greek charm.
In the coming days I would find that there is activity in Adamas at all hours, with locals mingling amongst ferry-hopping tourists. But this shouldn’t fool you into thinking that Milos is a tourist-trap or overrun with visitors. There were many times and places during my stay when I didn’t see another person for hours at a time.
The tiny information office was ideally located right in front of me as I exited the ferry, and I stopped in briefly to pick up a map and confirm the location of my room for the week. It was located right in Adamas, only a few minute’s walk away â€“ a deliberate decision which allowed me to orient myself and have a base from which to explore. The islands capital is actually Plaka, a fifteen minute scooter ride up the mountains, but from Adamas I could reach anywhere on the island.
My room at Livanios apartments was cool, clean, simple and modern while retaining some Greek character. During my stay the apartment was to be mysteriously cleaned several times, and even though I came and went at all hours I never bumped into the maid, elusive as he or she was efficient.
|Firiplaka, where the beer tastes better|
The next morning a scooter was my first priority and within minutes I had one. It would prove to be my best friend during the coming week. At first it was disconcerting to be so exposed to everything, and the twitchy throttle gave me some heart-stopping moments, but soon I was drifting around, the drone of the small engine being caught and pulled into my wake as I explored the beaches, coves and tiny towns.
Each day seemed to last twice as long and I slept when I felt like it â€“ morning, daytime and night. I read books till the early hours if I felt in the mood, but still awoke at about 9 a.m. feeling refreshed. As a consequence of this existence, I can’t remember actual days, but rather a continual, lazy existence which brought with it a sense of peace. I didn’t do things or plan ahead, I just was.
I did discover some favorite places: Firiplaka Beach, set against striking cliffs and monolithic rocks, and isolated enough that only a few people were there till the afternoon. The clear, aqua water was refreshing and the sunshine unending. A tiny beachside bar served chilled drinks that I would carry out into the smooth, flat ocean for a hundred yards and sip while swaying contendedly in the slight current.
This was my first time in Greece, so I hadn’t been exposed to the archaeological treasures that are such a part of the country’s heritage and atmosphere. Visiting the ancient theater near Plaka was therefore a special experience, although I don’t know if everyone would agree. Maybe if you’ve seen some of the grand ruins of Athens you wouldn’t be impressed by this compact circular structure. It was quite small and in disrepair. The bulk of the amphitheater seating is intact but the center is strewn with a jumble of fragmented marble. What really makes the theater special is the setting. As you sit there facing the stage, the landscape opens up into a glorious ocean view with part of the island curving into the scene in the distant horizon. Never did an audience have a more stunning backdrop to their performances. In fact I was so taken that I returned another day to sit quietly, with only the humming crickets and the rustling of leaves to keep me company. It was easy to imagine the enclosure thousands of years ago, full of unknowable people who laughed, cast glances at sweethearts and applauded forgotten performers.
|Overlooking Firopotamus Beach|
I decided to try and find the secluded bay of Kleftiko, even though the map showed no road access. A long, dusty and lonely trip along the south-western coast brought me to Gerontas, where I decided to take a break and poke around. Following a long, rugged footpath down to the coastline I discovered a tiny sheltered cove with a long-abandoned hut nestled under a cliff. By wading through waist-high water it was possible to climb some treacherous rocks which led to a larger, cliff-lined cove with arched caves and caverns worn into them. It was a great place for a swim and there was not a soul in sight. After paddling around for a while I stripped off my board shorts to dry and lay in the sun next to the abandoned hut.
An hour later I was back on the road, which became a path, then a track. From flat dirt it detriorated into a rock-strewn obstacle course which could only be negotiated at about 10km/hr. Another hour passed on this arid stretch. It was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t seen anyone for some time. I was beginning to wonder if I’d somehow become lost, and gave up any hopes of finding Kleftiko, since the path wound ever inland. At this point I’d happily settle for making it back to Adamas before night fell.
The only signs of life were ocassional herds of scrawny goats who perked up as I approached, then bolted off, jinking in all directions as the scooter passed by. The odd one sported a clanking bell tied to its neck so they were obviously someone’s herd, which gave me hope. Nevertheless, wrong turns, dead-end trails and steep inclines became more commonplace, and the scooter was taking a real beating from the many sharp rocks. It developed several rattles during this time and I prayed it would stay in one piece and not leave me stranded with a smoking engine or a flat tire. Finally, as evening arrived, the trail transformed back into a path and an isolated monastery came into view. From this point the road improved, as did my spirits. I wasn’t going to be spending the night with the goats after all.
Later that night, as I relaxed in an open air cafe by the port, the beer tasted wonderful and took some of the sting out of the ferocious sunburn I’d received from being on the road all day. After another beer, the adventurous aspects of the day increased and the thoughts of being miserably lost receded. By the time I was ready for bed several beers later, the whole experience was one of heroic proportions.
The ferry back to Athens arrived at Piraeus at about 4.30 p.m. I’d toyed with the idea of dashing off to see the Acropolis but I was still in island mode and the rush to get there and look around before it closed at 7.00 p.m. was not appealing. I also didn’t fancy the thought of another night in a stifling hostel, so I headed out to the airport where I spent the night curled on a seat, dreaming of azure water and bleached landscapes. Milos had fulfilled a lifetime of hopes and expectations about Greece, and left me with that feeling travellers have, that they’ve left something of themselves somewhere behind in the place they love, but have been repaid with a piece of it to carry with them for the rest of their lives.