Saturday, July 09, 2011

Yassas Paxos

‘Where in Greece you like better than Paxos?’ growled Spiros – the coffee I had ordered held tantalizingly out of reach.

It had been a long hot climb out of Gaios and we were thankful to find a small store with table and chairs where we could sit and sip – provided we gave Spiros the right answer.


In the years I have been in love with Greece, many of the islands have become tourist – ridden: chips with everything and incessant pounding of disco music reverberating round the hills where once only cocks crowed, donkeys brayed and goat bells tinkled.

The friendship of the people, the warmth of the seas, the majesty of the Samaria Gorge, Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae and the museum treasures all had left indelible impressions on me in the past.

All we wanted this year was peace, beauty, good swimming, eating, and walking together with mod.cons. Then we heard of Paxos which with Antipaxos is the smallest of the Ionian Islands: ten miles south of Corfu and about nine miles west of the mainland. The journey wasn’t easy in the late eighties. We flew Gatwick to Corfu and had a six hour delay, then a bus ride in Corfu to the Anna Maria which ferries you south to Paxos – weather permitting - in about three hours. Our trip was in pitch dark with rolling seas.


The first port of call is Lakka- a small fishing village with broom spattered hills contrasting nicely with the aquamarine sea. There is a sailing club where you can get sailing instruction and hire sailing modules and surf boards. Fifteen minutes later the boat lands at Loggos, an even smaller fishing village where time stands still and the same visitors come year after year. Finally we landed at Gaios, a comparatively bustling port, where in the peaceful square you can rest under the oleanders sipping an ouzo (beware) or sampling a plate of loukamades – a sort of Greek doughnut drenched in honey and cinnamon,watching the Greeks go about their business – very slowly. Nearby yachts from all over the world are moored at the edge of the square.


Paxos measures seven miles by three and it is possible to cover the length and breadth on foot, but the maps were very simple and it can be difficult to find exactly what you are looking for. In spite of the lack of road signs and English speaking natives it is unlikely that you would get hopelessly lost as the highest point is only 248 metres. You can recognise the east coast by the mainland and Mount Olympus and the north coast by the cliffs of Corfu. Tavernas were sparse away from the coast, so it’s best to travel with some sustenance and of course water.


Walking in Paxos is a joy: wild flowers abound, each footstep releases an aroma of wild herbs, and the ancient olive groves provide shelter from the relentless sun. A bus runs from Gaios to Lakka twice a day. Motor scooters are available and its good fun to hire a boat. We had an old wooden one - Samothraki, with a small engine which, coughing and spluttering took us to Loggos and back. There are more powerful boats available. Unless you are very experienced, it is prudent to stay in the harbours when white horses are on the sea- line. The boats are equipped with flares and lifejackets but there’s no point in being uncomfortable and scared.


There was no surface water on Paxos and the rains that fall from November to May have to last the people of Paxos all summer. Sternas are built under the house to store rain water; which is soft and considered to be pure. Nevertheless bottled water is best for drinking. One of the reasons the British are liked in Paxos is that in Victorian times British engineers built five stone cisterns behind Gaios, which are still in use. The villagers without sternas use three village taps which for a two hour period are in use three times a week. They queue with their tannikins for water which has to last three days. Obviously it behove us to be careful with water. Sometimes the electricity fails and the pump from the sterna doesn’t work so an emergency store is advisable


The beaches are mainly shingle, but a half- hour trip in a caique to Antipaxos reveals excellent sandy beaches. Swimming in the dazzling turquoise opalescence with the distant mainland dusky pink is an experience not to be missed. Be aware there is little shade and the tavernas at Vrika are a welcome oasis in the midday sun.


Back in Paxos we walked south to see the Triptos arch and south east to Mogonisi Island. A walk or a bus ride takes you to Magazia from where you can walk S.E. to the church of St Apostoli and see the awesome sight of the Erimitus cliffs from the church yard. We searched for the lost village of Vasilatika; we were frequently lost but found a coastal path with a splendid view of the Ipapanti caves. We guessed the tortuous path led to Vasilatika, but the previous day we had seen a rock fall near Loggos where a fifty ton boulder bounced close to where we were picnicking so we thought better of it. Turning east in the hope of reaching Loggos for lunch, we dropped into deep fern-covered valleys with deserted houses, rusted chains at the gates: their owners long gone to distant shores. At one stage we found ourselves locked in a ghostly estate but desperation and amateur orienteering got us to Loggos for a late lunch.


Paxos was everything we had hoped for; we enjoyed the many tavernas, strolling in the quays and squares in the balmy evenings, the only noise from the animals and the Greeks themselves who think nothing of carrying on a conversation at full volume across the bay. The language didn’t impede friendship. One day a man came in the café with his son slung over his shoulder in a dead faint; as he laid him on the floor I rushed over to take his pulse and make sure there was nothing constricting his breathing. Simultaneously the Greek wife of the owner came and threw a glass of water over him whereupon the boy sat up, to our intense relief. Ever after the Greek lady would greet us with a stream of friendly unintelligible conversation and frequently popped a delicious olive in my mouth.


By now Spiros had seated himself on one of the spindly chairs and joined us in our torpor, still waiting for an answer.

‘There’s nowhere better in the whole of Greece,’ I said with conviction ’Paxos is best!’


Footnote: oh how I envy you if you have yet to discover Paxos. There are bound to have been changes – but not too many I hope. Spiros told us the Greek Government was given money to build a small air strip on Paxos for internal flights to accommodate 18 people but, he said, they needed the money for something else. This was good news but what now? I’m relying on one of you at least to go and find out.


35 comments:

debra said...

Sounds like a lovely time. Greece is one of the places I've wanted to visit.

john.g. said...

Sounds delightful, but I thought Paxo was stuffing! *ok.i'll get my coat*

R. Sherman said...

I've not been to Greece since the early '80's and I loved finding a small town with a B&B, a rock beach and solitude. It's sad to think such places may no longer exist, but have become overpopulated with Northern European tourists.

Lovely photos, BTW.

Cheers.

Pat said...

Debra: and the people are so great. You must go.

John.G: if I get my hands on you young man...

Randall; I think if one went early May to one of the quieter islands it would be fine. that was why it was good that Paxos wasn't easy to get to, but that may have changed.
I should have scanned the photos separately. I will next time.

kenju said...

I would love to do that for you! I have always wanted to go to Greece and travel the islands, but that is (probably) not ever going to happen. I enjoyed reading your post.

Jimmy said...

Pat, the economy in Greece has broken my own heart. I have always wanted to end my days not a million miles fae the place you have described so well. It's no looking very good hen.

Pat said...

Judy: well just bear it in mine in case;)

Jimmy; they have always been quite naughty as viz using the money from the EEC for 'something else.'
But they have great resilience and I'm hoping they'll drag themselves out of the mire once more so maybe you'll make it. One of us oughter.
Personally I'd give them back the Marbles.

Jimmy said...

Poor Phidias, he must be spinning in his grave over the acquisition/theft of such a wonderful collection. Thomas Bruce, yet another controversial English politician, a thief in any other language, may well have destroyed relations between Britain and Greece for all eternity.

The Empire has much cause to hang its head over the last thirteen centuries of unlawful theft and forced rule.

angryparsnip said...

I have always wanted to visit Greece after seeing photos of the white buildings with the so very blue sea in the background.
The year the Olympics were held in Greece I was more amazes by the scenic views they showed us, more than the athletes.
Lovely story and photos.

cheers, parsnip

Pat said...

Jimmy: I marvel at the breadth and depth of your knowledge of history and literature. When did you ever get the time? Mrs Jimmy has her own personal Google to hand;)

Pat said...

Parsnip: I'll never forget the first sight - from a plane - of the islands and that fantastic sea and grieved years later when, from Ithaca, I saw a tanker burgeoning black oil into its depths. Not such a rare occurrence I fear.

Jimmy said...

My dear lady, the answer is in your question, simply stated and all be it accidentally situated before your own eroteme.

Mrs Jimmy, a barrister by profession, has a head full of words that are bandied about reguarly during our time spent at the dinner table. I do retain the odd word here and there which find their way into my every day vocabulary.

...and that is the case for the defence, m'lud.

Pat said...

Jimmy: blimey! That's shut me up!

Jimmy said...

Pat, an artists canvas contains many an invisible stroke.

nursemyra said...

this time last year I was sunning myself in Greece....

Pat said...

Jimmy : and maybe different personas.
'My dear lady' brings to mind a shorter, older more 'uniform' sort of guy. My # 1 son was asking about him only the other day.
But I could be wrong - I often am.

Pat said...

Nursemyra: you have excellent taste. I wonder where?

Jimmy said...

Not on this occasion Pat. He also listens to Bach, attends the opera with his wife on occasion and lives in a rather magnificent location.

He could never disguise his height or his past, but that never stopped him from finding refinement or keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

Pearl said...

Greece! That's a whole 'nother world, isn't it?

I would love to see it. The farthest this Minnesota girl has ever gone is the St. Lucia in the Caribbean...

Pearl

Pat said...

Jimmy: so glad to hear it. Sleep tight and have a good week.

Pearl: well I've never been there but I think you would enjoy a Greek island or two - especially the people. For instance - years ago my husband and I sat at a humble table on a long thirsty walk and a man came out of the house and brought us drinks. We thought it odd he didn't wait for our order and eventually discovered it wasn't a cafe - just a Greek being hospitable. This happens all the time. Not so much in the cities perhaps.

lom said...

sounds lovely Pat

Granny Annie said...

I have never traveled outside the United States but writers like yourself who can tell such descriptive stories of their own travel manage to take me lots of places. Thanks Pat!

Pat said...

LOM: I trust it still is.

Granny Annie: there are many places in the States I wish I had visited and I too enjoy reading other blogs about different places.

GYPSYWOMAN said...

ah, the greek isles - on my hit list for a very long time - i've a dear friend who travelled there some time back and he sent magnificent photos back from this magically beautiful place - all of which left me drooling! in any event, love your stories which, like my friend's photos, also leave me....

thanks so much for sharing!

Pat said...

GypsyWoman: do go but all the islands vary and are scattered hither and yon. And then there is the mainland. It's worth doing some research first. You'll love it:)

Gadjo Dilo said...

Pat, m'dear, this is timely! Having just come back from a wonderful holiday in Croatia I am now planning next year's trip (not because I need to but because I want to - it kind of extends this summer's holiday experience...) Now, we all agree (about 12 of use, this is how we travel) that it's time for Greece. And as most of us have to get there from Romania the logistics can be a bit complicated - it will involve driving there, mostly, but the car ferry from Venice to the Ionian Islands is a possibility. I'd heard that Paxos was charming but lacking in water and a bit expensive. Have you been to other islands near the coast? We're thinking of nearby Kefalonia, Ammouliani islet near Athos, or Samathraki in the North East. Have you got any recommendations?

Pat said...

Gadjo: hi - nice to see you.
We have had lovely holidays in Corfu,Ithaca,Cephalonia and Zakynthos in that area. Parts of Zakynthos could be a bit rowdy. I am probably a bit out of date and I haven't a decent map. We also did a classic tour round the Pelleponese and we loved that area. Delphi is also a very special place.
What fun to plan it. I hope you have better maps than I do:)
Do let me know how you get on.

nursemyra said...

I went to Skala Eressos on Lesbos with daisyfae (on my blogroll)

The year before we went to Seville together and next week we're doing New York and Chicago.

We met through blogging and hit it off straight away. Have you ever travelled overseas to meet up with another blogger? Dolce met up with us in Greece too and we're hoping the three of us can do Tuscany together next year.

Pat said...

nursemyra: I often see daisyfae on the blogs I visit and keep meaning to visit her. I don't know Lesbos.
How super that you all got on . The furthest I have travelled to meet a blogger - two in fact - was about 12 miles. They - bless them had travelled much further.
I love the buzz in New York.

Blazing said...

Oh Pat, you have me more jealous than the jolly green giant. Kos does it for me. Kardamena at the start or the end of the season. We'll just have to settle for a long weekend near Cheddar on Friday. Weather forecast is for monsoons. You are in the right place. Enjoy!

Pat said...

Blazing: then you know what I'm talking about;)
I think Kos was where we were due to go before William got sick. Didn't it have the ancient tree?
Cheddar has it's charms. I hope it stays fair for you.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Go there, everybody! They need your money! I was in Athens in May just before it kicked off. Lovely city - great metro, great parks - you can see where the money went.

Pat said...

Daphne: well said!

Nea said...

It looks lovely, but the idea of not having ready access to drinking water scares me.

Have you tried using Google Earth, Pat? I find it much more fun than maps and I like maps.

Pat said...

Nea: no I haven't tried Google Earth but I think I'm going to enjoy it.