Greek Islands continued…
Continuing our travel North from Santorini with Kelly aboard, we first stopped in Ios. We enjoyed Kelly for 8 days and in that time, we visited Santorini, Ios (all over the island), Schoinoussa – primarily the water and anchorage, and finally Paros.
Likely the question we are most frequently asked is: “What is your favorite xyz?” Depending on the person asking or the context, sometimes xyz = country and sometimes it is island. Sometimes xyz = food and that one is easier to identify. For me, the Greek food has been the far and away my favorite (though I remember thinking Spain was my favorite while there), and Ios was absolutely a favorite island (though I remember falling in love with Folegandros also). All of this is to say, it made the list of standout places that were special to me.
As we have been cruising the islands of the Greek archipelago, of which there are 227, we have only scratched the surface at 20 island visits. We tried to see and immerse ourselves, as much as possible, in the islands we visit -seeking opportunities to connect with the people who call the island home. We do this through arranged tours but also through random encounters. For me, my favorite is usually the place where I am now living. This isn’t a quip or lie – but honestly how I feel. Some cruisers and travelers will reply “the next stop on the itinerary” and I get that too. The reason we keep traveling is a desire to experience “the next”. But for me, I often struggle to let go of a place because where I am standing is the most amazing experience I have ever had.
So with that in mind, I’ll try to convey my loves of Ios.
Jack and I struggled to get through Homers’ Iliad and Odyssey a couple of years ago. We never quite finished it – Jack was only 9 or 10 at the time and it was foolish of me to foist it on him. But we did enjoy the stories contained within through BBCs programs of narrating fantastic stories from the Iliad. It was with those tales in our mind that we have been enjoying our tour of the Greek islands. Ios is the presumed burial place of Homer, and it is here we found his “gravestone” and small monument to his work. This visit has re-invigorated my desire to re-read and understand Homer and his famous Iliad and Odyssey.
If you read our post on the Kalamata olives from – well, Kalamata, you might have felt just a small inkling of the love of food we have and the love of the people who, through the connection of a love of food, share these experiences with us. Well, we found a similar and equally amazing experience here in Ios and utterly and completely by accident. Driving down the road we saw a sign indicating a cheese museum. Of course, I love museums and I love cheese, so we were bound to stop right?? The lovely woman who passionately shared her love of her culture with us will forever touch us. If you are visiting the Cyclades islands, this island warrants a stop if ONLY for the amazing cheese museum. You can visit online and book a tour through Diaseli.com. We learned so much about Greece in general from this visit alone.
Married into the family but originally from Athens, our tour guide walked us through the life of her Greek family and shared passionately her love of its culture. At the end of the tour, we loved it too. I’m sad to say too much time has passed and I don’t recall our hosts name, but she had so much soul – we all fell in love with her.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and after an hour or two felt that nothing was said, no meaningful connection made? Yet conversely, had a conversation with someone and after 15 minutes felt that you knew them heart and soul? This was what happened with this guide. She had so much love and passion and soul and she generously wanted to share it with us. Walking us through her family’s 18th century home, we learned that the paved road and electricity on the island was only 40 years old and prior to that, farmers would only walk between towns with mules, donkeys, or goats. This explains why there are so many wonderful hikes on each of the islands, – they are what remains of a practical means of travel from over the centuries. What was particularly shocking to us is that only 40 years ago, life on this island would have been much as life in America was perhaps 150 years ago! Our “progress” has been so swift it induces whiplash, while the “old ways” here persist with only minor changes in terms of improvements in economies of scale or industrialization.
The result of that tie to the past is the most amazing cheese one has ever tasted! The goats, visible in the distance, still meander the hillsides feasting on wild (not cultivated) herbs. They are not penned; they eat what is growing wild and untreated with chemicals. We were not permitted access to the “factory” due to health and safety measures, but we looked in and witnessed just a small room which produced the nicest cheese we have ever sampled. Alec loathes goat cheese but with some prodding decided to try this. The purveyor explained that with no stress hormones and a rich diet of herbs – the goat cheese has none of that weird flavor that we all associate with goat cheese. She was right. Not even the slightest hint of goat cheese in the cheese from goats. Alec LOVED it – we all did.
We learned that the iconic white houses are the result of an epidemic of Cholera in 1938. The Greek dictator Metaxas mandated that each house be whitewashed in limestone to kill the infection. Later, during the dictatorship of the 60s and 70s in accordance with a military regime of order, the whitewashing persisted to be homogeneous and impersonal. But along the way it became iconic and a touristic draw and today it persists if for no other reason because it is cool.
Our guide showed us where the man of the house slept (in a bed) and where the women, huddled with children, slept (on the floor) and we gained a sense of the roots that persist today in this patriarchal society.
We enjoyed local herbs (one I have found in Turkey at the market, and I still don’t know the name) and cheese, and mostly we enjoyed a connection to this family and their very recent past.
Continuing our travel, we went to a monastery up in the mountains, the trip to which is a pilgrimage in itself. The monastery is still in use and services are held here regularly.
After a long and full day exploring, we were ready for an amazing dinner which we enjoyed in the main town of Ios. Gratitude was anchored on the South end of the island from where we took a bus to the port town. We loaded up on fresh groceries and traveled back “home”.
It is always fun to share our “real life” with people who visit us. There is no way of explaining that we are not simply laying on chaise lounges sipping drinks with umbrellas in them. No matter how we try to convey that this lifestyle, though wonderful and enriching, is challenging in ways we can’t possibly explain, we know that when visitors come, they have had their own visions of what their vacation will look like and we also know, that unless they have been here more than once, it won’t look anything like what they envisioned. Even though Kelly has visited us before, she hasn’t had the chance to see us while cruising and moving from place to place. So it was fun for her to experience what our real life is like. All the moving parts that must fall into place for us to move from one island to another. All the weather planning, all the logistical planning, and even the grocery shopping. On this trip we purchased groceries since we had a rental car, and it was simple to get the groceries to the anchorage, but from there we had to convey the groceries to the dinghy whilst climbing over rocks in winds exceeding 40 knots, at night. The dinghy was tied to rocks and stern anchored but had to be pulled in and the groceries loaded. From there we traveled to Gratitude and in pitching seas, loaded us and our precious cargo aboard. So, you can see that we may not have a lot of ice cream on board, or beer, or even wine. We don’t carry much more than that which we need because carrying only what we need is as much as 3 people can manage. It is truly fun for us to share this part of cruising because this is what real life is for us. We try to make sure we do the cleaning and preparing before guests arrive so that their time with us isn’t drudgery but sharing some of the realistic aspects of what we do is authentic and fun as well.
Ios was a fantastic stop – amazing food, swimming, snorkeling, beachcombing, and history. What more could we want? Our next stop was a request by Jack for his birthday. He specifically asked to be at an island that was minimally inhabited, and he wanted to spend the entire day in the water. Happy to comply, we thankfully and barely found an acceptable weather window to go to Schoinoussa.