'This is Greece'

The ferry winds through a labyrinth of smaller islands with sharpened edges from the incessant bellows of the sea. As the waves crash on the bow and the mist sprays on the deck, I hear whispers of the ancient past. They were here. They once faced the sea and navigated the same course. The Greeks, the Hellenes sought solace among the many islands speckled like poppies across the wide field of the Aegean.

The ferry carries me around the edge of a jagged cliff where birds have long found shelter and where fishermen still cast their nets in pursuit of their daily bounty. The island, Aegina, is the closest island to Athens. It takes only an hour for the ferry to arrive at its port. That is, if you follow the way the tourists go. There is another way—a more secret way. On the opposite side of the island, tucked in the cliffs, lies Agia Marina. Not often visited by tourists, Agia Marina provides an authentic experience of Greek island life.

A Greek fisherman leaving the dock
As the ferry approaches the dock, I realize I’m completely alone here. Solitude. No travel companions. I smile with the promise of the adventure of my next few days on the island. The ramp creaks while unraveling the hinges and comes to a halt right before perfectly aligning with the dock. There is one art the Greeks have mastered:  boats. Everything from building, navigating, and maintaining them, the Greeks know and love their boats. I give one of the ferry operators a large smile and thank him in Greek for the ride. He smiles from the acknowledgement. Looking back I think to myself, there is a man who loves his job.

All along the dock I look down into the crystal clear water and scan the seabed below. Thriving fish and plants actively occupy the watery world despite the occasional ferry visit with its polluting oils. I gaze up at the small village set in the side of the subdued cliff and wonder how much has changed from the past. Small hotels, restaurants, and shops occupy the first few streets closest to the sea, but Agia Marina is much more secluded than the other side of the island.

I’m staying at a small hotel quite a distance from the town lying on the edge of one of the cliffs overlooking the vast sea. A petite and lovely Greek woman steps out of a car near the dock and beckons me toward her. This must be my host. I place my luggage in the back of her off-roading car and sit in the passenger seat while she zooms away up the cliff onto a dirt road. Not knowing the extent of her English knowledge, I strike up a conversation in Greek asking her name and whether she speaks English. To my surprise, Irene’s English is flawless and as we drive she tells me the story of how her family came to Agia Marina. Irene’s family has two hotels close to each other—one owned by the grandfather and the other hotel by the daughter and granddaughters. Island life is in her blood.

Kavos Bay Hotel patio at sunset
The Kavos Bay Hotel operated by Irene, her sister, and their extended family is a simple building with a long section with sea-side facing guest-rooms, a kitchen/reception area, and a large covered porch overlooking the Aegean. To a guest looking for a luxury hotel, this is not the place to stay. However, for someone like me looking for a place to escape from the world for a few days and have complete independence from the burdens of typical touristic locations, this hotel is the perfect spot.

 I set out later from the hotel and follow a small path winding along the cliff back toward town. As I continue I stumble upon a small cove with beautiful smooth rocks for sunbathing and clear water for snorkeling. This is paradise. A Greek island. In the summer. And I’m alone. The authenticity of this experience is overwhelming. It could easily be 700 BCE and I would never know. There are no buildings. No people. No boats. Just me and the sea. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds around me. Waves trickle through the pebbles lining the cliff, birds chirp in the trees, and the sea god welcomes me to his humble realm. 

The next day after taking an exploratory hike for some pictures, I return to my cove. This time, I find three elderly people already out in the water. As I swim close to them, one lady looks at me and smiles, saying, “όμορφη μέρα”. Beautiful day. Happy to speak Greek, I agree about the weather and ask where they are from. Two of the ladies had lived in Naxos—another Greek island, but moved to Aegina in order to be closer to their family and grandchildren in Athens. When I ask why they stayed on an island, the older man wrinkled with age and knowledge of the sea lets out a laugh. He cups his hands and fills them with water –letting the cool drops trickle through his fingers. Then he points to the cliffs and the sky and finally to the two women and says with emotion, “γιατί….αυτή είναι η Ελλάδα”. Because…THIS is Greece.

I laugh out loud realizing this is what I’ve been missing. The effective preservation of a culture able to avoid the destructive impact of massive tourism because the value the local people hold in the place itself. This also applies to the family running the Kavos Bay Hotel. They love what they do. They are truly Greek islanders and they have managed to maintain a very simple and authentic lifestyle which should both be appreciated and protected. 

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