Months ago, my sister Jess had mentioned that her and her partner Alex would possibly be spending some time in Alex’s friends family home, and had kindly asked if we wanted to join them. We debated over this for a long time…free accommodation…Greece…Island…Rhodes….Summer…seeing my family….was a hard decision!! So of course we said yes and that’s how we came to be in Rhodes old town in the middle of August. You would think that a simple ferry across from Turkey and visa process would run pretty smoothly and it did, except for the very persistent very Greek authoritative officers who insisted on me unpacking my backpack and rummaging through 3 weeks of dirty clothes in order to make sure I wasn’t carrying anything I wasn’t supposed to. (I have no idea what the baggage x ray machine was for then), but finally we were on our way and back in the EU.
I had mixed feelings about entering Greece. I’d heard that since the recession it really hadn’t recovered and I half expected to see people squatting in half finished apartments or living on the side of the road. However, as Rhodes is one of the most touristy islands, it seemed they had just jacked the prices up on everything and had recovered quite well. We had 2 nights in the old town to give Jess and Alex a little time to get over their jet lag and settle in by themselves. It was still excruciatingly hot so I had booked another air conditioned room with a swimming pool, so we basically spent the next two days walking around the walled city, eating gyros, drinking mythos and swimming.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave and catch the bus down to Asklipio, which would be our home town for the next month. Luckily I had been able to view the bus timetables online, and realised that this bus would take us all the way up to the town, which only happened twice a week, score! With neither Jess or I having a phone number or reliable wifi, we had agreed to meet at a town square in the middle of the town. We jumped off the bus at the top of a hill, asked where the square was and were directed to the smallest town square I had ever seen with Jess and Alex sitting under a tree sipping beer. I’d only seen these guys at Christmas for the smallest amount of time in the past 2 and a bit years, so after hugs hello and a quick beer, we headed back to our cottage to continue the celebrations.
Asklipio is a town of about 500 people 64km’s south of Rhodes and sits upon the top of a hill so about 4km’s to the nearest beach. The cottage that we would call home for the next month was approx 300 years old and consisted of the bedroom which had all our mattresses in it and apparently used to accommodate a family of 8 people. It had a little verandah, in which Clinton and I ended up sleeping on every night under the stars. Downstairs was a kitchen with a fridge and a little gas burner, and then the bathroom, which I could hardly stand up in, and Clinton had to sit on a tiny stool in order to shower.This used to be where the family kept the animals, so in other words, a stable. This had a western toilet built on a slab of cement and a shower. The rest was dirt. It was really basic, but I actually became quite fond of our basic home for the next four weeks.
We very quickly developed a daily routine, which was to stay with us for the rest of the month. Morning would consist of Greek coffee or iced coffee whilst sitting on stairs and reading, or chatting and saying Kalimera (Good Morning) to all the locals that would walk past. Quite often, our neighbour Maria, who was about 80 years old and spoke very little English would come out for a chat and a joke. One particular morning, Alex and I were awake earlier then the others, so were having a chat and a coffee very quietly on the steps. Alex pointed to quite a large bumble bee who seemed to be playing with a chicken bone that we had left out for one of the stray cats. We watched as this bumble bee buzzed and gnawed at this chicken bone.We were both quite amazed, as we did not think that bees ate chicken, but apparently in Greece they do. You can imagine our horror, when eventually the bee picked up the chicken bone and buzzed away with the whole thing in its legs…We were gobsmacked! But I do think that bee would have been hailed a hero in its little bee community…
Anyway, so each morning we would share breakfast, say hello to the stray cats that we had named, (Big Balls and Aidy were my favourite) and then either read, watch movies or go to the beach. To get to the beach we would wait on the side of the road and hitch hike down the hill. Interestingly, we never did go without a ride. Everyone in the town was just always so friendly and happy to help us down the hill saving a very long 4k walk in the heat.
Living in the town for a month was a great experience which I guess a lot of travellers don’t really get to do. We really did get to immerse ourselves in the Greek culture. As the town was on the hill all the houses basically faced each other and the locals stood at their front door and yelled at each other in order to communicate. Although these conversations were obviously in Greek we did kind of understand what was going on through dramatic hand gestures and found these interactions quite humorous. It was almost like this village had never heard of mobile phones or the internet!
Whilst we were up at the local gyros tavern one night called Sylvia’s, Jess and Alex got talking to a man named Emmanuel who was from Adelaide but had family history and a house within Asklipio. Emmanuel, who was now retired, spent the summers over in the village and was in the process of renovating his holiday house. As it was getting close to the end of the season, and all his friends had gone back to Australia, and so Emmanuel kindly offered to drive us around Rhodes Island to visit some of the other villages and landmarks. So the next morning the four of us climbed into his old beemer and spent the day exploring Rhodes. Emmanuel was one of the nicest people I have ever met travelling. He had travelled with his wife when he was quite young and so understood the backpacker mentality. We had heaps of great conversations over frappes, (that he then kindly purchased) and he then proceeded to drive us around various landmarks on the Island. We got to climb a small hill to a church with great views over the Mediterranean, visited a tiny village which was famous for Suma, a clear liquor made from grapes, similar to Raki and about 50% alcohol. He took us to a place called the seven springs, which was a tranquil, peaceful haven for local Greeks, where we dined on traditional Greek food and cooled down in the running springs. Emmanuel then briefly showed us his fathers village, before stopping at a great little bay for a swim stop and a beer before returning to Asklipio. For the rest of our time in Asklipio, Emmanuel became one of our closest friends, and we would quite often meet up for a beer, or he would invite us to the different beaches with him. Never have I met someone so genuinely friendly, who just really wanted to show us a great time in his ancestors country. Even though we constantly tried to give him money for fuel or the various drinks and lunches he bought us, he wouldn’t have a bar of it, and simply stated that a lot of people had given him a hand when he was a backpacker and he was now in a position to give something back to someone else. Unfortunately, in today’s world its not often that you meet someone so willing and giving of their time, and as much as Emmanuel made our trip in Rhodes, he really restored my faith in humanity.
This mentality was really reflected in the whole village. Wherever we walked people would yell out “Yassu” (hello) and ask us what we were up to and if we needed anything. Even if the elders could not speak English, they would still try and continue to talk to us in Greek. Our lovely neighbour Maria, would constantly make coffee for us and offer to wash our clothes. She baked us a delicious honey Greek cake one afternoon and bought it over for us to enjoy. Jessica and I got to sit in her kitchen and help her make dolmades with the leaves from the vines on our verandah. When they were ready she gave us the whole batch to eat, not even eating one herself. Words cannot express how delicious these morsels of happiness were. As it was summer there were a few celebratory festivals on in the village and we were always invited and encouraged to participate. One Paniyiri festival was so massive that the locals were still up and dancing at 5am!
In between all the eating and drinking and reading and relaxing, Jess and I escaped to another part of the island for a day trip to spend some time together. We spent the morning shopping before enjoying the afternoon lying on the beach with a few drinks. As I said previously, I haven’t spent much time with my sister as she has enjoyed 2 years travelling and working in Canada and the Americas, and before this time we lived in separate cities. I found it interesting at how our relationship had evolved over this time, years ago we would have probably been fighting and talking about boys, and today our conversations lean more towards travel, marriage and babies. It was special to have that day together as now we are both travelling through Europe and the UK and it may be a few years again before we are reunited.
As the summer season ended and the tourists disappeared, Clinton and I were left wondering what to do next. Getting tired from always being on the road, we knew that our travelling days were numbered and it was getting close to being time to pull up shop for awhile. We slowly started to plan the next 6 to 8 weeks of our time which would take us through to the end of October. We enjoyed the empty beaches of Rhodes for a few more days, and then it was time to say goodbye to the fam, pack our bags and head for Athens….the Acropolis Awaited!!