Gavdos is a very small island, south of crete, the southernmost tip of europe. i visited in 1992.
arriving at the small harbor and weighed down with our backpacks, we were greeted by a herd of tractors, and their masters, willing to drive us over the dirt roads to the sarakiniko, the main beach. supposedly, there were no cars allowed on the island, but in true greek spirit, we saw several, predictably with no license plates.
sarakiniko is a huge, golden, sandy beach with small, hospitably bent over trees, creating a shady hug for our tents. there were no rooms to rent fourteen years ago, and although there were many people vacationing on the beach, mostly otherwise black clad heads, they were evenly scattered and absorbed over the large area, allowing for privacy and quiet.
the only buildings near the beach were a dusty construction site for rented rooms -- bricks had just started to envelope the concrete frame, and a stone house on a hill at one end, which we were told had once belonged to aris velouchiotis. the young lady of the house would serve us raki and unshelled peanuts, while we waited for her fisherman husband to come in and offer us some of the day’s catch, which was.. whatever, it but couldn't be fresher.
the norm in gavdos was nudity. we wore our bathing suits only to get a meal at one of four hastily built shacks. i also had a large, thin purple pareo that i tied in a variety of designs when i wanted to walk along the shore in the evenings.
we woke up early, went swimming around 8 o’clock, spent the day reading, or playing backgammon and cards in the shade, had lunch, a siesta, and then had another swim at around 5:00.
our tents were near a well and we filled up a black plastic bag with fresh water in the morning, hung it on a tree, let it heat up all day, and enjoyed a warm shower at the end of the day. the toilet was somewhere... out there... (hmm... there's something kirk would say.)
during the day, the sun was so bright, and its reflection from the sand and water so intense, i could barely open my eyes without a hat or sunglasses. the sunset was beautiful… i've never seen so many colors as i have in gavdos. the sky was pink and lavender... the sun was a yellow, orange and gold globe... and the shore wore a lace necklace of salmon and pink crushed shells and coral, dividing the blue and mauve water from the tan, sparkling sand. gorgeous.
one evening, we found a sandcastle and a race car someone built, big enough to sit in. (it’s sad when such lovely pictures aren’t fairly divided when a couple splits.)
nights were stunning -- with no artificial lights to cloak them, the stars shone brightly -- and they were endless. i’d seen very few shooting stars in my life (notably cape hatteras), but there, i got my fill. my idea of night life was to lie on my back and watch the busy, infinitely promising sky. sometimes i’d drifted off, and when i woke, the milky way had tilted. i sometimes thought i saw satellites. sometimes i thought i’d float off the surface of the earth into space. it reminded me of when i was a kid, how i’d sit on the roof of our porch with my best friend, maria, and gaze at the sky.
one day we woke up very early to visit ay. giannis, a neighboring, smaller beach. it was before daybreak and we were surrounded by an equally beautiful sunrise. ay. giannis is more out of the way than sarakiniko and is preferred by hermits. it was decorated with robinson-crusoe-like construction, although at that moment there was no one there. it was so early and so empty that the beach was peppered by small holes created by tiny, diaphanous shrimp-like crabs you had to strain to spot.
we were enjoying our brunch of ham and fresh bread when a mysterious couple showed up out of nowhere. they were in their late 30’s or 40’s, fully dressed, with an assortment of beach gear, and obviously wanted to have a swim. but, unfortunately for them, they didn’t have their swimsuits on, and this was, for some unfathomable reason, a problem. they hadn’t spotted us, yet the man held a towel around the woman so that she could change. she then reciprocated. who were they hiding from? and whatever for? on gavdos? what a laugh.
one day a family showed up in an inflatable... they had taken a trip out from crete for the day. a nude daddy, nude mommy and a nude toddler.. this mommy was awesome. she was beautiful, tall, slim, athletic, had long, sunbleached hair and was very, very pregnant -- her belly was huge: at least six months along. the stunning part was that she grabbed the rope of the inflatable with one hand and dragged it on to the beach all by herself. it makes some pregnant women sound so whiney.
one middle aged man was crouching on his knees, by the shore having a smoke. he wore nothing... no chain, no watch. i couldn’t take my eyes off of him… he was just an animal. a human. this animal had gone to the moon, built skyscrapers, spliced genes, split atoms, created music and art, and so, so much more. with what? his body, hands and mind, and with whatever he found laying around. humans are amazing! a person, devoid of all his daily gear, is awe inspiring.
two weeks came to an end and i had to take the boat back to civilization. what a shock! why was the ground covered in asphalt? why did people live in cement cages? why couldn’t you just go from point a to point b in a straight line? why did you have to follow a road (you don’t do that in the sea)? why did trees have to be jailed in a boxed in patch of ground? why did people wear all those clothes? how did they breathe? why was everything so ugly??
if my perception of the world could be so changed by two weeks away from civilizations, what do hermits go through in 10 years of isolation?
i’m not going back. they’ve built those rooms, and many more, by now. they ‘ve created roads. they probably rent umbrellas and lounge chairs and serve drinks on the beach. they're making money and good for them. but the gavdos i remember is gone.