Wow where did the last three days go? After a flight and overnight in Athens and then another flight and an overnight on Chios I am ready to depart to Oinousses on the midday ferry.
I just have enough time for breakfast and a scout around the back streets and alleyways looking at graffiti art and the odd door knocker. (of course you know that I’m a door knocker addict!)
Check out is 11am and I must say – apart from the noise from the motorbikes, CityZen Apartments was a very comfortable stay. Yes I’m talking about the mattress and pillows again – just perfect. I hand in the keys to Eleni and make my way to the port. I’m early and I have a drink in the café opposite the port entrance until it’s time to board.
There are no crazy crowds jostling for position here (nightmare flashback to Naxos in July!). I’m the first one on board and initially it looks like I’m the only one. However, at five minutes to departure time the Greeks take a slow amble onto the boat. Many are laden down with bags so it looks like residents of Oinousses have been on a shopping trip to Chios. A couple of nuns take seats in the lounge along with a family with children. It feels very much like a ‘local’ boat. The last thing to board is the refuse collection lorry. This will add a good bit of ballast to the ship. A dog is chained to the back seat on the lower deck and yelps for the duration of the trip.
The Oinoussai III is about the same size as the Express Skopelitis that serves Amorgos and the Small Cyclades. I compare the two side by side on the Marine Traffic app because that’s how much of a boat nerd I am. It’s a similar size but the Skopelitis is heavier.
The hours trip goes by quickly. The sea is calm with a refreshing breeze sweeping across the deck. We sail along the Eastern side of Chios in a Northerly direction. The green landscape of Chios becomes more barren with hardly any signs of life. The low rolling hills are yellow ochre covered in low growing scrub occasionally punctuated by clusters of emerald.
Before we turn East towards Oinousses we reach the point where the two islands almost touch – just a 2 kilometre stretch between both islands – hands reaching out to each other with finger tips almost touching. Because the boat schedules had gone a bit pear shaped with the repair work being carried out on the harbour wall at Oinousses Port, my host had suggested that I use the water taxi across this narrow stretch (that may be it in the photograph!). Now I’m all for an adventure but it would have been a bit of a faff and also an added expense to get to Lagkada from Chios town. Anyway – this journey is quite straight forward. Beyond Oinousses the mountains of Turkey provide a backdrop to the scene in front of me.
Update: The water taxi is a sturdy motor boat – not like the little chug chug water taxi’s I’ve been on before. Don’t be concerned about taking it between Oinousses and Lagkada.
Before we arrive at the port, the boat sails past the first two of the nine islands/islets that make up this archipelago. The famous statue of the bronze mermaid Oinousiotissa sits in front of the first islet on the left so be prepared with your camera’s – it’s easy to miss. You can only see her up close from the boat – not from the shore. This beautiful statue of a crowned mermaid holding a ship in her left hand is by artist Mary Papakonstantinou who was born on the island.
I must say that the scene sailing into Oinousses harbour took my breath away. When you arrive at a new destination sometimes you get that feeling and sometimes you don’t. Some places are slow burners but for Oinousses the feeling was immediate. There is something quite special about this place.
My host Despoina is waiting for me with her car and drives me up to the apartment. She drives through the narrowest of alleyways – the ones where you breath in in the hope that it will help. The apartment is practically next door to the Church of St Nicholas that sits above the village and port. One thing is for sure, it is going to keep me fit climbing to the apartment everyday. That or send me into cardiac arrest!
Despoina shows me around the apartment and I’m thrilled with it. The entrance takes you into a small living and dining area with a bathroom just off to the side. The bedroom is up on a mousandra or mezzanine area above the living room. The piece de resistance is the view from the terrace. I’m going to be very happy here.
Despoina says her goodbye’s. At the side of the apartments is her shop which is open every day except for between 2-5 in the afternoon so she isn’t far if I need anything.
After nearly three days my first mission is to unpack. I really hate living out of a suitcase and it is a bit of a luxury to be able to take everything out of the suitcase for the first time.
I’m itching to get out and explore. It’s still very hot but I’m curious to see more of this little island. Instead of going down towards the port I decide to take the path behind the apartment and head in an upward direction. From the road I can see the OInoussai III heading back to Chios, sounding her horn as she leaves the port. One thing that I notice immediately is the silence. Apart from the sound of the breeze on surrounding scrub there is absolutely nothing. The plant machinery that had been working on the harbour wall were now at rest and it’s as if everything has been suspended in time.
As I continue to climb, I pass an old mansion house – maybe once belonging to one of the ship owners that the island is famous for. It is clear to see that the island has a sense of grandeur – some of it in the form of a faded derelict house and others in the form of modern new builds.
I don’t think I’ve ever visited an island like it. For sure it has some of the architectural elements of Halki and Symi for example, with the pastel painted neo-classical style houses. Kasos springs to mind but maybe that’s because Kasos also is an island of ship builders and sea captains. It would be wrong of me to impose false similarities to any other island as I’m sure this place has an absolutely unique identity of its own.
I am now overlooking a deep bay and the beach of Agios Ioannis which is completely deserted. High above on the cliff top, painted onto the rocks is the Greek flag – just in case you were in any doubt who’s territory this is. Beyond to the left of this is a winding road that takes you to the East of the island and where the rest of the small islets are located – but I can’t see them from here.
On I go, following the road upwards until I am almost level with the Greek flag. Here there are great views over to the port. To my right is a steep path that takes me up to a cluster of pine trees and beyond this there is the walled complex of (when I find out I’ll update it – Google Maps isn’t helpful!). The gate is locked so unfortunately I’m unable to see much more. The trees provided some much appreciated shade.
Update: I don’t know why I didn’t use Google Translate on my phone in the first place. This little walled complex is the Sacred Temple of Prophet Ilias Oinousses. Google Translate isn’t always accurate but I assume that this translation means that the complex or even the wall around the complex was funded by Kosta and Melpos Lemos.
Now to make my way back, though I wish I’d left a trail of bread crumbs as in Hansel and Gretel – my sense of direction isn’t the best
After a shower and change I head this time in a downward direction towards the port. I follow any path as I’m sure they all lead to the same place.
The harbour front is practically deserted and again the silence is only broken by the odd passing car or motorbike. Out of season this isn’t the place to come if you’re looking for nightlife and a heaving throng – this is the antithesis of that. Thank the Lord!
I find myself in a square that is flanked by large buildings on either side. I will say at this point after seeking further information on what the buildings are, Google Maps is sadly lacking.
Oinousses pays homage to the wealthy ship owning families (primarily the Pateras and Lemos Families) in the form of a series of formal looking statues dotted around the port. These sit alongside the statue of the Unknown Sailor. Amongst these austere looking statues is the beautiful and emotive bronze statue of Oinousiotissa Mana representing all the mothers that have waved farewell to their husband’s and son’s as they head out to sea.
The marina is large and there is plenty of mooring space for visiting yachts. I get the impression that this is the way most visitors will come to the island. Wherever you are along the water front or even if you’re up in the village your eyes are always drawn to the small islets in front with Chios seemingly in touching distance beyond. Just appreciating the beauty of this scene amongst the almost near silence, makes me so thankful for having this opportunity to be here.
I walk up to the church past the Naval Academy. The small islets are in partial shade as the sun continues its journey to the north of the island where it will set. As I walk back towards the port the Oinoussai III makes her arrival known by three long blasts of her horn. Why does this always send tingles down my spine? A ship has a presence and a soul and after time they become friends that we get excited to see when they arrive into a port. Or is it just me that feels this way?
Now onto the practicalities of eating. There isn’t an abundance of restaurants here and it is still quite early and nowhere looks open. At the first taverna on the front called Το Παλιό Τελωνείο (The Old Customs House) I see a man laying out some tables. I ask him if he is open but he tells me that tonight he is closed as there is a party. He tells me that there is another taverna just behind. Εστιατοριο Πατερονησο Ελενης (Pateronissos Elenis Restaurant) is empty apart from a cluster of men sitting by the entrance. I ask if they are open and after looking at each other to establish and agree what I’d asked. One man says yes and gestures towards the tables.
There isn’t a menu and the man doesn’t speak English (and why would he) so he looks at me and I look at him both wondering how we will begin this exchange. I say “Errr” and he says “Greek Salad?” I say “Yes – and chicken souvlaki?” He nods and smiles as we are now on the same page. He gestures to drink and I ask him for a white wine. He’s not sure so he takes me into the restaurant to the fridge where he points at several products before I spot the box of white wine. Perfect – we have a meal.
It is simple but just what I needed. Several cat bandits join me to watch me eat and some even daringly climb onto the chair to see watch they can snatch from the plate.
Now to climb the hill back up to the apartment. It’s at times like this that I realise how unfit I truly am. Hopefully by the end of my stay the climb will be easier. I’m not holding my breath. Well literally I’m not – I’m gasping for it!
Back on my little terrace I watch the skies behind Chios turn pink and the lights of Oinousses alight as dusk falls upon the island. The music from the party below catches a lift on the breeze and winds its way up the hillside. It gives me the sense that there is life here and it comes out to play at night. In all a beautiful start to my stay.