17 years ago, my partner and I kept a travel journal during our trip around the Dodecanese. This was back in the day when a travel journal meant a notebook and pen rather than a piece of tech. Each day we took turns to write a summary of our travel experiences.
This particular trip took us to Rhodes, Kalymnos, Bodrum, Leros, Nisyros, and Tilos,
During the Tilos leg of our trip we (or rather my partner) chanced upon a local character who had a little taverna in Livadia. This was a man who felt he had not been dealt lucky cards in life. One evening he invited us to his taverna where he spilled out his life to us through the bottom of a whisky glass. Our brief encounter is one that I won’t forget – for many reasons.
Since this trip, the journal has been up in a dusty loft and hasn’t seen the light of day. In September of this year I visited Tilos again. and I was compelled to see if I could find this little taverna and our friend if he was still there. After doing a bit of Miss Marple, I was able to find out what happened to Dimitris (I’ve changed his name), but unfortunately this story does not have the happy ending I was hoping for.
Wednesday 18th July 2001 (Steph)
John took a few photos of Nisyros as we left its shores. Each island we had left before had been quite exciting and we are now heading for another island with high expectations. I don’t know what Tilos has in store for us – it wasn’t in our original itinerary. Nonetheless I was still quite sad to leave Nisyros which has now become the ‘one’ island that I would visit a second time.
About 40 minutes later we arrived at Tilos. Most people stayed on for Rhodes. On the harbour was a kiosk with photos of various rooms. We asked about the price of the rooms and the man said “choose the room from the photo and I tell you the price.” We had previously ended up in rather unsatisfactory establishments by taking the first room that was offered to us so I suggested to John that we just walk up from the port and find a room. Before long we came across a man sitting outside his supermarket. He told us that he had studios for 8000 drachma per night. We left our bags and went to look at the studios with him. We went up a flight of stone steps and opened the door to what was a comparably luxurious apartment. The room was large and modern with a cooker, fridge and large balcony. The icing on the cake was a large ceiling fan – sent by God I’m sure!
We accepted the room and went back to the supermarket to buy a picnic and wine to eat and drink on the balcony. We picked up the rucksacks and headed back. I had a shower – my skin was on fire. I coated my body in Greek yoghurt. I was once told in Halkidiki when in a similar situation that this was a good cure for sunburn! As my skin heated the yoghurt it began to curdle and smell rancid so I showered it off and settled for a coating of aftersun.
I lay on the bed under the rotating ceiling fan – and that was it until the following morning.
Whilst Steph slept I walked down to the beach and found it to be at least a mile long made up of rounded pebbles in shades of grey, white, pink and red. The sea was an aquamarine green at the waters edge where waves beat against the shore. The sea pulled the stones back out with it as it retreated. It was a very powerful yet relaxing.
I found the travel agency and looked for the ferry times. I then returned to the apartment and sat on the balcony and read a little whilst drinking some wine.
Half a dozen large falcons circled over the town in the dark. As darkness descended a few small white lights appeared in the distance, marking the other side of the bay.
Thursday 19th July 2001 (John)
We awoke early but it was already hot. I went to the bakers and had pastries and coffee for breakfast. I then took some pastries back to the apartment for Steph. Steph still had sunburn and wanted to sleep some more so I set off inland to visit some of the sights.
Although it was only 9.00am it was very hot. There was no shade as I climbed the steep road out of Livadia, under the tall hill with the radio mast on it.
The road continued to climb between the hills and eventually flattened out into a valley. There were beehives on the valley floor and an ancient watch tower high above. I took a turning onto a rough track towards the abandoned town of Micro Chorio. The track twisted upwards amongst the shrubs. I surprised a couple of goats who then spring off before looking back curiously from the safety of a vantage point above me.
After some time I could see the ruined village in front of me. Hundreds of houses climbing a very steep hillside. Most had no roofs and many of the walls had fallen down. Amongst them a whitewashed church and another tiled and shuttered building were obviously maintained. Amongst the houses the streets were tiny and twisting. Sometimes my way would be blocked by fallen stones and often it was easier to walk along the walls of the houses. From within the houses, goats would suddenly leap and they too seemed to prefer running along the walls. Many houses still had rafters in place and some had trees growing within them.
I clambered upwards through the town, eventually climbing beyond the last of the houses. The hill continued steeply upwards and some walls and terraces as well as sharp rocks and thorny shrubs hampered my progress.
Eventually I was at the top of the hill. I sat on a rock and surveyed the scene below. I could see the bay and beach at Eristos, the whitewashed town of Megalo Chorio and its castle and also the sea at the other side of Lythra.
Next to my rock was a small shrine containing an icon, an candle and a bottle of holy water. Just as I was beginning to feel as though I was one of the only people to have clambered up to the top of this mountain, a woman appeared in flip flops, beamed a ‘hello’ at me and lit the candle in the shrine.
I walked over to the other side of the hilltop and found the radio mast I had seen from Livadia. There was also a road leading down to the other side of the hill. From there I could see Livadia and the water in the bay twinkling far below. I slowly made my way back down to Micro Chorio. It was harder descending than ascending as I had to keep my balance as I stepped from rock to rock trying to avoid the thorns. This was impossible and my feet were soon bleeding. I made it to the town at last, surprising a few goats inside the houses.
As I descended further I found a goat stuck with its head through a hole in a metal grid. Its horns would not let it escape. As I approached it it panicked and desperately tried to push its way through the grid. I tried to reassure the goat as I reached through the hole. Whether my reassurance worked or it was too scared to move I don’t know but I was able to grasp both of its horns. At this point it again started to buck and throw its head about but I held on and pulled first its horns and then its head through the hole. I turned its head away to the side so it wouldn’t just go into the trap again, then let go. It leaped off like a spring lamb without as much as a thank you!
Further down into the town I was met by 2 women with 2 young children. They gave me pieces of melon and peach and we chatted awhile. I said goodbye and then walked to the other side of the village to the path that I had intended to take – but had missed. I then walked over rough ground back down to the road. I saw a large lizard, all horny and spiny. It was unlike the tiny, shiny lizards I had seen before who’s legs move so fast that you can’t see them. They had looked like shiny eels writhing on rivulets of quicksilver moving amongst the rocks.
I walked a long way along the road and saw the cave where the bones of a miniature mammoth had been found. The cave was fenced off though. I also visited an ancient fort above the cave. I had walked to within a couple of hundred yards of Megalo Chorio but the 2 women that I had met had told me that it was a lonely little town to explore. Besides I wanted to go there with Steph and thought that we could catch the bus tomorrow. I turned back along the road and stopped at a petrol station. I got a cold coke and then got talking to a man called Dimitris who was drinking beer. It turned out that he owned the taverna around the corner from our apartment.
After he had finished his beer he gave me a lift on his moped to the beach I told him I was headed for. Along the road we found another goat trapped in the same way as the one earlier. Dimitris said ‘It will die John! Can you help? I am frightened!’ I told him that I would help and did the same trick as before only this time pushing its head through rather than pulling from the other side. Dimitris was very impressed and said I was a good nurse. (I had told him that I was a nurse in a hospital). I didn’t however tell him that I was an old hand at goat rescuing!
The track ran out before we reached the coast and I said goodbye to Dimitris. I told him that we would go to his taverna to which he told me that we would ‘cook together’.
It was tough going again to reach the sea – steep, rocky, thorny, hot! When I reach the beach at Lythra I desperately wanted to run down and dive in but it would have taken a long time to climb up again and it was getting late. I find the track that leads back to Livadia along the coast high above the sea and walked, and sometimes ran back. It was exhilarating and the sea below was extremely beautiful.
At the apartments was a note from Steph to say that she was at the beach. I found her and we immediately went into the sea to swim. It was the most refreshing and welcome swim of my life! All the dust and thorn cuts were washed from my feet and body and my skin cooled down.
The beach at Livadia slopes steeply down meaning one is quickly out of ones depth! This makes the process of immersing yourself in the sea easier – or at least quicker! The water was perfectly clear and quite warm once you got used to it. We stayed there all day until 19.20 when the sun finally dropped behind the hill with the radio masts on it. We swam many times. A lovely relaxing day.
Later we ate at a restaurant looking out over the harbour and the bay. A beautiful end to a beautiful day!
Friday 20th July 2001 (Steph)
We arose leisurely and after a bit of pottering, went straight to the beach. We had vague notions of going to Megalo Chorio but this beach was too perfect. Large, evenly rounded pebbles covered the narrow strip of beach and wide, spreading trees offered welcome shade. The beach was surrounded by a large, deep bay which kept the water very warm. We bathed and swam throughout the day with a small colony of Italians for company. Throughout the day wafts of wild thyme from the surrounding hills came through.
We headed back to the apartment at 18.45 for the usual shower and change of clothes. After a small glass of wine on the balcony we headed off to Dimitris taverna to take him up on his kind invitation.
We arrived at the (deserted) taverna to be greeted by the semi-clad and rather inebriated Dimitris – an empty bottle of whisky sat on a nearby table. Dimitris was quite upfront about talking about himself and his apparent liking for ‘lemons’ – his term for breasts! He told us that his wife had left him two years before and taken the two children back to Sweden with her. This had clearly broken him.
He made us both a whisky sour which was quite pleasant considering neither of us drank whisky. He said he would cook for us and invited John to assist him with this. The BBQ was already alight. John went behind the bar with him whilst he selected a fish from the fridge. (I think I could smell it from outside!) I opted for some horta as I wanted something light. Dimitris said that we would show John how to cut the fish but first he needed a beer and he didn’t have any. Amazing considering that this was a taverna!
John and I decided to go to the supermarket where we bought a couple of cans of beer and a bottle of wine. John was a bit concerned now that he had seen the unhygienic conditions of the fridge and behind the bar. Apparently everything had fallen into a state of dereliction. I suggested that he accidentally incinerate the fish whilst on the BBQ. John suggested that I should pretend to suddenly feel unwell.
We arrived back at Dimitris taverna – walking sheepishly past the pretty taverna below our apartment – every day we were greeted by the owners as we left and entered the apartment. I think we were expected to eat there and in retrospect, this would have been a very good idea! Apparently because of the harbour development (not a pretty sight) tourism on Tilos isn’t very good this year.
No sooner had we arrived back, John told Dimitris that I didn’t feel very well and I backed this up with a half hearted story about the sunburn (true). He seemed disappointed but it had to be done! We took a few photos which we promised to post onto him and also rewrote his chalk board that was advertising ‘Come and barbecue your own food’. We then shot off into the dark feeling really terrible – John especially. He said that he knew he was a bit of a character but didn’t imagine his taverna (or him) to be in such a state. We were able to eat at the taverna owned by our hosts after all where we decided to eat ‘anything’ except fish! We took a short stroll along the shore and returned back to the apartment.
Saturday 21st July 2001 (John)
We left the apartment and headed for the harbour to wait for the ferry. We had coffee and chocolate croissants at the port side cafe. We read our books and watched the workmen and the crane which was extending the pier to form a marina. This passed the time until 11.30am when our ferry was due. It did not appear around the corner. We, and several other parties waited and waited. I finished my book. The workmen had nearly finished the pier! Eventually, at 15.30, the Dimitroula appeared…………………………………….
(If you’ve ever sailed on the Dimitroula and wondered what happened to her you can read about her here)
During my visit to Tilos this year, one of the first things that I did was to try and find the taverna that belonged to Dimitris. I got a sense of where I thought it should have been and remember that it had large clay urns set into its wall. There was only one taverna called Trata with pots set into its wall and this definitely wasn’t the place – yet I knew I was close!
Tilos had changed quite significantly since I was there last. Previously a wide road used to run along the back of the beach, but this has now been replaced by a row of beach front tavernas and hotels – very much an improvement. It was at one of these beach front taverna’s that I made my first enquiry about Dimitris and his taverna.
I asked the lady who works in Microchorio bar if she knew a man called Dimitris who used to have a taverna in Livadia 17 years ago. She told me that she hadn’t been on the island that long but would make a phone call to the owner of the bar. I waited on the beach with a pomegranate juice.
Ten minutes later she came over and crouched down with a grave look on her face. She told me that the owner of the bar did know who I was talking about. She told me that his taverna is still in the same place although now abandoned. Apparently I would have walked past it from the hotel we were staying in.
She told me that eight years ago Dimitris was diagnosed with cancer. He had left the island to go to Rhodes where he took his own life by hanging.
This was shocking to hear and very sad. He had struck me as a lonely man who’s life had been destroyed by the breakdown of his marriage – and who knows what else.
She also told me that apparently he was well known for inviting tourists to his taverna where there was never any beer or wine. He would ask tourists to go to the supermarket tIo buy alcohol and he would then charge them for drinking it! This I’m sure was never done out of malice but an indication of what a character he was. Later that evening I raised a toast to his memory. May he rest in peace.