It is time to leave Arki. My hosts Stami and Niko are still on Patmos so I arrange to pay for my room with Niko’s mama Georgia. She phones Niko to translate. I have 250€ in cash that I put aside as there is no cash machine on the island and no way to make a card payment – seven nights at 35€ a night is 245€ (I know – amazing for peak season!). Niko tells me “just pay 240€ if you have two twenty euro notes”. Which I don’t but what’s five euros for such an amazing stay! Stami comes on the phone and tells me that she knows my luggage is heavy and the hill to the port is steep but if I leave my suitcase outside the church in the garden, her cousin will come and drop it at the port for me.
I do exactly that and take one last look at the view from my balcony before I head off up the track and down to the port. The sound of the goat bells on the hillside I know are singing “kalo taxidi” me as I now have a new found affinity with the goat community!
The Dodek fleet are usually very punctual. It is due to depart at 9.45 and I can see on Marine Traffic that it is heading towards us at a rate of knots. However, my suitcase has not arrived. I hate this feeling when you relinquish control to somebody else. I always try my best to be self sufficient so that things like this don’t happen. Sometimes the stress just isn’t worth it. I’m already thinking of a contingency plan. Do I board the boat anyway and hope it can be shipped over on the next one or do I just stay on Arki? I message Stami just to let her know that the suitcase is waiting by the church and the boat is nearly here. She replies quickly and says she will phone her cousin. Soon after she tells me he will be five minutes. Sure enough he arrives in his van and hands me my luggage with a smile. I offer him 5€ for his trouble but he won’t hear of it. Oh ye of little faith!
How often are you the only person to board a boat in the Greek islands in high season? How different to the mayhem seen on the likes of Santorini! There are a few other people waiting at the port for friends and family to arrive – I can tell this as they fall into each others arms in warm embraces as they disembark. Being very English I work my way around the group apologising as I drag my luggage around them. As I get to the boat it is already beginning to raise its bridge and I have to indicate to the officer to lower it down again so I can board. I told you these speedy bad boys don’t hang around!
Of course there is nowhere to purchase ferry tickets on Arki so I buy mine once on board. Once I’ve done this and made my way up to the deck, Arki is already in the distance. Farewell Island of the goats – you have been amazing!
We stop at Patmos and then Lipsi. I take a few photo’s of the latter as unfortunately this is the closest I will get to see this little island on this trip. I had hoped to revisit and retrace my footsteps from 2004 but I had substituted Lipsi for Patmos with the hope of doing a day trip to Lipsi from Arki. Anyway, the wind had kept the Leros Express away – C’est la vie!
I arrive at Agia Marina port – the port where the catamarans dock unless the weather is bad and then they depart from Lakki. The larger ferries such as the Blue Star fleet come and go from Lakki.
I decide to just jump into a taxi not having yet familiarised myself with the bus service. I tell the taxi driver that I want to go to Tony’s Rooms and wait to see if it registers with him. He says “Yes yes Tony’s Rooms” and takes my suitcase, my beach chair and parasol and loads it into the boot.
He’s a very chatty chap and goes through the usual chat of asking me if I’ve been to Leros before. I tell him yes – 18 years ago. He tells me “Everything is the same – Everything!” He tells me that the only thing that is different is that some Turkish people have bought property in Pandeli Beach and made some very nice beach bars. Apart from that, he re-emphasised “Everything is exactly the same!”
Now you know when you kind of know that you’re heading in the wrong direction but just get caught up in the moment and in the chat so you don’t say anything? Anway, I find myself offloaded outside a very nice looking hotel complete with swimming pool. This is definitely a cut above the budget accommodation I would usually choose so I know that this isn’t the right place. The taxi driver departs in a cloud of dust and am left standing outside Tony’s Beach Hotel in Pandeli Bay. Damn it! Why didn’t I make it clear that I’m staying in Alinda!
The reception staff are very helpful and call me another taxi. An older man who I assume is the owner invites me to sit in the reception to wait. He tells me that he thinks I’ve made a mistake by staying at Tony’s Rooms and emphasises it by repeating “BIG mistake!”
Anyway, the taxi arrives and we head back towards the port and then in the opposite direction to Alinda. We arrive outside a minimarket, car hire place with an ATM machine. Out from the minimarket comes Tony, a young man who runs these little enterprises and also his mama Despina. What a lovely warm welcome I get. Despina gives me a large bottle of water from the supermarket fridge and Tony carries my luggage to the rooms above the minimarket and I’m very happy with it indeed. Tony also introduces me to Koula who looks after the rooms and ensures they are spotless. I have a back view room which is what I expected for 31€ a night (just amazing for peak season!) but it looks over the lovely, peaceful agricultural landscape, with that now familiar sound of goat bells tinkling in the hills above.
The room has a balcony with plenty of space to hang washing and to sit and relax. Not only that, it has a lovely shared terrace at the front that overlooks the beach so this really the best of both worlds.
As soon as I’ve done a little bit of hand washing I decide to walk back to Agia Marina just to see if any of it seems familiar.
When I was last on Leros in 2001 it was pre Booking.com and back in the day when you just arrived at the port and were greeted by hotel owners showing photographs of their rooms. Often you’d pick a photograph that also came with a good price and before you knew it you’d find yourself in the back of a car or truck taking you God knows where! Out of choice we’d always stay close to the port but sometimes this was out of our hands.
At this point I honestly can’t remember where I stayed. I’m going to have to use my instincts on this one. Hopefully I’ll have some photographs in a box somewhere that will help piece things together – but that won’t be until I get home.
It is a Saturday and the roads down to Agia Marina are really busy. There isn’t much of a pavement to walk on and with the constant stream of traffic you need to have your wits about you. It is a 25-30 minute walk to the port from Alinda and I do remember the grand old buildings that sit right on the shore.
The heat gets the better of me so I seek refuge in one of the port side taverna’s where I order gemista and tzatziki – the type of food I love especially when I want a change from meat. I wasn’t able to get this on Arki so I eat it with gusto!
Despite the heat, the urge to find somewhere that looks familiar drives me forward. I continue around the bay to Faros Bar. Fishermen tend their boats but otherwise the place feels deserted.
I head back towards the port and then take a side street inland, where I pass the church of Agia Marina. It has a decorative facade made from carved rock and two bell towers that gives it a pleasing symmetry. There are some beautiful mansion houses along this street along with some grand Neoclassical buildings and all with what feels touching distance of the Kastro.
As I amble a little further a few pennies begin to drop. I reach a point where the road forks off to the left and I recognise it immediately. I realise that this is where the road begins to climb up to Platanos and then Pandeli. I don’t recall any context as to why I recognise this place – it’s just one of those gut instinct things.
It is too hot to go any further so I decide to leave this for another day but am still pleased to begin to recognise somewhere that I had been before.
I catch a taxi back to Alinda and spend the rest of the afternoon sitting on the beach across the way from Tony’s Rooms. Alinda has a narrow stretch of fine pebble beach with low rolling hills backing it and which culminates in the high point with the Kastro on top at the end of the bay. Despite the sea being open towards Turkey, the water is very warm. It feels very family orientated here with lots of Greeks making the most of the weekend.
I’m going to love my stay here!