After my long walks across the island to Tiganakia Beach and beyond Limnari Beach, I feel it’s only right that I do what I set out to on Arki and that’s relax. I’m not really a beach person – don’t get me wrong I do love a beautiful beach but I struggle to spend all day doing nothing. That doesn’t seem to be the case here in Arki. Close to the new port and Captain Stefanis Taverna is a little beach called Padelia that I have just fallen in love with. Just follow the path around to the right, past the apologetic sign to campers, go beyond the large boulders on the left and you have reached paradise!
Now this isn’t what you’d call a beautiful beach. It isn’t manicured and tarted up for the tourists – it is “au naturel”. The mounds of small pebbles undulate unevenly along the length of the beach and the gnarly roots of the tamarisk trees reach up and out towards the waters edge. Backing the beach is a low hill where huge boulders look as though they have been suspended in mid air. Some have tumbled down and now litter the beach. However, they do make handy little tables! The beach is sheltered between two arms of land hugging the bay. In the background is tiny Marathi and beyond that, Lipsi offering further shelter from the choppy seas.
A row of tamarisk trees is something every single beach should have as they are an absolute godsend to people like me who prefer to sit in the shade. I wonder if I needed to purchase the parasol which I have now been carting around with me since Ikaria!
This little patch of azure, turquoise and sapphire water is the mouth to the ports – both new and old so it is interesting to watch the fishing caiques and the occasional ferry sail past. When the Nissos Kalymnos comes into port, no more than a handful of visitors board or disembark. The majority of the activity is based around the delivery of supplies, not only to Arki but to Marathi. Once the Nis K has headed back off to its next destination, the little fishing caique Maria arrives waiting to transport goods (and the odd passenger) over to Marathi.
Back on Padelia Beach, every morning a group of middle aged Greek women throw themselves under the sun fully naked. Arki is very liberated in that respect. I really love this feeling of freedom that you also sense in the open landscapes – it’s very refreshing. Over the week I can feel myself falling in love with this little patch of land, its people and its attitude.
Darn it! Arki is making me all sloppy and sentimental! Get a grip woman!
So over the week I’ve been coming to this little beach where I spend most of the day. Occasionally I bring my laptop to catch up on writing the diary, sometimes I’ll read and listen to music. Throughout the day I’ll swim in the crystal waters and beachcomb for heart shape pebbles where I begin another one of my “art installations!” By the time I’ve spent my last day here, what started as a few pebbles nearly cover the giant boulder, now at the mercy of the wind and the sea.
It is selfish to think that I would like this beach all to myself (and maybe the naked Greek ladies) but sometimes members of the yachting fraternity will arrive noisily in their motorised ribs. They don’t tend to stay long – having a nice yacht that they’ve chartered calling them back.
Captain Stefanis Taverna is very accommodating but unfortunately this gorgeous breeze that has been licking the island has been putting off the yachters whom the island has a commercial reliance on. I’d drag myself away from the beach at lunchtime to get a spanakopita or a tiropita. One time I’d caught Captain and Mrs Stefanis in the middle of their lunch and regardless of me saying I’d come back later they wouldn’t hear of it. Another time I arrived and they were both sleeping – Captain Stefanis on the seating outside the tavern and Mrs Stefanis on a makeshift bed inside the taverna. She didn’t have any cheese pies ready but told me to sit. 15 minutes later I had a bag of freshly made mini cheese pies to eat under my tamarisk tree!
Whatever this beach has – it’s something special. Here I feel absolutely at peace and gives me an overwhelming feeling of contentment – a rare phenomenon for someone who is always looking for the “What next”. Occasionally in life you get moments of absolute perfection and I have had many of these just sitting on this little beach, under the dappled shade of a tamarisk tree, watching the gentle wave break against the shore and the bees and the dragonflies flit amongst the feathery fronds. The only thing that could have made this even more perfect was for a pod of dolphins to swim right past. However, that is another rare phenomenon!
As the sun moves around behind the cove in the later afternoon, the golden light changes the mood – it becomes almost magical. I will say it again, the light on this island is something quite special.
One day I decide to take a trip to Marathi which is even smaller than Arki. From what I know there is a resort of sorts and not much else so my curiosity gets the better of me.
I have breakfast at O Tripas and ask Manolis if the boat is going to Marathi that morning. He phones the captain for me and tells me that he will meet me at the kiosk in 10 minutes. The Nis K has just docked so I dare say it will be loading up with produce to take along the way.
I wasn’t quite sure how much this service would cost. Stami told me 15€ for a private trip and Manolis told me 20€. In the end I paid 10€ but there were other people in the boat too – one lady with two children going to stay on Marathi and another couple who wanted to go to Tiganakia Beach (Obviously don’t want to kill their foorwear!)
The captain is a tall, strong man of very few words. He takes my bag and then my hand to help me down into the boat. He has a rugged face weathered by the sun and the wind but he has a certain handsomeness and demeanour that romance novels are made of!
Isn’t it funny that a lot of the goods you see being loaded onto various ferries and boats are in banana boxes and yet you hardy ever see a banana in Greece?
After a bumpy ride, the little Maria docks on the jetty that leads to the Pantelis Marathi Resort which wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. Not a five star resort as I’d imagined but a nice traditional hotel. There are other places that offer accommodation – some of them are the taverna’s that line the beach.
The sand on this beach is golden and so fine that it’s like walking on icing sugar. I notice the church up on the hill and wonder how to get to it. I walk up behind the Pantelis Resort but seem to come to a dead end. I make my way back along the beach until I get to Taverna Stavragos. I take the few steps up to the taverna and ask if I can access the church this way. The man says yes and he will open the gate for me. The metal wire gate is wedged shut with a plank of wood. The man tells me he will see me coming on the way back to let me back out again. He says if the goats get out it is a hard job rounding them up from the beach! He advises me to take the long walk around as it is less steep and I do just that – the goats looking on with curiosity. They seem less skittish than the goats on Arki – maybe they are used to people traipsing past them to the church.
There is a nice view from the church though unfortunately it is closed. I make my way down – no sign of the man so I repeat the process of moving the plank of wood and un-wedging the wire gate and then putting it all back together again. I stop for a drink as a way of saying thanks.
I spend the rest of the afternoon sitting on the beach
I watch the super yachts come and go and observe how the other half live! One yacht arrives and firstly the crew offload chairs and set them up under some shade. Then out come the expensive toys – the motorised surf boards that whizz you over the surf sometimes rising up on an inverted fin. Next come the guests from the yacht (Italian but live in London so I overhear) who head for the taverna or jump onto the motor boards.
No matter how exotic the notion of cruising the Greek islands on a yacht sounds, I can imagine that it becomes mostly about the yacht. Having observed the yachting fraternity over the years, many of them barely move from the yacht, don’t really get out onto the island to explore and everything seems but a fleeting visit but maybe that’s not the case for all of them. I guess you’d also really have to get on with everyone else you’re travelling with! No problem travelling solo!
Given the choice, expense no question, I’d travel the way I do right now!
Back on Arki my days are spent walking and relaxing on Pedalia beach. For breakfast and dinner I alternate my custom between O Tripas and Taverna Nikolas. In the morning and in the evening the square is the centre of everything and yet never really busy. The busiest I had seen it was after the commemoration of the 40 days since the passing of one of the islands residents. As I sat in O Tripas having breakfast, members of the community and the visiting priest make their way down the hill from the church to the taverna for a memorial breakfast. Several of the local women open up tubs of biscuits which are offered around. The priest and the family of the deceased sit at the long table and others spread out across the rest of the taverna. It is a fleeting visit for the priest who soon after is back on a caique to Patmos.
Out of the 50-60 residents on Arki around 30 of them stay for winter with others returning to Lipsi or Patmos. It’s funny to think that they consider little Lipsi “the big island”. Apart from the tourist trade and the goat economy fishing is also the mainstay of the island though there just seems to be enough fishermen with their small caiques to cater for the islands’ taverna’s. Fishermen’s huts can be found all around the harbour and on the edge of isolated lagoons.
The other magical moment is my last evening on Arki. As I open my door at Katsavidis Rooms I can always hear the tinkle of goat bells and the bleating of the goats even though you can’t quite see them. I decide to walk up to the church of St Nikolaos just before sunset. I head up the steep path until I get to the crossroads of the goat farm, goats scattering as I go. One poor, one horned goat seems to be admiring the full set of curly horns that adorn the fence to a house. I then turn right at the crossroad where the path takes a dip and then climbs again. Along the path I can hear a peculiar noise. At first it sounded like the grunting of pigs. Then it had more of a mechanical sound. As I walk further up the hill I see a flock (or a murder) of crows flying between a little crop of trees. I’ve no idea what type of crows these are but it’s the strangest sound I’ve ever heard from a bird.
Everything is glowing in the low setting sun and even more pronounced than when I saw it at dawn. You can see all the way over to the land mass of Turkey but the magic of the view from here is the view of the many islets that make up this archipelago.
I spend my last evening meal at O Tripas and then go to Nikolas Taverna for dessert. I ask if they have any ice cream and they don’t but they do have almond pie. My almond pie arrives with ice cream and Niko explains that they don’t sell ice cream to customers as they don’t want to be in competition with the kiosk. However, as it is such a perfect combination, they give me some from their personal supply!
I sit by the shallows watching Papa Christos’s miniature boats and reflect on what a fabulous trip that has been. Samos, Agathonisi, Ikaria and Fourni all seem so long ago now. Tomorrow I leave for Leros – my first time back in about 18 years.
I look through my photographs of Arki and I feel that none of them really capture the beauty of the island. It’s fair to say that Arki doesn’t have the architecture or “boutiqued” features that make you go “Oooh” and “Aaah” Yes it has beautiful open landscapes and turquoise waters but it has something much more than that. It’s more of an essence or a feeling that can’t be captured on camera. Of course it’s the people.