Guest post by Lambi Lentakis
As the ferry turns into the port of Ios, a snail-shaped, brown & barren rock rises out of the sea before you. Little white cubes are dotted around in the port and valley leading up to top of the hill – glistening white houses and churches sparkling under the relentless sun. The rock seems to exude energy and life, it pulsates to the beat of music. Later on, when you explore the village by night, you will discover there are numerous brightly coloured bars, boutiques and restaurants offering their wares and the place is a beehive of activity with people from all nations thronging the narrow alleys and streets. This is the only impression many people take back home with them of Ios – they have visited the island only in July and August. A lot of visitors go back to their own countries and tell their friends they have had the best time of their lives. In high season Ios lives up to its reputation of being a party island: it throbs with the frenetic energy of young people having a good time.
The surprising side of Ios : spring or autumn
However, this is only one side of the island: arrive here in spring or autumn and you get a completely different picture. Imagine arriving on Ios in April. You are well wrapped up against the wind and as you step off the ferry, spray from the sea sprinkles your face: it smells fresh and of seaweed. You look up at Ios and instead of the rock of summer, you see slopes carpeted in green, dotted with the splashes of colour of the wild flowers. The sky is blue with a few fluffy clouds. What a transformation! It is not only the physical appearance of Ios that has changed – the whole atmosphere is different. It is tranquil, but there is also a freshness in the air and a feeling of expectancy. Locals go about their daily chores in a laidback fashion. People are preparing to open their businesses for Easter – the biggest feast day of the Orthodox calendar. A mood of regeneration prevails.
I enjoy joining with friends in the various traditions associated with Greek Easter, the dyeing of eggs, nibbling at mizithropittas (a speciality of the island – a kind of cheese cake with a thin almond pastry base), watching the church processions wind their way through the streets, standing outside the church and seeing the flame being passed around the congregation, signifying Christ is risen. These celebrations and traditions culminate in the Easter Day feast of roast lamb/goat on the spit with dips and salads and a lot of celebrating with friends. A joyful time of year.
Walking along empty beaches, looking for shells, the lap of the waves against the shore is the only sound you hear. The sea may still be too chilly to swim in, but the sun is often out and sunbathing very pleasurable and it doesn’t get too hot. I am a beach lover, but even I enjoy leaving beachlife for later on in the season and taking a walk through meadows filled with clover and various wild flowers, the buzzing of bees & the chirruping of birds the only sounds that accompany my walk. The smell of fresh earth and scent of wild herbs, crushed underfoot as you wander the hills give you a sense of being at one with nature. A sensation many urbanites never have the chance to experience.
What about night life? No problems there either. Throughout the months of spring, more and more businesses open their doors to welcome the visitors. Colourful bars, restaurants and boutiques line the streets and alleys of the village – not as many are open as in summer: less choice, but this has an advantage as well. Fewer places open and fewer people on the island mean that people tend to gather in the bars and cafes that are open, so this is a good time of year to get to know people and make new friends. Everybody is ready to retell their stories of winter and newcomers are easily absorbed into the groups sitting around in the main square, sipping drinks or coffee, chatting and watching the world go by. If you feel like partying, this is a good time to celebrate at the various opening parties and special events that local businesses organise.
As the weather gets warmer and spring draws to an end, beach life once again becomes the focus of my day. If it’s too cold in the sea to swim, at least I can lie in the sun and warm myself. More hardy folks can sign up for water sports or diving activities and many hotels have pools which are open to the public, if sipping a cocktail near an azure pool is more to your taste.
June merges into July and the physical side of the island changes along with the influx of visitors. There has been no rain for weeks: all the wild flowers and plants of springtime have withered and Ios assumes its high season appearance of a barren rock. In fact the “Rock” is Ios’s name amongst the expat community. The tempo changes: gone is the sleepiness of the preceding months, to be replaced by the rhythmic beat of high season – the party has begun! I will leave it to others to describe the fun to be had in July and August ……
By the end of August, many visitors have drifted back to their own countries and the crowds have thinned out. The mood is different to that of spring. Those people who have worked hard all summer are exhausted, they take time to wind down and relax after all the frenzy. Businesses begin to close, the pace of life becomes more mellow, less frantic. Many longtime fans of Ios reappear on the island. It’s such a good place for friends from different countries to meet up. As in spring, Ios acquires a sense of intimacy and community.
The high season has ended. It’s the end of September.
I’m sitting in an open-air café at Mylopotas Beach (the most commercial beach on Ios), I’ve just had a swim and am sipping a beer, feeling well chilled. There are a few people on the beach and some in the sea, swimming and enjoying various water sports activities. The sky is blue and the temperature is 29ºC. Friends join my table and stop and chat. We watch an old man go along the road leading a donkey laden with hay. No doubt he’s on his way to feed animals he keeps in a field nearby. Once the only transport available was by donkeys and mules, now with roads built leading to many beaches and other hamlets and destinations on the island, trucks and cars have replaced these animals, but mules and donkeys are still used to transport bulky things and building materials within the traditional village, where no cars are allowed.
Traditional methods of doing things mingle with new technologies and a free a wi-fi system is provided by the community. Local island life is simple and basic. We are fortunate that we can watch – and even join the islanders – as they go about their every day life. At the same time as learning about the traditional ways, we can enjoy the ease of modern communications. It’s great to be able to combine both worlds. There’s a sense of history and timelessness spiced with the new and innovative.
Some friends have just arrived from the UK, they pass by our table and tell us that it’s winter already in North Europe: grey, gloomy, cloudy skies and cold, damp, rainy weather. A friend from Scotland posted a picture of scraping the ice off from her car. It’s very difficult to imagine this while I sit basking in the sun. We are waiting with anticipation for the first rains of autumn – our friends cannot imagine looking forward to rain. The first rains after a long, dry summer often only last a day or two. Water gushes like rivers through the alleys and streets of the village: all the dust is cleaned from the trees and the dirt and grime of the summer is washed away. Out in the countryside there is a smell of fresh earth everywhere. Then a miracle takes place: within days, fresh green grass and plants push their way out through the sun-scorched ground and cover the mountains and fields with a green carpet. Fresh green plants spring out from between rocks, buildings and flagstones, fresh green bursts out wherever it can.
Is this the end of summer? Not really. I’m not saying every day is a beach day, but a lot of days still are. The sea often remains at a reasonable temperature till after Christmas!!! Again this is a wonderful time to explore the island. Walking around the island in October one year, my husband and I were astounded at the number of different plants there were growing wild. We were also extremely fortunate to stumble across a newly-born kid, trying to stand up for the first time, its legs still shaky. Nearby, mama goat eyed us suspiciously – ready to leap to the defence of her baby if needs be. I am a city person, but I thoroughly enjoy this opportunity to immerse myself in nature too.
Writing this piece, I’ve come to the conclusion we shouldn’t call these months “off season” – somehow this does not conjure up how beautiful they can be. Maybe we should call them “early season” and “late season”. Given the choice of the grey, cold and wet days of northern Europe and elsewhere and the blue skies and sunny weather of Ios during the months of spring and autumn, I know where I’d choose to be……….
Also, read the “Ios seen through my iPhone” review, a book written by Lambi.
All photos by Lambi Lentakis and may not be used without permission.