So far, my travel blogs may seem like I have visited quite privileged destinations but I was also an adventurer when I was young.
At 18, I hurled into the local travel agency shop and said “I have a £400 budget for 2 of us and we want 2 weeks in the sun, in July!”
I watched the sales agent physically sink in his seat but I was determined to see if this was possible. Back then there were loss leaders on an advertising system on TV called Teletext so I knew if he tried really hard he could do this for me. After all, I had given no other criteria.
Setting off in July for my traditional summer holiday, the only thing I knew was that we would be landing at Zakynthos airport in the Greek isles. How exciting!!
As we exited the plane the 40 degree Celsius heat hit me like I’d flown into a hot air balloon! This was amazing!! The airport resembled a dressed up shed. After collecting the luggage we headed off to the arrivals hall to be greeted by a holiday rep from the tour company. After checking us in on her clipboard we were sent to our coaches. When I say coaches I mean it loosely as if I had thought the airport primitive, this was positively 3rd world! The single deck green buses had benches to sit on inside and the roof carried cages where someone had climbed up and stored all our luggage. I was seriously looking for some wildlife or chickens at the very least! This was….wonderful! So now what? We had been sat on the aeroplane and the couple we had been talking to were also on our bus and we got chatting in excited anticipation , no one knew where we were going. We met another young couple who had booked the same trip and equally were in suspense. For them it was more thrilling or nerve racking, I’m not sure at this stage as they had met in a nightclub just 2 nights before!
Up and round the winding roads into small villages we went and down into the big towns full of bars and clubs and we wondered as people started to depart the bus, would our name be called out here? Or here? Onwards we went until there was just 10 of us left on the bus. On stopping outside a very grand hotel, we all stood, hoping they would call our name, not sure how this worked. No. Then there was 6. The six of us sat back down and carried on for only about another 100 metres when we pulled up on the roadside and could see 2 small buildings down a dirt track. ” This is you!” said the holiday rep. “Come on I’ll show you in.” Our cases thrown down, we pulled our bags down the dirt track and arrived at the glass door which was almost see through. On entry there was a tiny kitchenette on the left, it probably had a kettle and hob. To the right was the shower room with a tiled floor, a toilet, a basin and mirror and a shower head hooked onto the wall at waist level, actually on a hook! No fancy shower tray or curtain or even a prop to hang it high so you could stand under it. Back into the hallway, the bedroom had 2 single beds, made up with white sheets and outside there was a small balcony looking out into the abyss that was Tsilivi.
This my friends is what you get when you have a £200 per person budget in the height of summer in 1993. It was Beautiful and rare and if it was being sought out as a holiday destination, never would have been found, “It’s perfect!” I declared.
The friends we had made along the journey were staying just doors away so the holiday was created and our 2 weeks of summer sun in the Greek isles began.
We went for a walk and found the fancy looking hotel, actually there was nothing fancy about it but we had low expectations on this journey so in comparison to the previous stops of the bus, this was luxurious. It had a pool for a start! There was a huge bar and restaurant and the owner came and introduced himself to us as Costa…..turned out this was a popular name. Costa said we were welcome to use the pool and his facilities, it was nice to see some young people visiting the village. Costa organised Poker nights which some of the boys joined in on. I preferred to throw my warble into the karaoke machine, no one actually listened so it was all good.
Costa became our unofficial tour guide, later in my adventures, i realise i found one almost everywhere I went. Meeting and getting to know the locals by far outweighs the organised offerings of the tour companies. I always made sure I had good company in numbers.
One day he told us that his cousin had a restaurant high up on the mountain top and would we like to go? He would pick us up that evening. “Of course we would love to come! ”
That evening he arrived at our dirt track, he and the six of us piled into his Fiat Panda, I was tiny back then so it wasn’t a problem for me just hopping in onto someone lap, one guy was like 6 feet 5 inches, another was 15 stone and so you get the image…..we climbed the winding mountain road for 20 minutes and arrived and fell out of the car at the most beautiful setting I had ever seen in my whole young life! The restaurant was built of wood, painted white, gleaming tiled floors and a tree decked dusty terrace overlooking a huge and beautiful bay some hundreds of metres up from sea level, we were shown to our table which had been reserved and was in the most delightful position to see the beautiful bay beneath us. Costa bade us farewell and said his cousin would call him when we were ready to leave.
The menus came accompanied by bread and water and we ordered wine to start the night off. Holidaying on a budget, it matter that you read the small print in the menus and so I proceeded to translate the monies. For £12 for 2 people we had a deliciously greek dinner with many courses accompanied with wine and water, Calamari, Horiatiki, Moussaka and Ekmek Kataifi for dessert were just a few of the courses we indulged.
Our friends were very different, 2 of them were carefree with money and 2 of them were wannabees. We were realistic. I said to Zoe as she was ordering the lobsters, “are you absolutely sure you know what you’re doing? It says there in the menu that it is priced per 100gram.” “Yeah of course Karrrrroline”
The lobster disagreed with most of my dining companions and after much debauchery with their tools to eat the food, there was lots of retching over the cliff top. Julie had evidently eaten it before and with true class she cleared the table and devoured all the left overs. This girl was getting her moneys worth.
Dancing to Greek music with the waiters bringing us into the fold and teaching us a few moves, our night drew to a close, there was curfew in these parts. As Costa arrived to collect us, we had to lend Zoe and Paul the money for their £120 bill, lucky we had it with us and had not chosen to go down the same route of pompous keeping up with the Jones. The next day was Sunday and the only exchange place in the village would be closed. It’s lucky really that we had felt we could trust them.
The next day we woke to have no electricity and this went on for a few days, “there is little we can do when the big towns use all our power for their night club events” explained one local. So we had no food in the studio that could be kept fresh so went out to eat some lunch. The man had a barbecue on the go, until we arrived and that packed up too. So on looking at the menu, I ordered a tomato salad. Would you believe it! A plate of sliced tomatoes arrived!! I roared with laughter, thanked the man and ate.
The village was very basic and raw and taking a walk down to the beach, it was evident we had come here at the right time, before the mass tourism sector absorbed this rustic place. Sure there was a nightclub, with triple glazed doors so they could carry on after 11pm and there was a banana boat which of course we got dragged around the sea on, it was almost as if we were the first tourists to hit this place, the greek locals both young and old were very accommodating and kind.
At night the sunloungers on the beach were shackled together which had not realised when we got cautioned that we should not have been using them , nor sitting on the anchored banana boat posing for photos (I cannot find a single one) and yes it was ok to use a thrwo away barbecue and drink saki as long as we invited the locals, so a spontaneous midnight beach party ensued – and yes we did clear up after ourselves and leave before dawn.
One morning we headed off down the dusty track to the beach for some breakfast at the taverna. The sun soaked bar was awash with people having fun, listening to reggae music and the barman throwing cocktails around in shakers, it was like a wooden lodge with high stools at the colourful bar, the table around on the sands were adored with sparkles and colour and the atmosphere was electric – ok, i said breakfast, it was probably early afternoon. Ordering food and settling back to watch the waves and the people having fun on the sea I had a idea of how much fun it would be to try paragliding! I’m an adventure seeker. We spoke to the barman and as it turned out he too was called Costa, a young hip kind of young man. He said his uncle owned a boat and pointed to a jetty out in the sea. Tomorrow he would take us.
We arrived the next morning at 9am ready and filled with anticipation, non of us had done this before. We got out to the jetty and the first 2 went up, wonderful!! How wonderful! I watched them soar high above the water entwined together in a harness and I watched them gracefully descend onto the water. Me next? No…..I want to watch again. The next couple, harnessed up and ready began to run the jetty as the boat set off only this time, it did not go quite so well. Splosh! They had run off the end of the jetty and instead of gracefully flying, they hit the water! Now you could say they were heavy people but to be fair, the boat clearly was not going fast enough. That’s me out I thought. I got talking to Carlos uncle and said I would much rather sit this out, he could keep the money, it was ok. He was fine as long as my twosome didn’t mind going up alone, which he didn’t and suggested I drove the boat! So I became a skipper instead of a human pilot. Part of me wishes I had the courage to do this now but I have no regrets of the decision on that day.
Someone had heard about a horse riding stable yard. A bit like my ski escapades, it turned out that everyone in this party was an experienced horse rider. I had never been on a horse, I had wanted to but just never got round to it so I agreed. We walked into the village, took a left down a track and turned up at a beautiful orchard and stables. I spoke to the lady and said “could I please have a slow, old, girl horse?” She nodded. I handed over my £20. That was alot of money compared to everything else this holiday was costing. I got up on to my horse and it was Ooooookaaay. Then……she moved. She moved a hoof!! there is not always a rational explanation for our reactions but I froze and without realising I had tears falling down my face. I couldn’t move. The lady asked “are you ok Karoline?” I said “No, could you please get me down? You can keep the £20.”
The others with my blessing went merrily off trailing the mountain with their guide who tuirned out to be a feisty stallion and had they not been experience could have ended up in alot of trouble as their horses were not the calmest, well behaved either but they had fun I discovered later when they found me.
Once the group had left, I found I had no key, no wallet and so what was I to do? I know. I’ll find some new friends. Off I went into the village lane and found a great little bar with music playing. I borrowed a pen and paper, wrote the location of where I was and ran down to stick it to the door of our accommodation.
I spent the afternoon learning much about greek food and drink and listening to “Stay” by Shakespere sisters and “Oh Carolina” sang by Shaggy, these were the constant songs of that summer.
Hours went by and when the group arrived back, I was introducing them to my new found friends and sharing the secrets of Greek cuisine, they got a little tipsy which caught up with me and on leaving, I explained I had no wallet as they had locked me out so at least them paying made up for my loss on the horses.
Another day, we took a boat trip out to sea, the boat anchored and we climbed into smaller boats waiting to escort us into some caves, it was totally unique. Next we moved along and were told if we could jump off the boat and so some snorkeling. I did, I was excited so much!! I hit the water with my apparatus and swam a little in the deep blue sea. I looked down and saw the most beautiful electric blue fish swimming below….except it scared me, it shocked me so suddenly that I whipped the mask off in panic, why? Who knows? But then I was blinded by the crap sun cream i was wearing and was there in the ocean, unable to see, treading water. The people left on the boat used the voices to guide me, i felt my way along the boat and up the ladder to someone tugging me onboard. I washed my face and smiled. We continued our journey to another island. This time it was a sundrenched cove with a cave but we had no choice but to swim there and it was deep. Paul, one of the group was a non swimmer but he didn’t want to miss out. His girlfriend had flung herself off the boat and gone ahead without him. I jumped in, and asked him to do the same, i would catch him. I did and I pulled him to shore, about 200m with him on his back and my hand under his chin.
Inside the cave was a tunnel under water and it was the only route to the sundrenched beach. Scary but with some goggles and some of the others going back and forth to demonstrate it, I overcame a fear of claustrophobia and I DID IT!
A day on the beach beckoned later in the holiday. We took our towels and went passed the madding crowds of oooooo about 50 people, carefully stepping around the rocks we found a little bay to relax in. Across from us was a tiny island and we watched as a little boat went and visited. “Hey! It’s not so far, we can swim there” I said.
We had not expected the current to be coming at us, or rather, we hadn’t taken notice. It was getting tough. I was a strong swimmer but this was not good, we were in between shore and island and neither seemed easy to reach. I saw a seahorse and panicked!! I jumped on my partners back (who was not a strong swimmer) this was dog eat dog. Eventually he gave up and we agreed we wouldn’t make it. We stopped swimming and put our legs down…to find it was waist deep and we could have walked the whole way!!!!!
At night, we had booked the one and only excursion with the tour operator, it was a clubbing night in the big town. The coach was a proper coach this time with a driver named Costa. As we went around the winding mountain road, there was a car ahead and no room for both to comfortably pass. Costa manouvered the coach and the back left wheel fell off the cliffside!! OH MY GOD! So I’m totally sure the night was fun, this is not a memory i hold, the journey and the waking up the next day, everything in between is gone.
The last night and we decided to host a party in our “dorm” that’s a good word. The whole building came together with food and drink and music. Remember the 11pm curfew here….suddenly all stopped, the electricity was cut, there was no music, no light, nothing. In the starlit night we ventured out to investigate and someone checked the power box, the fuse had tripped. Back on and the party was again in full flow.
The policeman and police woman were explaining up to the ground floor balcony that indeed it had been them who has tripped the power as a hint and that we were all to go to bed, it is lovely to have gotten to know us all this week (they were locals who partied too) but they had a job to do and that was keeping curfew. My friends were laughing and invited them in as they had become friendly with us this week. I said “no guys, they’re working tonight, they have handcuffs, jail keys and……guns.”
Soberly suddenly, the boys cut the music, paid the fine and polished the room to something more spotless than the one we had arrived to. We were leaving the next night. There was a much older couple who had loved spending time with us youngsters and so invited us for lunch and use of their shower head to freshen up before we left.
Memories, the courage of the teenage me and holidays on a shoe string are lovely to look back on. I will be writing more of Paris, Egypt and Las Vegas.
See you soon