[ yacht “tramontana”, crossing from sifnos to folegandros, greece – 22:05 saturday 5 september 2015 ]
i’m sitting on the foredeck of a yacht gliding through silky black water surrounded by an explosion of stars. the warm air flows over my skin. the massive silhouette of folegandros island blots out the sky to starboard. the lack of even a single light visible on the island thrills me, suggesting a barren wildness remote from civilisation. the sun set a couple of hours ago, a molten red disc dissolving into the azure horizon.
i arrived in mykonos four nights ago with my friend derek. after a day’s entertaining exploration on quad bike we took a ship to pafos and picked up the yacht. at this time of year the meltemi brings a constant northerly blast through the cyclades islands. however we managed to choose a freakish week when the air is completely still. it feels like a karmic trade-off for the superb winds i had sailing with dad last week in cornwall.
so the sails remain resolutely furled and we proceed by motor. but there’s still the same joyous freedom and autonomy of living afloat. from pafos we crossed to sifnos where we coincided with a one day gathering of folk dancers and musicians from all over greece. i was fascinated by the trance-like music of the pontiac culture, originating from the shores of the black sea. after the formal performances the musicians carried on playing in a local nightclub. we staggered back to the yacht as the sun was rising.
tonight we’ll anchor off folegandros. then in the morning derek and i will leave the yacht and try to find somewhere to stay on the island.
[ galifos, folegandros – 19:55 monday 7 september ]
having tried to moor in the main port and been turned away we finally anchored just after midnight in the bay of angali on the south of the island. in the morning we woke to find ourselves surrounded by spectacular cliffs and stony hillsides. derek and i came ashore and took the footpath around the coast to galifos where we’d heard there were some rooms. we found two simple white buildings containing ten bedrooms and a communal kitchen, in complete isolation above a small beach. one was available so we took it. now i’m sitting on our terrace overlooking the bay, shimmering violet in the deepening twilight. a paraffin lamp on the table behind me provides the only illumination. there’s no electricity.
folegandros is everything I dreamed of. the landscape is mercilessly stony and barren, sliced with vertiginous precipices and ravines. the island is seven miles long but has a permanent population of fewer than seven hundred. the air is pervaded by an intense silence, broken only by the rustle of wind in the scrub and the lap of waves.
my days here have been spent walking, taking photographs with the rolleiflex, swimming naked in the turquoise water until my limbs ache and sitting on rocks lost in the stark sunlight. it’s been sublime.
this journey has made me think a lot about how and why i travel. i don’t look for it to be easy or predictable. when i travel i seek to be tested, place myself in uncomfortable situations, learn new things about myself, get inside different cultures, pursue elusive goals. i prefer only to have a minimum of fixed points and not to know much about where i’m going. for the current trip i didn’t make any plans until a week beforehand. at that point i decided to spend a week with my family in cornwall then a week somewhere different. i didn’t book the flights to greece until a few days before departing, by which time derek had decided to come too. he’s one of few people I know who prefers to make travel plans at the last minute.
we reserved a place to stay in mykonos an hour before taking off from gatwick. i’d booked the yacht a few days earlier but without any idea where we’d be meeting it to go aboard. for folegandros all we had was an intriguing three year old photograph of a sign advertising rooms without electricity.
this has been my first trip for more than ten years where i haven’t brought a laptop. in the past i always felt the need to be prepared in case a crisis blew up with one of my businesses. this time i felt a strong urge to leave that responsibility behind and it’s been fantastically liberating. i did have my telephone but even that has been kept switched off most of the time. i’m writing these words on the phone now. i’ve avoided connecting to the internet except for a few occasions when i needed to check a timetable or confirm a booking.
tomorrow i catch the ship for athens. i’ll spend one day there before making my return to london.
: c :