In my last blog I included Ios in my top five Greek islands and this might be surprising because the island has a reputation for night clubs, dancing, music and high spirits and we do none of these things.
It is true that Ios is more lively and noisy than my other favourite islands but this doesn’t really matter because the clubbers live in a parallel dimension where they sleep all day and don’t go out until after midnight by which time we are usually enjoying a final drink of the day on the balcony of the apartment.
On a visit in 2009 we walked as usual to our favourite beach about a kilometre and a half from the village and over and around a rocky headland. The road out of the port runs past the business end of the harbour and there were some brightly painted fishing boats that had just landed their overnight catch and were negotiating sales with local people and restaurant owners in a babble of animated activity. It looked like a good night’s work and the trading was brisk.
The fish looked interesting and on closer examination of the produce it soon becomes clear why we have to put up with stock shortages whilst the most of the rest of Europe have such an abundance of choice – we are just far too fussy about what we will eat and our preference for fish is restricted to two or three species that we have fished into crisis and near extinction whilst in Greece they will eat a much greater variety of sea food.
We like to buy our fish in little blue polystyrene trays without heads, tails or entrails and ready for the frying pan but here the trays were brimming with fish so fresh that it was still alive and flapping about and winking at the prospective purchasers who were examining it. The colours were amazing, sparkling silver, gleaming green and radiant red and I looked forward to being reacquainted with one later on my dinner plate.
The little beach at Valmas is delightful where a shabby taverna with a shaded terrace overlooks the shore and the little bay and it is run by an old lady who probably should have retired years ago and who has a limited but interesting menu with the sort of prices that suit my budget. Going to the beach and the taverna is part of the Ios routine and every day we do the same things as the day before, walk along the same path, go for a swim, then to the taverna and sit at the same table and stare out to sea. Ios is where we choose to take a break from the hectic island hopping schedule and unwind for a few days.
The walk there and back to Valmas is interesting because of the derelict terraces and dry stone walls that separate the hillside into individual plots of land. Ios is just one large inhospitable rock that has been baked into submission by the sun but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and the stones to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables.
There is very little useful land on Ios so this must have been almost unimaginatively difficult. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun. The terraces are all abandoned now to thistles and what other few plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again. There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage now and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day.
The path passes by an immaculate blue domed white church where there were preparations for a wedding and a christening and later Kim returned to see the wedding and I joined her later for the baptism to see the ceremony of a little girl being accepted into the Christian Orthodox Church, which is a major event in the life of any Greek family. A Greek baptism is a sacred and religious rite that is performed to cleanse the soul and renounce Satan. The baptism is a complex initiation that starts with an exorcism and officially ends forty days later when the baby is presented to the congregation to receive Holy Communion.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to stop for the full forty days and we began to feel a bit like intruders on a private family event so before it was all over we left the church and returned to the harbour where we ate next to the fishing boats that were being prepared for another night at sea at a place called the Octopus where, at pavement tables next to the fishermen, we were served excellent food and when they served the fish I am certain one of them winked at me in recognition.