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April 21, 2012

Vagabonding Field Report: Mykonos, Now I Know Why They Built Windmills Here

Cost/Day- 60 euros

After a few months on the road, it takes something fairly odd to catch a vagabonder off-guard, but seeing a man herding sheep from the back of a scooter certainly threw me for a loop. The sheep didn’t seem flustered by the portly man zipping in and out of the herd, hurrying them along the hilly roads of Mykonos in loud Greek, all the while trying to weave around potholes. However, I on the other hand almost ran my beat-up red scooter into a fence as the road took one of its many curves and my eyes were locked on this episode of “Sheep: Hell’s Angels”.


A typical day on Mykonos starts off with being woken to the howling of wind through the hills. Every morning the worry sets in that it will be a dreary, stormy day and yet, every day by the time breakfast is over with the wind has calmed and the sun is shining down on the crystal blue water and never-ending coves and beaches.

No reason to shower when you’re headed straight for a dive into the sea. The crisp waters are so clear, fish can be seen from the sand twenty feet away. There is no real wave action to speak of on Mykonos this time of year, so everyone from old women to toddlers refusing to wear swim trunks lounges in the calm, shallow water.

After the morning’s fill of sea and sun, the crowds swell into old Mykonos Town, the iconic white houses with blue trim all packed together, with tourists and locals bustling about their business. Well, as much as anyone can really bustle in the Greek Isles, things move at a noticeably slower pace out here.  Lunch can be a bit tricky for those looking to eat out as Mykonos is notoriously expensive. Not to worry though as traditional Greek gyro shops abound, selling Greek salad and lamb and chicken on pita break with Greek yogurt and fries for only a few euros.

Depending on how much sun you got in the morning (pacing is key in Mykonos in all aspects of life) it’s either back to the beach or a little afternoon siesta, curled up in the shade with a book. It would be a crime to waste time watching tv with so many postcard-perfect views set in panorama every which way around the island.

Afternoon slips into evening and it’s time to pull a Mythos lager out of the fridge, a local favorite, probably because it’s so refreshing after a day of sunshine and walking the rocky hills. Dinner is usually a cook at home affair for me, typically Greek; olives and fresh vegetables. Usually some hamburgers or pork chops as well. Olives and veggies are very cheap on Mykonos so it’s easy to load up on them, other groceries can get more expensive because so many things have to be brought onto the island by ferry.

An after-dinner walk is always pleasant as the twinkling lights of the small houses start to come on, dotting the hillside, but not so bright as to block out the view of all the stars. Before you know it’s time to head to bed as the wind starts to howl again and you smile knowing the exact same thing is coming your way tomorrow.

It’s always a treat to have a conversation with my landlord, Nassos, whom I rent my apartment from for 40 euros/night (the bulk of my expenses on Mykonos). Nassos owns a beach bar, but with it being April it’s still to early in the season to open so he has to find other diversions, Greek-style.

I sent Nassos a text around 2 p.m. asking to use his internet. I heard nothing back but figured he had gotten busy and hadn’t had time to respond. At 5 I was reading in my bed and heard someone walking around outside.

“Travis?” In Nassos’s perfect English, with just a hint of a Greek accent.

“Do you want to use the internet now?”

I responded that I had already stopped by a cafe and used it there, thanks anyways, and what had he been up to all day?

“I had the rough night of drinking and just woke up,” he said wearing sunglasses in the shade and holding a large water bottle. This did not seem too out of the ordinary on Mykonos.

Well, a man has to stay busy I suppose. Life on Mykonos can be one never-ending party, that is after all what the island is know for. There is still the quiet beach-town lifestyle as well, much easier to find in April than during the height of the summer season, when the island doesn’t stop partying from May through August. Many of the houses here are summer homes that are rented out for very cheap the rest of the year, so if you’re willing to come off-season deals abound.

The only real knock on Mykonos is the relentless wind up in the hills, but even this becomes part of the island’s charm after about a week. The loud aunt that deep down you really love, but sometimes you just wish she’d go away for awhile. Thankfully, the wind is calmer at the beaches during the day and in Mykonos Town.

The best thing about Mykonos, aside from the beaches and beauty, are the people. English is widely spoken and everyone always has a few minutes to stop and chat (there’s that island pace of life). It’s easy to get caught up wondering if the ferry to Delos will go today over coffee with the cafe proprietor and next thing you know she’s asking if you want lunch because it’s been three hours.

The greatest challenge I’ve faced is handling my roguish little scooter, nicknamed Zorbie after “Zorba the Greek” the famous novel and Anthony Quinn movie. Zorbie is a finicky little creature, even for me who owns a scooter back in the Bay Area and rode one throughout my college years in Berkeley. The high winds in the morning, the possibly leaky gas tank, and the bad starter have me cursing Zorbie every morning. The companies renting scooters on Mykonos know demand never drops in summer, so they rent them cheap and don’t make any repairs. But hey, worse case scenario, one day Zorbie doesn’t start and I have to walk to the gorgeous beach rolling out below me. Things could be worse.

The lesson I have imparted from Mykonos is not a new one by any means, but I’m reminded of it everywhere I go. Eat and drink as the locals do. Don’t look for your favorites, even if they have them they will not be the same. I once ordered a margarita in Herceg-Novi, Montenegro and was served whiskey and grape juice in a styrofoam cup. After that, I’ve always followed the above lesson. Foods and beverages become popular in places for a reason, they fit well with the climate and local temperament. Guess what? You’re in the same climate and surrounded by the same temperament, so you’re probably going to like them too, plus whatever is local is almost always cheapest.

So for the rest of my time in Mykonos I’ll be eating gyros and drinking Frappe coffee.

 

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Category: Europe, Food and Drink, Hospitality, Languages and Culture, Vagabonding Field Reports

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