I've been coming to Sifnos since the late seventies. My parents and brothers
and sister first came in 1972 during the summer while I was off in Mykonos. Back then Sifnos was really primitive
and totally undiscovered. There was no dock and the ferry would pull into the bay and be met by the fishermen who
would take people back and forth in small boats. There were a few foreigners living in rented rooms or tents, mostly
seasoned travelers who would rather experience the real Greece of the time, then be partying with me and my decadent
friends on Ios or Mykonos.
By the time I made my first trip there was a ferry docking at a real dock
and cars were unloading and driving the newly paved roads. It was still un-touristed compared to other places, but
it was on it's way to becoming what it is now, a charming island that loses some of that charm in August when the Athenian hordes arrive for their annual summer holiday.
The next time I came was in 1978 with my pal Leigh Sioris. We had been in
Mykonos and Ios and we were meeting up with some friends in Sifnos. We camped on a small beach near the community
of Pharos. There was one restaurant, one grocery store that served eggs for breakfast, and little else. There wasn't
even a bus. We had to take a bus to Chrissopigi and walk down the mountain and along the coast. I don't think we
went into town more then once in the ten days we spent there.
After a break of about 6 years where I didn't even come to Greece I finally
returned to Sifnos at the instigation of my friend Dorian who had opened a live music bar in Kamares. Dorian and
I became the live music, doing a two hour show every night from June to September. It was my favorite Sifnos summer,
the year that I bonded with the island and made most of the friends that I still have. It was a tumultuous time
for the Old Captain Bar. Because of the live music there was always a crowd while the few other bars remained empty.
This created some friction between the owners of these other bars, who were locals, and the Old Captain, whose
owners were from Athens. Every few days the rules of the game would change. One night we could play only until
midnight. A couple days later it was until eleven. Then we were told that we were not licensed for live music.
The next night we were playing again and one of the stereo systems had left the bar and taken up residency in the
police station. Finally towards the end of the season a policeman came up to me after the show and asked for my
passport. When I gave it to him he told me I could pick it up the next morning at the station.
The next day I took the bus up to Appolonia and found the police station.
I was sent in to speak to the Chief. He asked me if I had been walking in the valley where the farmers have their
fields, the day before. I told him I had, that I liked to walk around there and look at the goats and sheep. He
asked me if I had stolen a watermelon. I hadn't. I had seen many watermelons but I hadn't taken any. He said that
was interesting because a watermelon had been stolen and that I was seen walking in the fields by a farmer.
"Did the farmer say I had a watermelon with me?" I asked innocently.
"He didn't mention it."
"Then why am I here" I asked.
"Because right now you are our only suspect", he said trying to
crack my cool facade with his stare. He changed the subject. "Can I see your working papers for playing music
at the Old Captain." I didn't have any.
"OK. Let me tell you this once. You are not to play at the Old Captain
any more. If you do I will send you to Syros (where the jail is) and then have you deported from this country and
you will never be able to come back."
I didn't know if he was bluffing or not but I wasn't about to test him.
I agreed not to play. When I returned to the club and told them, Dorian told me not to be ridiculous. Of course
I would continue to play. He was just a village cop. He couldn't deport me. Besides I'm Greek.
I argued that if the guy knew I was Greek I would be in even more trouble
because they would want to see my Greek identification papers and instead of kicking me out of the country they'd
throw me in the army.
Dorian's answer was "Don't worry about it. You're over-reacting."
Easy for him to say. All he was jeopardizing was one half of his live music show. It was my life. I refused to
play. The next day Dorian came up to me and said that it was all taken care of and I could play again. I told him
the only way I would play was if I had a note from the head cop telling me that it was OK. I was not convinced
that Dorian had my best interest at heart. That note was never written and that ended the best summer job of my
It was that same summer that I first heard about the Sifnos Monster. I had
stopped in New York on my way to Greece and stayed with my sister while I waited for a standby flight to anywhere
in Europe. After a plane, a few trains, a ferry, a bus and a particularly wild first night in Athens, I found myself
hungover on the Friday afternoon boat to Sifnos. Who should I see on the rear deck but my sister Cindy and her
three year old son Shane. My visit had inspired her. She had bought a couple tickets and left her husband to spend
the summer in Greece.
We each rented the third of a house right on the beach. The remaining third
was inhabited by Old Markos, one of the famous potters of Sifnos, an island known for its ceramic art. We all spent
the summer in this ancient stone house. Every day Markos would come out of his part of the house and watch the
sunset between the two points of the bay. He had rheumatism so he couldn't make pottery anymore. He just sat. Sometimes
we would sit with him. He would always say the same things to us. If the wind was blowing and the sea was rough
he would say poli fassaria (much disturbance). When the evening ferry would arrive he would say poli kosmos,(much
people). When the sea was calm he would say poli eisichia(Much quietness). It was actually kind of funny. We would
just be sitting there saying nothing, sort of meditating on the beauty of our surroundings, but in the back of
my mind there was this tension because I knew that any moment Markos was going to speak. I knew exactly what he
was going to say though I never knew when he was going to say it so these quiet moments with Markos, sitting outside
his hut on the beach turned into these internal struggles. I suppose I could have changed the routine and asked
him about his long life or told him about America, but I wasn't sure if that would be a kind of sacrilege. Maybe
he didn't want to talk. Maybe he was in a state of total peace and his simple words were just a sigh to the universe.
I sat and tried to emulate Markos, watching the sun sink down on the horizon giving the appearance of inner peace,
while inside I was just waiting for him to speak. Maybe he was doing the same.
I'll never know. Now Markos is dead and the house is the living quarters
for the people who work in the disco that was built from the ruins of the house next door. Sifnos has changed.
But it was that summer, while we were sitting on the small bench outside
Markos hut that she asked me the question. "Matt. Have you ever heard really loud breathing on the road down
to Kamares from Apollonia?" I hadn't. But I had heard what I thought she was talking about while walking on
the rocks in Kamares bay. It was the sound of air being pushed through cavities in the rock by the movement of
the waves. I assumed that this was the same phenomena that caused the heavy breathing sound that Cindy had heard
even though it was miles away from the sea. But a couple weeks later I overheard Eleni, an elegant Mexican woman
from Berkeley who had a great love of island lore, telling two young tourists about the legendary Sifnos monster
and how the islanders will not walk down the road at night.
It wasn't until two summers had passed that I heard the Sifnos monster
myself. I was with my friend Chris Hunt. We had borrowed a couple motorcycles to go to Phillipe's Italian restaurant
at Platy Yialos Beach, for a party that had ended before we arrived. It was a forty minute ride on unlit mountain
roads so on the way back we stopped at the Saligari Night Club in the mountain village of Katovati to listen to
some live Rembetika music and have one drink which was all we could afford there. Andonis Kalogeros, the famous
potter and island Casanova was dancing for the tourist girls he had brought to the club, doing handstands and back-flips.
We stayed for awhile and left when we had finished our drinks. After passing through Apollonia we drove down the
road to Kamares with Chris in the lead. Suddenly he signaled me to stop.
"Do you hear that" he asked.
I could hear it. Even above the roar of the motorcycles I could hear the
heavy breathing coming form the ravine that ran down the mountainside and passed under the road below us. It was
unbelievably loud and it scared the hell out of us. We raced back to Kamares and ran into the Old Captain Bar.
"There's a monster on the road! There's a monster on the road!"
we cried in terror to the few remaining customers who looked blankly up from their drinks. They laughed and ridiculed
us, having neither the courage nor the desire to investigate. We pleaded for someone to come back with us and be
our witness that we were not crazy. Finally Caroline, the girlfriend of Lefteris the bartender agreed to ride up
there with us.
When we reached the curve in the road the breathing was as loud as before.
"Let's turn off the bikes and check it out" said Chris, with the
courage of youth.
"If you do I'll kill you!" cried Caroline, pounding on his back.
"Let's get out of here!"
Down the mountain we zoomed once again. This time we had someone to back
up our story.
"There is a monster! There is!" cried Caroline back at the bar.
"And it's enormous!" The two remaining customers looked at us condescendingly, then with great effort
lifted themselves away from their drinks. "Let's go see this monster" they chimed in bored unison.
When we returned to the curve in the road the monster was still breathing
but not as loud as before. Having experienced it in its full fury, the hushed tone still evoked feelings of terror
in me from the two previous visits. But not so with these two guys. One was German, the other French, and they
both tried to 'out-cool' each other by acting as un-enthused and disinterested as possible. When the German guy
took a leak in the vicinity of the monster's hushed breathing it was the act of ultimate disrespect for our legend.
"Let's get these jerks out of here", I whispered to Chris. But
my real inclination was to leave them there and hope they were eaten.
The next day we organized a search part to go after the monster. To motivate
our friends to move from one cafe to another was difficult enough, but to get a group to ride up the mountain road
in the mid afternoon sun was a feat unparalleled in Sifnos Tourist History and a tribute of great respect to the
Sifnos Monster Myth. But as we feared there was no sound of heavy breathing. This of course, filled our party with
great courage and they searched the hillside with abandon. We found two goat skulls and we were sure we were on
the right track. But when Danish Michael stuck his head in a cave a bat darted out and caused us all to run away
in terror. With the spark for adventure extinguished by the flying furry creature we drove off to Plati Yialos
to eat fried squid.
We tried our best to enhance the Legend of the Sifnos Monster, telling every
newcomer about it. The curve in the road became a favorite spot for romance. "Do you want to go hear the Sifnos
Monster" became the pick-up line of the summer and many relationships were consummated beneath the gaze of
Stellios, who owned the local ice-cream shop as well as the only Greek taverna
in Iceland, poked fun and teased us about the Sifnos Monster, but it became apparent that it was bothering him
and one day he sat down at my table and spoke very seriously to me.
"You must stop all this talk about this Sifnos Monster. It is going
to scare all the tourists from the island." To him, this was a much more frightening prospect then the terrible
creature who guarded the road to Apollonia.
But I knew Stellios well. "Don't worry about the monster", I reassured
him. If anyone can figure out a way to make money out of him, you will.
We continued driving up to the lair of the Monster. We couldn't help ourselves.
It was the only show in town. One night we were standing in the road with our bikes turned off, listening to the
monster when we saw Adonis the Casanova approaching on his motorcycle. He stopped and spoke to us. "No sex
tonight. Self-service. People say me Casanova but every night sleeping alone." "Listen Adonis. What is
that sound?" "I have to go now," he said quickly and was gone.
Interest in the Sifnos Monster eventually subsided. In desperation I tried
to get a new myth started. One morning I had taken a motorbike up a the very rocky road that led to Saint Simeon
and Profitis Ilias when I came upon a deserted quarry filled with smoldering garbage.
"Wow!" I thought. "This could be a volcano. I can't believe
nobody knows about this or tried to exploit it. Maybe it really is a volcano and they have just found that it's
an efficient way to dispose of waste. Maybe since Santorini is already known as the island with the volcano, rather
then be redundant, the Sifniots were being practical with theirs."
But Stellios was not interested in my volcano theories. He had been working
out explanations for the Sifnos Monster and offering them to anyone who would listen, and he now had a new one
"One hundred years ago Sifnos was a very busy island with many ships
in the harbor. In those days the monks from the monasteries would come down the mountain to have sex with the sailors.
They did not want the islanders to know so they would dress up in white sheets and dance down the mountain paths.
The villagers would be frightened and run into their homes."
"That certainly explains everything," I said as I walked away
in amazement. I couldn't get over the image of each sailor joyfully meeting his favorite monk on the dock while
the villagers cowered behind locked doors. But what this had to do with the heavy breathing on the mountain road
only Stelios knew.
The only sensible explanation was given by one of the most sensible people
on the island, Boulis the hardest working restaurant owner's son Antonios. He told me that what we were hearing
was a giant bird known as the buffos, which breathes heavily in the summer to keep his temperature down. The next
day Stellios came to our table looking happier then I had ever seen him. "It's a big bird", he laughed.
"The Sifnos Monster is nothing but a big bird."
"I don't care what you say", said Kyriakos,
who had only arrived that day. "I believe there is a monster up there."
The last time I actually heard the Sifnos Monster was on a humid evening
in late August. A group of us had gone to Apollonia to hang out in the clubs, so of course we had to stop along
the way and listen. The sound was very faint so we continued on our way. On the way home we were met in the road
by Dorian who had left earlier. "You won't believe it. It's loud as hell and there are two of them!"
He was right. there were two of them. And they were both breathing louder then ever before. Maybe the Sifnos monster
had found a girlfriend. Bride of the Sifnos monster. Then in a move that stunned all of us, someone threw a rock
in the direction of the creatures. There was a flapping of wings and then silence. I never heard the Sifnos Monster
That would seem to be the end of the story. But on my very last day on the
island, a cool and cloudy day in early September that came like a breath of fresh air after that hot summer, I
was riding my motorbike up the mountain road. When I got to the familiar spot there was a crowd peering over the
side of the cliff. Down below a bulldozer was making a road to one of the islands taxi cabs that had apparently
gone flying off the cliff like the bad guys in a James Bond movie.
I asked a farmer holding on to his donkey, what had happened to the driver.
"Nothing. Not a scratch. A miracle" he said while crossing himself. I was amazed. The car was demolished.
You couldn't even tell what make it was. I looked at the road. No skid marks. He just drove straight off the cliff
like something had gotten his attention and he'd forgotten he was driving. It could only have been... I jumped
on my bike and happily rode down the mountainside to tell Stellios the good news.
Read More Matt Stories or Read Spearfishing in Skatahori