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Mykonos: Return to Paradise

30 Years after his first visit to Mykonos, Matt Barrett returns to the island of his youth to see what has changed and what has not...

Return To Paradise Part 1

Matt in MykonosSometimes life on a beautiful Greek island can get tedious. On Kea the problem can be more serious because in the past few years connections to other islands have gradually disappeared as ferry companies eliminate unprofitable routes and the Greek government has less money to subsidize them. For example if someone in Kea wanted to go to Syros, the capital of the Cyclades, to pay some tax or go to court, he had to take the boat to Lavrion, a bus to Pireaus and from there take a boat to Syros. So going to an island that is three hours away ends up taking about eight hours. After a few weeks on Kea when I begin to go a little stir-crazy from eating the same foods in the same restaurants and saying good morning and good evening to the same people, and swimming at the same quiet beaches, and hearing the church clock chime outside my window every half an hour I feel the compulsion to get away. But when there are no boats to anywhere but Kythnos I start to feel like I am the prisoner of the islands that begin with K. I can go to Athens and hang out with my friends but for me that can be unproductive and in the summer it can be very hot.

Highspeed Ferry entering MykonosThis year Hellas Flying Dolphins did something that enabled me to forgive everything they have done wrong in the past. For every cancelled or overcrowded ferry, for every wrong ferry schedule that caused me to miss the boat, for every ridiculous 8 hour ferry journey I had to take to visit an island that could be clearly seen from the island I was on, I have wiped the slate clean. Because this is the year Hellas Flying Dolphins initiated a route with the Highspeed 3, a high-tech catamaran that races through the seas at an astounding 35mph, that leaves Lavrion and visits Kea, Kythnos, Syros, Mykonos, Tinos and the port of Rafina before turning around and doing the route in reverse. This means that I can visit Syros, one of my favorite islands for an overnight trip or even for the day. It also means I can visit everybody else's favorite island, Mykonos, the tarnished jewel of the Cyclades, stay for free overnight in a fancy hotel, drive around the island like a maniac taking photos, with my helpless family in tow, and the next evening return to Kea to write about my experiences and put my photos on the web for travelers to see and other Greece websites, hotels and travel agencies to steal. (I should not complain because my Mykonos page had been on-line for 5 years using photos I took from the Greek National Tourist Organization, but since their job is to promote Greece I did not feel bad since I was helping them.)

Amarandi BarrettThe plan was for Amarandi, my ten year old daughter to accompany me and for my wife Andrea to stay in Kea where she could happily enjoy her little projects (vacuuming, laundry, washing the dishes). Amarandi would be the perfect companion because with her elevated (for a ten year old) sense of fashion and what is cool she could act as an intermediary between me and the people who visit Mykonos. She could make sure I remembered to wear my hat backwards and point out the boutiques and the kinds of shops that I would not even notice because of my habit of trying to find what is traditional or pure in a society that becomes less traditional and more impure every year. Amarandi could help me to write an article or webpage for people who were not like me. People who come to Greece to see Mykonos and party at the Scandinavian Bar and lay out on the beach tanning like big brown sloths, to shop in boutiques and shops that can be found in New York and Paris. People who come to Greece to be seen walking along the waterfront and dancing in the discos until dawn after eating at restaurants that rival the finest in the big cities of the world and cost about the same. Amarandi, with the mind of a very smart ten year old would be the perfect interpreter for me. She could keep me from revealing how un-hip I was. All I had to do was follow her lead, go where she wanted to go and say little or nothing.

AndreaMy plan hit a snag though when Andrea announced that she was coming too. If there is anyone in the world who is against all that Mykonos stands for it is Andrea. Not that she is against style and fashion. That would be like me hating travel (rather than just disliking it), since Andrea is a jeweler and is dependant upon people with too much money deciding they can't live without one of her pieces once or twice a year. Andrea would find it impressive that Lalaounis and other big-name jewelers have shops on the island and that there is a Dona Karan, or a Furstenberg store in one of the back alleys. It is just that if there is anything phony about the island she will spot it in a moment and grumble about it and then become even more vigilant until finally the trip will just become a journey through hell, like visiting a giant white mall in America. I want to see Mykonos with the eyes of a child. I can provide my own cynicism. I really don't need any help. But Andrea was not going to be left behind. In a way this was good though. We had three distinctly different viewpoints that would enable me to do a review of Mykonos that was not one-sided. We had the innocent, the myopic and the cynical. We leave the port of Korissia in Kea on a Saturday, which is the day all the Athenians and their yachts, speedboats, cars and SUV's fill the island for the weekend. It is the day we usually stay up in the village which is too steep for most Athenians to venture into.

Kythnos, GreeceThe new Flyingcat 3 painted red with a giant ad on the side for Vodefone (the NEL ferries have ads for Telestet, the other mobile phone company) enters the harbor and we wait for the weekenders who have gotten a late start to get off and we get on. We have assigned seats but because there are few people on board we can sit anywhere so I take a window seat. It is like being on a train but instead of passing hills and fields we pass islands and sea. The boat stops first in the port at Kythnos and all the smokers rush to the deck to get a few puffs on their cigarettes while those of us who want to admire the view are enveloped in a haze of smoke. I don't even bother to leave my seat in the next island, Syros, and instead look out the window which is almost at street level, at the cars and buses passing in the Cyclades capital. The seats are comfortable and there are fancy Sony televisions you can watch to make the time pass by. There is a snack bar and a few Greek children running around, some of whom are accompanying their grandmothers who are going to Tinos to crawl up the steps of the famous monastery and prostate themselves in front of the miracle-making icon.

Day 1 in Mykonos

Mykonos townWe arrive in the white village of Mykonos and disembark, following the dock to the gates where there are people holding signs advertising their rooms or hotels. But there is something strange about them and Andrea notices right away. They are silent! In the past people would be yelling out "Rooms! You want rooms? Rooms! Beautiful rooms! The best rooms!" in a cacophonous din that was both terrifying and annoying. Now whether by law or agreement the people just stood there with their little signs trying to make eye-contact, imploring travelers to know by looking at their faces that their rooms were the best and they should silently come home with them. We already have our room and though George at Fantasy Travel had told us the hotel would send the bus for us we declined the offer since we have almost no luggage and are happy to wander around the town, have lunch and then go afterwards to the hotel. I had phoned Tom Mazarakis from the boat and asked for an inexpensive Taverna in town and he recommended Yadroutas, which is where all the locals eat and was even open 24 hours and served patsa, the tripe soup that was an elixir to the working class and the late-night party-goers of Mykonos. As we walk along the waterfront, Mykonos looks much as if did the last time we were there eight years ago but far different from the seventies. Every door on street level is a shop, restaurant, travel agency, bank or cafe. Because it is a low island there are no mountains blocking the wind which keeps the waterfront air-conditioning cool and much more comfortable than the back streets.

Waiting for a taxi in MykonosIn the small square where we once spent hours each day or night at Alexis Souvlaki Shop that first year he opened in 1970 there are now several restaurants. Alexis' shop is still there though if our old friend is not a multi-millionaire living in a mansion with a swimming pool and a view of the sea he is doing something wrong. They say all the Mykonoans are millionaires. Since there are only 500 families on the island this is not hard to believe. In front of Alexis is a small monument and a crowd of people waiting for taxis. But today there seem to be more people waiting then there are taxis to serve them because we return an hour later and see the same people at the front of the line and many more behind them. Traffic in the town has been restricted to the taxis and whatever vehicles need to deliver products to the shops and restaurants. There is a guard house and a gate like that at a railroad crossing which bars the entrance. Trying to bring a car into town is like trying to get into a gated community or enter a foreign country from some border outpost. Not that there is anywhere to go if you could bring your car since the only road an automobile will even fit on is the waterfront which is usually packed with people, especially in the evening.

Mykonos townWe wander around the back street asking for Odos Metropolis which nobody is sure where it is, even though it is one of the main shopping streets in the village. Some have never heard of it and others are not quite sure where it is, maybe this way, maybe that way. (We were on it). I am happy to wander around aimlessly to discover what I may but Andrea and Amarandi are more goal oriented and they want food. I can feel their irritation and their temperatures rising as we walk deeper and deeper into the village searching for Yadroutas Taverna, or at this point any taverna that did not have a French or Italian name. Just as Andrea stops at a periptero (kiosk) and is told to turn around and go back the way we came, my cell-phone rings. It is George from Fantasy and he is on the island waiting for a rental car at the airport and do we want to meet for lunch. Sure! (George likes fancy restaurants and never lets me pay). We arrange to meet him at the taxi square and wander through the back streets heading in that general direction and when we get within a block of the waterfront we can feel the coolness of the sea breeze that dissipates the anger and hostility still emanating from my wife and daughter for taking them on this wild goose-chase.

Traditional sweets shop in MykonosIn the taxi square Amarandi wants a souvlaki while Andrea wants newspapers since there is no foreign press on Kea. I take Amarandi to Alexis and she orders a kalamaki (small shish-kabob on a stick). The taxi people are still standing in the sun with their suitcases waiting. They must be really pissed off by now. Amarandi sits in the shade to eat and Andrea returns with a bag full of news. The International Herald Tribune, The Athens News, Newsweek and she could have bought more since the International Press shop had every magazine and newspaper in every language on earth including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. (The foreign press shop in Kea only has newspapers in Greek and Albanian.) While we wait for George Andrea spots a small traditional sweets shop half a block up from the periptero. Its a beautiful little store with shelves and shelves of hand-made candies but as I take a photo the old man waves his hand and tells me "No photo! No photo!" (I take one anyway). He explains that this is a traditional shop and he does not want to defile it with publicity. I try to explain that the people who use my website are the kind of people who appreciate tradition and are not like the sun-worshipping Mykonos tourist hordes who walk past his shop a hundred times without noticing it. But he has his pride and integrity and I decide to respect this and not take any more pictures and just hope he does not see the photo of him saying "No photo!" when I put it on my website. Actually I am a little annoyed because it is the one thing I have found that is truly traditionally Greek, perhaps the only thing on the island and he won't let me exploit it.

Mykonos Border GuardsFinally George walks up looking very happy to see us. He could not get through the border guards with his car and had to park a half a mile away but the temperature is perfect and we don't mind walking along the harbor to the tiny Toyota Yara he has rented and soon we are driving along the coast to The Princess of Mykonos Hotel where we are staying (for free!). As we leave the town we pass the heralded Mykonos Yacht harbor which looks like a giant unpaved parking lot. This should be the pride of the Aegean, a state-of-the-art marina with landscaped gardens, and stone walls, cafes and buildings in the traditional style, perhaps paid for by the EU to improve the tourism facilities in Greece. One can only guess at what happened here. Actually it is not really a guess since everyone knows what happens in Greece. Money is allocated for a project, let's say for example fifty million euro for a yacht harbor. The minister or government official in charge gives the contract to one of his buddies who kicks back a nice chunk of cash to him in gratitude. Then the contractor finds the sub-contractors (he does not have to look too hard since they are close friends or relatives), who kick-back a little money (a lot actually) to the contractor in gratitude. This is continued and before you know it everyone who does nothing has already been paid and of the money that was supposed to buy the heavy equipment, the machinery and pay the workers there is now enough to hire three Albanians and a donkey.

Paradise Beach Excursion BoatIn most places in Greece this is the end of the story and they are stuck with what they get until someone raises hell and the whole process begins again. But in Mykonos where everyone is a millionaire (and some may be billionaires) there is no excuse for any project to sit uncompleted. There is no reason for any blemish on a landscape which is supposed to be immaculate on an island which is the crown jewel of Greek tourism. If the people of Mykonos, with all the riches they have accumulated from decades of tourism, can't keep parts of their island from looking like abandoned third-world construction projects and can't keep the rocks and beaches in town free of plastic, garbage and cigarette butts then they should not be surprised that tourism is falling. They must overcome the attitude that they don't have to do anything because after all this is the famous Mykonos and people will always want to come here no matter what. It took many years and a lot of hard work to become number one and as any athlete, actor, musician or successful businessman will tell you, it takes a lot of hard work to stay number one and if you sit back and coast on your reputation it won't be long before you fall back within the pack or even behind it.

Well this is just a small complaint about one or two isolated places. Mykonos, without the spectacular beauty of Santorini, (an unfair comparison since after-all Santorini is a giant volcano and would be spectacular without a single building on it), has a charm and beauty which is iconic. But with an icon when woodworm sets in you have to get rid of it as soon as it begins or you will be left with a pile of paint and sawdust.

Agios Stefanos Beach

Agios Stefanos in MykonosAgios Stefanos or San Stefanos as it is sometimes called is a sandy beach a few kilometers out of the hustle and bustle of Mykonos town. The beach is clean and the hill above it (a mountain really), has a number of hotels, small and large, some houses, villas, mansions and shops. It has changed a lot since I was last here in 1970 when I was fifteen years old sleeping on the beach and the only hotel was the Alkistis where my girlfriend and her best friend were staying with their parents. It was then, 33 years ago on a night in July that my friends, after six hours, finally coaxed me into taking the smallest portion of LSD and climbing the mountain to see the glorious sunrise of my first acid trip. When we reached the top we were dismayed to find another bigger mountain instead of the morning sun rising over a sparkling sea, perhaps an allegory for life which is supposed to be about the journey and not the goal, right? I remember leaving Mykonos that day with my girlfriend on the ferryboat Oia to go back to Athens and then back to the USA for the summer to stay with my cousins where I would stay out of trouble in accordance to my father's plan for my salvation, which backfired when it turned out my cousin Craig was wilder than me. In a coincidence that I can't attribute to the drug Andrea and her family were on that same ferry that day.

View from Princess of Mykonos HotelHere I am, no longer a kid but a 49 year old man with a wife and a daughter and a job, returning to Agios Stefanos to stay at a hotel that in the past I could only look at and dream. The Princess of Mykonos is a beautiful hotel, one of the best I have ever stayed at. Built like almost every building on the island in traditional Cycladic style it looks like a series of separate little houses surrounding a couple courtyards, one which has a breakfast area and the other a swimming pool, bar and restaurant. The whole thing overlooks the beach of Agios Stefanos with a view of the town of Mykonos and the comings and goings of the ferries, high-speeds and cruise ships. George and my family are treated to a lunch of wine and pasta at the hotel restaurant. After lunch we are shown our room which is large and comfortable with a sea view and a window opposite which provided a cross-breeze and made the air-conditioner unnecessary. While Andrea sleeps off the wine, Amarandi and I grab the big hotel towels and head for the beach.

Agios Stefanos BeachAgios Stefanos is an unpretentious beach, probably the length of a football field. It is open to the sea so it is clean and the water is the color you see in the postcards and photos that make you want to quit your job and move to Greece. There were beach chairs and umbrellas available, some for rent and some for free if you bought a drink at the cafe. There were a couple nice little tavernas too and lots of children of different nationalities but mostly Greek. Agios Stefanos is the beach where the locals go. Amarandi and I swim the length of the beach while I see how many women I can fall in love with just by their sheer beauty and style of bikini. I am transfixed by a girl in her early twenties who looks like Penelope Cruz, standing thigh deep staring out to sea and for the moment I am not an overweight bald middle-aged man but a handsome, muscular, bronzed poet with a degree in philosophy swimming with my young daughter on Mykonos where I have come to get over the loss of my wife, killed a year ago in a bizarre cooking accident. My dreams are dashed when the girl runs to her blanket next to a handsome, muscular, bronzed poet with a degree in philosophy who may be her boyfriend, her father or even her college professor

Mykonos after Sunset

Famous Pelican of Mykonos either Peter or his wifeAmarandi and I look at the town of Mykonos in the distance. "Let's go there!" I say. The sun will be setting soon and everyone comes back from the beaches to show off their clothes and their tans and the light will be perfect for taking pictures. We go back to the room where Andrea is still asleep and we change into our 'town clothes' (me with my $800 loafers, immaculate white skin tight bell-bottom slacks, silk shirt open to the waist to expose my gold chains, my Henry Miller golf cap turned backwards and my Athinas street periptero sunglasses). We ask at the desk how to get into town.
"You can take the bus but you already missed it and the next one is in an hour or we can phone a taxi for you" the girl at the desk tells us. We thank her and tell her we will walk and see what we find on the way. We are not a hundred meters down the road when the hotel bus comes by and we flag him down and he picks us up. He drops us off at the border crossing where the guardians of Mykonos are opening and closing the gates to let the taxis, which are now plentiful, in and out. As we walk through the square we see a crowd gathered around the two pelicans, one the famous Peter, (or perhaps one of the long line of Peters, some of whom have met strange and untimely deaths) and the other, a pink pelican who looks suspiciously like the same pelican who practically swallowed my entire head in its beak thirty years ago while I was waiting for someone to snap a photo. People are taking their turns being photographed by the big birds who preen themselves and barely notice.

Panagia PortianiAmarandi and I walk along the waterfront and go past the telenion, the old customs house an the largest building on the waterfront, to the back side of the town where the ancient church of the Panagia Paraportiani sits. The strange shape of the church make it a photographer's delight and besides the Parthenon it may be the most photographed building in Greece. Unfortunately, in this case my delight is dampened because there are a dozen Scandinavians standing on it and in front of it who look like they plan on spending the remaining hours of daylight there. We stand there waiting for them to disband or decide which restaurant they are going to eat at so as to let myself and several other amateur and professional photographers take our pictures. It is not as frustrating as going to the Acropolis and finding the Parthenon under scaffolding since in that case I know that no matter how long I stand there with my camera, the scaffolding is not going to move or come down. But in the end they never leave and I lose my patience. So if I never return to Mykonos my one photo of the island's most famous church will be adorned with a gang of Scandinavians. (Good news! I came back a few years later and got some good photos of it.)

Little Venice in Mykonos is the most popular place to watch the sunsetWe walk along Agio Anargyron street which has the front entrances to the beautiful little bars and cafes that comprise 'Little Venice' as the backside of the town is called because the buildings come right down to the sea. (Like Syros, which is much more impressive). Already the cafes are full and people are sitting on the wall jockeying for position for watching the sunset. Unfortunately tonight there is one self-centered yachtsman who has parked his boat right in the middle of everyone's view so he can watch the sunset before anyone else. Amarandi and I continue past the small square taken up by Alekandros Taverna to another restaurant on a promontory just below the windmills where they are getting ready for a big night. There are two outdoor grills, one for fish and the other for meat, and tables with hundreds of vegetables sliced and waiting to be served as garnish. It is called Caprice: Sea Satin Market and despite the pretentious name it looked like a fancy, yet traditional fish taverna and we take the card for future use. (This is the restaurant that Matt Damon's girlfriend is working at the end of the Bourne Identity). Amarandi sits on a rock and poses for some photos for her Greece4kids website, with Little Venice in the background and as the sun slowly sets, the fact that the rocks are full of plastic and garbage becomes less apparent and one can almost understand why someone with a restaurant that generates millions of dollars a year would not spend a few euros a day to clean up the mess on the beach. Almost.

Windmills of MykonosAmarandi and I climb up to the windmills and to the credit of the island they had the foresight to keep theirs while other islands, Kea included, let their windmills fall down when they were no longer needed for whatever it is that windmills did. Now the Mykonos windmills are houses and rental units, perched on a hill between the picturesque town and the massive parking lot on the fringe. A small word of caution. For some reason the area around the windmills attracts dogs, or perhaps their owners, and while one would think that perhaps an icon of the island could use a little landscaping, besides the individual properties which are well taken care of, the area in front is like a big litter-box. But if you watch your step you won't find a better place to take photos and enjoy the view of the town and the sunset.

The Pelican of DeathThe light is now fading and we wander the back streets looking at the shops and the people, stopping at a nice little CD shop blasting out disco-crud tinged with jet-set-society-rap and find one of the last remnants of traditional island life, the Pharmacy, which still has its wooden floors. We go inside to buy a bandage for my foot which was badly cut in tragic swimming accident on my first day in Kea. We speak with the pretty girl and compliment her on not selling out and making the place look like a mini-version of Revco. Further on we find a platia full of restaurants and in an abandoned lot we see a third pelican, this one with the eyes of the devil, looking out at the world with hatred. Amarandi names him The Death Pelican. We don't know the story of why this poor creature turned away from the light but perhaps he was an heir to the pelican throne, was denied his inheritance and now plots his revenge on Peter, the people of Mykonos and the tourists who fuel his anger by photographing the other pelicans like they are Prince Charles and Lady Di on holiday. By the time we get to the waterfront the cafes are filling up and there is a line to stand next to the Pelicans. They are no longer preening themselves but actually posing. I ask Amarandi to stand next to them for a photo but every time she gets close someone else jumps in and pushes her out of the way. "Come on, Amarandi. Be assertive. Eye of the tiger. The future of this island depends on you having a good photo with Peter the Pelican so children will beg their parents to bring them here." But Amarandi is not feeling confrontational and we finally give up and go looking for one of the Mykonos Ducks or maybe Billy the Mykonos Dog to take a picture with.

Sirens PikiliaHilda, the manager of the Princess of Mykonos, had given us the name of an ouzerie on the waterfront that still served traditional mezedes and played Greek music, but Andrea has it and is walking in the dark from Agios Stefanos to town. We find a place called Sirenes and sat down next to two old Greek men but as soon as we place our order and the tablecloth, silverware and bread appear one of them lights up a giant cigar and a massive cloud of smoke goes right to the empty chair where Andrea will be sitting and lingers there until she arrives. The waiter is gracious and helps us move to another table on the edge of the crowd and our ouzo and mezedes come. I have ordered the small pikilia which consists of some little cheese pies, delicious fried squid and gavros (anchovies), Mykonos sausage, tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese and some great little keftedes (meatballs). Surprisingly the price is just ten euro which is what the same thing would cost at Rolando's in Kea. While we sit drinking, talking and eating a street performer is entertaining the whole waterfront by playing tricks on the people walking by. We feel pretty lucky that our first attempt to find good mezedes is a successful one and I can happily recommend Sirenes (or Sirens: the women-creatures who in the Odyssey who would entice sailors with their sweet singing and then devour them).

Caprice Sea Satin Fish tavernaGeorge arrives and we go to find the Kounelas restaurant, a quiet little fish taverna, unpretentious by Mykonos standards, that looks fantastic, but it is packed. Next stop is the big square below the Church of Paraportiani with several more great looking tavernas which except for the fancy tablecloths and water glasses might be on any island. We actually find a table and sit down and I am ready to begin my Mykonos dining experience. But when George calls Hilda she says we should go to the Caprice Sea Satin Market, because it is better so we go there. Now that it is dark the restaurant is packed and instead of a plastic littered beach the view is the windmills, the stars, the lights of boats at sea and Little Venice. We are given a table and place our order. While Amarandi and George go to pick out a fish for grilling, the wine and water come, along with bread and two plates of raw clams on the half shell and a beautiful salad brought to the table by a procession of waiters. It was the last food we were to see for two and a half hours. Every time George complained the maitre d' would scurry off to find what on earth was going on. I had not eaten the bread which was toasted on the grill, because I wanted to save it for the home-made tarama salad, which when it came was probably the best I have ever eaten though the bread was by then cold, if not petrified. Eventually we got everything in bits and pieces including the enormous 2.3 kilo fish. Sadly though by now Amarandi, who had picked out the delicious fish, was fast asleep and did not get to enjoy it and we are all drunk from too much wine and not enough food. George is angry but very courteous and diplomatic to the maitre d' since it appears to us like he is giving orders that nobody is following. We discover that Kokollis, the Greek millionaire who runs the state lottery, is in the restaurant with his entourage, and the entire staff is waiting on him in the hopes of getting a big tip or a winning lottery ticket. To the credit of Caprice Sea Satin Market the food was good despite the lousy service which I suppose you could say was due to unique circumstances and compare it to the time that every flight at LAX was delayed because President Clinton was getting a haircut on Airforce One. If the owners spent a few of their precious euro on paying someone to keep the shore clean I would give it an even better review.

Return to Paradise Part 2

Peninsula at ParagaWhen George drops us off at our room he tells me that he is leaving the keys to the car at the front desk so I can drive around and see the island when I wake up. The next morning after a swim in the pool to shake off the cobwebs and one of the better breakfast buffets, we jump into the car so Andrea and I can return to our roots. In 1972 several of us, all students at the American Community Schools of Athens, had stayed in the caves on the peninsula at Paranga Beach. Actually we came every summer, several times a summer and stayed at Paranga (which we did not even know the name of because there was no road, one hole in the wall restaurant, and nobody there but us) and at Paradise Beach, which was the next cove over. With spending money that amounted to about thirty dollars, we lived on plates of fried potatoes (about 10 drachma or thirty cents), macaroni without meat sauce, and the cheapest retsina, which sustained us for two weeks or more before returning to Athens for our allowance. In those days there were no roads to these beaches and no buses except to Platiyialos where we would get off and walk on a dirt path along the coast to the caves we felt privileged to know about. At night we would take the bus to town and hang out at Alexis Souvlaki Shop or in front of the bars which we could not afford. When it was time to go back to our caves we would chip in for a taxi, walk, or find a front porch on the waterfront to sleep on until the first bus in the morning. Andrea and I, who were not a couple, just classmates were there at the same time staying in two different caves. Today we were bringing our daughter to see the caves her parents had lived in.

Paraga BeachWe follow the sign to Paraga Beach and come to a giant parking lot with enormous boulders and piles of rocks scattered around in what looks like yet another Greece beautification project gone awry. I lead the girls onto the small mountain and we climb through the rocks unsuccessfully searching for Andrea's cave. We finally give up and go to the other end of the peninsula that juts out to sea and find what looks like my cave, but maybe isn't. (It is pretty sad when you can't even recognize your own cave.) When we look back at Paranga Beach we are astounded. What had been a quiet stretch of sand with two or three nude bathers seeking solitude thirty years ago is now a sea of umbrellas and beach chairs. The two tiny huts, one of which was the small taverna we ate at whenever the owner was in the mood to open, was now an enormous cafe-bar-disco. As we start to walk towards the end of the peninsula to the area we used to call Jupiter because of the unearthly rock formations, we startle a fat naked German man who scurries away. Realizing that I have an impressionable and innocent young child with me I have to think fast. "Look! That was a naked weeney-wagging lizard man." I explain to Amarandi. "They are a very rare species of creature that live among the rocks and they have never been photographed before." I point to the end of the peninsula in the distance where there are other men sunbathing nude. "Look! There are some others! This is our lucky day!" It became a game of stalking the naked weeney-wagging lizard men, trying to capture them on film to sell to National Geographic. "You see, they have the brains of lizards. That is why they like to lay naked in the sun all day even though they know it causes skin cancer". I decide not to continue on our journey to Jupiter. I do not want my daughter and I to be surrounded by a herd of angry naked weeney-wagging lizard men with no escape. Instead we walk back towards Paraga beach on the path while Andrea climbs back over the mountain and actually locates my cave (she told me later).

ParagaWhen my phone suddenly rings it startles me out of the world of the weeney-waggers and my own personal history. It is my sister-in-law Pamela. "I have sad news", she tells me. Jack Marlowe, my friend and mentor and one of the heroes of my book SPEARFISHING IN SKATAHORI, has just succumbed to the cancer that he was fighting for the past three years. Jack was my teacher in high school in Athens and to be standing here on the peninsula of Paranga and finding out that he was gone seems incredibly perfect, like it could not be just chance. This magical place of my youth now filled with fat naked Germans wandering over the rocks or lounging in crevices reading the business pages of Der Speigel, or the clean sandy beaches where I once swam alone or with my friends, now renting beach chairs and umbrellas for three euro while giant speakers blast Latin techno-pop and half-baked reggae, was as dead as my pal Jack.

Paraga BeachAndrea wants to swim. To me it is sacrilege but I go along. We walk along the beach. On one side is the sea, as blue and beautiful as it ever was, but today there are two yachts in the middle of the bay and by afternoon there may be a dozen more. On the other side are the endless beach chairs and umbrellas, many taken by old and fat people who have no business being naked except in the privacy of their own homes. It is kind of funny when I think about it. Back in the seventies the people who came here and to Paradise Beach were the adventurers. Many were on their way to and from the east, like Bobby and his entourage from NYC who spent their winters in India and their summers in Mykonos. Thinking of the bronze bodies, finely tuned by a winter of yoga asanas and an age which was less consumptive, and comparing them to the fat tourists who eat and drink like pigs and then try to sweat it off laying naked in the sun like giant beached hippopotamuses would be comical were it not such a sad symbol of the state of civilization.

Peter from Quebec keeps Paraga beach cleanAndrea takes her swim and I follow but I can't relax because my stuff is sitting on a beach chair and I am worried that either I will be charged for the day or somebody will steal my camera and this whole trip will be for nothing. So I swim back to shore and strike up a conversation with Peter, a nice kid from Quebec who has a job this summer cleaning up the garbage and the cigarette butts the Greeks and tourists throw in the sand even though the cafes are responsible enough to have ashtrays in every little group of beach chairs. It's a good summer job, Peter tells me, though the hours are long and the pay skimpy. He had worked eighteen hours the day before because there was a wedding. Still he has a free bed, probably free food and he is handsome enough to have a different girlfriend every day or several. It is the kind of job any nineteen year old or forty-niner would kill for. Most likely the beautiful boys and girls have yet to make it to the beach after a night of partying and the package tour types scattered here and there may not be representative of the true personality of 21st Century Paraga beach. Probably if we were to pay our euros for a couple beach chairs (or beds actually) and an umbrella and spend the afternoon I would fall in love a hundred times. But I have to tell myself that I have a wife, a child and a job and my job is to see as much as I can of Mykonos before lunch.

I have to give the owners of Paraga Beach credit though. Hiring kids like Peter to keep the beach clean is the intelligent and civilized thing to do. Thirty years ago a half dozen American high school kids smoking Marlboros and Karelias are not going to make that much of an environmental impression on Paraga beach. With the large number of people visiting the beaches of Mykonos now it takes vigilance and hard work to keep these beaches clean and I have to give Paraga, and every beach we saw, a lot of credit. If some of the visitors to the islands (especially Athenians I am ashamed to say) would be more considerate and clean up after themselves and refrain from throwing their cigarette butts into the sea and sand, Greece would be a much cleaner place and kids like Peter would not have to work so hard.

Paradise BeachWhen we get to Paradise Beach I can't recognize the place. There is a bus stop about fifty yards from the entrance to the beach. In fact it is more than a bus stop. It is a bus station with a shaded waiting area and cafes and tourist shops. We park the car and walk through the bamboo curtain to a far different world than the one I left thirty something years ago. In 1970 Paradise Beach had one cafe-restaurant run by George and Freddy. They were brothers. It was a haven for hippies and travelers to and from the east before wars and religion made it impossible to go overland from Athens to India and beyond. There was an area behind a bamboo forest where people set up their tents but we just slept in our sleeping bags in the shade the bamboo provided. There were perhaps a hundred people camped there in the summer, sometimes more and sometimes less. We drank retsina, smoked hashish and took acid in one of the world's safest, peaceful and most beautiful environments. We fell in love with beautiful girls from Sweden, Germany, France, Holland, England and even the good ole USA, made love all night and cried when we said goodbye and never saw or heard from them again. We played Norwegian Wood and songs from After The Goldrush around campfires on the beach and made friends with people who were as adventurous as we one day hoped to be. They were just twenty-one or twenty-two but they seemed like grown-ups to us teenagers. And we, being teenagers un-tethered, let go in a way that was impossible for teens in America except for rare occasions like Woodstock.

Freddy at Paradise beachThe world of Paradise Beach that I walked into in 2003 is only recognizable by the big sign that reads: Paradise Beach Self Service Restaurant General Store. Est. 1969. Inside the bamboo walls are two giant cafe-fastfood restaurants with enormous bars, swimming pools, tourist shops, and so many umbrellas that I can not even see the sea until I walk right up to it. The crowd is cool though, better than Paraga, mostly international people of college age and older. Beautiful girls, boys and even families. The most amazing things is that in the midst of it behind a cash register in the fast-food self-service restaurant is Freddy, who has to be one of the wealthiest men on the island. I introduce myself and we talk about the old days and some of the old people who still come back to see where they spent the best summers of their lives. I introduce Amararandi to him and he shows me a photo of his son, the same age as Amarandi and introduces me to another son in his twenties or older. Freddy seems pretty down to earth like George was before he died in the early seventies and I think about what a story his life is. They had this little hut of a restaurant on a beach far from town with no road and no bus, just a little cacique from Platiyialos and yet over the years the world came to them. From the hippies of the sixties and early seventies to the mass tourism of the eighties and nineties, Freddy has watched the whole thing play our. And even with all his money and all he has seen and done there he is sitting behind the cash register, taking euros now, no longer drachmas, from young travelers for a coke, a mousaka or maybe a spaghetti-carbonara. He offers me a drink for old times sake but I want to get going. I want to see Super Paradise Beach, something I never got around to doing in the seventies.

Paradise Beach, MykonosI could happily hang out here all day. I would be even happier if I were twenty years younger and on my own. Paradise Beach looks like an international MTV Spring Break Beach Party with a few old geezers like me and their spouses and kids thrown in to give it a more wider audience appeal. There is a dive center so you don't have to just hang out on the beach or the bars or cafes. You can explore the sea. There are posters around advertising dance parties and on the hill is Ithaki, said to be one of the best fish tavernas on the island. It is not the same place where we lived like half naked natives singing Needle and the Damage Done. But if I had never been here before and was coming from America, or Europe or Australia and walked through the bamboo gate, no matter how old I was I would probably say "This place is %#@ing cool!"

Super Paradise BeachIt is a long drive to Super Paradise or longer than I expected it to be. In the old days you had to walk or take the caique (small boat) and I always assumed it was just over the next hill. In the mythology of the sixties there was Paradise Beach which was a nude hippy beach. There was Super Paradise which was said to be a nude beach for gays which we imagined was one big orgy of men entwined in the sand and was a little frightening to us kids at that time, being not only less liberated, but some of us too young to even know we were gay. Beyond that was Elia Beach which we called Hell (even though it actually meant olive). We could only imagine what kind of scary things were going on in a place called Hell. Scary mythological creatures? Human sacrifices? Hydras? Cyclops?  ...who knew? We only knew we did not want to go there.

Now Elia, or Hell is home to the Royal Mykonian Villas and The Mykonian Imperial and Thalasso Center. Super Paradise beach is at the bottom of a road that any car under 1000cc probably won't make it back up. I get close enough to admire the beauty of the sea and take a few photos and then drive back to Agios Stefanos to meet George for lunch.

Final Hours in Mykonos

Mykonos TownTravel agents must know by now that it is risky to send me somewhere to write about it. I guess I am a two-edged sword. It is a gamble. I may love a place and rave about it and then the agent is happy because even though he paid my way and put me in an expensive hotel, people will read what I have written and maybe even book with him. But if I go someplace and dislike it so much that I am inspired to write something negative but brilliant then there is not much the agent can do except hope I will tone it down so I don't scare everyone away. Mykonos for me is a tricky subject because having been there when it was unspoiled my objectiveness is polluted by nostalgia. However it is hard to deny that even for those of us who mourn the good old days Mykonos is something special and if someone has their heart set on going there I would not try to talk them out of it. It is a beautiful island with some fantastic beaches, a wider selection of restaurants than anywhere else in Greece, and is still a magnet that attracts beautiful women and handsome men, some with money and some who believe the cost of a holiday in Greece added to their mounting credit card debt is worth it. Let's face it. Nearly everyone is in debt and what is the difference if you are in the hole for twenty-thousand dollars or twenty-two?

View from Taverna Vasouls at Agios StefanosWhen we meet George we tell him of our experiences over lunch at the Taverna Vasoula right on Agios Stefanos Beach. George has been negotiating rates for next season with several hotels including the Princess of Mykonos and despite business being down this summer the hotel owners say they are raising the rates 10%. George tells them this is a very good idea but in this case he will not take any rooms next season. Since the hotels depend on the agencies to take a certain number of rooms for the season in advance and pay for them, they are dependent because even if tourism bombs this summer, at least the agencies will have paid for some of the rooms and will be sharing the loss. The agencies need the rooms because they get them so cheaply they know they can undercut anyone and they know that if it is a great summer they will have those rooms and not have to knock themselves out searching for them. The owner of one hotel is a millionaire with three jewelry stores who has turned down an offer from another millionaire to buy the hotel for 17 million euros and yet he is arguing with George about a few euros per room. It is a game to see who is boss.

Princess of Mykonos HotelI tell George that I think the Princess of Mykonos Hotel at Agios Stefanos is a terrific hotel in a great location, close to town without being in town, right on a beach that is not a Saturday Night Fever disco party, where you can still find a taverna that has simple Greek food for reasonable prices, and a place to park your car. I hope he will take rooms in the Princess next season too, not just so we can stay there, but because it is the kind of place that I am comfortable recommending. We go back to the hotel to shower and maybe take a nap before our boat comes at seven to take us back to Kea. Amarandi makes friends with some American kids in the pool and wants to stay in Mykonos forever. There is hot weather in the forecast and we can already feel it and even my feet feel sunburned from wandering around the rocks looking for lost caves and eluding the naked weeney-wagging lizard men. I would not mind staying another night and checking out Taverna Nikos or one of the other places in the square below Panagia Paraportiani, hitting the Scandinavian Bar or Katerina's and seeing if I still had not lost the ability to flirt despite years of neglect. But I leave with my family and as the boat sails out of the harbor and picks up speed I am torn between watching the white houses of Mykonos recede into the fading light of the day, or the James Bond movie that is showing on the TVs.

The trip goes quickly and when we get back to Kea it is almost dark and there is a line of cars and people waiting for the ferries and high-speeds to take them off the island after their weekend here. We are parked next to the psistaria (grill restaurant) and there is a whole suckling pig turning on the spit which we find irresistible, and delicious. When we finally drive up to the village there is nowhere to park. "Shades of Mykonos, everyone is supposed to be on their way back to Athens by now. What are all these cars doing here?" I ask. There is a baptism in the platia and all night long Zoulos and his violin serenade the crowd. With my window facing out on the amphitheatre shaped village it is like he is playing in my room, but at least it is Greek and not that techno-disco-reggae-rap I would be hearing if my room was anywhere near one of the clubs in Mykonos. Anyway it stops at sunrise and everyone goes home to bed and I am here laying in bed thinking about what to write to go with my photos of Mykonos. I guess it does not really matter since most people have already decided they want to visit Mykonos and Santorini and the pictures will only reinforce this and very few people read my travel stories all the way through, do they?

Moral of the Story

Mykonos TownThe fact is that on islands like Mykonos, or any tourist destination there are people who care and are professionals and there are people who don't care about anything but money and just exploit the fact that they happen to be on one of the most popular islands in the world. To those people of Mykonos who truly care and do their best to keep the island clean and beautiful while making the traveler feel so happy and content that he never wants to leave, and provide a level of quality and service that the visitors who spend their hard-earned money deserve, I congratulate and salute you and I hope you will always prosper because you deserve to.

Little Venice from the windmillsI would like to also send a message to those few Mykonians who think that because they are the famous island of Mykonos that tourists will always come. If you give only the appearance of quality without giving actual quality people may come once but they won't come again. It is not enough to clean up the little area around your restaurant. Sometimes you have to take the responsibility of cleaning the neighborhood when your neighbors, or the town or government are unwilling or oblivious. To the millionaires and billionaires of Mykonos I have this message. If you don't want to spend your money to keep the island up to the standards which it's reputation demands then don't complain when your fortunes dwindle. To those with the power in positions to enrich themselves by stealing the money that is supposed to go to improving the public facilities of places like Mykonos, don't bother calling yourselves Greeks. There is another name for creatures that behave like this. Greece is just the trough you feed at.

Agia Anna Beach, MykonosFor you Athenians and those from other countries who visit please don't throw your cigarettes into the sea or leave them on the beach or drop them on the street. It is inconsiderate and uncivilized. Throw paper and especially plastic in garbage containers and don't leave them to be blown around the island or into the sea by the famous winds of Mykonos. We can all do our part to keep places like Mykonos clean so they may be enjoyed by everyone. Because unless everyone on the island works together to keep it this way it may not always be the jewel of the Aegean. Even with an army of travel writers, publicists, travel agents, newspapers, magazines and television shows singing the praises of Mykonos, a tarnished jewel soon loses its value. If you don't care enough about your country to keep it beautiful, don't expect the rest of the world to come visiting.

Matt's Cave in MykonosAs for you, the traveler thinking about whether you should visit Mykonos or not after reading this I can tell you it is as beautiful as it looks in these pictures and a lot of fun too. Mykonos is a fantastic island. One of the most beautiful and exciting travel destinations in the world and if you visit you will have a wonderful time and maybe become one of those people who come back year after year for the beaches, the food and the unrivaled nightlife. Mykonos has changed a lot since I left thirty years ago and if it is total solitude you seek you may want to look elsewhere or come in the winter. But to say Mykonos has been spoiled, as some people have said, is an unfair statement. Since the seventies Mykonos has always been what it is, and what it is has always been changing. It is a unique place. It is a place you will never forget. Whether you are staying in a beautiful hotel, or living in a cave.

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