Zakynthos

“Life is bigger than my little problems, and more full of possibility than I know.”

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I left Patra on a bus that would take me to a ferry and then into the main town of Zakynthos. I dozed a little during the hour it took to reach Kyllini, where we would board the ferry. Upon arriving at the port, everyone hurriedly piled off the bus and started pulling their luggage out of the hold. Unsure of whether I should do the same, I looked around for someone to ask.

The bus driver came over and started yelling something at a woman who was about to get her bag off (I don’t think he was yelling aggressively – some Greek people just seem to yell when they speak). After he finished yelling I tried to ask him if the bags should stay on the bus and he yelled something at me in Greek and motioned for me to go to the ferry. I took this to mean that I could leave my bag.

Once I was on the ferry, a spacious and luxurious vessel with a bar and a couple of shops, I felt very nervous about being parted from my bag. What if I had misunderstood him? What if the buses didn’t even get on the ferry? I started scanning around the other passengers, trying to see if they had luggage. Some had small suitcases, but nothing big, I thought.

I couldn’t help worrying, and spent the hour-long ferry ride in a state of anxiety, waiting to find out if I had lost everything.

As the ferry neared its port, everyone went down to the doors and waited in a huddle for them to open. The doorway to the bus area of the ferry was open, and lots of people went running down into the bowels of the boat, coming back a few minutes later with their luggage. Was this what we were supposed to do? Were we not getting back on the bus? I had been under the impression that we were, but now I wasn’t so sure.

The huge door lowered as the ferry docked and the people bolted, like a herd of cattle being let off a truck. The buses also started driving out, and I desperately tried to remember what my bus had looked like. After panicking for a few seconds as several identical buses drove out, I spotted the driver who had yelled at me. I tried to chase after the bus, as it looked like it was going to drive away, but it just did a big circle before stopping in the car park.

I went and hopped on with a handful of other people, and, without waiting to see if anyone else was coming, the driver closed the doors and drove off. We stopped briefly while he yelled at a truck driver who was in the way (he was a very shouty person) and then we continued the short distance to the town.

The doors opened and I jumped down, eager to see my bag. It was there – exactly where I had left it in the hold! Phew! I had never been so happy to heave it onto my shoulders.

Off the beaten track

I got a taxi to my accommodation, because it was about 20 minutes’ drive from the main town, in a little place called Psarou, which I had been led to believe would be more relaxing and less touristy that the larger resort towns.

It certainly was. After settling in to my studio apartment, I explored the area in search of the town. It was very rural – chickens pecked along the side of the road, fields of fruit trees rustled in the breeze and hardly any cars passed me as I walked. I found a sign pointing to Psarou Beach, and, seeing a glimmer of blue and some large umbrellas, followed it excitedly.

The beach turned out to be about 30 metres long and five metres wide. There was one restaurant (a taverna, as they are called there) and that was it. Too hungry to venture any further, I stopped in at the taverna and enjoyed some dolmades before walking up the path to see if I could find anything resembling a town.

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Stunning view from the only restaurant in Psarou.

After about an hour’s walk and some help from a Swedish woman who was also searching, I finally made it to Alykes, where a huge stretch of beach was covered with sunbathing tourists, and a main street was packed with restaurants, bars and tour companies. It suddenly felt good to be among other tourists on holiday, doing holiday things. I was ready for a holiday.

By this point, my feet were aching and I couldn’t go on. I flopped into a beachside restaurant called ‘Paradiso’. It was everything you could want from an island bar. It was decorated with tiki torches, colourful lanterns and cushioned seats, and it had an English menu.

“Screw being intrepid,” I happily thought to myself as I ordered a mango smoothie and logged on to the free Wi-Fi.

A day on a boat

For my second day in Zakynthos, I had booked myself onto an all-day around-the-island boat trip. I was picked up from near my accommodation at 8.00am, the first person on a 50 seater bus. Being the low season, I was sure it wouldn’t fill up, but as we stopped at more and more hotels it became clear that I was wrong. By the time we got to the docks in Zakynthos town I saw that we were the last of three full buses to arrive at the boat.

There weren’t many seats left, but I found one that gave me a direct view out to sea. Sitting across from me was a girl who also seemed to be on her own. She told me her name was Yun and that she was from China. She had been travelling for almost year, on a long break from her job as a middle-school teacher. I had spent too many days by myself and was happy to make a friend. Yun and I became a team for the day.

The boat pulled out of the docks, and we stood at the side of the boat, the wind whipping our hair around our faces. I towered above Yun and occasionally had to lean down to hear what she was saying. She told me she had been in Australia for a few months at the beginning of the year. I told her about the time I spent in China when I was 14 years old.

As we chatted, the boat began its course around the island, providing lovely views of the coast and cliffs. After a while the scenery turned from simply gorgeous to full-on spectacular. The white cliffs that rose high above the water took on a bluish tinge from the water reflecting below. And oh, that water!

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such blue water in my whole life,” I gasped to Yun.

It was the colour of pool tiles – bright, clean and aqua-blue. The pristine surface sparkled as shafts of light sliced through its shallow depths. It was too perfect to be real. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a mermaid happened to pop out of the water to relax on a rock, so surreal was the scene.

The boat stopped at Shipwreck Bay, a stunning little cove at the bottom of the cliffs, where the old, rusty ruins of a ship on the beach only added to the natural beauty.

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Seriously – bluest water ever!

Photo mania

The only problem with travelling to amazing places is that they’re pretty popular. Hundreds of people offloaded onto the beach, all carrying towels, umbrellas and other beach accessories.

I took the opportunity to engage in one of my favourite pastimes; people-watching. I found that it didn’t matter where I looked, however, all I could see was one thing. People taking photos of themselves.

Couples awkwardly held kisses for several minutes, trying to find the best angle for both of their faces. A mother launched into a photo shoot of her teenage daughter, snapping shot after shot of the gorgeous blond girl (who could have been no more than 14 years old) posing like a Playboy model in the waves. Groups of friends flicked their hair and flexed their muscles as they took turns in various combinations.

Yun, herself, was obsessed with her selfie stick (“lots of Asians like these,” she told me as though I didn’t know), and she used it without a hint of self-consciousness – snapping away as she moved effortlessly through a repertoire of poses and facial expressions. When I offered to take a photo of her, so she didn’t have to use the stick, she directed me as to where I should stand and what angle to hold the camera at. Assessing the results, she returned the phone to her stick and took the photo again.

As I sat there watching people pose, click, check the screen and repeat, I couldn’t help thinking what a shame it was. Here we were on this incredible, out-of-this-world beach, and instead of just taking it in, everyone seemed intent on capturing the perfect image of themselves.

In fairness, I have taken hundreds of photos and even a few selfies while on my trip, but after getting my shots, I force myself to put the camera away and experience the scene without distraction. Because no photo is ever going to make you feel the way you did when you were actually there. If you waste the experience trying to get the perfect photo of yourself, sure, you might get a lot of likes on Facebook, but will you have the memory of sitting serenely and gazing in awe at the blueness of the sea?

And with that little rant over, I shall continue to tell you about the day!

The travel life

We departed Shipwreck Bay and wrapped scarves and towels around our shoulders, as the speed of the boat made the wind cold and strong. Next stop was the Blue Caves. These little caves were dotted all the way along the cliff face. Their name is not random – the brilliant colour of the water reflects onto the smooth white rock, giving each cave a mystical glow.

Yun and I both sighed and smiled at the seemingly endless beauty. Luckily Yun’s phone battery had died, worn out by all the selfies, and she turned her attention back to our conversation.

“Travelling has made me so happy,” she told me. “I have so much more confidence than before. I never would have thought I could do all this, but now I know I can.”

I nodded, knowing from experience how she felt. Knowing that after every trip you can see a change in yourself that never would have occurred if you’d stayed at home. I was thinking about my life and how I was ready for such a change, when the jangly Greek music that had been blaring through the boat’s speakers all day suddenly stopped. A moment later it was replaced by a song I knew well.

“Oh, life,” sang Michael Stipe. “It’s bigger. Bigger than you.”

“Yes, it is,” I thought. “Yes, it is.”

Life is bigger than my little problems, and more full of possibility than I know.

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Colourful houses in Zakynthos.

All at sea

As the boat finally came back to port, eight hours after leaving, I was yawning from all the fresh air. I said goodbye to Yun and got on the bus that would take me back to my accommodation. I checked with the driver that he could take me to Psarou, as this was quite far from where everyone else would be dropped off. He said “yes, of course” and off we went. I waited patiently while everyone was dropped off before me, and then when there were only a few people left, he walked back through the bus to check where we were all going. He remembered me and with a point and a smile said, “Psarou”.

Eventually I was the only person left. I tried not to let my eyelids close as the bus juddered down the narrow roads, and it was a while before I realised that this didn’t look familiar at all.

Getting up, I swayed down the aisle to the driver’s seat. As soon as he saw me, he smacked his hand over his mouth with a look of anguish, as he realised that he had forgotten about me and we were going to have to go all the way back.

Half an hour later, both myself and the driver were obviously feeling weary as we told each other, “sorry, sorry!” He dropped me off and I trudged back to my apartment. It was nearly dark, and when I walked into my empty room I felt a sudden rush of homesickness, which was quite unexpected after such a wonderful day.

I felt tired and alone. All I wanted to do was to sit on the couch at home and watch TV with my family. I knew this feeling would pass, but it wasn’t enjoyable.

I tried to remind myself that homesickness is part of the journey, and that I was still transitioning to travel mode. I put on some music, and let the familiar lyrics and melodies restore my resilience.

Although it was tough, I knew I could deal with a bit of homesickness. After all, it’s natural to want what is comfortable and safe. I thought back to what I had been pondering earlier that day and decided that a real change in my personality or outlook on life would not be gained simply through the viewing of beautiful sights (although I’m sure that helps!). It would be earned through the challenge of being out of my comfort zone, in a foreign place, without anyone to fall back on. Travel is not a holiday, it’s an experience, and I had committed to experiencing all of it, positive and negative.

I thought that night of my favourite quote from Jane Eyre (yes, I’m a book nerd). Here it is:

I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.

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Zakynthos town.

 

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