Ithaca

Ithaca gave us the marvellous journey.

It was briefly discussed over the winter, without giving too much importance to the idea. Busy with other worries for most of the spring and summer.
But as soon as Markus arrived in Kefalonia this year, the idea was put forward again, as though it were new. None of us had really done any kayaking for a long time. It wasn’t training that we needed anyway, it was just a crazy plan. And we did have a crazy plan.

We would kayak to Ithaca over 2 or 3 days, with stops in Skala and Poros on the way. And that’s more or less what we did. We had to time it around Markus’s volunteer shifts, but it worked.

Day 1 (Katelios – Mounda):
It was an afternoon in late July. The weather was unusually funny for the season. Funny as in stormy. We took to the sea a bit unaware of the weather around, we were sailing in very familiar waters after all. Not long after leaving from Katelios, maybe halfway to cape Mounda, the wind picked up and the sky darkened quite suddenly. I started seeing lightning at a distance, in front of us and to our left, so East and North. I pointed it out to Markus, who didn’t really believe me at first. But when the flashing in the sky got more frequent, we thought it wise to get out of the water quickly. So just past Marina Bay on Mounda we turned towards the beach. In doing so I realized Nikos was swimming a few hundred meters ahead of us in the direction of the cape. I paddled fast to get alongside him, and shouted to get out, the storm is coming can you see it? He nodded placidly and turned only a few degrees to make for the shore in an ever-so-slightly more direct way. Eventually we all landed right before the cape, and as the electric storm didn’t seem to get any closer Markus and I just jumped in the water. Why did you stop us then?, we thought to ourselves. We knew the next day would have to be longer because of this early stop.

Day 2 (Mounda – Poros):
We knew the second leg of the trip would be long. On the first day we had to stop because of the storm, so this day we would have to go all the way up the coast to Poros after going around cape Mounda. We set off early enough, and paddled steadily and quietly. I know this stretch of coast already, so nothing new to see. We went past Skala, the road, the hotels and bars. We had some breakfast in front of the main beach with all the sunbeds. Then we saw the bigger hotels and complexes on the hills, Apostolata village. After that the coastline becomes more interesting, then we get to the rocky mushrooms beach. At that point we’re pretty tired, feeling the effort in our arms. We still have to get around the last headland and cut through with Poros port on our left, to get to the very end of Poros (Ragia) beach. This last part feels the longest, we can see our destination for the day and it seems to take forever. We finally land on Poros beach, little elation, just fatigue. A tasty pasteli (sesame bar) comes to the rescue. We park the kayaks behind a bush at the back of the beach, check the time and realize we’d have to run to make the bus. We don’t even have time to buy some pastry at the bakery. But when we get to the square, there is no bus at 11 or 11.30, claims the kiosk man. I don’t want to believe it, so I call the bus station. Naturally he’s right. Ok, time for spanakopita then. And call Fiona for a lift, too tired to think about hitch hiking. We get back for lunch with the Ithaca shores expecting us on another day.

Day 3 (Poros – Ithaca):
The moment of truth came on the third day. Took a lift to Poros in the early morning with Fiona, set out to start paddling at 7am. The day was clear. Only a little delay on schedule. A picture for the heroes and off we went, leaving the known shores behind. We had planned to stay along the coast for a while, until the last sandy beach in Kefalonia, then head NE towards Ithaca’s tiny coves. We stuck to the plan and paddled happily. A beautiful part of the coast unrolled before our eyes. When the water was very calm we saw big tuna-like fish leaping out of the water. At one singular moment the wind picked up, around 10 o’clock, when we were still along the Kefalonian coast, and we paddled against the current for a while. Then we saw the last beach on the big island and landed for a break. We consumed an egg each. Energy boost and a quick swim in the clear water. The sea was stupefyingly still when we turned to starboard and left the coast. Ithaca looked quite close, and we had a surprisingly easy paddle across. There was time for some jumping in the water and pictures in the open sea. Then the shore appeared really close, and we arrived on a really small shadeless beach, almost exactly on schedule. Time to cool down again with a dip in the water that felt almost cold, due to the contrast with the scorching 1 o’clock sun. Markus quickly discovered that in the remotest NE corner of the beach a few rocks managed to give some shade, and that’s where we had our nutritious lunch. Curled under the rocky wall. The heat was intense. After lunch Markus found a half-shaded very rough spot on the opposite shade of the shore under some sunbaked bush. I was too excited and spent some time climbing up one side of the cliff into the vegetation to take some pictures. Then I rushed up the back of the beach, a very interesting dry riverbed paved full with big rolling rocks. The surface was very unstable, the slope quite steep, but I sweated some way up for a great view and some more pictures. I also wondered how far and hard it would be to the first path/road, which on the map seemed at least a few kms away.
It was time to move on towards the port, having learned from our past epic trip to Zakynthos that ferry timetables can’t be trusted. As we were getting ready to go, the coast guard arrived on a speedboat and spent half an hour checking the other rubber boat in the tiny bay, whose occupants never got ashore. I spent all the time wondering what I would reply to their question, which in my mind was sure to come: ‘where are you coming from?’. I had more or less settled on ‘a land far far away’, but we must have looked too weird, two weirdos for them. So after that figurative cold shower we resumed our preparations to get to the port along the Ithacan coast.
This time the crazy plan consisted of us snorkelling while towing the kayaks at the same time. We had brought two ropes especially for the purpose. I threw my gigantic dry bag inside the kayak, tied the rope through the hook at the bow and around the paddle, checked my absolute beginner’s knot, then passed the other end of the rope around my waist and set off first with my snorkel on. It was surprisingly light, except the rope on my skin was uncomfortable and wouldn’t stay. Quick fix, I passed the rope under my armpits and around the back of my neck and it worked! There was no slipping of the rope and I was swimming effortlessly. Markus was due to wait a bit longer so he could take some pictures of me in the act of swimming with the kayak, and he dutifully did. I stayed close to the rocky side of the tiny bay, watching the seabed diving too deep to be seen in a few strokes. I turned behind to make sure Markus was coming then I kept going into the blue. Just before the exit of the bay the rocky coastline was barely visible underwater, as though the wall ran away from me at a negative angle. But just at the corner, as we swam around and out of the bay turning N, underwater rocks became more visible and less deep for a moment, and we could see swarms of fish everywhere. One of the most exciting sights of the whole trip. Fear of the abyss and of missing the ferry quickly took over however, and we got back on our boats to get to top speed. Cruised along the coast for a while, then stopped again at a tiny beach for a quick swim. Played around with the kayaks, pushing them on the flat sea while snorkelling around small caves and low rocky coastline. Then it was late. We saw a rough, windy sea patch comign from North, heading right at us. It was a unique feeling, to see it at a distance, coming slowly for us as we were simultaneously going for it, going for our inevitable fate. It approached carefully, out of respect for us and our long coming I should think. It was announced by a sudden change in the air, first the cold front, then the wind accelerated and lastly the boats rocked on the waves. When it finally hit us our boats filled up with water and we were paddling under sea level. The harbour was just there and we could see cars and people queued, waiting for the ferry. I realized we were slow and the ferry was due to come soon. I hurried, paddling hastily while turning my head back, expecting to see the ferry shadow take over us any minute. It was the end and it was the hardest part. We manouvered around the short pier into the back where a couple of small boats were moored. Landed on some pebbles, lifted the kayaks and our stuff onto the tarmac, among tightly parked cars. We proceeded to the sunbaked bar for the deserved libations and toasts. The ferry was late, the beer was flowing. Impatient tourists and their metal boxes formed the blurry background. The kayaks were heavy to lift and move into the giant ship’s belly. We were in Sami in no time, or better in one more beer time. The garage boss shouted at us to fulfill his role, kayaks were at one end and the exit this time was at the other end, not the mouth but the bottom of the ship. We hinted an unconvinced rush, he kept shouting, all cars and passengers were already gone, it was one kayak at a time, the belly was enormous and crossing it while carrying the kayak another feat. I shouted back. He wasn’t moved. We were out, back to our starting island, time for the last picture. We then looked for a place to leave the kayaks, against the wall on the most shallow shore between the marinas, but it looked sort of sheltered. The paddles came with us. To the supermarket! More beer to help with the hitch hiking. Outside the supermarket we sipped our Mythos, nobody stopped. We emptied the bottles and brandishing the paddle like a spear, in turns, we put on our best rugged smiles. After a few dozen cars a mixed colour couple stopped, a very nice guy drove us well past their accommodation to the first village after the turn to Poros, while the lady looked mostly nervous. The paddles were dripping all over the gear stick. Outside a mini market in the small village we thought everything was possible. Again paddles at the forefront, we saw many cars go by until a young couple stopped. The paddles did it, he picked us up because we were fellow kayakers. A young short fella with very broad shoulders, he told us his story of recently kayaking around the UK, 42km a day in 6-7 hours on average. Be-littled. We didn’t say much, mostly listened. We got all the way to Katelios, where we found Fiona at the hotel and took a lift home.

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