Long ago, when we took holidays, Greece was always our first choice. We love the food, the people, the climate, the scenery, the all-pervading smell of herbs, everything about the islands.
On Samos we used to rely on the local bus to take us to Tsamadou (rhymes with Xanadu, where did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree) the most peaceful of all the beaches, never crowded, no balls being kicked around, no vendors, no sunbeds, no radios. Just the sun, the clearest blue waters, and a crowd of people wearing no clothes, because this was the unofficial nudist beach.
I don’t know if it’s still the case, but at that time it was illegal to sunbathe nude. Occasionally a helicopter could be heard clacking in the distance, and by the time it overflew the beach everybody was decently covered with a towel. The likelihood of the police actually catching anybody was minimal, because accessing the beach involved a long and tortuous climb/slither down a steep, dusty path peppered with scratchy undergrowth and small stones that bounced around noisily so everybody knew when a new arrival was imminent.
You had to take a crash course on getting to Tsamadou if you relied on public transport as we did. The bus station lurked in a sweltering square behind the church. Acquiring a ticket was the first challenge. The buses all looked the same, elderly, dignified and festooned around the windscreen with icons, small coloured furry bobbles that swung and danced to the movement of the bus, and notices in Greek that we didn’t understand. We always took the bus that left at 10.00 am. You stepped onto the bus and told the driver where you wanted to go. One of three things happened:
1. He sold you a ticket and led you to a seat.
2. He said the bus didn’t go to your destination.
3. He told you that you needed to buy a ticket from the ticket office behind the bakery.
If (1) then you could sink into the hot seat with a sigh of relief.
If (2) then you had to go away and return a few minutes later giving him a different destination, whereupon he would either (1) or (3) you.
If (3) then you went to the ticket office and didn’t tell them your actual destination, in case they said the bus didn’t to there. Instead you gave them a different destination.
But if you went first to the ticket office the chances were they’d say you needed to buy your ticket direct from the bus. There was never any rhyme or reason for that particular riddle.
However, there was a valid reason for (2), because if you said Tsamadou they immediately knew you intended to spend a day nakedly on the beach, which was largely disapproved of. You could try saying you wanted to go to Kokkari, the nearest village within walking distance to Tsamadou, and might be lucky enough to fool them, or you could say you were going to Pythagorio and pay to go there, but then descend at Kokkari. It was a bit of a poker game.
So was the return journey. If you stood on the rock-strewn glaring white dusty road in the late afternoon after hiking back up the mountain from Tsamadou, the bus might stop, or it might not, meaning you had either to try your luck with a later bus, or hike into Kokkari.
It took about 4 days to crack the system and make it work for us, and work it did until the penultimate day of our stay, when it came crashing down.
Armed with our usual victuals of exquisite Greek bread, cheese, peaches and a bottle of wine, we trotted down to the bus station, only to find that it was no longer a bus station but a quiet car park.
There was no indication of why, nor where the buses had gone.
We wandered around for a few minutes, asking where the bus station was in my extremely limited Greek.
“Behind the church,” said the people I asked. “Behind the church,” said the Tourist Office. “Behind the church,” said the policeman.
As we marched about in growing frustration, we saw a bus wending its way out of Samos from a small side road tucked away in the back streets from where an almighty uproar of shouts and bangs and whistles emanated.
There we met a large crowd of extremely angry Greek people, numerous chickens in baskets and several goats on strings, surrounding a sweating man waggling his arms in the air and wearing a frightened expression. People were banging and kicking the buses parked nose to tail in the alley.
We found somebody who spoke English and asked what was happening. It transpired that the bus station had been evicted the previous night from the church square for non-payment of rent, so it had temporarily installed itself in this little lane, blocking it entirely to traffic and leaving no information as to where it could be found. People were understandably upset.
However, with commendable good humour from the drivers and goodwill from the passengers, and the cooperation of the livestock, we were soon on our way. The driver sold us the tickets, he obligingly stopped at Tsamadou, and we enjoyed our last day.
Would we ever go back to Greece? You bet. Lazy, peaceful, happy days spiced up with just a tiny drama 😀