Travels in Kos

 

Kos is one of Greece’s Dodecanese islands, situated a stones throw from the Turkish coast in the Aegean Sea. Best known for it’s sandy beaches, I half expected Kos to be a trashy British holiday destination. I was pleasantly surprised when my first observations were not English breakfast bars and drunken tourists, but instead remote churches and roadside fruit stalls.

I visited the island in order to see my partner, Natasha, who is working as a dancer at one of the islands luxury five star resorts. The hotel was situated in the central spot of Marmari and was perfectly located to explore the island.

The hotel offered a diverse timetable of sporting opportunities from canoeing, archery, volleyball, mountain biking, tennis and swimming among a host of other classes like bodywork, salsa dancing and yoga. As a fitness lover, I could already see the getaway becoming a combination of exercise and vagabonding, the perfect combination for me.

On the first day we hired a car and ventured into the realms of right hand driving. The island itself is dissected by a main road running from Kos to Kafalos, the two major towns on either side of the island, roughly one hour apart via car.

While we got slightly lost on the first day, the main road quickly became the primary navigational tool for the island, with signs pointing to the ‘main road’ appearing at all off piste attractions, making navigation extremely easy.

Our first stop was, of course, Kos town, a harbour town with a chilled vibe and lots of cobbled alleys brimming with shops.

Most storeowners, while slightly hard sell, were quite respondent and more of a helpful hand than a hindrance. Natasha certainly enjoyed the colourful side streets which lay home to great selection of shops selling cheap but beautiful evening dresses. When we were done shopping, the ivy-covered coffee shops provided a welcome rest bite from the sun.

For a town that makes its money from tourism, it was nice to see some shop owners straying away from the old, decorative style pottery and wooden objects to instead champion the few talented designers on the island. Modern day design, and even art, is in short supply so I kept my eyes peeled and revelled in the few examples of beautiful design I found on our journey.

Much more characteristic of the chilled Greek style however, is what I can only describe as the style of bodge and amend. Every sign I came across seemed to have wonderful quirks, from added lines, non-existent hierarchy and painted amends. I even managed to capture a perfect metaphor for the expression ‘keep it simple stupid’ as this sign advertising the Islands most popular museum, changed from an information heavy sign, to just an arrow pointing people in the right direction.

Another artistic quirk of Kos, was the embedding of objects into other normally non-descript objects. Like door numbers in entranceways and symbolic tiles into walls.

That said, of all the things on display at Kos, the most consistent source of beauty, came from the abundant churches. Greek Orthodoxy is the islands most prominent religion and throughout the island you’ll find a number of small Byzantine inspired churches. Modest in stature, these white and blue churches look stunning in contrast with the vibrant blue backdrop. Even the exterior patios surrounding the churches contain sporadic but beautiful patterns.

On occasion, I found myself venturing inside the churches, where I found them performing a candle ceremony which I’ve since discovered is an act of reverence, paid to honour the sanctity of the church and bring worshippers into the presence of those in heaven. The Orthodox believe these icons act as windows into heaven through which they see the saints, Christ and the virgin Mary.

I, on the other hand, saw it as an interesting photo opportunity. And lucky for me, being a man, because I later found out that if an unsuspecting female tourist happens to walk in revealing more than a slither of leg, it is likely that she’ll be bundled by a female guardian wielding a veil to cover her upper body. It appears that God is not a fan of cleavage in Greece.

Outside of the towns, there’s still a lot to be discovered in the surrounding countryside. One of the more interesting things that caught my attention was the many olive groves and tree trunks that had been painted white. I later found out this was a combination of chemicals that is intended to stop insects from nesting, as well as to reflect some of the heat from rotting out the base of the trees. You’ll also find many trees have plastic bottles containing a murky brown liquid, which is intended to attract flies who get into the bottle but then get stuck in the liquid and die. Therefore reducing the chance of insects affecting the olives or fruit.

After walking through the various ‘Nordic’ walking trials, I decided that there was only so much I could see by foot so I signed myself up to go on a few of the hotels mountain bike tours. As the hotel consisted of 95% German visitors I made very few friends during my stay, but our mountain bike guide ‘Goran’, a six foot two Croatian Patroliem Engineer, who also happened to do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and be a regular skydiver, became an instant friend. During the few expeditions he took us on, where I had to pretend not to die from the inclines, we visited both the top of Zia up a winding road into the mountains and also Antimachia Castle, built by the knights of St John in the 14th century and strategically placed atop the desolate landscape in eyes view of the Turkish coast.

For the last three days of my trip I decided to hire a moped to explore the further reaches of the Island. Which is where I discovered the town of Kardamaina, the drive to which is the most spectacular winding road through the Dikaious mountains. Kardamaina is home to the clearest water on the island and the dock was lined with waterside restaurants and cute tucked away beer gardens without a tourist in sight.

Other worthwhile hideaways included dolphin bay, a family run bar overlooking the ocean, as well as Phil town with its natural spring where I stopped to watch the village kids having an all out water fight during the hottest part of the day.

My biggest tip for people visiting the island is to venture onto the roads neighbouring the main road into Zia. These small villages see very little tourist footfall and contain some of the nicest bars, architecture and cultural quirks.

One of the more morbid highlights for me was a graveyard just outside of Phil village, where each grave contained a photo of the deceased as well as a treasured possession that represented a snapshot into each individual’s life. The items ranged from model formula one cars through to crosses and packets of Cadbury hot chocolate. Many of these possessions were easily accessible simply by sliding across the glass that sat on the front of each grave, but as is characteristic of the Greek people, there seems to be 100% faith in their neighbours. This coupled well with the relative lack of materialistic drive of the locals. Despite everyone having little to show for their hard work, it appears that stealing is non existent. It’s nice to go to a place where trust among the community is the norm.

On reflection, getting a moped to explore the island was the best decision; it made the whole trip unforgettable.

Of all the places we visited. I have to say the most spectacular place was Zia, a small town embedded into Dikaios mountain. While it was slightly touristier than some of the offbeat villages, the views, cobbled streets and restaurants were stunning and it had a real magical feel to it.

On one of my day trips up to Zia I was exploring the further edges of the town when one of the local people noticed me walking with my camera and she waved me into her house to take pictures. I could see she didn’t see people very often, and she was pleased to have a visitor. After taking a few shots of her traditional front room, I turned the camera at her and caught a lovely shot of her doing her laundry. For me this was the closest snapshot I got all week of what daily life is like for the people of Kos. Slow, simple and modest.

As I said at the very start of this post, I expected Kos to be a UK tourist trap but my experience of the island was anything but. If you’re not much of an explorer, then it’s unlikely you’ll get much from the island because it requires that you go and explore. For me however, this wasn’t a problem, so I felt I got a great glimpse into some of the islands less known secrets as well as the opportunity to appreciate the full beauty of the place.

Driving in glorious sunshine through the most awe inspiring landscapes is something I’ll never forget, and I hope to do it again sometime soon. 

 
Ricky Richards