Ios (Sept. 18-20)

The main beach in Ios

The main beach in Ios

My hostel Francesco’s sent a van for me and a few other young travelers coming in on two ferries getting in at the same time, allowing me to make friends in the hostel instantly. We put away our things and promptly headed for the beach, where we would spend hours sunbathing and swimming in the refreshing, high-visibility water. The group was made up of a number of Australians, two Germans and two Americans. A few of the group went to play volleyball, but I was too lethargic to do much more than splash around in the water or soak up the rays.

We left the beach to grab large glasses of sweet sangria at a cool bar called Harmony next to the water, where we were joined by some young vacationers from France, French Algeria, Belgium and Italy. We all wanted to experience Ios’s famed nightlife, so we left for our hostels and planned to meet in the main area of town at 11:30. The majority of our group took a long hike up to our hostel, drinking beer on the way. The sky here has excellent visibility, and the stars literally lit our way.

The view from our hostel

The view from our hostel

After some pre-drinking at the hostel, we met up with our new friends and headed for a self-created pub-crawl on the island’s only going out street. There were definitely people at the bars, but you could tell it was only a fraction of what you would see during the peak season. I enjoyed being there in the off-season, where you weren’t packed in everywhere and things are way cheaper. I think most of the bars were closing for the winter after the weekend.

Renting a van for the day turned into quite the adventure!

Renting a van for the day turned into quite the adventure!

We all slept in a bit that morning and set off for the beach around 3 pm after a short afternoon at the pool. The group had shrunk to eight – two duos from Australia, a couple from Germany and myself and another solo traveler from England. Two girls from Australia stopped to check out the prices to rent ATVs, learning that their licenses wouldn’t work for the island. On a whim, we decided to check out the price to rent a van that would fit our group, and at €50 between eight of us, we decided it was worth renting. The eight of us crammed in (technically there was only room for seven, but there was a gap between the two seats in the back) and set out for a trip around the hills of the island.

Exploring the island

Exploring the island

Although the main town of Ios is quite residential and touristy, the rest of the island is totally empty and desolate. The other-worldly landscape is covered with tall hills and small shrubbery that doesn’t need much water to survive, every once in a while dotted with abandoned white churches, alien in their shape and isolation. We drove to Homer’s grave (yes – that Homer), which was not really anything special, and turned down a dirt road that we thought led to one of the island’s nicer, more private beaches.

Group album cover

Group album cover

It’s a good time to note that the old, tan Fiat van struggled up every incline on the main paved roads of the island, pulled down with the weight of eight people. The manual acceleration often struggled to set, the car made clicking noises when it accelerated and the breaks always felt a little precarious. We had to lean forward in our seats whenever we wanted to go up to help place some weight closer to the front-powered wheels. You may correctly imagine that turning down the dirt road would turn into a terrifying, exciting, Disney-World-esque ride that did not end in a nice beach but instead ended in turning around at a fork with two equally-impossible inclines for the car. We struggled up every hill, the wheels spinning out on the dirt and gravel, but we made it out in one piece. We were mostly silent, but we were all having fun regardless.

Sunset from the Paleokastro

Sunset from the Paleokastro

After making it back up the paved hill (which was also difficult), we headed for one of the island’s beaches for a little bit. We were the only ones there. It wasn’t as nice as the more frequently visited beach we had visited the day before, and the wind started to blow sharp sand into our face, so we headed out for the Paleokastro, Byzantine-era castle ruins sitting up on a hill overlooking the Eastern coast of the island. We spent maybe an hour there watching the sunset, though it was scarily windy, and taking some group pictures, hoping that the cameras on self-timer wouldn’t blow off their posts and off down the steep, rocky hill. As it was getting dark, we headed back to the main town to get gas and park the car.

Crazy wind on top of Ios's hills

Crazy wind on top of Ios’s hills

After parking, we headed to dinner at a recommended restaurant called The Nest after changing clothes at the hostel, cramming family style into a smaller table so we could be closer to each other and spending a very European three hours talking about everything from our travels to our home cultures to the availability of air conditioning in our countries.

We all woke up early on what would be most of our last day in Ios. We decided to try our luck at getting a tour of one of the two local goat cheese factories, driving back up the hills and past a bunch of bell-toting goats walking in a line down the road. We were turned away from the first factory – the factory was small and couldn’t let us in for hygienic reasons. We struggled to communicate with a Greek-speaking man at the second factory, just around the corner from the first, and all he could say was come back tomorrow. We thought that we conveyed that we wouldn’t be on the island the next day, at which point he pointed to my watch and said, “one o’clock.” We figured that meant come back at 1, so we went and chilled out for nearly two hours on another beach, mostly alone. When we drove back to the factory, the gate was closed. We tried yelling for someone to no avail and ended up stopping at a grocery store to buy some local cheese, bread and olives presumably from the mainland.

Saying goodbye to the van that almost killed us

Saying goodbye to the van that almost killed us

We had a nice sit down lunch of the snacks from the store, €1.70 each, and the cheese and olives were fresh and extremely tasty. I took a shower outside in my swim trunks, my second outdoor shower of the weekend, as the showers in the bathroom were pretty dire. Can’t complain though – showering in the warm sun is pretty wonderful. Four of us headed to the port shortly after, myself and the German couple headed for Crete and our two Australian friends headed for Santorini.

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