Sailing With Dolphins on Naxos Island, Greece
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Half an hour on the metro from Athens city center took us to Piraeus, the main port of Athens in which you can take a ferry to one of Greece’s countless islands, or even over to Italy for a whole other adventure entirely. Our destination this morning was Naxos, the largest of the Greek Cycladic islands, for a taste of the beautiful sandy beaches and crystal clear water of the Aegean.
Now, we have been on many a ferry boat, as we currently live on the ocean within easy boat distance of 3 major Chinese cities, but not even we were prepared for the sight our eyes beheld. I honestly don’t think I could even describe the vessel that transported us to Naxos as a ferry… it was more like a cruise ship.
For real, 8 floors high, of which we could choose between 6, 7, and 8 for our boating pleasure, complete with full-on restaurants and basically every amenity short of beds. As we have no pictures to prove this, I can only conclude that we were too in shock to even think of pulling out our camera. I guess you’ll just have to trust me. It was freaking huge!
5 hours on the beautiful blue Aegean Sea later, and we arrived at the port of Naxos. After disembarking, the proprietor of our hostel was waiting for us and took us in his van back to the hostel, on the way, of course, explaining and pointing out all the things there were to do on the island and the best places to do them. The Greeks are amazingly nice people if you haven’t already heard.
After our wonderful free taxi service to the hostel, we set out in search of lunch, landing at what turned out to be a fabulous Italian restaurant where we dined on gnocchi and pasta that was absolutely spectacular. Now that we had calmed our beasts of bellies, we set out to explore the town and figure out what we wanted to do the next day.
Walking along the beach we discovered, number one, that the water, while crystal clear and absolutely breathtaking, is freezing cold, and number two, that our soon to be character of a friend George, would be waiting and ready to take us sailing the next morning. As we were talking to George and arranging our trip for the morning, he inquired as to where we were off to on our walk and if we had eaten dinner yet. We informed him we had not eaten yet, and he recommended an authentic Greek place in town.
Continuing our walk we made it up the bluff, where a historic gate that was once the entrance to the Temple of Apollo still stands, to watch the sunset. All of the Greek islands are famous for their sunsets, and this one surely didn’t disappoint. Bursting from behind clouds were vibrant pinks, purples, yellows, and oranges that filled the sky making for a spectacular, and much-missed view, as it is rare to be able to see a nice sunset living in China in the land of skyscrapers and smog.
Once the sun had set below the horizon it was once again food time, and, taking George’s advice headed for some authentic Greek food. We ordered the traditional Naxian pork, moussaka, and what would be our first of many tastes of a Greek salad. Just an f.y.i. a Greek salad in Greece far from resembles a Greek salad in the US Even Justin, who has never really been a fan of the Greek salad was raving.
Ok, I know you can’t stand the excitement, so I will tell you what the difference is. As opposed to mostly lettuce, with some tomatoes, olives, pepper, onion, and a little bit of feta, in Greece you get a huge bowl of the most red, ripe, and absolutely mouthwateringly delicious tomatoes, a few olives, onion, and a couple slices of green pepper, adorned with an entire slab of feta cheese on top. Literally a whole slab, like the equivalent of a block of feta that you would buy in a U.S. grocery store, placed on top like it’s totally normal to be served that much feta, and let me tell you, there is plenty more cheese where that came from.
Then came the entrées, and it was officially heaven on earth in that restaurant – you will just have to taste one day to understand. Oh and not to mention the bread and olive oil served with the meal which is simply sublime and tastes about a million times better than any olive oil I’ve had elsewhere. If you haven’t taken the hint, between the people, the food, and the scenery, I’m starting to think at this point that just everything is better in Greece!
The next morning we awoke bright and early to meet Captain George at the dock at 8:30. We walked down to the dock only to find out that apparently, the weather was not good that day for sailing. Storms were brewing headed for the island and George didn’t want us to get caught out in the rain, but as an apology for not calling us the night before to cancel, the captain treated us all to a coffee at the restaurant across the street (there were about 8 of us that had signed up to sail today) and we rescheduled for tomorrow.
Suddenly left with an empty day, we asked George if we could borrow some snorkel gear from him to snorkel in the lagoon right off the shore. As we were currently in town, instead of heading to the beach right away we decided to wind our way through the enchanting back streets of Naxos, and climb up the hill to explore the old castle that sits right above town. It was quite quaint, for a castle, yet plenty historical and ruins-y and provided a beautiful panoramic view over the town and the ocean.
Next it was time to test out the snorkel gear and walk along the beach to the lagoon. It is a little bit of a hike, about a 45 minute walk from town, including wading through part of the ocean, but the sea is calm (a rarity in the Mediterranean) and there are some remnants of a reef to look down on through the crystal clear water. The waters of the Aegean look like those of a remote tropical island, but don’t let its looks fool you, the water temperature is far from tropical!
Now used to the tropical bath water that is the South China Sea, the frigid waters of the Mediterranean were definitely a shock to the system. We spent about half an hour snorkeling and enjoying the crystal clear views of the fish and many sea urchins before our bodies had enough of the cold and we headed back to shore to warm up in the sun. Despite the cold, and the fact that there wasn’t a slew of sea life to look at this was my first experience snorkeling in the ocean and it was totally awesome! It was definitely worth the experience and we were very grateful to George for lending us some gear as we couldn’t find anywhere to rent from and would’ve had to buy a cheap pair from the grocery store had it not been for his generosity.
The next day started with what has now become our staple Greek breakfast, some variation of a cheese pie bought from a local bakery for all of 1-2 Euros. For those who have not experienced a cheese pie it is basically any type of pastry dough or regular bread dough with ricotta cheese stuffed inside as well as a whole host of other potential ingredients depending on which variation you order – kind of like a calzone. And if you think that bread and ricotta cheese doesn’t sound too appetizing, bite your tongue, get on a plane to Greece right now and try it for yourself. Hands down it will be the best ricotta you have ever tasted and you will be eating those words, along with your delicious cheese pie!
This morning we ate our cheese pies on the go as it was take two of meeting George at the dock to go sailing. This time it was a go, and we pulled out with about 15 of our new friends. As Justin was the only one on the boat with any previous boating experience, he was given the coveted title of “co-pilot”, which basically meant he was given the task of helping to untie and tie the boat to the dock (excuse me while I completely butcher any boating term there ever was).
Once out to sea Captain George provided us with drinks and snacks while pointing out passing islands and landmarks. We sailed pass Pyros, another one of the Cycladic islands, out to a cove with a cave we could swim into. One by one we jumped off the boat and swam into the cave equipped with waterproof lights for exploring. After a nice cold swim, we climbed back onto the boat to journey to a tiny island where we would have lunch at a little tavern.
Upon arriving at destination number 2, George handed out snorkel gear for use after lunch. We devoured our greek salad, bread, and fresh fish, feeling once again entirely way too full of deliciousness – which was completely fine by us, and headed down to the beach with our snorkel gear. Finding a good spot devoid of sea urchins, we jumped into the water to explore life beneath the surface. The snorkeling on this island was much better than our experience on Naxos the day before, the cove teaming with life and schools of fish.
After exhausting our time in the water we headed back to the boat to make our way back to Naxos for the night. On the way back we had the pleasure of spotting multiple families of dolphins swimming near the boat. Upon noticing the dolphins, George quickly instructed us that we needed to yell as loud as possible, and wave our arms up and down to wake the dolphins up and get them to follow us and come out of the water. At first we all felt like idiots, as none of us had ever heard this advice before, and I personally was pretty sure George was just punking us for a laugh, but sure enough it worked!
Every time we spotted dolphins underwater if we yelled and waved our arms on the side of the boat they would come out of the water and swim next to the boat. George informed us that dolphins have two minds, one for sleeping, and the other for swimming and that if we want them to swim with us we have to wake them up, otherwise they will just float along slowly under the surface. Now, whether this is proven fact or just Greek myth, or a George myth for that matter, I have no clue, but what I do know is that, surprisingly, it seemed to work.
Upon arriving back to the dock at Naxos, Justin fulfilled his co-pilot duties of grabbing the ropes out of the water and securing the boat, after which George told us all to come back to the dock later that night, he had CDs for us containing all the pictures he took of us during the day.
This was our first experience on a sailboat, and although we didn’t actually get to use the sail much as the wind was not in our favor, it was still an amazingly fun day out on the water, and we would definitely recommend future Naxos travelers to go sailing with George.
We had decided earlier that, as this was our last dinner on the island, tonight had to be a repeat of our first moussaka filled deliciousness of a restaurant, and, I have to boast, it was just as delicious the second time around! Then it was off to bed on a full belly with plans of going horseback riding tomorrow morning before we leave the island.
Waking up on our final day in Naxos we started off walking to meet a fellow barn girl who was picking us up for a two hour horseback ride, well, more specifically, for me to go on a 2 hour horseback ride while Justin hung out at the barn (party pooper!). The barn advertised that they cater to everyone from beginners through advanced riders, and they certainly do just that! Even for a beginner, you are not going on a pony ride. The horses are extremely well trained and the ones that take beginners have the entire trail memorized and will happily walk along and just follow the rest of the pack, easy peasy.
As I am an advanced rider, I went out with two of the girls who work on the farm and we basically trotted and cantered along the trails the entire time, including running in the surf on the beach. I had so much fun getting to ride again for the first time since we moved to China 8 months ago, it felt fabulous to be back in the saddle! Once we were wrapped up at the barn, it was time for yet more food before catching the ferry and moving on to our next adventure: Crete.
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I will have Jenn read this blog too.