Sometimes, it’s all about the risk. The risk of sailing to a quiet island with no advertised hotel and certainly it’s a risk to sail on what appears to be a rusty, creaky boat, with a battered Greek flag and caged budgies for company on the deck. And it’s always a risk to share it with soldiers merrily playing cards!
Temper that risk with the thought of unspoiled beaches and limited internet, and hey, it is worth the risk.
Sailing out of Lemnos’ new port, a quiet place on a large and picturesque island, one can be forgiven if you doubt that a small island can match the stunning Lemnos that was sitting behind me in the distance.
Certainly, Lemnos is an island with picture perfect locations for swimming, yet I was being drawn into the few Google images of Agios Efstratios that seemingly spoke the same language: brilliant beaches.
Within two hours, the boat crew, and the only passenger tourist on board, me, spotted what appeared to be paradise crawling to meet us. When a Greek island has a port that is essentially a swimmable beach, you know it is one with a small population.
Disembarking, it was great to be met by no one. No tourist operators and certainly no room hustlers were sighted. And I of course had no room booked. As I searched my phone to see if Google had any suggestions about accommodation, I noticed that the battery was low. I also noticed, that there were was no accommodation readily listed. Part of me wished I hadn’t noticed any of that….
I guess it was a risk not to take my charger as I had intended to visit overnight only. I should have charged the phone though, but hey, there had to be someone on the island with an iPhone charger. Right?
I quickly visited all the tavernas on the island, all two of them to see if anyone had a charger and if there was a room somewhere. As person after person produced old Nokias and earlier iPhone models that were not compatible, I finally struck gold as the owner of the first establishment, Veranda, had one of those funky gadgets with a million cables on it. One of them surely would fit my iPhone…. And of course, none did.
Soon enough, the local priest was kindly helping me locate a charger, followed by the supermarket owner, some random German tourists, kids and just about anyone else who was around.
Kostas Keramidis, soon befriended me and even knocked on a few doors for me. Others, including Kostas, made some phone calls. No one on the island had an iPhone 6 charger. If there was a TV station on the island, I’m sure this would have been the lead story.
Slightly annoyed with myself for not bringing a charger and not sussing a room out before I departed Lemnos, Kostas simply said, “we rent rooms at our hotel!”
Sure enough, on the other side of the harbour/town/village/island, I found the Maria Moustaka Keramidi Hotel (ΜΑΡΙΑ ΜΟΥΣΤΑΚΑ ΚΕΡΑΜΙΔΗ ξενοδοχείο), and this is where I gladly slept overnight.
Later that afternoon, I made my way back to the town, all 60 metres of walking, and happened to stroll past the school. The kids were performing music outdoors, and what appeared to be all 290 residents of the island. Kostas spotted me and invited me up, introducing me to his young family and many others. It was great to see the singing, dancing and to be treated to local food. Despite my overweight nature and a promise to go on a diet, I gladly enjoyed the treats and food on offer.
For those seeking a relaxing, friendly, picturesque and iPhone charger free island, I can only suggest that this is the place for you.
Thanking the teachers and parents, I made my way back to Veranda where I met the random German tourists again. I quickly joined Ralf Hokenmaier and Maren Huber for a Barbayanni ouzo. Me being me, I proudly declared that I am from Lesvos, thinking I would impress these visitors, to which a reply came, “we temporarily live on Lesvos.” A small world and as the night progressed, they told me how they decided to quit their jobs in Germany and travel. They have raised funds and resources for refugees, at the height of what had been the crisis, and made their way to Lesvos an island that they fell in love with and an island which has humanely treated refugees (the crisis has long ended). The couple told me how much they were enjoying the beauty and hospitality of Agios Efstratios.
The island takes its name from an exiled Byzantine era saint (Όσιος Ευστράτιος ο Θαυματουργός), who lived here in the 800s. He wasn’t the only exile to reside on the island, with many political dissidents sent here during the 1930s Metaxas regime and under the Junta (1967-1973), dissidents included, disgracefully, the great Mikis Theodorakis. Though it’s fair to say, our national treasure deserved better than to be sent to paradise!
Away from exile, I was once told by Andres Fiorentinos, from Mykonos and a former board member of the Greek National Tourism Organisation, that “this is arguably the most important geopolitical island in Greece.”
The island comes under the guidance of UNESCO, being powered by renewable energy. And to think I could have charged my iPhone with that renewable energy!
As a visitor, you will find a brilliant coastline, a number of churches and quiet spots as you get around. For those seeking a relaxing, friendly, picturesque and iPhone charger free island, I can only suggest that this is the place for you.
*Billy Cotsis is the author of ‘From Pyrrhus to Cyprus: Forgotten and Remembered Hellenic Kingdoms, territories, entities and a fiefdom’