Turn off your mobile phones because this Greek island is all about lounging, fresh catch, swimming and donkey rides.
DONKEY?” The first words I hear as soon as I step out of the ferry from Metochi. That’s commonplace on Ydra or the Hydra Island where there are no automobiles—no cars, no cycles! The only ones operating are the three municipality garbage trucks. Donkeys, mules and your feet are the main modes of transportation. So when you are here, say goodbye to the cacophony of horns and cursing people, smell the fresh air and enjoy the music from the clickety-clack of your shoes or of your friendly neighbourhood donkey.
So what does one do on Ydra islands? Like a local rightly said, “Nothing!” You could sit in any one of the quaint local cafes near the port for hours, looking at the blanket of whitewashed homes and rocky hills, and enjoy a traditional Greek meal. The flavours appeal to the Indian palette and there’s ample choice of delicious food for vegetarians. The souvlaki, gyros and moussaka taste even better than what one hears about it. Seafood lovers, this is paradise for you—fresh catch available in many forms. My favourite food was the Greek yoghurt—you can have the tzatziki, a yoghurt dip with cucumber seasoned with garlic, or just have it as dessert with honey.
It’s in these local haunts that you are privy to trivia, like the visits of celebrities like Steve Jobs and royalty from Denmark and the UK during the summer—how they dock their yachts and blend in with the common people during the day in their shorts and sandals, doing everyday tourist things. Don’t forget to try the anise-flavoured signature drink, Ouzo. Watch it turn milky white with water/ice and you know that it’s a lifestyle by itself. Or complete the meal with a local liquor, Mastichato.
My friend and I decided to explore Hydra on foot—no map in hand, just following our hearts and our instinct. As we went uphill, we were in for a sensory treat. Narrow, winding, empty cobbled streets, antiquated houses of all shapes and sizes framed by the beautiful bougainvillea and other greenery, kaleidoscopic doors and stairs, the breeze hitting you as you stand at the many natural viewpoints to take in the infiniteness of the sea on one side, the towering hills on the other and the idyllic town in the middle– an epitome of harmony in dichotomies. What was interesting to see was the lack of street names and house numbers—could this actually be a place where everyone knows everyone? Where landmarks could be the spot next to the house with the pretty maroon and green door or just “Dmitri’s” house?
A local whose co-inhabitants were his donkeys and roosters tells us the hike to the mysterious Zourvas Monastery and the lighthouse could easily take us another two hours or more, and is not a good idea at 6 pm. So we put it down as yet another reason to revisit Hydra. Interesting trivia: there are six monasteries/nunneries and approximately 300 churches and chapels on an island with a year-round population of less than 2,000 (as per the 2011 census). And for all you hiking lovers, there are three recommended trails that you can and must explore. Be ready for complicated trails, confusing signposts, mysterious foot path forks, varied terrains and vistas, and spectacular views of the high cliffs and a bird’s eye view of the island.
Meows and musings
On day two, we took another path to the charming fishing village of Vlychos. We had to stop frequently to take pictures or sit on the spotted benches to just take in the endless natural beauty around us—the clear blue seas, islands in the distance, olive and other trees sporting the winter look. Time stood more still at the fishing village than at the main port. Old men on rickety chairs chatting away, a fisherman washing his boat, a few village children playing by a dilapidated building while we stood on the rocks and watched the magnificent sunset cast its golden hues on the tranquil sea.
The other unusual sight in Ydra are the innumerous stray cats, possibly as many as the islanders. It’s evident that these well fed and groomed cats are an integral part of the social fabric—they lounge in the cafes, the hotels and the beautiful spots around the island, they guard doors sometimes, they stand in line when the boats with the fresh catch come in. My favourite was Mr Stripey, the loner who lives on the edge of the cliff. He snuggled up to me and took a cat nap on my lap while I was “having a moment” on the bench.
Hydra for me is a place where you can experience true nothingness and quietude, you can just breathe and be, where you are inspired and humbled by the eternal beauty around you, a reminder that it is the journey, not the destination that matters, where the surreal and serene are enmeshed together. So “Donkey” anyone?
Need to know
Getting there: Flights
Check in: I stayed at the Glaros Guest house, a value-for-money place (35 Euros in winter), which is clean and most convenient as it’s five minutes away from the port. My tip would be, stay as close to the port as possible, else you have to be ready to walk it up or sit on a donkey/mule.
Shopping: While I did pick up sterling silver jewellery from a local store. I realised once I got to Athens that the exact same pieces were being sold for half the price.
So, don’t pick up too many mementos on the island.