02 Sep Lost friends
We knew they spent part of the year here. But we had no address, just a vague idea of direction – somewhere far from the main town. Here is a small green island, high up in the Aegean, smothered with trees, dotted with pebble beaches, fringed with yachts and other small craft anchored in sparkling bays, surrounded by other, mostly empty islands large and small like green gems set in lapis lazuli, and lapped by a soft sea. Alonissos.
We had thought, again vaguely, that we might try and track down our lost friends. when some other friends invited us to spend a week with them in their house near the old village at the southwestern end of the island.
The last time we saw the lost friends was about three years ago. On another island of craggy peaks, misty glens, white cottages, crumbling castles, sheep, gorse, heather, lochs with stony shores and dark legends of clan skirmishes. Skye. After living there for almost 50 years, they had moved to Harris, retreating from Skye’s creeping development and thriving tourism, to wilder, more remote shores, less touched by man.
It was then that we lost contact. Nobody intended it. But somehow it happens with distance, changing circumstances and the passing of time. Lives drift just that bit too far apart. Precious links loosen. Some friendships do not travel well through life. We trusted that this one would and the absence irked us. We asked other friends who had known them for news, but there was none. It was as if they had disappeared without a trace, withdrawn from the world like a pair of devoted hermits.
In past conversations they had spoken of their summer retreat to this lovely island, somewhere “at the other end” from the friends we stay with now. The “other end” is reached by a single road that climbs high onto the tree-clad mountains and gives stunning views of the coastline and the sea-spray of rocky islands all around. We had learned that it was a remote place – few houses, no shops or bars, some olive trees, a handful of people and the biggest herd of goats on the island. We recognised the place as exactly where our lost friends would want to be.
So, we hired a car and drove there, navigating the massive ruts and potholes in the road caused by lorries carting heavy loads to and fro during a project to create a lake and a dam to ease the island’s water supply challenge in the summer months. The project foundered, the dam leaks, the road is not repaired. I can’t help but feel sad that this might be the story of Greece today.
We had a sort of map, the schematic kind you have inside a tourist leaflet, the entire island crammed onto a piece of shiny A6. But it was enough to suggest that our destination, Gerakas, might have a Kantina. At least we could have a coffee at the end of the road. We imagined a small cafe serving thick, gritty liquid and perhaps a simple Greek salad. One of those romantic imaginings that are the stuff of holidays. After parking the car at the end of the road, we strolled to the tiny jetty where some small boats lay moored. Then back to the bay where a couple of umbrellas sheltered portly visitors from the fierce sun. The Kantina turned out to be a caravan owned by Costas, a wiry, tanned man of about 70 with the world weathered in his face, who does indeed serve darkly gritty coffee rustled up on a primus stove and offered with a small bottle of water to chase it down. The coffee is fierce. The water is essential.
He had a bit of English, so I decided to ask. “Do you know a couple from Scotland who come here every year for a few months in the summer? Their names are Tony and Eva.” “Yes”, he replied, they swim here in the evening about 6.” “Do you know where they live?”, I asked. “Oh, yes. The last house on the right on the way back along the road – about 500 metres from here.” We drove to their gate, parked the car and walked in. Eva was in the garden clipping heads off spent geraniums; Tony was in his workshop just across the yard.
Fate, fortune, a stroke of luck, a question of timing. Serendipity. We found our lost friends. They are as we remembered – though much has changed. As things do…