Four Nights Bumming it on the Beaches of a Greek Island
Homeless in paradise — it could be worse.
I’m at a weird point in my full-time traveling career. Traveling has become too easy and I feel numb in most instances while I’m on the road. I’m still doing everything the same as when I first started traveling, and that’s the problem.
Of course, I’ve learned some things since I first started traveling. I’ve applied those things to my routine which has made things more relaxed, less problematic. But that’s adding to the problem. The tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up after years of traveling have made things become routine on the road.
I’m tired of knowing my every move and understanding what to expect on the road. That’s exactly what I loved about traveling when I first started. I enjoyed getting myself into shit and figuring my way out of it. Now, that doesn’t happen as often unless I force myself into some shit for the sole purpose of finding a way out of it and keeping things new.
My plan for Greece
I had flown to Greece to meet up with my parents for the first time in about half a year. I knew I’d be spending half of my nights in a hotel with them. However, after three days, they’d be flying to Paris and I’d be left on my own. I wanted to experience something new. I decided to not book accommodation and see where that led. Surely, it’d throw some kind of twists into my time alone.
Actually, it wouldn’t be my first time without accommodation booked. I once slept on the streets in Cambridge, England because of a lack of planning on my part. That led to one of the most memorable stories of my backpacking trip through Europe last year.
I didn’t know where I’d sleep, but I knew I’d have a four-wheeler that I rented to travel throughout the island of Zakynthos. The luxury of having my own mode of personal transportation gave me the peace of mind that I’d at least be able to explore new places to sleep at night.
The first night
My first night on the streets was actually in Athens. This scared me a bit. Athens was a bigger city with more people. My parents wouldn’t be arriving until the following night, so I had one night alone in the capital of Greece. My flight didn’t land until around two o’clock in the morning, so I didn’t want to pay for accommodation that late in the night. I figured I’d extend my plan to sleep on the streets in Athens.
By the time I made it to the city from the airport, it was approaching half-past three o’clock; only a few hours until sunrise. I managed my way through the streets of the city center. It was peaceful. I discovered that I enjoyed big cities more at night when everyone was asleep and I considered traveling like that more often — seeing the sights after dark. The streets were quiet and the people were few and far between.
I felt adventure in my blood and I felt like every corner I turned held trouble. At one point I tried sneaking into the Temple of Zeus (Olympus) but after seeing the consequences written out on a sign, I shied away from the idea.
I continued on down the main tourist drag where you entered the Acropolis. However, at 3:30 A.M. it was nothing but a ghost town. There was nobody trying to sell you selfie sticks, no English tourists dressed funkily, and most importantly, no heat. It was ideal. Only me and a few groups of adolescent teens still left on the streets.
Across from Acropolis, there is a park with a semi-steep hill to climb. It was pitch black and a little spooky after crossing paths with a group of teens much larger than me at the park’s entrance, however, I decided to take a look.
Trying to conserve phone battery, I climbed the hill along the path without a flashlight — not able to see anything more than one step ahead of me. I grew scared that someone would jump out and rob me of all my belongings; I was still carrying my backpack with all of my stuff, after all. However, I was too far to turn back, so I kept moving on.
Eventually, I ran into a large rock protruding from the hill. It seemed easy enough to climb in the mild darkness (my eyes were adjusting), so I started up the rock face. Looking at it from the ground, I thought I’d be able to make it to the top rather easily, however, after getting about twenty feet high, I realized it’d be impossible with my pack on.
I found a ‘seat’ that could only fit one person and there was no room for my backpack. I tossed my pack down five-or-ten-feet-or-so as gently as I could and took a seat. I stayed there, watching the silence of the night air on the city of Athens from up above the skyline for hours. Acropolis was lit up and several thoughts kept coming to my mind.
Soon, the sunrise came and as I scurried around trying to get a good shot for my blog, the sun rose — waiting for no one. Finally, I decided it was best to enjoy the view and I sat back down and watched. I couldn’t believe I had stayed up all night on this ledge in Athens after arriving only a short time ago.
However, now it was morning time, and with it came the bustling of a big city. The scene from down below changed with the sunlight from what my imagination told me it’d be like in the dark. I made my way down the hill and back into the now-busy streets of Athens, Greece. I walked around a bit more — this time with the other tourists — until the heat started to hit me. I made my way indoors to get some rest for I was going to meet my parents later that night and I’d be staying in a hotel for the next three nights. My nights on the street were done for Athens. The next time I wouldn’t have a bed to sleep on would be on the island of Zakynthos.
Night two — Zakynthos
I arrived by ferry to Zakynthos after sundown. It’s about an hour and a half ferry shot away from the port at the mainland. I was able to catch one of the coolest sunsets from the ferry that I saw in Greece even though I saw plenty of eye-popping sunsets during the week.
It was around half-past ten when I arrived at the island and by the time the bus dropped us off at the main station, it was eleven. Little did I know that the free bus that took us to the main station would be pointless for me because I ended up walking right back to where we boarded the bus at the ferry. I started my search for a place to sleep there.
I walked the promenade in Zakynthos up and down, grabbed a Greek Gyro, and kept looking for a suitable spot to get a good night’s rest. There was nothing.
I kept walking down the promenade until it could hardly be called a promenade and more of a coastline. I walked past all sorts of places I contemplated calling it a night at; a drive-in Movie Theater, an old, abandoned beach club littered and covered in graffiti, even an empty beach club that was still operating and open that night (there was a dark corner of the club that I almost took a beach chair in). However, I knew none of these places were secure and/or comfortable. I kept walking on.
Eventually, I ran into a quiet, tiny fishing marina. Just off the marina, along the Ionian Sea, there was a marina restaurant that had closed for the night. It was well-lit but easy to hide in the darkness. There were a few groups of people in the area, but again, I could hide from them.
I walked up to the deck of the restaurant. There was no staff remaining. I crept down a set of rickety stairs that led to the rocky beach below. Hopping between large, jagged boulders, I looked for a good place to lay down my beach towel and sleep a few hours. Finally, I found a spot. The phrase “between a rock and a hard place” could be used to describe my chosen bed for the night. It wasn’t comfortable, but I got at least an hour of sleep before deciding to up and move to a new location.
I kept walking down the shoreline, seeing more of the same, until I ran into this curiously empty fountain. It was surrounded by walls about two feet high that could block the strong wind coming in from the sea. And, most importantly, inside the walls was flat, dry cement — which seemed hard to come by in the given environment.
I proceeded to sleep there for another few hours until the first roosters began to call at dawn. The night was over and I made my way to the central bus station to catch the morning’s first bus to a new city. Night two on the streets was finished.
At this point, you’re probably asking why I do this. Two nights are over with and there isn’t much to say about them. It became a nuisance to find a place to sleep every day, but it began to lead to experiences I would have never had in a hotel.
In the morning, I actually began to ask around about hostels. I hadn’t known at that point that the island didn’t have any hostels. My phone was running low on juice, so I stopped in at a nearby hotel in the town of Tsilivi.
The hotel receptionist in Tsilivi was helpful in helping me with information and letting me hang in the lobby with him while my phone charged despite the fact that he knew I wasn’t a guest. He brought to my attention the idea of renting a four-wheeler. He had worked the overnight shift, and when he clocked out, he said to me sincerely, “Goodbye, friend.” It was the closest connection I had with someone in over forty-eight hours.
In my search for a cheap four-wheeler to rent, I met a nice man who didn’t seem to be Greek. He hooked me up with a deal on a two-day four-wheeler rental and offered me a ride to the ferry in his personal vehicle after his shift the next day; a generous offer that I couldn’t say no to.
Having a four-wheeler would give me unlimited more options when searching for a place to sleep. After renting it, I vowed not to stay in a hotel for sure. It’s funny how comforting a house of your own feels when you’re in a hotel, and how you miss the comfort of a hotel when you’re in a hostel, and how exasperating it is to think you don’t have a hostel to go home to when you’re bumming it.
After a day cruising to various cities on the four-wheeler and naps on different beaches, I started my search for a place to sleep around dusk. I first place I checked was infamous for turtle nesting and it required a long ride up and over a mountain to make it seaside at a secluded beach outside of anything resembling a town or village.
Daphne Beach in Vasilikos is a turtle nesting haven with free beach chairs and umbrellas during the daytime. However, at night it is the most secluded sand beach in Zakynthos. It comes with an adventurous path to get there (changing from the best asphalt street in Zakynthos to a cemented slab sloped around 45 degrees, quickly into a dirt road with large rocks protruding from the path; making it a bumpy up and downhill ride.
It was quite a terrifying ride as it got darker. I didn’t know exactly where I was headed; or if I was even heading anywhere. The steep mountainside road was getting scarier with every ten feet that I traveled. Multiple times, I thought about turning around, but I decided turning around would be more of a chore on the narrow road than just riding it out.
Finally, the lights of my four-wheeler shined on a sign. It was the entrance of the beach shack. No one was there, but I parked and got off to check it out anyway. I had to use my flashlight to see — it was that secluded and dark. Soon, however, the moon would rise to provide enough light for the rest of the night.
I saw the nesting areas that the turtle protection organization had set up, but unfortunately, there were no turtles nesting on this night. I continued down the beach, walking barefoot in the sand until I reached what seemed to be the luxurious side of the beach. There was a queen-sized bed in the sand with a basket of fake fruit and books laying on it as if it was something out of a painting.
What luck I had run into. I was skeptical, however. Surely, someone would come and kick me out of there or else this secret would spread and there’d be someone sleeping on it every night. A secluded beach bed under a million stars and a moonlit sky with the sound of waves of the Ionian Sea — how did I get so fortunate to run into this?
I decided to take my chance and sleep on the bed for the night knowing I’d be woken up and asked to leave. I did get woken up. Fortunately, it wasn’t until about a half an hour before sunrise and I got some of the most relaxing sleep of my life.
I continued down the beach and realized that it only got more secluded the further I walked. There were no more beach beds or chairs, but there were very interesting rock formations resembling caves at the bottom of a cliff that lined the entire beach. As the sun came up and my surroundings were finally revealed, I saw other islands within view that I hadn’t known were there until now. I laid down in one of these “caves”, and pretty soon I was out like a light. They were cool — almost chilly — and hidden from the sun. I stayed in a deep sleep until around ten in the morning when I was awakened by a completely nude man.
Apparently, I had stumbled upon a nude beach because the man wasn’t the only naked one in sight.
“Do you speak English?”
“I’d be careful under there. They come crashing down now and then. A lot of tremors in this area, even one just over there! You’d be buried alive in an instant,” he warned me — speaking about the “cave” I was under.
“What a place to be buried, though,” he said with his head turned walking away as if he had put a little bit of thought into it before.
Around nine o’clock the next night, I returned to Tsilivi to return my four-wheeler and meet the man who had offered to return me to the station in Zakynthos City after his shift. He knew my sleeping situation and the fact that I’d be sleeping at the station that night. I was taken back when he offered for me to stay the night on his couch at home.
“I already called my wife, she said it was O.K.,” he told me.
Although I was moved by the offer, I told him I’d be all right. It’d be more difficult to get to the station for my early morning bus from his house and it’d make things too difficult.
I must admit, whether I was scared/profiling or I was being a prepared traveler, I was preparing scenarios in my head on my way to meet him. Anytime a complete stranger offers you a ride without you asking, you should at least be prepared for the worst while traveling.
This man was a generous person, however, and nothing went wrong. We walked out of the rental shop to his small scooter. I was expecting a car, and as this man was already a big fellow, I barely fit on the back of the scooter. It was a scary ride and I felt like I was about to be bumped off the back of the scooter at any moment.
He told me his name is Mike and he’s Nigerian. He’s been working summers in Zakynthos for the past fifteen years and goes back home to his wife in the islands during the winter seasons. Although he has been coming to Zakynthos for fifteen years, he has yet to see the best parts of the small island. You could tell that coming to the island was completely and unselfishly for his wife to make a better life for them. It wasn’t ever a vacation for him.
I held the back rack of the scooter with a death grip while simultaneously trying to angle my head with the wind so my hat wouldn’t blow off. Zakynthos streets are shitty and Mike was an even scarier driver. My fingers lost circulation I was gripping so tight. At one point I felt my hat blowing off so I instantly raised my hand and caught my hat already about two inches off of my head in the air.
He told me a little about Nigeria’s history, though I could barely hear him as his scooter whizzed through the calm night air. I kept hearing “I was the bad one” when I asked him how he ended up here, but have no idea if that’s what he was actually saying. He handed me a card and told me to add him on Facebook when I reached Malta. He dropped me off at the station, said, “There’s a shed in the back that’s good for sleeping,” as if he has done the same thing in the past. And just like that, he was gone. He respected me which was why he was so genuine with me. He has also spent a life doing favors for people and it was normal for him to be as generous as he is.
I owe Mike my sincerest thank you.
Not knowing the station would be closed, and unable to find the shed Mike referred to, I returned to the same fountain I had slept in the first night. I got a few hours of sleep before returning to the station when it opened. I caught the first bus to the ferry and just like that, I left the island. My nights of bumming on the streets were over — but not without experiences and lessons that will last a lifetime.
After a rough night with little sleep, I made it onto the ferry back to the mainland of Greece and on the road back to Athens. Although my time in Greece was over, the style of traveling I adopted and the lessons I learned on the way have transformed the way I travel today.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **