Leaving Sorrento, Italy was bittersweet. Sorrento was the perfect place for us to get our minds wrapped around the idea of the sea. We’d been landlocked in Prague for months, so we wanted more oceans.
Way back when in 1996, an old friend had mentioned a small Greek Cycladic island named Ios. He informed me that this island was infamous for its intense nightlife and gorgeous beaches. Jesse was on board, so we started our journey to Ios.
We planned on trucking straight there without stopping. We took a metro train to Naples and then a train across Italy to the port city of Brindisi. While waiting, we spotted the massive Blue Star Ferry coming into port to pick us up. It was the largest sea vessel I’d ever been on. It carried cars, trucks, cargo and hundreds of people. There were lounges, bars, casinos, gift shops and a movie theater. (Little did I know that these ferries would prove to be quite dangerous!)
Upon our arrival in Patras, Greece, the following day, we had to take a 3.5-hour bus ride east across Greece to Athens. From there we took a local city bus to the port to take one more ferry to Ios.
This ferry ride gave us some inclination of what Ios was all about. We started to meet people from all over the world headed to this island of debauchery. Paul from Brixton, England, became our tour guide. He knew where to stay, which bars to frolic in, and basically all the ins and outs of Ios. Funny thing was, we couldn’t understand a damn word this bloke was saying due to his thick English accent, but he knew where to go and after 36 hours of travel, we didn’t care.
We got off the ferry in Ios at 2 a.m. and Paul led us on a two-mile walk uphill in the heat of the night to get to the center of “the rock.” We could hear the raucous rhapsody of hundreds of drunken travelers stumbling from one niche bar to another throughout the small white corridor allies. Mind you, Jesse and I both had our 50-pound packs and guitars. One immensely cocked fellow came up to us saying, “Right off the boat? You guys are fucked! Fucked! You are in trouble! [Turning to his friend] Hey, tell them how drunk we are!” Jesse and I knew that this was going to be a fun stay.
Paul took us immediately to his favorite establishment, Kalua Bar, where he knew the proprietor, Panos. Panos gave us several beers and shots. By this time it was about 5am and we had to go to bed. Ironically enough, the drunken guy we’d encountered upon our arrival (“Tell them how drunk we are!”) offered us a place to stay for the night that overlooked the whole island.
The next day we hazily awoke to a view of a sprawling, whitewashed, picturesque Cycladic village, full of stairs and narrow paths. We checked into the Marcos Hotel on the other side of the island. At that time it was 2500 drachma ($6) a night. This hotel was full of energetic, friendly Australians who took us under their “experienced Ios wings” to show us wide-eyed Americans what the island was all about.
These Aussies took us out every night we were there to all the bars. The main square in Ios is just bar after bar with people stumbling about. There was Slammer Bar, Flames Bar, Bar 69, the Red Bull, the Sweet Irish Dream, etc. Mind you, at 11 p.m. the temperature was in the high 70s and low 80s. We just couldn’t believe that such a place could exist!
To pass the time during the day, we took the local bus to the white sand beaches overlooking the blue Aegean Sea to get some sun and fun. As you can imagine, the nights were full of complete chaos. What I enjoyed the most were the small white alleyways that formed a maze throughout the small town, which contained over 350 chapels.
“The rock” was a hard place to leave. Then this Alcatraz-like rock did become a hard place to leave – literally. The winds were so strong at this time of year that ferries couldn’t maneuver properly within all the islands. More specifically, the day before we were supposed to return to Athens, a ferry sunk because the crew all wanted to watch the football match on TV and left the helm to an amateur who smacked some rocks in a gale and sank, killing 80 people – the worst ferry accident in Greece on record.
Needless to say, all ferries were cancelled. We were stuck on the rock. To some, it might’ve seemed a fortuitous place to be stranded. But we wanted off. We couldn’t party anymore and were running out of money.
Two days later, all ferries were cleared to go, and we boarded our ferry at 10 p.m. We had to stop at the islands of Naxos and Paros first before Athens. The winds were blowing, the waves were crashing, and Jesse and I were sitting close to the life preservers on this death trap of a vessel.
We arrived in Naxos and the winds were howling so strong that we were pushed aground. It was frightening. Nobody was telling us what was going on, and we were ready to jump over the railing into the black crashing waves.
Finally after four hours, another ferry moored up in front of our ferry. The ferries’ enormous bows opened up and, tied facing each other, we were shuttled like cattle onto the new ferry in the midst of heavy winds, TV cameras, and complete utter chaos at 1 a.m. To top it off, I thought I lost Jesse in the mix. This experience could have been the headline of my small Massachusetts town newspaper: “Local Man Died Trying to Leave Party Island in Greece.”
However, we safely made it back to Athens with five hours to burn before our bus ride west to catch the ferry to Italy. Those five hours were some the best hours spent in Greece. We saw the Acropolis perched on top of a hill and went for it. Meandering through the Greek neighborhoods in Athens, not knowing what was around the corner, searching for the Parthenon gave us such an intense rush of excitement that three hours in a 50-pound pack in 85-degree heat didn’t curb our enthusiasm.