In the summer of 1990 (I think) a friend I hadn’t seen since school of two years ago (I left to go to another sixth form college while he stayed on, I believe) got in touch asking if I wanted to tag along on a camping trip around some Greek islands with a handful of other guys as a friend of the family had worked out a good deal. This would be my first trip abroad without family and with university fast approaching and me feeling adventurous I said yes.

Thus began a week or so with five of us flying out to Greece, there picking up regular ferries to hop around five Greek islands before returning to Athens and flying home. We took backpacks but no tents and spent the entire time sleeping outdoors in dedicated sites. It never rained, fortunately.

I knew two of the other four people who went on the trip: Jason Roberts (who organised most of it) and Matthew Kopinski. The other two were friends of Jason’s but their names escape me.

Travelling outside the country without parents was exciting, from the flight there to picking up the various ferries jumping between island and island and finding the correct buses to get us to camp sites. Ferry travel was very memorable for the uniformly dreadful conditions of the toilets on board and the extreme tilt most of them had when battered by the wind.

One memory from one of the ferry trips was finding ourselves seated behind what appeared to be gorgeous Greek women, trying to encourage each other to approach them, only to have one turn around and us all catch sight of a pretty thick moustache.

The five islands we hit were Ios, Naxos, Paros, Syros, and Mykonos.

The island featured in the image below holds a special memory for me as one evening before heading out to the nearby bars and clubs we experienced an earthquake. It’s the only earthquake I’ve ever felt and the best way I’ve got to describe it is like a juggernaut thundering past your room only in complete silence; there were vibrations and a feeling of swaying from side to side but no noise at all. It was interesting to see how many other people in the camp site suddenly looked around at each other with the same expression of “Was that a…?” on their faces.

Other memories of the Greek islands holiday:

  • Waking up with a rash on my leg one morning I had to visit the local hospital as it was Sunday and there was nothing else available. There, in a room with the door open to other people in the waiting room and in front of a group of three doctors, all smoking, I was gestured to drop my trousers and then given a prescription without a word. I took my pills. I went out drinking. Later that night I don’t remember very much at all other than being told to get off the bar I was laying on by a barman and walking back to the camp site on my own, pausing for a while on the beach to stare at the Milky Way. On my return to England my doctor informed me that I’d been prescribed strong tranquiliser. For insect bites.
  • One morning I awoke to find a woman undressing directly in front of me. I pretended to be still asleep but caught the eye of one of my trip companions who smiled at me as we secretly enjoyed the strip show.
  • On one of the islands our camping area backed onto a stone wall and we discovered at night that it was home to a large number of rats. One of my companions tried to block up the holes in the wall with containers of jam which the rats took great pleasure in removing.
  • We met up with a pair of American doctors at one point who persuaded us to engage in some special dance moves in an otherwise Greek-filled club; most moves were ignored – the fly fishing dance, for instance – but when we pretended to be Raymond Burr getting shot at the beginning of Ironside and all fell down to the ground as one we found ourselves the centre of a ring of very puzzled-looking people.
  • We got boisterous in a bar and started dragging other people up onto the dance floor. I have a vivid memory of dancing to Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds with two Danish girls. I also was thanked profusely by a man who’d wanted to dance and wanted to dance with one of the girls but hadn’t worked up the courage until I dragged them up together.
  • We walked off the beaten path into a local bar at one point where everyone turned to look at us as we entered. Not wanting to appear scared and back away we asked for drinks from a surly, silent barman – Bacardi and Coke was popular with us – where we discovered local Greek measures away from the tourist areas leaned towards the 20:1 ratio in favour of alcohol. We got very, very drunk.

We finished our trip with a few hours in Athens before flying home.


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