Although dawn comes too early, I am still excited to stick my head up from below deck and see what the world offers today. I feel the sun’s warmth and admire the soft pink sky. The marina at Kos is waking up. People shuffle about, pelicans are making a mess and skinny meowing cats are sniffing around for their next morsel. It’s going to be another day of decadence in the Dodecanese.
So no doubt you know what decadence is, but do you know what the Dodecanese is? The Dodecanese (doe-DEK-a-neeze) is a group Greek islands in the southern Aegean, and a place I recommend you visit, especially if you like to travel to places that are somewhat out of the norm and not on a typical tourist track. Naturally, the loveliest way to visit these islands is on a 50′ sailboat!
I’ve joined my long-time friend Diane on her fleet of sailing yachts and we are spending a couple of weeks sailing the Turkish coast and the Greek islands. A typical day will comprise of sailing each morning to the next island, renting a moped and exploring local life. Sometimes an island or town is too small to even have mopeds to rent, so luckily it is just as easy to explore on foot. Hiking up a hill to the crest of an island lets me see much of the coastline that frames the island and the views do not disappoint.
For a few brief moments, you can immerse yourself in quintessential Greek life, where women still dress in all black, and old men shuffle their donkeys through town. Fishermen still tenderize a just caught octopus by slapping it against the marina’s rocks – so we can have fresh calamari for dinner, of course. Many homes and churches are painted that stark bright white with iconic Greek blue trim, and even though island life is rustic, we are still on a decadent adventure. Here, you are temporarily removed from a life of routine, and everything is new and different. It is a breath of fresh air. It is rejuvenating. To me: decadence in the Dodecanese.
Restaurants may or may not have menus. If they don’t, we simply accept what is served and appreciate that we have food: tzatziki (cucumber yogurt dip), olives, calamari, eggplant, olives, fish, potatoes, olives, greens, feta cheese, and olives. (Too bad I don’t care for olives.) Our yachts are stocked, but while we are in port, it is always a great experience to eat ashore. Tables are often a small square four-top, covered with a plastic blue and white checkered tablecloth. It’s easy to put them together so we can have “dinner for 20”. The concrete outdoor patio is uneven and the tables and ladder back chairs wobble, but it doesn’t matter. Nothing is expensive and we learn to like retsina (think potent pine resin flavored alcoholic beverage).
In the absence of nighttime street lights, the night sky is darker in the Dodecanese. We can actually see stars, although I only recognize one or two constellations. Back on board, it is easy to fall asleep to the sounds of water slapping against the side of the boat and the rhythmic clanks of the metal shackles on the mast.
Dawn again comes early and its time to find a new island. Diane and the crew have already started their day, and when I crawl up on deck, I discover our three yachts are quietly leaving the island behind. Shortly we are out of the marina and sailing in the Aegean; many of our destinations will be “line of sight”, so it’s easy to see where we are headed (which also helps me avoid motion sickness!).
Exploring Greece AND Turkey
We ultimately visit many Greek islands – Kos, Kalymnos, Arki, Patmos, Leros, Lipsos, Rhodes – and we stop in several towns and villages along the Turkish coast. The Turks and Greeks like to make it difficult for the other (including the tourists), so when we visit Bodrum for the day, we have to leave our passports with the port authorities so they can ensure we exit Turkey that same day. I find it unnerving, but their rules are not negotiable.
One day in English Harbour in the Bay of Gokova, Turkey, we find it very easy to stay quite busy, even though there is not one “thing” to do! We hike, we swim, we nap. We lay in hammocks and read books. The day flies by and as night falls, we have a massive dinner party: we are moored at a small marina, and Turks seem to come from nowhere to cook our feast. Our main server is a young man named Mustafa, and we nickname him Mustache.
Somehow I’m selected to help serve our group, and somehow I end up dancing on the tables – after, of course, Mustache drapes me in a festive Turkish outfit.
In bigger towns, we explore old ruins such as the Bodrum Castle in Turkey, and the Palace of the Grand Castle of the Knights in Rhodes. History lessons abound and I wish I could master a condensed version of Greek and Turkish history. It is easier to master Greek words, and my efforts in speaking Greek are always rewarded with big smiles and thank-yous (efharisto, pronounced ef-hah-rees-TOH).
I’ve been lucky enough to have sailed the Dodecanese and other Greek islands many times, and was even in Patmos when the horrific 9-11 terrorism attacks occurred. The Greek people, scenery, food, and history are all wonderful and I look forward to visiting again. So put this one on your bucket list. Sailing around the Dodecanese and living on a nice yacht for a week or two is a decadent way to see a lovely, ancient little corner of the world. Go ahead, what are you waiting for? Tell them Donna sent you.