Travel: Eco-Hopping

A modern-day Greek odyssey that cruises the Aegen Sea by (mostly) wind-powered means, taps unspoiled destinations, and zeroes in on sustainable island life

By Jennifer van der Kwast

Photo by Tracy Toscano

Including Sifnos on our itinerary is a compromise. In recent years, the island has been discovered by tourists, so it’s not as far off the beaten path as our first two stops. On the other hand, Sifnos is more
lush than the other islands. Age-old cultivation of the land helps produce not only the signature ruddy clay but also the verdant valleys where tomatoes and chickpeas grow fertilizer-free.

We arrive on Sifnos on Sunday, the only day local tavernas serve traditional revithia tou fourno, an oven-baked chickpea dish cooked and served in ceramic pots made from the local clay. There may be no better way to experience the unique flavor of an island than to savor a meal in which both the food and the cooking vessel itself are  locally and organically produced. At the To Tsikali beach taverna, we make another important gastronomical discovery: Sifnos cheese—a softer, smoother, and, frankly, tastier version of feta that’s also local and organic—served with a Greek salad.

One of the benefits of traveling by catamaran is that we get to skip the frenzy of the ferry port at Kamares and spend the night in Vathi, a sandy clamshell harbor that is the prettiest on the island. A regular bus service runs from Vathi to Apollonia, the island capital, chock-full of bars and bougainvillea. From there, footpaths lead to the medieval village of Kastro, where it’s easy to get lost among lemon trees, tomato gardens, and sheep feces before finally arriving at the ruins of ancient fortress walls. At Dolci, an open-air bar, a European couple splays out on pil­lowed banquets reading paper­backs, their shoes kicked off under the table. We sit down and order mojitos garnished with mint leaves clipped from a bright blue, Sifnos-made planter, and take in the sunset.

No three people have come to the Greek islands less qualified to tie a knot or lower an anchor than we were. Gradually, we’ve turned into bona fide pros. “Raise the head sail!” Vaggelis barks. Once we tie the sail rope to the cleat, he rewards us with a, “Well done, girls,” then turns off the engine and sighs blissfully. We’re finally becoming sailors.

Wind and water take us seven knots to Folegandros, an island we’re eager to explore because Vaggelis has told us it has “the most enchanting” hora in the Cyclades. But soon the elements betray us. The swells in the bay pick up, looping our boat around in circles. In search of safe harbor, we’re forced to weigh anchor and sail roughly ten nautical miles east to the island of Sikinos. Once we’re safely moored in the calm bay of Alopronia, we’ve spent a full ten hours at sea.

Often overshadowed by Folegandros, Sikinos is relatively new to the tourist crush. As such, it maintains a rare, undisturbed ecosystem where hawks, snakes, and endangered monk seals thrive. This is an island that attracts respectful and environmentally conscious travelers who’d prefer to snorkel, hike, and birdwatch
than to party.

Despite the change in plans, this is by no means a bad day. In fact, it’s an ideal day. And herein lies both the problem with and the beauty of eco-hopping. It’s far too easy to do absolutely nothing—to let the gentle rocking of the boat cradle us into mid-day naps deep enough to content the undead; to read paperback novels in the sun; to get hungry and hop right off the boat and onto the wooden stool of a beach taverna in one fluid motion; or to drink white wine on the waterfront. All while not wearing any shoes.

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Issue 25

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