Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Island Hopping In The Ionian

A waterfront church
Earlier this month, during our trip to Greece, we spent one amazing day boating between Corfu and the nearby islands of Paxi  and Antipaxi.  Mythology has Poseidon, God of the Sea, on a quest to find a peaceful haven on which to take refuge, creating these islands by striking his trident on Corfu. Today, these smallest of the Ionian islands, are known for their sun, sand, olive groves, and wine.  (What's not to love?).  They are located just seven miles off the coast of Corfu and eight miles off the coast of  mainland Greece and lacking air service, the only way to get to these islands is via boat--either private or charter-- which means smaller crowds and a slower pace than Corfu, their more touristy big sister.  And as it turned out, visiting these two green gems was the highlight of my trip.

Inside a cave looking out
Excited for what the day held in store for us, we slathered ourselves with high SPF sunscreen and set off on our chartered boat early on the morning of the 4th of July.  Even all these years later, the Mainer in me still expects the air to be foggy and cold when I am out on the water -- even if it is the middle of the summer.  Instead, we had full sunshine and a light breeze that made the weather just perfect for a day on the water.  We enjoyed the requisite morning and afternoon coffee breaks on shore first in the village of Lakka then in the island's government seat of Gaios.  Perhaps it was the early hour but Lakka felt quaint and sleepy during our morning visit.  Its small harbor had its share of multi-million dollar yachts and sailboats but an equal number of small fishing boats and water taxis were tied up at the pier.  We sipped iced coffee at a small cafe run by Brits while looking at the boats bobbing in the harbor.  During our late afternoon visit to  Gaios , I found this village to be more colorful and busier with bustling restaurants, gift shops, and a noticeably larger number of  people.  I loved both of these harbors and wished we had more time to explore all the narrow streets had to offer.  But we didn't have time and that was actually OK since what we did in between our two Paxi port calls was so wonderful.
Exploring the coast

Pulling out of Lakka we hugged Paxi's rocky shoreline and explored the numerous sea caves that dotted the shore.  The sheer cliffs plummeted down to water that was so crystal clear that I could look through meter upon meter of the aquamarine liquid all the way to the sea bottom.  The sight really left me breathless.  To me, the color and clarity of the water rivaled that of the Caribbean.  Our boat was small and the very able captain was able to pilot us through the narrow caverns of numerous caves.  I thought this was just so cool.  The water was just as clear here and its reflection off of the cave walls created a spectrum of blues, greens, and purples.  Inside one cave the more adventurous amongst our group had the opportunity to go swimming.  Glenn jumped right in and this ended up being the highlight of his day. He also swam to shore, returning with a pocket full of pebbles for Sidney, whose throwing them into the water and watching them sink ended up being the highlight of his day.  We explored a few more caves before heading out across the narrow waterway to our next stop, the island of Antipaxi.

On Antipaxi we disembarked and spent several hours playing in the azure water and lazing on the small beach.  Sidney's initial dismay that there weren't any rocks to thrown turned to delight when he discovered that sand is even more fun to play with.  This island is tiny and with roughly 60 or so summer residents, sparsely populated.  Our little beach was anchored by two ramshackle restaurants serving freshly grilled fish and meat.  The entire vibe was low key and relaxed. The water was refreshingly cold but the sun was hot and we staked out our beach chairs and just relaxed.  The beach was a fine white sand and not marred by a single piece of litter. (You know I have been in Albania too long when a lack of litter and debris is the very first thing I notice about a beach).  I'm not even a "beach" person but I felt like I had discovered a little piece of heaven and loved every minute of our time there.  So much so that I even donned a bathing suit for the first time in years and actually went in the water.  And I enjoyed it.

Lunch time view- Antipaxi Island

Waiting for lunch to be delivered

One last look- Antipaxi

Of course, all good things must come to an end and all too soon it was time to hop back on our boat and return to Corfu.  We took our time returning however, stopping to explore a few more caves and taking an afternoon coffee break in Gaios.  Lulled by the rocking of the boat and tired by all of the sun I think everyone napped during the return trip.  I know I did.  The day was just the type of relaxing and fun filled one that you should have on vacation.  As I mentioned earlier, it was the 4th of July and while we didn't experience the traditional American style cookout and fireworks displays, we didn't miss any of it.

This was how clear the water was


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