Our camp was basic – on the grey beach between Matala and Aghia Galini. In a tiny village with two shops, a couple of cheap hotels and a taverna.
The ferry journey from Haifa had been rough, but we'd stayed together and there were now eleven of us. We’d grown in numbers after our first couple of days on the island. We’d arrived and headed for Aghios Nikolaos, where one of the girls had an old boyfriend she’d met on holiday a couple of years back. While she re-discovered her long lost Greek youth, we spent our days in the bars and tavernas around the small harbour.
When it came time to leave, Katie stayed behind but was replaced by a couple of kiwi girls and some boys from the UK, who’d spent the summer working the bars of Ios and who were refusing to go home. We headed to the south coast of the island, where the weather was milder.
We pitched tents amongst trees, and lived communally. Those who found work – usually picking cucumbers in the local greenhouses, or washing dishes in one of the hotels – would use their earnings to buy food and drink for everyone else. We all managed to do pretty equal amounts of work and there was no trouble. The locals seemed to like us and we spent most nights in the taverna, drinking rough village wine and bad, bad ouzo.
A few weeks later, after spending the day picking the world’s biggest cucumbers in a sweaty, stinky plastic greenhouse, I stopped by the taverna for a beer. I sat there, doing end-of-day staring into space, nursing my beer and looking like god knows what.
“Do you speak English?”
“Huh?” said I
“Do you speak English?” said the voice – American accented, male.
“Thank god, can I sit here with you?”
And so he joined me. He was Michael, he said. He’d been travelling in Greece and was heading to Athens before flying back to the US. He was staying at one of the hotels in the village and hadn’t spoken to anyone in English for weeks.
We stayed drinking together for some time. We laughed and talked – we both had had similar experiences while travelling, and we weren't short of conversation. I missed dinner at the camp and Michael bought me slices of pizza which came straight from the taverna oven. After weeks of living off rice or lentils or beans, it was like I had gone to food heaven.
We said goodbye in the early hours and, much to my surprise, he gave me a peck on the cheek before he headed back to his hotel.
The following afternoon, I headed off down the beach in the direction of Aghia Galini. I had no work that day and didn’t want to be sat around by the tents all day – it had started to look like a refugee camp, and wasn’t the place to chill out on a day off.
I got to my favourite part of the beach, where there was a small curve in the cliff giving shelter from the wind. I took off my sweatshirt and used it as a cushion. I sat down, looked out to sea, read a book that someone had given me. I fell asleep and woke as the sun was setting. I was no longer alone.
“Hey” said Michael.
“Hey” I returned, looking at him.
"I've been looking for you all day" he said.
He told me I’d catch cold if I stayed there much longer. I said, that that was fine, that this was my favourite place at my favourite time of day.
Michael moved closer to me. He took my hand and held it, sat and watched the sun with me.
The beach looked due west and the sunsets were never anything short of amazing. Our faces turned red, pink, orange, with the failing light.
He leaned in towards me and kissed me.
The sun dissappeared and I sat there, with Michael and my singing heart providing all the company I needed.