A Very Greek Odyssey: How We Went to Zakynthos and Saw Everything but Shipwreck Beach

The choice of Zakynthos itself as our destination was a bit of map bingo- I here kind of like to imagine myself actually throwing darts at a giant map of Greece, see where they land, but with my aiming skills that’d probably be Benghazi, Libya and for the time being let’s say I’d rather not go there. So it was actually poring over the routes of WizzAir and comparing them with our suddenly altered schedule that led us to Zakynthos: Heraklion and Corfu were discarded as we’d already been there, Thessaloniki was deemed too continental and northerly (though we were to find out that this season graced the mainland resorts with great weather in mid-September as well), which left Zakynthos and Rhodes, with the former being chosen on accounts of both price and better flying schedules. 

I will honestly admit that Zakynthos had never been high on my list of Exciting Greek Islands (this list does exist and I am carefully editing it every now and then), but since it turned out that we’d end in each others clutches I did the necessary research and found out some marginally interesting things. It’s primary name of Zakynthos is said to have been given after the son of legendary Arcadian chief Dardanus (nothing is certain in either Greek mythology of Greece in general, as we’ll soon see) and is probably of Pelasgian, that is pre-Greek, origin. It is also known as Zante, a name seemingly given by the Venetians to ensure confusion- the island belonged to La Serenissima for a rather long period of time, during which it was lovingly called Il Fior di Levante, The Flower of the East, though the doges did not particularly bother with prettifying the city itself, of which more will be said in a future installment.

Zakynthos belongs to the group of Ionian islands called Heptanese, on account of them being seven: Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaki, Kefalonia and Zakynthos itself, off the west coast of Greece, and Kythira, your idiot friend falling behind on hikes and possibly crashing into a ravine, lying way south, off the tip of the Peloponese and thus today belonging to a different administrative unit of Greece. 

As such, it is covered by the lush greenery we were familiar with from Corfu and has several of those ridiculously blue beaches that seem to exist only in theory. They actually do exist, mind you, the only one we can’t really vouch for though is Zakynthos’s most famous one: Navagio, or Shipwreck beach. It lies on the Western coast of the island, which is generally rocky and wind prone, and thus has almost no settlements- this means that no matter where you are staying on the island, you’ll need a boat trip to get there and take in the beauty of the bay and the rotting carcass of the MV Panagiotis (built in Scotland in 1937 as the Saint Bedan, another beautiful thing the Scots have made and then someone else, though this time not the English, wrecked for them.) The Panagiotis ran aground in 1980, possibly carrying smuggled cigarettes, the crew fled from the Greek navy and well, they left the whole thing there, inadvertently making the place even tourist baitier than before. 

We duly set out on a (we thought) fine Tuesday to visit this magnificent site, aboard the dauntless vessel Dimostenis, the whole merriment being organised by local agency MyTours, who sadly for us have very convincing staff but dodgy logistics and policies. The first bit of the trip went as planned, though changing weather conditions were mentioned oft enough to seem odd in retrospect, and we duly inspected the Blue Caves and the Cape of Skinari at the northernmost tip of the island. Veering towards the west we however encountered a slightly choppy sea and were thus told in a slightly irritated than borderline hysterical way that it was the SEA POLICE (i.e. port authorities) who stopped us, in spite of the fact that the ship right in front of us happily sailed onward. Probably because it’s the pirate ship looking thing run by the Voutirakos agency- we had been warned against it previously as being always overcrowded and uncomfortable, but we assume no great explorer ever went for the softest cushions, so in the long run you’re probably better off choosing it. 

As for us, a sea of disappointed faces was sailing on a baby blue sea southwards, so that we could at least see the bay of Laganas and Turtle Island- so they said. The only thing is that if their inept captain had not seen the radar warning for the ‘giant’ waves in the morning (though I am fairly positive he did), he should definitely have seen it now, so there was simply no reason to sail around like Ulysses drunk on bad wine so we could get a glimpse of the bay and then again turn back due to apparently worsening conditions. All this while the crew acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, the Italian speaking guide reiterating falsehoods with the unique aplomb last seen with the Iraqi minister of (mis)information. 

The point was of course to make it look long enough so people wouldn’t ask for a refund. Yet in a European Union frisks the Greek budget move many of us did, to the sheer horror of the two agency employees left completely alone by their bosses, or so they claimed, because at this point we’d reached the shambolic level of Germany trying to kick them out of the Union or buying some islands as a quick fix- by all means Angela, buy them, buy them all. The end result was a partial refund after much bargaining, a meagre compensation for what Jeremy Clarkson would rightfully call a day of massive discomfort.

I have mentioned it before and will do it again: I love Greece and generally feel rather sympathetic towards its people as well, but this was a grim insight into how and why they did manage to push a tantalizingly beautiful country to the brink of collapse. Everyone involved just blamed someone else, and eventually it kind of turned out that no one is accountable for anything- it’s Greek tragedic fate, not we the people, but them, whoever they are, and it’s a bit tough to build a democracy when the demos don’t feel responsible for it too. 

Since I, however, prefer the solution oriented approach, I’ll leave you at the end of the diatribe with a whopping three take aways. One: never ever use MyTours for whatever you’re planning to do on Zakynthos. Two: Sometimes good travels do start where the tourist traps end. And three: Greece is still generally awesome and we’ll soon tell you why.

Also, do indulge below in the very blue waters off the Eastern coast of Zakynthos, all the way up to Cape Skinari, where the land (sea?) of pirates begins.

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