We have taken a real shine to the islands of Kastos and Kalomos in Northern Ionion in Greece.
These islands are quite different from the other places we have been because they are not spoilt by tourism even though Tourism is probably there only income. For me they display a relaxed entrepreneurial ethos, which is not out to take everything they can from you, (although you couldn’t blame them if they did), they still have a rural charm, an island atmosphere and a welcoming smile.
“If you are first in, you will be last out in the morning as you may have one or two rows of boats moored in front of you, beside you & behind you. George doesn’t believe in turning boats away”.
Kastos now only has a few tavernas and the shop has closed down. When anchoring off the beautiful beaches you watch the odd farmer go up and down the island in his pick up sorting the goats and cattle.
Kalomos is rather different. The little port is picturesque with fishing boats and small motorboats taking up most of the inner harbour area. The visiting sailboats pack in along the southern mole (harbour wall) and eastern end of the northern wall. When you arrive, George directs you to a spot and helps you secure your boat. He then introduces himself and explains that he has the restaurant at the far end.
If you arrive early enough you get to watch what George does all day. That is all day, every day at all hours. He directs boats in, he takes the ropes, he pushes you around in his boat if you are struggling with the wind. He charges out to see who is coming in and he is always there to help you. There is no charge.
The first few times we arrived happened to be on a Saturday and we soon realised that although the quay was full of boats this was relatively quiet for the summer months. During the week the charter boats arrive in droves. This is where George really sets to work, now he takes charge squeezing boat after boat into the little harbour. If you are first in, you will be last out in the morning as you may have one or two rows of boats moored in front of you, beside you & behind you. George doesn’t believe in turning boats away.
That said, one Tuesday we arrived we knew that getting our catamaran in would be difficult so we anchored in the bay outside the harbour. In actual fact the water was clear, the beach was clean and the depth was just 3 or 4 metres with a big hill behind with protection from the north westerly winds coming through. For us this was perfect and we were happy to stay out on anchor. Within an hour or two we realised there were now another six catamarans around us, before darkness the anchorage probably housed 20 or more boats. A big wind was coming through and we were safely anchored and sheltered. Inside the harbour George had a least 100 boats sorted and safe.
At first we wondered why George didn’t charge. He was doing such a cracking job, he is polite, smiling, happy, hard working and always helpful. We went along to his restaurant for supper. I was amazed. He must have 100 covers outside, on the beach, down the quayside, inside, under shelters and along the street.
On busy days George sets up more tables to accommodate more people. On a quiet night there maybe 8 or 9 serving staff, we didn’t eat there on busy days but you can only imagine he must employ most of the island. Hopefully they all do well from the influx of visitors.
There are a couple of other tavernas and cafes as well as a Crepe stall and Cocktail bar. There is a bakery at the top of the hill and two grocery stores on the quay.
How many boats?
Buying from the grocery stores is quite an experience. They don’t have prices. I didn’t work out whether this was to stop the other store under cutting the first or so you don’t know how much you are paying for your items. I was a little skeptical at first as we had shopped at other stores and paid more than double what we would have paid at home.
However, I chose a few items and took them to the counter. The lovely man rang a few things into the till. I commented on how could he remember all of the prices. “I have been here 17 years” he said. “Oh” I retorted, “Haven’t the prices changed much then”? We both laughed and he told me I owed €15, I smiled to myself thinking that this was a lottery, a game, he would charge roughly what he thought. He certainly wasn’t over charging and I would certainly be happy to buy more things from him.
One evening Paul decided to go in search of rum. “Good luck” I shouted as he set off. He came back triumphant! He explained that our friendly store man didn’t know if he had rum, there certainly wasn’t any on the shelves. However the shop was not as you would expect most shops to be, with everything on the shelves. A large part of the shop was boxes of goods, not yet unpacked, and they had obviously been there for quite some time even though there was room on the shelves for more produce. Paul had asked if he could look through the boxes.
All things comes to those who want it badly enough and tucked away in a corner Paul found some Rum. Unfortunately the owner of the shop was now in disarray as he had no idea how much to charge. Paul was quick to make an offer “Result”! Probably the only bottle of Captain Morgan’s rum on the island and bought at a bargain price.
Don’t get me wrong …. I believe in paying a fair price for goods but I have been astounded at the price for normal everyday goods. I understand that food has to be bought over to the islands and much of the food is imported. But I would like to be able to buy local food at a better rate. However, in Kalamos we found the shops were not overpriced, everything we bought here was cheaper than in Nidri on Lefkas. We were happy to spend our money here. Surprisingly they also took card which was just as well as there wasn’t a cash point on the island.
So what I love about Kalomos is their attitude to trade. Let’s give a bit and then see what we can get back in return. There are no tourist shops on the island, no nik nacs, no postcards, no hats or flip-flops. The bakery sells booze, the groceries don’t have prices but you don’t feel you are being charged too much, the restaurant offers good food at good prices.
Because of George’s generosity they are visited in the summer by hundreds and hundreds of sailors a week. This must reflect on the whole population of the island. Long may it last! Great to find somewhere that is not covered in tat!!!
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