Serifos is a windy, rocky, dusty island. It’s a rugged place that is a workout to get around, a natural recreational environment that requires frequent stair climbing, balancing on loose and slippery rocks (sometimes submerged), and strong swimming strokes. The island can be harsh at times and it earned my respect quickly. On the first drive out to Vaghia, a pebbly beach about 20 minutes outside of Livadhi, the wind gusted over 50mph several times, noticeably altering the jeep’s course, and shuttering the visibility on the shoulderless cliff side road. When we finally parked the jeep, a gust slammed the driver’s side door closed in an heartbeat, missing my elbow and arm by millimeters. Needless to say, I was very careful opening car doors for the next three weeks. During our hikes around the old mining grounds and ancient archaelogical sites, the prickly and resolute flora thrashed our ankles and lower legs — damn, I almost packed those knee high, heavy merino blended hikers. On what was marked on our topo map as an easy, leisurely stroll around Sygamia beach, we ended up on a pitched slick face of granite that required several perilous scrambles and a lot of faith in my new hiking shoes. The trail then deteriorated into a pathless, scratchy, thigh level patch of juniper scrub that we were apparently supposed to bushwack. We high-stepped for 15 minutes before encountering an unpassable shepherd’s wall ripe with tarantula webs. We chalked up our retreat to a technicality — lack of appropriate gear (machete, anti-venom).
Due to the arid climate and lack of water runoff in the summer, the clarity of the water on the islands’ numerous beaches is stunning. At one of its pristine cave beaches, the 30′ of rock wall down to the rocky bottom of thesea bed appeared like a colossal aquarium, filled with and abundance of sea flora and fauna. The view back to the white marble cave entry was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. But on a windy day, the same swimming hole could be transformed into an open shooting range of salt water pellets. While swimming, we would literally have to submerge ourselves when the wind whipped, keeping one hand out of the water to feel when the surface settled down. The variety of conditions helped me build a confidence in the water. The unpredictability and potential harshness of the elements provided athletic challenges daily and helped me drop 10 pounds in short order. The locals have an accurate euphemism for complaints about the harsh conditions — we were bitching about the “sand in our crotches.”
After 10 years living in downtown Manhattan, one of my least favorite things to do was to commute to the gym. Once at the gym, I enjoyed my workout no matter how routine the sequence of exercises. But the repetitious bike ride or jog from Chinatown to and from the gym in Soho was unbearable. The fact was that I wasn’t going really going anywhere other than a climate controlled hamster wheel. Even if I ocassionally thought I was winning the rat race, I was still a fat old rat. As one of the few reflective times during my day, I began to see my professional and creative endeavors in the same light — soulless, routine, never-ending pursuits. Downtown Manhattan’s relentless, banal, flat grid had gotten the best of me. It didn’t help that I’d often forget my headphones and I would be subjected to the gym’s horrific paid-for music video programming.
I doubt that Serifos will ever market itself as an island for recreational exercise. There aren’t many tourists out there that would pay a premium for an ass kicking holiday. But I’ll be back — not just to see waterfalls and photograph the wildflowers of those intricate, thorny plants in the wonder of spring; not just when the Athenians, fat Brits, cute French girls, and lazy Americans have left the autumn to the locals. I’ll be back in the dead of summer, in the heat of the summer, on the most ridiculously windy day. I’ll return to force myself to be a rugged, tough animal that Serifos can strengthen and harden with its wind, earth, and water.