The last itinerary of the speedboat, around the middle of October, marks the end of the summer season for the island of Amorgos. The people at the port are few and far between. Tears well up either with nostalgia or with relief that the summer is coming to an end.
My article first published on travel.gr
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Autumn has already come. Most of the shops are closed and a sense of melancholy pervades in the narrow streets, until now filled with voices and music. Now the sound that dominates is that of the north and west wind, which makes the waves reach even the most remote houses of the port. And now, you wonder: What’s next? What’s winter like in Amorgos?
The arrival of winter is sudden, without you realizing it. Suddenly the lights become dimmer every day and humidity gives its place to the dry cold, which allows you to see the sky very clearly at night. So how does a day go by until nightfall?
Many, far from here, might think that the people of Amorgos just rest until spring, and consequently the next tourist season, comes. But that is only half true. And in fact it concerns only those who leave the island to return to the city and spend the winter there. The life of the locals, however, is something different altogether, a daily sequence of activities and images.
From olive harvesting to the voluntary contribution to the festival of the patron saint of Panagia Hozoviotissa, the majority of the approximately 1,600 inhabitants are in a continuously productive process.
During the day, and if it’s not too rainy or windy, there is intense activity in all parts of the island, either with construction and other technical work or with livestock and agricultural chores.
The beginning of the day finds the beloved ferry, the Express Skopelitis, departing for its daily route to the islands of the small Cyclades and Naxos. For both ports it is a reference point, as some will wake up to travel, others to send things and a few, like yours truly, just to watch it leave the lighthouse behind.
On days when there’s lots of wind and the ferry doesn’t travel due to adverse weather conditions, we feel an instinctive bemusement, as if something out at sea seems threatening. Something like a supreme power. Like last year, after New Year’s, when there was a ten-day ban, and the store shelves were empty.
The winter days on the island are usually sunny and windy, wet as it gets dark and with minimal rainfall especially in recent years. So on rainy days the gratitude is endless, even if tasks traditionally done outside are halted.
The daily routine starts with the morning coffee. There, in the small cafes of Chora, Katapola, Aegiali and Arkesini, will be the first socialization of the day and recording of the events of the previous and next days, but, most importantly, it is there that decisions on how the daily activities are going to roll will be taken.
Each of these discussions is called a ” small Assembly” and lasts no more than 30-40 minutes. Current affairs come first, before we end up discussing our personal ones which are infinitely spicier.
Only for a while, though, because reality is always out there, in the north wind; where, as if in a magical way, everyone is dedicated to their daily work until late at noon; where, early in the morning, the children, regardless of the weather conditions, wait for the bus that’ll take them to Chora, to school.
Imagine that some children who live in the remote villages of Amorgos, such as Kalotaritissa, have to wake up every morning before 7 to be on time at the bus stop and then make a 40-minute journey to school. It’s the time that the boats with fresh fish arrive at the port.
The haul of fish is not always plentiful and that makes this job even more difficult. As the day progresses, small groups of people huddle up inside and outside the grocery store, the bakery, the bank and the few shops that remain open in winter. On Wednesday and Saturday everyone will rush early to get fresh grocery.
It’s really important to catch the freshest products, especially during fasting periods. Late at noon follows the siesta, an integral part of the daily life of adults. It’s the time when everyone is silent, letting nature show its most beautiful facets.
Without a doubt, this is the time when you clearly hear the sound of the sea and the birds that, synchronized in groups, seek shelter for the night. You’ll even hear the rain, as it arrives from afar and then you’ll smell the wet soil. You’ll see hawks that always travel in pairs and later, as dusk falls, the most amazing images of the sky, images you could never imagine being created in the blink of an eye.
Late in the evening, the port comes alive again for a while with the arrival of the Express Skopelitis, and then the news of the day in the coffeeshop over raki. Just before 10 the island becomes a ghost town, almost everyone is now at home. In the few open bars traffic is scarce.
A point of reference for the fishermen is the day of the feast of Saint Nicholas, where in Katapola from early in the afternoon, tens of kilos of fresh fish are fried and served to visitors for free. This is followed by a traditional feast that lasts until late at night.
At Christmastime, the students return to their homes and the families meet again. And on the eve, younger and older will come out with fiddles and lutes to sing carols door-to-door. There, the elderly wait patiently for them, having prepared traditional Christmas treats, melomakarona and kserotigana.
In Amorgos, there is also a small gym in the winter, the movie club with its loyal friends, the public library and many private or other voluntary activities.
As for me, I love to swim every day, to watch the sunrise from the ‘kalogeriko’ in Chora and to gaze at the sunset from Minoa; to walk on the mountain paths and to hear stories of the Occupation during the 2nd World War from the captains in the evening in Prekas, the iconic coffeeshop; to eat oranges in the orchard, before I buy them, to work with the sea in the background, and to drink my favorite beer in Kostas’ Grand Bleu bar, feeling nostalgia for the places we grew up; to be frightened by the crack of thunder, to be awoken by the cries of seagulls, and to fall asleep listening to the sweet lullaby of the sound of the sea.
Life in winter here is very simple, almost spartan. For some far from here it might seem hopelessly boring. For us, however, it’s a life full of the real deal, sounds, images, time and strong emotions.
There are people who could describe what winters are like on the island without saying a word.
You can find the greek text on travel.gr