Date: 8 September 2018
Location: cliff side private villa, Moussata, Cephalonia.
And we’re back, with Besties In Paradise.
Episode 1: An orienteering task proves challenging.
And so the team faces its first adventure: find the villa.
Ariel and Paris — who, along with Girl Girl and I turn out to be the only one of the group with valid diving licences — collect our rented cars from the airport. These prove not to be the lovely, safe Citroens we’ve requested but knock-off Suzukis instead. They and Lady Lovelylocks come to collect me in Argostoli’s main square. The others, impatient, go ahead in a taxi…. before realising that they don’t have the villa’s address. They wait for us at a lonely Aegean petrol station with a Jew of the Ionian Sea, or, at least, we think they do. We arrive to find it deserted, save for a little Greek man eager to pump our gas. Kidnap?! So soon? But no, a man in a 4WD pulls up and greets us. He’s the air BnB owner and, having spotted four girls sitting on the kerb, asked if they’d hired his villa. They were only too happy to say yes and accept a lift with this stranger. Okay, this handsome stranger.
Once we too arrive and navigate the delicate bedroom situation (who sleeps where, with whom?), that’s when I really recognise how great this is. We’re truly in paradise for the week. The villa is brand new and roomy enough for 8 of us, though
it does mean one girl on a couch, sorry Number Eight). It has a long, silkily cool infinity pool overlooking the sea and the neighbouring island of Zante. There are inside and outside dining areas. Three bathrooms with rainforest showers. Pool toys. Crisp white sheets. No neighbours in line of sight.
There’s also the world’s scariest, narrow off-road gravel driveway, stretching for almost a kilometre between here and the nearest paved road — a fact that will prove fateful in just over twelve hours…
Episode 2: Nightfall brings new alliances and then chaos
It’s 4am and Lady Lovelylocks, Édith, Gin Girl and Tassels are lost, somewhere in Cephalonia. Ariel, Paris and I have pleased tired / jet lagged / boring and stayed in with wine and books, but they’ve all been out with Number Eight’s potential sumamer fling, some guy from US Survivor who’s flown over just to see her, and then to a beach bar. But they’re not quite sure where. Unhelpfully, our villa, lovely as it is, has no address — apparently that’s quite common around here and taxis navigate by landmark not address. Sadly, our sozzled friends aren’t capable of remembering or locating any such things. I wake up with a start to my phone ringing and spend the next ten minutes trying help some very drunk friends work out where they are. Finally, sleep-addled and finding it very challenging going indeed to get sense out of them, I drop a location pin and crawl back into bed. Four phone calls later they’re even more messy. There are tears and yelling down the phone, shouting to ‘keep off the road’ or that someone is ‘going the wrong way’. At one point Lady Lovelylocks commands me to ‘send donkeys!’ and promptly hangs up. After that, it’s clearly time to get out the big guns. I wake up Paris. We persuade the girls to stay at the petrol station (yes, that lonely one with the creepy Greek man) and go find the car keys to pick them up. However, they’ve locked the driveway gate. We’re trapped. They’re lost. An hour later we manage to guide them home, using a combination of live location pins and cajoling phone calls and outright bullying. We fall into bed just before 6am.
Episode 3: Édith tries to eliminate the competition on the high seas
Number Eight slinks home just after 6am, very much over her nascent summer fling, but too exhausted to join us on today’s excursion: a long drive across two mountains to Fiscardo to rent a speed boat. We set off without her and, when we reach the gorgeous little fishing village, the inevitable happens: we immediately disperse., distracted by shiny things and Greek towels and espresso freddo. Once we all meet up at the little Regina’s Boats rental stand — ‘Do you have a bathroom?’ Bullish Greek Lady shrugs: ‘I have nothing but boats.’ — we disperse again to find bathrooms. Miraculously we all gather again just ten minutes later and seem to have everything we need for an onboard picnic. From there, the day is a holiday dream. I skipper us from little cove to little cove, each sheltered and lonely in the loveliest of ways. The water slides from deep blue to vibrant green and little fish guard their paradise home and snap up any potato chip scraps we care to toss them. We laze. We snorkel. We eat. We motor onto the next bay. There are only two incidents, both of which occur when I surrender the wheel to Édith. First, there’s the moment where she tries to protect the boat from getting too close to the rocks by grabbing the throttle and pressing it hard forward, making our anchored boat fly out of the water and wrapping the anchor around the propellor. I scream from my position on the beach, a long, slow and horrified ‘nooooooooo’. It’s not my coolest moment. Later, I let her take a turn at steering us home. However, as we speed along, her 9 Euro Captain’s Hat flies off and, without thinking, she turns the boat in a hard donut to rescue it. All of our hats and phones fly. Our faces are frozen in wide mouthed terror (she later tells us that, seeing those faces, that’s the moment she first knew she had maybe done something bad). Instinctively, I reach over and cut the engine. We cruise to a gentle stop in the wash. Édith jumps in (in the middle of the channel!) to rescue her souvenir. We all start to breathe again. I claim the wheel back.
Around 6pm, crispy from the sun and feeling baked in salt, we return our little boat and find a touristy but pretty village restaurant, heavy with bougainvillea, for an early dinner. We’re back in the car to sleepily navigate the mountainous roads home before most people here are even thinking about dinner. We sleep like babies.
Episode 4: Nature tests our contestants
Today — allegedly — people woke up early and did an impromptu barre class on the terrace using the pool fence as a barre. Neither Paris nor I can confirm or deny. We slept until 11. In the afternoon we all head to the mythically blue Myrtos beach — in two batches: an early crew and a much later crew. I would suggest soft factions were forming but, actually, these groups are separated by age. In the early car, Gin Girl, Tassels, Ariel and Number Eight. In the late car, me, Paris and Édith. Lady Lovelylocks stays behind for a chill day. (We later find out that she has taken up my challenge of snapping a nude pool selfie during the day — and a saucy, good one at that — and, enjoying the freedom, spent the afternoon swimming nude. That’s cool. The pool boy certainly thought it was very cool indeed.)
Pre-beach we, of course, need food ie to continue to deprive the Ionian Sea of octopus. We head to the little village of Assos.
Assos is picturesque. In fact, it is beyond picturesque. Perched on the north-western coast, you approach from up above on a steep cliff. It’s stunning even from here. Shaped a little like an hourglass, it’s bottom is attached to the mainland and the
town proper is cradled in the narrow waist.. At the wider far end, the castle, surrounded by deep blue sea on almost all sides. It blows our pre-coffee minds — but in town we make a beeline for octopus and coffee. Then, sated, we head to Myrtos Beach. It’s 5pm. It seems that we have adjusted nicely to Greek time! The drive down to the beach proper is harrowing: all hairpin turns on a steep angle on a narrow gravelly road. But that’s nothing compared to the treacherous water! It’s all an inviting ombré of electric blue shades but, because its stony shore drops off so quickly, the waves are close in and terrifyingly destructive. I stand on the waters edge and laugh as Tassels and Nunber Eight struggle in the shallows and then, naively, join them. Within seconds I’m knocked off my feet. A few seconds later I’ve been sucked into the brilliant wash and mercilessly dunked. The water burns my nostrils with salt. It’s like being in a washing machine full of brine. And yet, mesmerised by it’s unique beauty, we persist.
The beach leaves it’s marks on us all — Ariel bruises and I later find a whole handful of rocks and silt in my bikini top and that I’ve lost my last remaining hair elastic — but on none more than Tassels. She is perusing an aisle at Lidl in the way home (‘Hmm, does the villa need more olives? Which colour?’) when she notices that her bikini bottoms feels odd. ‘A scratchy tag gone astray?’ she wonders and tugs at one leg. In response a healthy stream of Myrtos pebbles fall from her crotch. A local woman behind her stares in horror. Gin Girl, behind Tassels, is equally shocked and, in an instinctive move that even she can’t explain, stoops to collect the rocks and put them in her pockets. The Greek woman continues to stare. The girls quietly move on. She keeps staring. I hope she tells her family tonight about the crazy Australian girls smuggling rocks in their knickers.
Episode 5: A quiet day on the island
Today nothing of note happened. Some ventured to the local beach, I read my book and worked on my tan and on the mix for the perfect iced coffee. Paris and I tried to make frosé out of some terrible Ithacan wine. She taught me how to floss (the dance — my oral hygiene education is fine, thank you very much.) We drank Mythos and danced by the poolside.
Episode 6: A quiet contestant comes to the fore, and we lose one of the tribe
Ariel takes the lead today. It’s unusual for her, and she has a sweet but insistent style. She declares that Friday is the day for the Melissani cave, the town of Sami and the beach at Antisamos — and that departure is at 10.30 on the dot. There’s much grumbling (from Paris and I) about the setting of alarms but we make it out the door on time and are in the caves at exactly midday. The pool is fed by the ocean from Argostoli, 15 kilometres away, and is a brackish mix of sea and rainwater. At its deepest it’s almost 40 metres. It is home to small fish and eels.
Midday is the perfect time to enter the caves. The sun shines from directly overhead and makes the water glow eerily blue. We’re shepherded onto a little boat with charming Greek man and paddled around for ten minutes into and out of the blue spotlight and between stalactites and stalactites. We wonder aloud if we can swim but our guide is firm: ‘people swim… but only by accident.’ Plus, you know, the eels.
From there we pile back into our tiny cars and head to the beach to get our swimming fix. Antisamos is just gorgeous. Sick of hearing that yet? It’s dominated by two very European two beach cafes with sun-loungers and beanbags and drinks service to your lounger. The water fades from crystal clear to that gorgeous Mediterranean type blue and there are fish everywhere. We spend hours there.
On the way home, Paris notices that our petrol tank is lower, even lower as we crawl up one of the many steep hills (our knock-off Suziki has about as much get up and go as a three-toed sloth on a hangover with both Netflix and Amazon TV). Lady Lovelylocks freaks. The aircon goes off. Then… the aircon goes back on. Lady Lovelylocks glares at Paris. It’s all a bit tense until I google and we realise that we have at least 30 kilometres left in the tank. The aircon goes back on. Conversation resumes.
It’s Lady Lovelylocks’s last night with us. Tomorrow, she goes to Istanbul and never comes back to London. I might cry after a Mythos.