Fiction based on true events in Sithonia, Halkidiki…..
You know, it’s the feeling. A unique feeling of getting lost in the sea..
So, it happened. It was five years ago on an August morning.
Only Emi, a sweet bohemian girl, knew about it. A distance of a bit more than 10 km (7 miles) to be covered by hand paddling on board, so as to reach Kelyfos island (in other words Helona). The starting point was Elia beach.
At 9.10am he took his board and went down to the beach. A beach full of pebbles and sea shells, just a few meters from his charming home. He threw it in the sea, lied down and began hand paddling.
It was a trip with no plan, no purpose, no watch. He carried just a small bottle of water and his favorite knife for spear fishing. The sea was calm, as always during the mornings in Toroneos gulf.
The first couple of kms of the trip were particularly familiar to him, as he had done it several times before in order to visit a close beach bar for a beer, or because he just needed to stay alone for a while.
When he passed the long sandy beach that is called Lagomandra, he started straying from the seaside seeking for the feeling. In few minutes he gained hundreds of meters, so the beach was getting further and further.
It was the moment he felt the tranquil feeling of the sea calmness, the sweet serenity of the crystal waters. He was getting closer..
Looking rarely at the seaside but more often at Kelyfos, he continued moving towards the isle. He was in a distance of about 4 kms from the seaside. But no worries, no anxiety. He was paddling and paddling.. with an empty head, while expecting nothing.
He hoped to be lucky that time to see dolphins swimming next to him or even better dolphins jumping over his board. He was so romantic that the stories of Hemingway were always in his mind. He expected to be part of them in another planet, another era, another form of life. He was born on the same day as him.
However, dreams are dreams and he never met dolphins, he was just dreaming. Maybe this was enough to feed his soul.
It was about 10.30am, when he had covered half the distance. Kelyfos seemed closer and he could distinguish a small beach on the isle. The sea remained calm, while the depth of the waters made them look dark blue.
Looking at the seaside, he realized that he was crossing N.Marmaras village. It was really strange for him to see N.Marmaras from such a long distance on a board. He stopped for a little trying to find the small port, the traditional church on the pick of the village and a local tavern, where he used to spend many of his nights during the summer.
Leaving all them behind, he continued hand paddling to the south crossing Toroneos gulf. On his left he could barely see the marvelous pine forest of Sithonia and a group of small bays. These are called “Limanakia of Porto Carras” and form a unique coastline.
It was at that moment when his stillness had been surprisingly invaded. A local fisherman, maybe from N. Marmaras, came close to his board. He was rather old, but his hands were looked very strong.
At the peculiar sight of a hopeless man, the fisherman asked him if he had had an accident and that was why he was found alone in the middle of nowhere.
Being a bit reluctant, he just replied that he was going to Helona isle, willing not to give much more information.
The fisherman, standing in the front of his small boat, muttered: “pure apprentice, so many souls were lost there”.
There are a number of stories about Kelyfos. Few of them talk about the presence of sharks around the island, while others describe the strong sea currents that cause the death of many fishermen and tourists.
However, that was not enough to discourage him.
He was alone again. He was now feeling a bit tired with his shoulders being heavier, but his eyes still looked determined. He was seeking for his soul resurrection.
Kelyfos was getting closer. He could see the spectacular seabed around the isle, something made him feel so satisfied. Only the last couple of kms remained to reach the narrow beach looking at the north.
While paddling, he suddenly felt so confident. He realized that there was so much energy inside him, that could be useful in any of his life goals. This made him feel strong and ambitious for a moment.
But this was just the one side of the coin. He knew well that the same energy was enough to destroy him. And finally this was something he had to get used to for the rest of his life, an everyday battle of feelings.
He had almost reached the isle, when he noticed a rock emerging from the sea just a few meters from the coast. It was not too huge for someone to climb on, but it could cause a shipwreck to an inattentive captain.
He crossed it carefully moving to the only one beach of Helona. It was 12.20pm.
He was lucky, because that day the tide was at its lowest level, so there was sufficient space to leave his board for a while.
He went out and lied down close to a funeral chapel, which was possibly evidence that somebody couldn’t manage to escape from the isle.
He had a well-hidden smile on his face, while thinking nothing. The moment itself was enough to soothe his heart.
He didn’t stay for more than 15 minutes on the beach. He never stayed for a long time, he used to leave. Maybe this was because he was a true seeker of the unknown and the experience or maybe this was some kind of self-defense.
He came into the sea, watered his head, drank a drop of water and jumped onto his board again. He wanted to explore the strange isle with the shape of a turtle. He moved to the west part of Kelyfos paddling slowly with his hands.
The vegetation was not sparse on the island with mainly bushes dominating, while there were also a few trees close to the coast. In addition, there was a kind of small corral, which could probably be explained, if somebody visited Kelyfos to feed the local livestock.
The coastline of the island was not too long, so he needed less than an hour to make the complete circle around it. But it was tricky to move close to it, as quite often rocks emerging on the sea surface could make serious damage to his board. Or while reaching the south part of the island, the strong currents might throw him on the sharp rocky walls.
At this part he noticed that there were a number of wild goats sitting on the south stiff cliff. They immediately caught on his presence, but nothing seemed enough to influence their apathetic look. They remained calm and lackadaisical looking at the view of the big blue of the Aegean sea.
He didn’t want to disturb their peacefulness, so he moved fast to the west part of the island. There was a long peninsula there, so he had to stray a bit more from the coast so as the board’s fin would not to reach the bottom of the sea. Now he could see Kassandra, commonly known as the 1st finger of Halkidiki. But he didn’t care a lot about it. He had a keen eye only for Kelyfos and for what was living over there.
It felt good to know that nobody else was on the isle. Maybe this was what he expected from the beginning of his trip. He was looking for the perfect solitude.
At the west part of Kelyfos he found an incredible small gulf. The waters were really deep, which made it possible for huge yachts to come close and drop their anchors. There were more trees around the gulf, which made it look exotic, especially where the branches almost touched the sea surface.
He had listened to many stories about this particular place, like fishermen talking about sharks that used to hide in the deep sea, or others talking about smugglers who made scuba diving search for lost treasures.
But he didn’t care about anything. He had lived what he was seeking for. A day in the sea around a deserted isle, a day of self-exploration far from everything.
After 50 minutes he found himself at the same place, close to the small beach he firstly visited when arrived at Kelyfos. But now the tides were higher, so there was not much place for him and his board. The tides almost reached the small chapel, which, however, remained in its position.
Thus, he decided to climb on the huge rock opposite the beach, which despite not being comfortable enough, it was quite big for him and his board to rest for a while.
The calm sound of the tides and his physical tiredness caused him to drift off in a few minutes. It was 14.30.
Suddenly, a loud sound of a yacht engine came to destroy the idyllic nature balance. It was two families from Serbia, who had visited Halkidiki on a luxury vacation. They were such “yellers” and made so much noise, that even the seagulls from the nearby beach swooped over the water.
The noise made him wake up frightened, until he realized that his island had been attacked by the churlish intruders. That did not mean that those people were bad or really cruel, but without a doubt his particular needs at that moment were completely different.
He tried to stay calm hoping that something would change soon. Maybe they would find Helona unattractive and go to another place to cheer up. But this had never happened and the worst came after a few minutes.
When they noticed him lying on the rock, they started getting closer. That strange guy, who was sleeping under the hot sun, seemed like a castaway to them. His nightmare had been almost completed.
It was a subject to capture, like he was their booty. So, they started taking pictures of him hoping to proudly show them to their friends after the summer vacation.
The island serenity had been lost as well as his hope to keep that feeling.
Without any other thought he suddenly stood up, grabbed his board and dived into the water. He started hand paddling so fast, like a shark was following him and tried to escape it. He continued with the same rhythm till he covered almost a km.
He was exhausted, but he could feel safe again far away from the noisy tourists, who may never understand what happened. That was not how he was expecting to leave Kelyfos back.
So, he was found alone again in a distance of more than 7 kms from the coast, almost lost in Toroneos. It was possibly a bit dangerous and risky, as he had to confront his fatigue now, while those waters were unknown to him. However, he was peaceful again; he was floating on the open sea, where he always felt he belonged to. It was 15.45.
The sun was shining with the beams reflecting on the surface of the blue waters. It’s a unique feeling and all those, who have lived this experience at Halkidiki at the time of day when the sun is in its zenith, can easily understand how this soothed his soul.
He stopped paddling, as he was in the perfect place at the right moment. If he could stop the time for ever, he would definitely do it. Everything seemed great to him.
He dipped his left hand into the sea and started playing with the salty water. He watered his lips, as he thought that this could empower him for the challenging return. But truly speaking there was nothing that could agitate him.
He closed his eyes for a while. He had found what he was seeking for, the warm bosom of the sea and the sun. He slept on his board with a flat smile on his face.
He saw a dream. He was in a motel room with his lovely dog, Mafi, which was sleeping on his feet. It was late at night and he decided to go outside to see the moon over the pine wood. He went out and left the door slightly open, in case Mafi wanted to follow him.
He started walking up the long hill to the St Paul natural water spring. It was a place he knew well, as he had visited it many times with his friends.
On his way he suddenly noticed four dogs running on the next farm. He knew them! In particular, the curly haired one used to play with Mafi every day.
However, they were not running cheerfully as always, but they looked like being chased at that time.
In a few seconds a black buffalo also appeared running frightened to the same direction.
He felt so scared, as he couldn’t know what he was expecting to see.
All at once, two mythical big creatures showed up behind the shocked animals. They had the body of a deer, but their skin was purple colored with big black spots. On their heads there were two twisted horns, which were almost two times bigger than their body.
He tried to hide behind the shrubs in the forest, so as to slip by these odd creatures. But the moon light betrayed him and they finally noticed him.
Seized by panic, he started running to the motel with all of his strength aiming to protect Mafi from the monsters. All his body was covered in sweat.
He woke up. The dream was over. He was all shook up, he couldn’t even breathe. He started bawling, while hiding his face in his two hands.
It is said that his weep was so heartbreaking, that all the dolphins of the gulf listened to his sorrowful pain. They came together around him and made a huge circle. He was not alone; he was not needed to run away.
He stood up on the board and craned his hands over his head. He started flirting with the sun playing with its gold sunbeams. He was smiling.
He lay down on the board and placed his face close to the sea level. He gently touched a tide and dived all his arms into the big blue.
It took him no more than two hours of hand paddling to reach the coast. It was about 19.40, while the sun was setting.
Sithonia seemed more beautiful than ever in the wake of his own catastrophe.