Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Notes from Hydra. 3.

Here, it's hot enough early enough that we naturally wake not long after dawn. Unlike the thick stillness that sets in just before siesta, mornings are more generous and waft a salty but consistently relieving breeze to our spot halfway up the mountain. Perfect timing for a couple hours of swimming. On the roof of the cottage, we eat a quick breakfast of fruit and Greek yogurt and then amble towards town, down the stone steps that are slippery and worn in the middle from who-knows how many years of similar ambling.

The beaches of Hydra dot the shoreline like abundant watering holes. If you walk long enough on the main dirt road that circles the island, you'll find them tucked away into quiet, rough nooks in the rocks. None of these are conventional beaches, and you must work to get to them.

Because Hydra is a 3x10 mile rock in the sea, there is no easy decline from mainland to sand. Most 'beaches' are rocky oases that require careful footing down steep switchbacks of ancient stairs. Sunbathers lounge on giant concrete slabs and lean against the rocks that build the island to read water-wilted paperbacks. If it's deep enough, they'll canonball in, easily transitioning from basking to bathing. Hydra is home to the most enchanting beaches I've visited (I'm no pro), but it's not without the boob-jobs (read: unnecessary enhancements). There are, of course, the hotel-owned beaches, which employ a superficial facade of fake sand (made of ground up beach pebbles) that effortlessly fades into silent, sapphire bays. Rows of chaises and resort-like bamboo umbrellas dot the scenery, and mansion-like, oily sailboats are docked oddly close to shore.

Kamini beach is beautiful and relatively quick walk from the cottage, but even at 10 in the morning, it fills up with big, loud Greek families that splash its flickering surface. Kamini's water glimmers like stained glass: Tucked into the rocky coast, the turquoise shoreline reveals a clear picture of life below the surface — yellow and black striped fish weave between slick, earth-toned rocks — and bleeds impressionistically into slightly ambitious cerulean waves that crash steadily into the bay's curved arms.

Vlychos is ten more minutes down the dusty dirt road, past several baseball-capped and touristy American joggers and over the half-hexagonal stone bridge. Boats arrive on the hour to deliver well tanned beachgoers to idle their days away. We pay six euro for two chaises, hang our goggles on a straw umbrella, and continue our habit of people-watching.

Deftly entering Hydra's waters seems to be a skill acquired from years of visits (Much like the Greek families who allow momentum to gracefully carry their bodies down the island's thousands of slippery, donkey-poo'd stairs). Because there is no sand, anyone who wants to swim must first traverse a few shallow feet of slick stones. Most of these stones are planted slolidly, but the rippling water elicits a trompe l'oeil of wobbles. A few very old, leathering women gracefully drift from slippery stone to slippery stone, but most people — even the most athletic — fall victim to the tricky shoreline.

A chubby kid sprints from chaise to water. His right foot splashes into the sea and slides off a rock. He falls face-first into a cool salt bath and struggles to stand again. A handsome, young couple with a collective 12-pack of visibly flexed abs, is no match for the challenging entry. Holding hands, they wobble together and wave their free arms for balance. He takes a careless step and they both fall in too early.

Tom says that he can't watch me enter or leave the water. He's afraid his laughter will make me mad. I slowly walk into the sea and grip each wet stone with the balls and heels of my feet. I'm suddenly conscious that I am now a participant in a naturally occurring slapstick comedy: frantically circling my arms; biting my lower lip; concentrating more on my balance than the idyllic nook of the clear saltwater I've been craving. I last a few seconds before my flexed thighs slip up and I splash in too early. With a sigh and a mouthful of salt, I resolve to half-crouch-half-crawl my way to deeper water. As Tom describes it, on these beaches, you relinquish all dignity when you enter the sea.

But my dog-paddle out to the farthest buoy, where I catch the humpbacked swells that drift in from boats' crests, is well worth my embarrassing foray in. Happily, I tread water and wait for just the right second to push myself up to catch the high points of these oversized ripples. The only thing better would be catching the crests, but the water here is too calm for big waves. Instead, like the yellow buoy, I bob in my black bandeau and forget about how I got here and how I'll leave.

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