Paddling Magic in Greece
By Larry Rice
first appeared in Kayak Touring 2006
Paddling tandem through the deep blue Mediterranean swells, relaxed and in sync, my partner, Mara, and I abruptly spot a large reptilian shape floating near the surface. “Turtle! Turtle!” we shout together as the stealth figure dives. At the same time, a chorus of “Capsize! Capsize!” rises from the gaggle of sea kayaks 50 yards behind us. In the ensuing commotion, our leader, Rod Feldtmann, doesn’t know where to look first.
“They’ll sort themselves out,” Rod says cheerfully, glancing back at the three Brits who’ve surrounded their boatless buddy, an experienced kayaker who’s laughing at his own unexpected swim. “Now where was it you saw that turtle?” he wants to know as we continue our journey just offshore from the Greek island of Milos, a volcanic wonderland 100 miles south of Athens in the brilliantly clear Aegean Sea.
As we round the first headland, spectacular offshore rock formations begin to appear—grand arches, enticing tunnels, majestic spires—and such an abundance of alluring sea caves that we lose count.
Tanned, blue-eyed, and always barefoot, Rod looks about as Greek as Russell Crowe, with a Down Under accent to match. Raised in southeast Australia, he arrived on Milos in 1996, worked as an exploration geologist, fell in love with a Greek woman, met her extensive family, and got married in the local church. (“Ever see My Big Fat Greek Wedding?” he loves to ask. “Well, it was exactly like that. Even crazier—her parents didn’t know English and I didn’t know Greek.”) About the same time that he started his own family with his wife, Petrinela, he launched Sea Kayak Milos, one of only two sea-paddling operations based in Greece.
That’s not a whole lot of competition for the 1,400-odd islands of the Greek archipelago, and on this golden, sun-drenched morning we feel like we have the entire Mediterranean to ourselves.
Three million years of volcanic activity have created this horseshoe-shaped island, 60 square miles of soaring cliffs, secluded beaches, and miniature offshore islands virtually untouched by the rampant tourism that blights some of the other Greek islands.
As we round the first headland, spectacular offshore rock formations begin to appear—grand arches, enticing tunnels, majestic spires—and such an abundance of alluring sea caves that we lose count. The first is so narrow that we wonder how we’ll get out, even if we all do manage to fit in. So Rod has us backpaddle in one at a time, seven solos and two tandems. Any initial claustrophobia quickly dissolves as we move deeper into one of the blue caves of Milos, so named because of the uncanny, luminous, almost neon blue light that permeates its otherwise inky interior. Even our gently rocking boats and slow-motion paddles seem to glow in the phosphorescent light. The effect is supernatural, almost mystical, and once we’re all inside, no one speaks. As we paddle out, I can’t help thinking, it’s only our first hour on the water. What could top this?
Well, how about a sea cave so extravagant that in all my worldwide paddles, from the Arctic to Antarctica, I’ve never seen anything like it. A behemoth chamber 200 feet deep by 50 feet high is big enough that it could easily hold 100 kayaks and still seem spacious. Feeling puny, we bounce around in the darkness and gawk, mesmerized by the reflections of sea light on its Jackson Pollock ceiling: gorgeous mineralized splatters of deep purple, seaweed green, and sulfur yellow streaking down the rough-textured walls. Just as hypnotic is the eerie music of the active ocean—a low groaning, sucking sound—swishing in and out of the archlike portal.
Again I remind myself that our otherworldly experiences have just begun. We continue east along the northern coast and discover the almost-lunar landscape of Sarakiniko Beach, a sublime cove of calm turquoise sea surrounded not by sand but by mounds and sinkholes of pure white pumice rock, smooth enough for sunbathing.