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Review: Zakynthos (Zante)




  • By SilverTraveller Mela

    3 reviews

  • Jul 2009
  • Husband

124 people found this review helpful

I was lying on a beautiful beach in the island of Zakynthos, hypnotized by the sun as it slid, like a droplet of molten glass, behind the mountains. The tourists had rounded up their broods, collected their possessions and returned to their hired cars parked in the dunes. The local bikers had left in a roar of exhaust and a swirl of sand, though one or two stragglers had been delayed by the radiance, before heading to the taverna a few miles away. Our swim had been as warm and placid as a bath and so clear I laid in the shallows to let a shoal of small fry investigate my toes. Marco had snorkelled into the distance, so I had the beach to myself.

There was a clatter as an attendant folded plastic beds, dragged them beyond the high tide line and threw one on top of the other. When twenty or so were stacked he started on another pile. I stood and stretched, the salt on my skin powdering. I scanned the sea for a snorkel, or the wash from a flipper, but the light was fading. The beach man was gaining ground so I shook out my towel and slipped it into the beach bag. I had dried enough to dress, not that I wore much: some shorts, a shirt over my bikini and a pair of sandals. I gathered Marco’s clothes and picked up his trainers, containing the keys of the scooter and his thick tinted glasses. They would normally have held his watch too, but he had bought a new one for diving and was wearing it. I pocketed the keys and his specs, made a neat mound of our clothes on the sand, by our safety helmets and began paddling along the shoreline.

The choice of Zakynthos was mine. We had stayed in Greek islands before our marriage and had been seduced by their laid back life-style. I wanted to get to know the area better. We found a flight to Athens then a ferry. We hired a car for few days and explored, decided we wanted the remote, western end of the island and switched to a scooter, which was cheaper and more fun, and started searching for accommodation. Always before we had been early or late in the season, but this was the last week of July and we could find nothing we liked. In the end we paid too much for a small, wooden, two-storied house, which drew, rather than repelled the heat, and in the first few days managed to get bitten by at least seventy bugs. We counted them daily. Our salvation was antihistamine cream and staying in the shade during the day. At sunset we emerged for a soothing swim. The beach was at the end of a peninsular, where loggerhead sea turtles came to lay their eggs each summer. Sections had been roped off to protect the creatures, and volunteers patrolled at night as bright lights and noise disturbed the wild life.

Having reached the outcrop at the end of the beach, I turned round and paddled back again. There was no sign of him. The beach was getting dark and deserted. I began to panic. He’s been far too long, I thought. What if he’s had an attack of cramp? He often hops around the bedroom in agony. Wouldn’t cramp make him sink? I’d sink if that happened to me. But he’s a good swimmer, I said, as I made my way back to the pile of clothes. He could have got tangled up in seaweeds, I thought. I saw them swaying, like an underwater forest, when we hired a canoe, and I stared at the rocky coastline. I continued walking as the sky blackened. Could a shark have attacked him? I was thinking of the film, “Jaws,” of course. Are there sharks in the Mediterranean? When I reached the cliffs at the other end of the bay I turned back. We’d eaten shark steaks the night before. I searched for ominous black triangles on the sea’s surface, but by then everything was black and the horizon had disappeared. The moon was covered with clouds, which only parted for seconds to form shining pathways. Perhaps a power boat has hit him. Perhaps those bikers, who were messing around in the water, attacked him to get his watch? It looks expensive. They kept asking him the time. He didn’t notice them laughing at him because he was putting on his flippers. They outnumbered him five to one. Or perhaps he’s had a stroke, or a heart attack? I thought. His father died of a heart attack in his thirties and he’s coming up to that age.

Then more problems, like snakes in a basket, started rearing their heads. What should I do to get help? I thought. I should have stopped that attendant. Why didn’t I? He would have had a vehicle. If I had run after him I could have caught him where the cars park. Might he still be there? He wouldn’t understand English, of course. But if I were to shout he might come and help?

Then there was the scooter. I could drive a car but not a motorbike and I invariably fell off bicycles. Would I have the nerve to drive to the taverna to raise the alarm? I doubted it. We never took money to the beach, as there was nothing to spend it on, so I had no money to pay for help even if I could find someone prepared to assist. We had left our mobiles at the house. I knew dialling 999 wouldn’t work in Greece. Where’s the nearest building? I thought. We’re miles from anywhere. I was not thinking clearly.

Suddenly I was attacked by a sense of hopelessness, of failure, of despair, of everything safe and solid crumbling around me. I felt sick, and memories of an earlier love affair came flooding back, when everything I valued had shattered into fragments. This time it was worse, for it was not about past losses but about our future together, a future we had fought so hard to achieve.

I bit my lips and stared at the shoreline in that ink-washed emptiness and saw a stick moving. I focussed on it and willed it to turn into something I could recognise. “Is it? “Please God, is it? Make it be.” The stick became a figure, and the figure was carrying things that could be flippers and I began to breath normally again. I waited for him to come closer. He did not rush and seemed to be stumbling. I walked to the water’s edge with his towel, brushing away my tears. He took risks, he was that sort of man, so he would expect me to get used to such things. He wouldn’t want me to be upset. “What happened? Where the hell have you been?” “I saw turtles!” he said, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “They came right up to me and I followed them, there was a whole group of them. They came so close. They ignored me, just kept floating by and getting on with their business. It was incredible!” “I’ve.. been.. frantic!” “It was wonderful. All different sizes, families of them.” He shook his head. “I’m sure.” I replied, gritting my teeth. “Swimming with turtles!” “Great.” “They took no notice.” He was getting on my nerves, but he was back and I was grateful. “You’ve been hours!” “I know,” he said. “When I broke surface it was dark. I couldn’t see the beach or the cliffs or my watch or anything, just miles of sea.” I believed him, as he’s almost blind without glasses. “I didn’t know which way to swim. God, I’m tired.” “Serve you right!” I’d lost any sympathy I had. He sank onto the sand, still warm to the touch, and stretched out his limbs. He was dripping wet but smiling. In the moonlight I could see cuts on his hands and ankles between the bites and blood trickling down his legs. I slipped down beside him and he pulled me close. “I saw lights eventually and headed for them.” “You’re mad.” I said. “They could have been from a ship, or the mainland. You could have been swimming to Africa!” He laughed. “I just hoped it would be the right beach,” he said, hugging me hard. “When I walked along the shore, it looked empty, I’m glad you found me.”

We have never returned to the Greek islands. I’ve never wanted to. I shouldn’t have blamed the heat, the bugs or the turtles. It was nature, doing what comes naturally, as, I suppose, was Marco. He’s never going to change. I had a fright that left a bitter taste in my mouth, but it was not just that, I realized, as I lay in his arms. I was more concerned with myself and my problems than with Marco, and that made me feel ashamed.

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