The Lotus-Eaters

This blog entry about the events of Friday, September 08, 2006 was originally posted on September 10, 2006.

DAY 15:  In Homer’s epic The Odyssey, hero Odysseus travels from island to island, getting into several MacGyver-like episodes, on his way home to Ithaca.  In one episode, he arrives at the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, a tribe of people addicted to the lotus plant, a food which has the power to disempower someone; once addicted to the lotus, one loses all ambitions and motivations to go anywhere or do anything (but eat more lotus).  Odysseus had a hard time pulling his newly-addicted crew away from the Lotus-Eaters, so that he might get on and continue his odyssey — before the word and poem “Odyssey” might be named after someone else.  (MacGyver perhaps.)

The Lotus-Eaters exist today in the form of the backpacker, particularly the ones who arrive at Santorini’s Perissa Beach (picture above) and never want to leave.  At the Youth Hostel Anna, the epicenter of young Lotus-Eaters, I had met many people who had stayed in Perissa much longer than they had anticipated.  Chihiro and Yuko, two Japanese girls who spoke really good English, had planned on spending three days there, and were going on six so far.  An Aussie guy in my dorm room had been there for three months and counting, with no immediate plans to leave just yet.

What the lotus plant is a metaphor for in this scenario I am unsure of.  It can’t be the beach — there are far better beaches in the world, including some in southern New Jersey — for Perissa beach is merely a narrow strip of coarse, black sand, little pebbles even, that get so hot you feel like you’re walking on hot coals if you don’t have sandals on.  Beer is definitely a part of the lotus metaphor, and I assume a couple of other substances, although I really didn’t see any evidence of it other than a really good Cuban cigar.  If anything, the lotus in this situation is a collective of everything:  the warm Mediterranean sun, friendly people, laid-back atmosphere, good food and copious amounts of alcohol.  Young people come has visitors and become temporary residents of Perissa, using Youth Hostel Anna as the perfect home; it’s a very cheap place to stay (6 euros) with several clean dorm rooms and an internet cafe, so kids can surf the web and add more friends to their MySpace pages.  (No kidding, I saw it myself.)

Varying my travel styles and budgets on this trip, I stayed at the Youth Hostel Anna.  Although “youth hostels” let any age in, it’s mostly 18-24 year olds — but it was easy to blend in with my unnaturally young-looking facade.  No one questioned why a 31-year-old was hanging out with a bunch of 19-year-olds who probably had no idea what a Flux Capacitor was.

With that said, it was easy to strike up conversations with fellow travelers, most of them still students on vacation.  Management student Yuko came with me to find a Red Bull for I knew there would probably be a long night ahead.

“The Big Market is there,” she pointed out, “Big” being the actual proper name of the supermarket.  It was pretty big compared to the others though.

“Ha, you know because you live here.”

“Yes, I live in Perissa!”

Eventually we rounded up a gang of people — strangers-turned-friends in a matter of minutes (the great part about hostels) — and we went out to dinner by the beach.  With me were the two Japanese girls, Chihiro and Yuko, Romanian businessman Mitch, Scotsman Daniel, two Flemish girls Emmylou and Elizabeth, and a funny, quirky, eccentric Swiss guy named Greg, the kind of guy “who could sit on a rock and entertain himself for three hours” according to Emmylou.

“Say hello to Elephant Tom!” he instructed everyone, introducing each of us to the little drawing of an elephant on his Swatch watch.

“Uh, hello.”

Elephant Tom led us to a restaurant on the north end of the beach.  We ate Greek foods (souvlaki, fried tomato balls, lamb kleftico) while chatting about this, that, travel, and politics — somehow most of these first conversations almost always touch upon the regime of US President Bush.  Greg entertained us with his offbeat, ambiguously gay humor with stories about how he had so many “I [HEART] NY shirts” and how he talked his way out of compulsory service in the Swiss Army.  Mitch the Romanian made some harmless comment, but Greg cut him off, “Hey, you came from a Third World country.  You’re not entitled to an opinion.”  I laughed.

“He was talking about you,” Daniel told me.

“That’s why I’m laughing.”

Believe it or not, the dinner group went back to the hostel to call it an early night (12:30) because most of them were headed off in the morning to the other Greek island of Lotus-Eaters, Ios.  A backpacker’s party island just an hour and a half away, Ios was the poor man’s version of the glitzier Mykonos, Greece’s hedonistic mecca of very flashy — and very gay — nightclubs.

“Don’t go to Mykonos,” said Australian Ryan, who I tagged along with on the way to another bar.  Although he hadn’t gone to Mykonos himself, he was convinced it was nothing but a “pretentious” scene where “you have to wait on lines and pay 30 euros to get in”, plus it was “full of homos.”  He, like the rest of the Lotus-Eaters, had gone to Ios, but left after the exhaustion of non-stop partying for two straight days.  Plus, he ran up a 200 euro tab for shots of Jagermeister at a bar called Rehab.

“[I went to Ios for two days, just so I could tell my friends at home I saw more than one of the Greek islands,]” he said, before telling us about the fight he almost started there.  In the end, he came back to the more laid-back scene of Perissa — only to continue drinking at bars without really seeing any authentically Greek for the rest of his holiday.

We went to The Beach Bar, another Perissa establishment with a really obvious proper name, where they had planned on meeting up with other Lotus-Eaters, most of them Australian.  With us was another Ryan, from California, a tall engineering student with curly hair that reminded me of Sebastian (Morocco, British Columbia).  He suggested we got to the “other” bar amidst dozens of them.  “The Youth Hostel only goes to two bars!  Beach Bar and the Full Moon Bar!”

With the moon still looking pretty full (there was a big Full Moon party on the beach the night before), we walked down the road to Full Moon Bar, hosting “The Real Full Moon Party,” complete with free glow sticks.  There I had my first of many Metaxa on the rocks that night, meeting more and more Lotus-Eaters.  A group of Albanian kids danced on the floor with this spunky Canadian girl I met.  She was in a bigger group of Canadians chatting it up with more Californians, Brits, and Aussies.  More drinks were poured.  More lotus was consumed.

We eventually moved onto the “other” bar, The Beach Bar, where we ended up sitting around their beach campfire, continuing the party.  The fire slowly died, but that didn’t stop the drunk Canadian girls from going out to collect branches and other flammable materials, including the straw reeds right off the beach umbrellas.  But when one girl dragged over this huge log that looked like a parking barrier, the manager of the bar had to shut us down.

“Party’s over,” he said, killing the fire with a water hose, spoiling the mood.  However, there were enough embers left to start up another fire with torn-off umbrella reeds.

“Woooo!”

And so the party continued.  A hipster from Oregon drove in on his ATV to liven it up, plugging his iPod nano into portable speakers to crank Sublime until the wee hours of the morning.  Merriment continued.  More lotus was consumed.  I started feeling like I didn’t want to leave.


THE NEXT MORNING I almost paid for the all-nighter, almost missing the checkout time from oversleeping.  I could have easily stayed another day, or another week or even month — but like Odysseus, I knew I wanted to move on.  With some fava in me (a Greek humus made with fava beans), I said goodbye to the Lotus-Eaters and took the transport to my ferry to Naxos.

* * * * *

I ARRIVED IN NAXOS TOWN, the port city of the island of Naxos, just in time for the sunset by the Temple of Apollo.  I actually had a contact in town, a friend of my former creative director back in my dot com days.  His name was Stuart and he was another Lotus-Eater, albeit older at 57, who had come to Greece and didn’t want to leave.  A Brit who had once come on holiday, he definitely found his own “lotus” with Greece and had been traveling to Naxos for the past 25 years.  He loved it so much he eventually started a photography course tour of Naxos to support himself.

“I’m all sorted,” I told him on the phone, arranging a meet-up that night after having found a room in a two bedroom apartment in a Greek family’s home.  I wasn’t sure what he looked like, but he described himself as “carrying a black bag… tall, intelligent, [and with a] moustache.”

Upon meeting, he definitely had a bag, was tall, and sported a moustache.  The intelligent part I’d soon discover later, but in the meantime, we had an instant bond in the fact that our mutual friend Tracy was “full of shit.”

“Oh, so it’s not just us in New York who think that?” I joked.

We ended up at another family-run restaurant (they all are) that he recommended.  We dined on seafoods and 4-5 carafes of white wine.  (I lost count after a while.)  Regardless, “intelligent” shined through in our dinner conversation.  The older Lotus-Eater was an interesting man, sharing his stories of the old days traveling Greece with Tracy, spreading wisdom down to me, a fellow traveler.  “Eventually wanderlust runs out,” he told me after doing it for so long.  “You can’t force it.”

At 57, he finally started to simmer down from his Lotus-Eating ways.  “[I realized I should probably spend my time doing something with my life,]” he said.  This “something” was getting married to an attractive German woman 12-years younger than him (just this past April) and raising a young boy with her.  He laughed at the fact that while he was trying to be responsible, he was actually still in warmer weather of Naxos (to do end-of-season tours, unfortunately fully-booked), while his wife and kid were back in Germany.

“Greece definitely has an energy that keeps you here,” he said.

Whether it’s an energy force or just alcohol that is the metaphorical lotus in this scenario, the fact is that Lotus-Eaters still do exist in Greece.  And who knows if they’ll ever leave?






Next entry: Wanted: Poseidon Adventure

Previous entry: Searching for Atlantis




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Comments for “The Lotus-Eaters”

  • OKAY, one more for the WHMMR. Be grateful. More to come from Naxos…

    COMMENTS APPRECIATED.

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • uh, there’s no such thing as an Oregon Hipster… It must be another
    mythical Greek creature.

    Posted by Rachel  on  09/10  at  03:39 PM


  • rachel, thats not true, you havent been to the hawthorne district or
    downtown for that matter of portland lately to see all the hipster girls
    rockin there hipster mullets.

    Posted by travelgirltiff  on  09/10  at  05:04 PM


  • full of shit eh? prolly right.

    Posted by chezlounge  on  09/10  at  05:07 PM


  • Man, that lamb kleftico looks tastey. Even at 10am. Thanks for the early
    read.

    Posted by Dan 3  on  09/10  at  05:11 PM


  • lotus-eaters = slackers

    Posted by markyt  on  09/10  at  06:09 PM


  • for some reason this entry seemed very WBish to me. i think its just cuz
    u were with a big young crowd this time. im hearin the ‘i dun wanna
    wait’ song in the background. dawson’s greek?

    Posted by T  on  09/10  at  07:42 PM


  • 1.21 gigawatts??!!??

    Not sure what other islands you’re planning on checking out… but IMO,
    don’t waste your time on Kos. Although, should you require minor
    emergency medical treatment, Kos is the place…

    Posted by Ali  on  09/10  at  09:13 PM


  • I’ve been to Naxos!

    Looks like a good crowd at Perissa beach, lots of fun. I disagree about
    Mykonos. It is a little pricey but I really loved it. There was
    something fun and decadent about it, it seemed to me like Ibiza for 30
    year olds. It definitely gets an older crowd than Ios but there are
    great little bars there, candlelit with good music and great places to
    lounge, a little like Thailand. It’s not just the drunken backpacker
    crowd. We actually hung out with some Greek people there and not just
    other travellers. (And I really do like grungy, off the beaten path
    places too, I’m no package tourist!) It actually seemed less touristy to
    me than Santorini. I think I enjoyed it because I’m in my thirties.
    Anyone else think that? I know cheekymonkey’s been there!

    Posted by sara  on  09/10  at  09:21 PM


  • ali - I didn’t love Kos either. In fact, I remember e-mail title to
    friends home on my first day there was “Kos is Krap”. But you can get to
    Turkey from there, to Bodrum, which was fun!

    Posted by sara  on  09/10  at  09:24 PM


  • ‘Sup Sara:
    Yes, Kos = Krap, but Bodrum does not = Boredom.

    Posted by Ali  on  09/10  at  11:25 PM


  • SARA/ALI: Thanks for the tips; but alas, my time is coming to a close
    and I’m not planning on Mykonos anymore—I’ve done the club/cafe thing
    to death, plus that stuff I can always do at home in NYC. You’re right,
    Mykonos is not just a touristic or backpacker spot, it’s where “the
    Athenians go to flash their cash,” so it’s full of Greeks too—gay,
    straight, uppity or not.

    But I’m going to really explore Naxos for the next couple of days,
    instead of rushing to other islands for the sake of hitting more ground.
    Naxos seems to be the most authentic of all the islands in my Wanderings
    so far, especially out of Naxos Town.

    MORE TO COME…

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • keep on partying i love those stories!! lets hear about some more
    pass-out-on-the-beach epics!!

    Posted by scott  on  09/11  at  05:19 AM


  • luved this entry erik. it is so funny to read your entries from two
    years ago and read these now…the growth, the insight, the
    observations..you have a fan for life!

    Posted by funchilde  on  09/11  at  05:51 AM


  • Erik, totally unrelated but I though you should know immediately that
    Sweet Child O Mine is on the list grin

    Posted by Jessica  on  09/11  at  06:54 AM


  • Alas, Panormos Beach CLub will have to wait… Enjoy Naxos! LOAP - elv

    Posted by Anonymous  on  09/11  at  04:48 PM


  • I did enjoy Naxos too. It’s more laid back. One of my other favorites in
    the Cyclades was Paros. I love how each island has it’s own little
    personality. And yeah, you’re exactly right about Mykonos is where the
    Athenians go to flash their cash. And I think it is also manditory there
    for all Greek men to wear half open white shirts.

    Posted by sara  on  09/11  at  05:38 PM


  • Oh and Erik - if you get sick of Greek food, there is a thai restaurant
    in Naxos town, at least there was three years ago. It’s kind of hidden
    and I remember they played some really bad music, so bad it was funny.
    Like familiar pop songs badly sung off key by someone you don’t recognize.

    I have no idea why I remember that. Sorry, Greece really brings out the
    blog hog in me.

    Posted by sara  on  09/11  at  06:08 PM


  • Okay, now I HAVE to go find good Greek food… anyone know of a good
    taverna in LA? And I saw plenty of OR hipsters in Portland on Sunday…

    Posted by tallgirl

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This blog post is one of twenty-five travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Tomatoes, Grease & Beer" (originally hosted by Blogger.com), which chronicled a trip to Spain's wild Tomatina festival, Greece's awe-inspiring islands, and Munich's world-renowned Oktoberfest in August/September 2006.

Next entry:
Wanted: Poseidon Adventure

Previous entry:
Searching for Atlantis




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