Gavdos Island, Europe's Southern Point
Photographer: Yannis Kolesidis
The small boat 'Samaria' that will carry me to Gavdos will set sail at 9:00 a.m. from the port of Sfakia on southwestern Crete. The local weather forecast calls for winds measuring 5 on the Beaufort scale, with velocity rising by the hour. Andreas Vardoulakis, the captain, assures me that the boat will set sail, as usual, something that calms me, as he has revealed to me that during winter he has to stay at port for days due to the strong winds. Even if Gavros is faintly visible from the start of the trip, it will take us four hours to get there. From the boat looking out, the setting keeps repeating itself: through the porthole appear the clouds, which immediately disappear to give way to the waves, as the boat bobs up and down trying to cross the turbulent sea. On the empty deck, John Daly, the only paying passenger, observes the sea as the boat leaves land. He has decided to exercise his right to early retirement and live experimentally on Gavdos for a few months.
On the island, as I cross Kastri, the capital of Gavdos, I reach Princess, one of the local hangouts that remain open during the winter. Next to a lit fireplace, Vassilis Economakis, 35, the doctor doing his rural medical service on the island, is strumming a guitar near an Italian couple that is touring the island in a van. Talk centers around the main concern of Gavdos residents: sea and wind velocity. The doctor summarily describes the fear and insecurity residents of the small island experience: 'Every time I saw the wind reached 8 on the Beaufort scale, I’d tell myself: Virgin Mary help me, if anything happens, no helicopter will fly here, and my patient will die in my hands.'
The leaning, almost toppling, tree fighting the wind that I pass by as I reach the Vatsianas settlement reveals the unbreakable link of the island with the elements. It lies outside the courtyard of Nikos and Efi Lougiakis' house. The family has three of the four children living on the island. Nikos raises goats, and most of his day is spent with the animals. They are living creatures, he says, 'They raised me, and they are raising my children.' But the family is the alpha and the omega, according to him: 'There is nothing more beautiful, it's sacred. You watch your children and rejoice in them. This is true happiness. Children grow up in nature here, they don’t live under stress all day, shut up in an apartment.'
Every day, the town's school bus waits outside the house for Nikolas and Kelly, the only students of the school. Their teacher, Maria Dana, welcomes them at the door. The lesson resembles more a session of homework at home than a class, both because there are no other students and because of the great relationship the children have developed with their teacher.
Also living in the same community are Russians, or that’s how locals call them: Marek from Poland, Ala from Ukraine, and Aleksey from Russia, who live in the house they built by themselves 22 years ago. They wanted to get to know the home of philosophy and visited Greece. But their quest for warmer and more southern destinations brought them to Gavdos. The gigantic chair they built and placed at the most southern tip of the island stands as a symbol for Europe's southern point.
Besides the locals, the number of permanent residents on Gavdos during the winter depends on the number of summer campers. As the island is a world-renowned summer destination for free campers, many of them continue to live on beaches the rest of the year. Niels, a German who arrived for the first time during a summer as a camper, has been living by himself on such a beach in the last eight years. During the summer he works as a waiter, but during the winter has a more flexible schedule, as he says in his halting Greek. 'I like the island because it's freer. I worked in Germany for many years, but there you have to punch a card every day… A lot of long-time residents here don't understand what Gavdos offers. But if you have worked abroad even once, you ought to call Gavdos a paradise.'
The photographer traveled to the border island to record living conditions during winter, with the assistance of iMEdD, (Incubator for Media Education and Development).