Imagine a small island, isolated by the sea in all directions. It’s mountainous and so windy that trees won’t grow high, not even in the valleys. Walking in the dry scrub vegetation, the wild goats and the scent of thyme is everywhere. Old ruins and terraces are scattered all over the hills, bearing witness of a busier time. Towards the sea, dramatic cliffs end sharply in the beautiful deep blue ocean.
That is Antikythira. Located a 2 h ferry-ride northwest of Crete, it’s one of Greece’s 6,000 islands. Today the number of goats exceed the population by far – there’s only about 20 permanent residents. It’s mostly famous for the Antikythira mechanism, the world’s oldest analogue computer, which was found in a shipwreck outside of Antikythira. And it’s also happens to be the place where I just spent the last 7 weeks. But why on earth would someone go to this godforsaken place? Well, let me tell you.
If you didn’t figure it out before, I happen to be a biologist very interested in birds. And Antikythira is also known for its bird observatory and bird ringing – so I thought it a perfect opportunity to carry out a project there! To be more specific, I helped to catch and tag woodchat shrikes (Lanius senator) with radio transmitters, and then I tracked them around the island. For 7 weeks. By the end of my project, I was sure that I had seen every bush on Antikythira, had it been visited by a shrike.
It was intense field work in hard terrain – and when I was not chasing shrikes I was helping out with the regular bird ringing, starting my day at 6 o’clock every morning. Other volunteers came to the island for the bird ringing, and I was part of a very nice group of people. The group constantly changed throughout my stay and I met people from all over the place – Greece, Israel, Canada, Malta, Austria, Ireland... Without all these awesome people, it would have been 7 very long weeks! I mean after all, the locals were kind of sparse.
It was a life experience for sure, living in such a remote place. The only physical regular connection with the rest of the world were the ferries arriving from the nearby islands. There is no supermarket on Antikythira, meaning all food had to be ordered and delivered with the ferries. However, despite the small number of Antikythirans, a tavern open year-round did exist, also acting as a small shop and post office. We went there every Friday and they had the most amazing fries!
My expectations of Greece and Antikythira were far exceeded in everything, except when it came down to the weather. I naively thought that it would be like a warm and sunny summer – but it was most certainly not! Instead it was like an eternal very windy spring. In May some days were actually so decent that it was possible to go swimming in the beautiful sea – and we made good use of that opportunity! We had access to our own private beach – that is the kind of luxury you can have when there are no other people around!
So, all in all it was a truly amazing trip. Incredible people, loads of cool birds, delicious food and breathtaking scenery – can it get any better? So what are you waiting for – go there to see for yourself!