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Mykonos: After the party's over

Wednesday 15th January 2014

In Mykonos, the party was over. Among the most cosmopolitan of the Greek islands, it’s a place where the superstar Eurocheese DJ David Guetta plays beach parties to massive crowds, and in the summer the many beaches teem with sunburnt partiers. Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian and David Schwimmer have all visited in recent years.

Mykonos
Mykonos

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I saw none of that. I’d arrived there with my two brothers in mid-autumn, as the resorts began to pack up for the winter, the summer’s revelry reduced to an echo. 

We’d come to Mykonos on the advice of a girl of indeterminate nationality who we’d met at a party in Florence. She said it had the best beaches and the best people. I’d been travelling for more than a month, and I was sick of beauty. The three of us all sought relief from the pressure of travelling. We wanted to flee the terror and the stifling crowds of metro systems and landmarks. So, a week later, we set out on the gruelling six-hour ferry trip across the Aegean from Athens.

Immediately upon our expulsion from the belly of the ferry, passengers were set upon by dozens of frenzied men holding faded A4 printouts of hotel rooms, each loudly and angrily demanding we came with them to their cheap accommodation. We’d arranged to be picked up by one of them, a stocky elderly man named George, whose skin was burnt in the same cracked, brown manner as the edge of a cookie that has been in the oven too long. He hurried us to his van and grabbed his printouts again. “Wait here,” he said. “I’ll get more people.”

On the road to Mykonos
Emptiness on Mykonos during the off-season.

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He didn’t get more people, and we were soon hurtling through the narrow, winding roads of the island. Tattered signs on posts at intersections advertised beach parties from months ago, promising “hot girls and cool guys” and “the best DJs in Europe”.

George dropped us off at our room at Agia Anna beach, a quiet little cove nestled between the ostentatious Platys Gialos, all bars and hotels and miles of beach chairs, and the resort beach of Paranga. Further around the island, the party beaches competed in a game of deeply unimaginative one-upmanship. You’d think a place named Paradise beach, home of the hot boys and cool girls, would surely have a lock on the luxury market. But you’d be writing off the ever more ostentatious Super Paradise, and only a fool would write off Super Paradise.

Mykonos, we soon found, doesn’t really lend itself to the routines of real life. On my first afternoon, I discovered the tap water was borderline undrinkable: the island is totally arid and without a water source, so the taps flow with desalinated sea water. I set out, alone, around the coast in search of hydration, first to the beach around the corner. As I walked around the edge of an empty concrete swimming pool at the resort, the only sound was the steady squeak and slap of a wooden sign loosely chained to a wall. “End of season sale,” it said. “Cheap beach gear, sunscreen, party supplies”. Spurred by wind, the sign would hopefully rise like an excited football supporter, then dejectedly fall back against the wall. Squeak, slap. Squeak, slap.

Further inland I found no water, but plenty more posters for neon beach parties. I walked for 40 minutes, but the only shop I came across was a closed up cafe surrounded by friendly cats. The cold north wind had set in and I was alone in a deserted part of the island. The hills around sparsely scattered with brown grass and rocks. It was bleak as hell.

I eventually found water, in a grimy concrete cave of a place under a restaurant on Platys Gialos beach. A crudely hand-painted sign above the entrance said “supermarket”, though much of its stock was dusty old bottles of water and overpriced sunscreen with an SPF rating of 7.

It was about 4pm now, and a DJ had set up at a beachside bar, behind row upon row of empty deck chairs. Dance music almost apologetically played out to nobody as the bartender faced away from the counter and played with his phone. The kick drum thumped uselessly. The optimism felt heavy and tragic, it was a half-hearted show put on for nobody in particular.

But I wasn’t really in the mood for existential turmoil – we were there to be soothed, not bleaked out. So in Mykonos town I bought a snorkel kit from a man who was terribly excited to meet a New Zealander. He stood and shook my hand, exclaiming that I was there with him, “the man from the end of the world”. With the snorkel, I spent hours listlessly floating about the bright, clear cove, staring down at rocks and weeds and hoping to see an octopus or some undiscovered shards of ancient pottery among the weeds and the rubbish on the sea floor.

Every local we met seemed to exist in a state of hyperreality; living and working on the beaches or in the interactive postcard that is Mykonos town, relying on the summer. 

The man who sold me the snorkel was the friendliest man I’d ever met, and our host George was probably a close second. The guy who ran the taverna next to our room was third. They were all so tired, but happy, like they were relieved to be at the end of a game. They were all winding down – the accommodation was only partially full and the taverna’s menu was drastically reduced as the temperature plummeted and the tourist numbers dwindled.

Every local we met seemed to exist in a state of hyperreality; living and working on the beaches or in the interactive postcard that is Mykonos town, relying on the summer. Mykonos has been inhabited by people for about 7000 years, yet it offers little in terms of archaeological, cultural or historic value. Instead, it exists as an oasis - a kind of remnant of the ancient Greek Dionysian ideal of hedonism and revelry. The partygoers who came here were the same as me: Mykonos represents a break from the rest of the world, six hours and a psychological light year apart from the glorious clutter of the rest of Europe. Here there’s just the beach and the giant space left where the party used to be. And really, the quietness of the early off-season suited me fine.

On our last night on the island, George gripped me by the shoulder. “It’s nearly over, my friend,” he said. “But I’ll see you next year.” I doubted he would. He was at the end of his golden season, I was going back to the end of the world.

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