Tag Archives: Greece

Leaving Lanka

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I was never meant to end up in Sri Lanka, and wouldn’t have if not for a series of unusual events. I met a girl, cancelled my flight home to be with her, and when things didn’t work out I was left with no ticket back to Australia, and no burning desire to go there anyway.

In Santorini I met a strange man who told me that something I was looking for was in Sri Lanka. I often base major life decisions on advice for overweight strangers in Hawaiian shirts, so I organised to spend three weeks exploring the island nation on my way home. I didn’t know if I’d find what I wanted in Sri Lanka, but it seemed like a good enough plan at the time.

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Sri Lanka is a fantastic country that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life. It has a personality all of its own, a positive vibe that stands out amongst the poverty. The people are wonderful, the beaches at times magnificent, and travelling from place to place feels like an adventure without ever feeling like a massive chore. On top of that, the weather is perfect and the clash of cultures – Sri Lankan, British, Dutch, Portuguese – makes for a fascinating nation that is unlike any other. They also love their cricket, which is never a bad thing.

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While it’s not a place to go to if you want to party or get drunk (and, to be honest, after two months of near-constant boozing in Europe, I needed a break) the food makes up for that. Sri Lankan food is simple but delicious – lots of seafood, tomatoes, onions, rice. I truly will miss this place, and I’m so happy I was able to spend an extended amount of time here, without having to rush from one place to another. I’m so glad I did make the journey, because I did find what I was looking for.

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Last year, fresh off receiving my redundancy from the evil bastards at Bauer Media, I set off on a trip through Asia, with no steady plan to return, wanting to go as far as I could and let the experience change me. I was back inside six weeks after struggling to cope with life on the road, feeling ashamed of myself. I barely thought about travelling for the next year, which is unusual for me because I’m always thinking about places I’d rather be.

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That’s why this trip was so important. I originally planned to be away for nine weeks, making sure I booked a return flight that I couldn’t back out of. I ended up staying 13, and could happily travel for longer that. I climbed mountains and walked through ancient cities, kayaked along lonely stretches of water and got chased by drunk Polish dudes. I chased waterfalls and danced with beatniks and rode up a mountain on a fucking quad bike. I met people who changed my life, some for a long time, some for a night. I had the adventure of a fucking lifetime as I travelled from the top of Europe to the bottom, but it was coming to Sri Lanka that enabled me to find what I’ve been searching for.

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In Sri Lanka, I came to realise that I can stay overseas by myself for a long time, and that I don’t need other people. I don’t need to scurry back to my house, I don’t need to go back to Australia. I’ve always been independent, but I was never sure of just how independent. This trip has set the foundations for something much, much bigger to come – an epic journey around the world that will push me to my limits and open my eyes to new people, countries and cultures. But until then, I need a sleep, because all this adventuring has made me fucking tired.

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A Wanker in Sri Lanka

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And so, after spending many lifetimes in Europe, I find myself in Sri Lanka. From the frozen tundra of Estonia to the white peaks of Slovakia, and the rocky peaks of Montenegro to the clear blue waters of Greece, now I’m surrounded by palm trees, curry, and annoying little men trying to sell me shit even a complete dickhead wouldn’t want.

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More fruits than an Oxford Street nightclub

The humidity hit me as soon as I stepped off the plane, walking through the night along a runway lined by palm trees, towards a place I thought I’d never visit. I passed customs like I pass ex-lovers, and stepped back out into the Colombo night. Unlike my first steps into India a year ago, however, the culture shock was not severe. There were no swarms of people trying to rob me, just a nice little dude with my name written on a sign and a cup of tea waiting for me in his car. That sounds a bit like I was being abducted, but it was all quite innocent – he was just taking me to my hotel.

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Beautiful downtown Negombo

“I was expecting a Sri Lankan gentleman,” he told me as I loaded my bags into the car.
“Sorry to disappoint,” I replied, “but I’m sure you can find one or two of them around here.”
“Rowan is a Sri Lankan name. Very popular. My son has this name. The man who lives next to me has this name. The man who cuts my hair has this name, and so does his boyfriend… oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Rowan.”
How’s that! I travel around Europe for two and half months and no fucker knows how to pronounce my name, I get to Sri Lanka and I’m just one of the boys.

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It’s completely acceptable to photograph schoolchildren while on holidays. Just don’t do it while at home – that’ll land you in jail

It is very different here, though, obviously. Greece was hot, but had nothing on Sri Lanka. It’s close to 40 during the day and humid as hell, so a stroll down the street had me sweating like Casey Donovan opening a Mars bar. Beers stay cold for about four minutes before becoming warm sludge. I’m staying in Negombo, which is a short trip from the capital, but it’s still pretty quiet and relaxed. A little too quiet, actually, because the restaurants are empty and there’s not a lot to do. I’m right on the beach, which is wide and sandy and covered in a modest amount of garbage. It’s pleasant, if not beautiful, so I’ll head down south to find the good stuff (hee-haw!).

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Sri Lanka has gone to the dogs!

While it’s a peaceful place and I don’t feel like I’m in danger, there are signs of poverty everywhere. Dudes with no legs drag themselves down the street while tuk-tuk drivers desperately beg for their only fare of the day. It’s a poor place, but still has a good feel to it, even if tourists (and their dollars) are few and far between. It’s definitely not a place to rock up to if you want to go to a discoteque full of handsome European men (trust me on this one).

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He got thrown out of the pub for being LEGLESS

 

I was wandering along the beach, watching the sun sink into the azure ocean while little kids knocked a cricket ball around on the sand, when I noticed a man sitting on an upturned boat. He stood out because he was white and boasted an ample gut, and when he gestured to me, I took a gulp of my beer and headed over. Maybe this was the person I’m supposed to meet while in Sri Lanka (I hope not), or he’ll point me in the direction this adventure is to take me (that would be better). When I made it to the boat he looked down at me, extended his hand, and said, “I’m Ian.”

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Ian checks his Tinder matches

There haven’t been a lot of great men named Ian. Former Roosters player Ian Rubin. Hat-wearing gay man Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum. Moustache dude Ian ‘Turps’ Turpie. It’s hardly a name that has changed lives, and the fact he lisped it at me in a voice that could’ve belonged to a schoolboy didn’t fill me with confidence. He told me to climb onto the boat with him and, with the spirit of adventure in my heart, I did just that.

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“That’s fucken LBW, carnt!”

“You’re on an adventure, and it’s just getting started,” Ian squeaked, looking out at the red-hot sun. “Tomorrow is when everything changes, and you find your destiny.”
“And what’s that?” I asked, filling with awe quicker than a cup fills with water when left out in the rain.
“I see the ocean,” he replied, gesturing wildly.
“So do I, mate, it’s over there, about five metres away.”
Ian went quiet, as if I’d hurt his feelings. I apologised and took another swig of my beer as he sat there, his white hair fluttering in the gentle breeze. “I mean, I see you sailing across the ocean, seeing things you’ve never seen before, experiencing things you’ve never experienced before.”

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Get a Tiger up ya!

I didn’t think my adventure to Sri Lanka was going to take me to the ocean, but if that’s where it takes me, that’s just the way it is. “How do you know this?” I asked.
“I can see it in your eyes,” Ian said, looking not at me but at the children playing cricket. “Tomorrow, you go out on the ocean, and there’ll you’ll see something amazing.”
“Shit, what will I see?”
Ian shifted on the boat and looked at me dead on. “You’ll see world unimaginable, life-altering scenery and more fish than you ever thought possible. You might even find the missing part of your soul. The cruise includes a seafood lunch, fruit, and drinking water. It costs only 3000 rupees and leaves from here at 9am. What do you say, are you ready to meet your destiny? I’ll need the money now.”

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Beats Maccas

I was thinking about pushing Ian off the boat, when fate took care of it for me. One of the kids smacked the cricket ball our way, and when Ian tried to catch it he toppled backwards, falling a few metres to the sand with a thud.
“Sorry Ian, you’re dropped,” I smirked, as the young cricketers swarmed around me and started slapping me high fives and calling me a legend.
I’ve only been in the country a few hours and I’m already a hero of the people – at this point, it’s all in a day’s work!

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Beauty and the Greek

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Sometimes the greatest love can start out as something closer to revulsion – just ask my ex-girlfriend. It was like that with Paros, with my first impressions being only slightly more positive than the rambling poetry of a suicidal teenager. When I first stepped foot on this quiet Greek island, I wanted to step right back off, but just four days later I found it very difficult to leave.

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Paros has a unique charm that is a lot harder to discover than the immediate natural beauty of Naxos, or Santorini’s positive party vibes, but it’s definitely an island worth checking out. It’s the perfect place to visit for a relaxing few days (or more) of doing sweet fuck-all… and that’s pretty much all I did. Swim in the pool, drink a beer, swan about on the beach in my undies while the big-titted Euro lovelies gasp in admiration, drink another beer – it’s been a simple life, but a good one.

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While I still haven’t gotten used to shitting standing up like a dog (I keep expecting a Chinaman to come along and try to eat me), the simplicity of my accommodation and the relaxed nature of Paros has been the perfect antidote to the fatigue that inevitably comes towards the end of a long trip. The people are lovely and the scenery is grouse.

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I thought that my end of the island was basically devoid of life apart from me and Alex, the happy-go-lucky minibus driver from my campgrounds, who can’t speak a lick of English but knows every single word to the Bee Gees songs he plays on high rotation while cruising around, but come the weekend Surfing Beach cranks up and becomes quite the hip and happening place. Alright, it’s still as laid back and lazy as an Arts student, but at least there are actual people wandering around.

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I befriended a Canadian couple who share my passion of doing absolutely fuck all except for lying around and smashing beers, and we did just that. I’d like to say we rampaged through Naousa (or Naoussa, or Nobgobbler), but we didn’t. We just drank beer and ate gyros and almost puked when served some local alcohol that tasted like metho and my doodle feel funny when I urinated. When Dimitri walked by and saw me with someone else, I saw him wipe a tear from his eye and slink off in the opposite direction, spilling shards of his shattered heart behind him like rose petals.

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So now here I am, cruising through the Mediterranean with the fading embers of a hangover singing my brain, and an empty feeling from where Paros took a part of me. I have a night to spend in Athens, and then it’s goodbye to Europe forever as the adventure continues in Sri Lanka, an exotic land I was told I must visit by a strange man known only as Santorini Sal. It’s an unexpected detour in a journey that was supposed to already be over, but I look forward to it with a mixture of optimism and and excitement. I’ve been in Europe for well over two months and have loved (almost) ever second of it, but it’s time for the adventure to continue elsewhere…

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Paros in the spring (or, is that tzatziki sauce on your pants, or are you just happy to see me?)

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After the chaos of Santorini, with bikes and dickheads and Chinese tourists flying everywhere, Paros has proven to be the quiet, relaxing getaway I was craving. Alright, so I spent most of my time in Santorini lying by the pool or bludging around in the sun in my undies, but I still needed to spend a little bit of time relaxing. Travelling’s a stressful exercise, y’know.

I bypassed the port town of Parikia (or Paroikia, or Parakeet) because it’s a bit lifeless and ugly, and have instead based myself by the beach, a little outside of the quaint fishing village of Naousa (or Naoussa, or Noodle). While I’m not in the most luxurious of accommodations, I’m near the water and have a pool to lie next to (and some sheilas who like to lie around with their tops off – ooh, ahh, Glenn McGrath!).

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There’s not a whole lot to do on Paros, but that’s kind of the point of it. Unlike Santorini, the beaches are really nice, easy to get to, and largely deserted. They have actual sand on them rather than rocks and garbage, and the water is clear and warm. It’s easy to spend day after day doing absolutely nothing other than lying back on the beach, watching the world (very) slowly roll by.

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It actually feels a lot like Australia, largely because there are gum trees everywhere. They’re the only actual trees on the island, and the rest of the scrub is almost identical to the stuff we have back home, so it’s all quite familiar and pleasant. Of course, there are no kangaroos jumping around and fucking things up for everyone, or a Centrelink for people to punch on in front of, but it still make for comfortable surroundings.

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The town of Naousa is a delight, with hundreds of tiny white huts crammed together along the coast, providing a fairy tale walk through twisting alleyways and past candlelit restaurants. The harbour is beautiful, although it’s been so windy that hanging out there feels as safe as getting between Casey Donovan and a Big Mac, with giant waves and the ever-present danger of ships breaking free of their moorings and crushing me (sounds like Casey Donovan’s sex life, actually).

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I was strutting through Naousa last night, feeling good, a beer in one hand and a gyros in the other, when I heard a scream and found myself on the ground. That sort of thing has happened before (usually after some duffer discovers I’ve been poking his missus), but it wasn’t an angry boyfriend this time – it was a fat kid on a bike! The village is crawling with fat kids on bikes, and one of them plowed into me, sending my gyros spilling onto the ground, the chicken and chips once ensconced within the Pita bread now lying in the dirt. I was heartbroken.

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I felt strong arms lifting me up, and my heart started thudding. I was about to get jumped by a gang of bike-riding goons – or so I thought. I looked into the smiling face of a middle-aged Greek bloke, who started jabbering at me in some weird language that made him sound like he’d been drinking metho all night and had lost control of his mouth. He seemed genuinely concerned for me and my lost gyros, though, which seemed a little odd seeing as the fat kid was still lying on the ground, tangled in his bike and an extra bend in his left arm.

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The Greek bloke pointed to himself and said, “Dimitri”, so pointed to myself and said, “Captain Cool”, and then he started leading me up a dark alley (that’s not a euphemish for sex, by the way). We finally arrived at a traditional gyros shop, and Dimitri popped inside and came back with two of the biggest gyros you’ve ever seen – meat and veggies and chippies were falling out of them all over the place. He popped them on a table overlooking the seas, went back into the shop, and came back with two big bottles of beer. He gestured towards a seat, and then took one himself.

Even if we’d been able to speak the same language, we couldn’t have talked because our mouths were too busy tearing into the massive meals. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten (that chick from Home & Away who I was seeing for a while excepted), but I felt a little uncomfortable because Dimitri kept looking at me the whole time. His face was covered with tzatziki sauce, but he kept staring. I was halfway through my meal when I felt something brush my leg, and looked down, praying it was a cat. But it wasn’t. It was Dimitri.

The leg stroking intensified, and when I looked up, he was licking the sauce off his face in a very seductive way. I was faced with a dilemma; stay and finish one of the best meals I’ve ever had, while being molested by an elderly perve, or escape and leave my delicious food behind. I’m not proud to say it, but I sat where I was and let Dimitri use my body as a playground while I concentrated on scoffing down the meat (in the gyros – not Dimitri’s penis). When I was finally finished, I walked off into the night, while Dimitri sat back with a cigarette in his mouth and a contented look on his face.

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You don’t get a lot of hotel for $10 a night these days

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After staying in a delightful hotel in Santorini, I decided to save a bit of money and take the rustic approach to accommodation during my time on the quieter island of Paros. Surfing Beach Village offered private cabins by the sand for only $10 a night, so what could possibly go wrong? The answer is, fucking plenty.

The village is smack bang in the middle of nowhere, which is fine because there’s a restaurant and market on site. Except the restaurant and market are closed (and look to have been for some time), meaning the closest food is an hour’s walk away in Naoussa. There is a shuttle bus that heads to the closest town a few times a day, but this is driven by a man who looks like he’s not completely opposed to the concept of rape.

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That’s the ‘rape bus’ on the right

Strange people, who can politely be referred to as drifters and impolitely be called the scum of the fucking earth roam the grounds, which are littered with rotting furniture and other rubbish. They seem sick, with most of them coughing, wheezing, or spending the majority of their time either passed out or dying under the village’s sparse trees.

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I caught this creep masturbating into a bin

The pool, which is proudly described on the website as the largest in Paros, is certainly impressive – except for the fact there’s no bloody water in it! It would be rad if if I was an 80s skate dude looking for somewhere to home my skills, but completely useless under any other circumstances. On the positive side, there’s no chance of me getting diarrhea from drinking the water, so that’s nice.

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Come on in, it’s lovely!

Most of the toilet blocks are stuffed with broken chairs and tables, as if the zombie apocalypse rolled through here at some point and the survivors had to barricade themselves in against the flesh-hungry hordes. The single block that is open smells like several large animals have died in there, and has only squat toilets, with no toilet paper and no running water. I’ve taken to shitting behind trees, and I’m not the only one.

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Just out of shot: my penis

One of the women who works here lives in the tiny cabin next to me with her four dogs. They (the dogs, as well as the woman) bark all day and night, and the stench from the place is so extreme that if one were to light a match within proximity of the cabin, it would surely explode in an impressive fireball. The barking and the stench really add to the unique ambiance of the place.

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You can be annoying, doesn’t matter if you’re black or white

To make things even better, it’s as windy as the aftermath of a night on the tacos and I’ve picked up a cold from spending time with women of ill repute (and health, apparently). Oh well, at least I got to see a nice sunrise after being woken up by the dogs at 5am, so I can’t exactly complain…

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Leaving Santorini

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I planned to stay in Santorini for three days, but I ended up stretching it to five days, for a few reasons. A major reason is that, after two months on the road, I’m sick of checking into and out of hotels, so the idea of spending a run of nights in the same place sounds pretty bloody good. The island is certainly not beautiful, with dirty brown cliffs and tons full of scooters and idiots with tattoos and shit haircuts, but it has its own charm and is a pleasant place to hang out and do nothing. But the main reason I’ve stayed is because I’ve met good people, and when travelling alone that’s about the most important thing you can find.

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My hotel has a policy of grouping people of the same nationality together (or maybe they just like to put all the drunken Aussies together), and after a few months without talking to someone from my homeland it was a really welcome change.  I met some lovely Queensland girls (a phrase you won’t hear often) who were good value and shared a delightful Oia sunset and a few drinks with me.

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There’s even been a bit of romance with another lass I met. At two days (and not counting) it was one of my longer relationships. I felt like Lena out of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, except my romantic Santorinian experience didn’t involve a hunky Greek man who turns out to be married. I swear it didn’t – it involved a pretty lady. It was ships passing in the night, with me heading to Sri Lanka and her to Berlin, but that’s not necessarily bad because it doesn’t give things time to go bad.

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Being alone overseas means inevitably holding brief friendships closer to the heart than in normal situations. When you travel, you give a part of yourself to every place you visit and every person you meet, and in return they give you something, which is why it’s such a transforming experience. It’s wonderful and difficult at the same time, and a reason why I often find it easier to keep moving on when I’m travelling – cut down that attachment, and the resultant difficulty of moving on.

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Having a travel buddy (while not always a good idea) would alleviate a lot of those problems. Having a constant person who can be there when everyone else has left or been left would make it so much easier, but would that be a good thing? There’s something wonderful in the sweet sadness of leaving someone who’s just passed through your life, probably never to be seen again. Probably just the ramblings of a drunk, but it’s how I feel.

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Having spent most of my time in Santorini within spitting distance of my hotel, I decided to spend my last day checking out some of the other parts of the island. I jumped on a bus to the Red Beach at the southern end of the island and, well, I probably shouldn’t have bothered. The red cliffs that give the beach its name are nice, but the strip of dirty sand was nasty and covered in rubbish. The water was filthy, with sharp rocks constantly trying to poke into my feet. Unlike Naxos, Santorini is certainly not a place to visit if you have any interest in going to beaches that aren’t as horrible and red as Amanda Vanstone’s vagina.

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It’s time to move on to my final destination in Europe – the quiet, laid back island of Paros. Prepare for lots of posts about me lying in the sun, drinking beer and doing as little as humanly possible…

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The Ballad of Santorini Sal, Part II

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I didn’t really expect Santorini Sal to be waiting for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve known too many people who’ve said they’d wait for me but didn’t, or maybe I just suspected that he was a hustler, and was off somewhere parting a poor sucker from his money. But Sal was waiting for me, right where he said he would be, and when I came around the corner his big, round face lit up like a jack o’ lantern.

“I knew you’d be here, my brother,” he almost yelled, pulling me in for a hug that was at once comforting and gross, on account of his body odour.
“What can I say, man? I’m intrigued about what you’ve got to say.”
“It’s not about what I’ve got to say about you,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect – and to light another of his massive cigars, pocket the lighter, suck back the smoke, and the let it out in a huge cloud. “It’s about what you’ve got to say about yourself. Let’s walk, the view up here on this hill is killer.”

It went against my better judgement to follow a strange man through an unknown town, but I didn’t for one second question doing just that. Sal had a presence and an energy about him that made me certain that he knew things that other people didn’t, important things, stuff I’d been seeking answers to for years. We walked side by side, but there was no doubting that he was leading the way, and the sea of sunburnt tourists parted as he came near, closing in behind him as we went. We exchanged small talk as we went, with Sal keeping the talking to a minimum as the hill started to take its toll on his breathing. But no matter how much he wheezed, he kept on sucking on that massive cigar.

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Our journey through the labyrinthine alleyways of Santorini brought us to a wide marble balcony with a view of the rolling blue ocean that was no more or less incredible than looking into the face of God himself. Sal stood there, sucking his cigar while I watched in awe as yachts bobbed around like corks. When I’d had enough time to pick my jaw off the smooth stone floor, Sal dropped one of his massive hands on my shoulder again and led me to a corner of the courtyard, where a small blue table and two small blue chairs sat in the dappled shade of a tree. He sat, and the chair exhibited a remarkable feat of strength as he did so.

A pretty lady with long, black hair pulled back in a ponytail and a body that could make a grown man weep appeared from nowhere with two cold bottles of beer and a small bowl of olives, and then disappeared just as quickly. Sal put down his cigar, took a swig of beer, then sat back and looked me up and down.
“So what happened with the girl?” he asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s written all over your face.”
“Yeah, there was a girl, but that’s done with now. She decided her life would probably be better without me. On reflection, she’s probably right. But it still sucks.”
“And that’s why you’re lost.”
“Guess so. Had a ticket home, cancelled it to be with her, only she didn’t want to be with me anymore. So I guess here I am, trying to work things out.”

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“So where are you going now?”
“I figured I’d hang around here for a few days, then catch a flight home. The adventure has to end sometime.”
“You’re not doing that.” Sal stated it as fact, then picked up his cigar again.
“I’m not? What do you mean?”
“You’ve got unfinished business. Now tell me, what happened last time you went overseas? I gotta feeling it didn’t go too well.”
“I was in India, I guess I got homesick or something, and I came back early.”
“And it eats away at ya, right?”
“In a way.”
“And this trip, in some way it’s a response to the feelin’s of failure you have, a way of makin’ up for what you missed out on last time?”
“Now that you mention it, yeah, probably.”

Sal breathed out a cloud of smoke, then took another pull of his beer. “You’ve got unfinished business in Sri Lanka,” he said.
“Sri Lanka? Why Sri Lanka?”
“You were meant to go there last year, right, but you pulled out? Somethin’ was meant to happen in Sri Lanka, maybe you was meant to meet someone important. Important thing is, you gotta go there, it’s where this trip is leadin’ you. Meetin’ this broad, cancellin’ your trip home, it’s all leading to you finally goin’ to Sri Lanka.”
“You think?”
“Trust me on this. You gotta go to Sri Lanka. It’s your destiny, my brother.”

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The pretty woman appeared out of nowhere again and placed another cold beer on the table in front of me, then walked over and whispered something in Sal’s ear. He nodded, then downed the rest of his beer quickly and stood up.
“It’s been real good talking to you, my man, but I have to go. That hot piece is my wife, and she wants to spend some time with me, if you know what I mean. You wanna know how I met her?” With their differences in looks, I assumed it was at a convention for blind people, but I didn’t say as much.

“I was in Miami, wasting my life away, dealing some drugs. I met a man one day, skinny little dude with a white hat, who pulled me aside and talked to me as if he knew me. Anyway, he tells me that where I’m supposed to be is Santorini, that there’s something – or someone – waitin’ there for me. I hadn’t never been out of the country, but that night I took what little money I had and booked a flight here, met Rosa the very same day I arrived, and we been together nine years now. That man had a gift, and it’s something he passed on to me. He changed the course of my life in just one afternoon and, hopefully, I might do the same to you. Remember, there’s something for you in Sri Lanka.”

Sal dragged me up for a hug that made me feel like a child in a parent’s arms, and then disappeared from the courtyard, leaving a cloud of cigar smoke as the only sign he’d ever been there. I went back to my room overlooking the ocean, and I booked that flight to Sri Lanka.

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The Ballad of Santorini Sal

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Sometimes a person enters your life and changes everything. With a different perspective on existence, a captivating personality, or even just a sparkling smile that lights up the world, once this person walks through the door, you just know that things will never be the same again.

For me, that happened today, and the person responsible was Santorini Sal.

I begrudgingly left Naxon on a ferry as full as a fat girl’s bucket of KFC, looking wistfully out the window as that magic island grew smaller and smaller. If I didn’t have a reservation in Santorini, I probably wouldn’t have left at all, but the times they are a’ changin’, and I had to take to the sea.

The tears had barely stopped flowing by the time we pulled into Santorini, and it proved to be every bit as delightful as it appears on postcards and in travel magazines. Hundreds of white buildings, looking like overgrown and over-bleached coral, clung to the side of a hill, as if a tsunami had picked them up and tossed them against the earth. The ocean, as blue and as calm as a child’s eyes, splashed against the edge of the harbour while an endless parade of yachts bobbed around happily. Half the world probably think of this place when they imagine paradise.

The heat was oppressive as I stepped off the ferry, climbed into a cramped bus next to a loudmouthed American with an even louder shirt, and then disembarked in the bustling heart of Thirra, the capital of Santorini. Tourists wandered left and right, waiters rushed around with meals, magnets and postcards and other trinkets sparkled in the light breeze, and I immediately realised it was far less organic than Naxos. More of a tourist destination, less of a living and breathing town. And then I felt a hand drop on my shoulder.

Sal

“Beautiful, ain’t she?” said a voice directly out of any mobster movie you’ve ever seen. I turned around to see a big, Italian-looking dude in a Hawai’ian shirt. A cigar the size of a small child dangled languidly from smiling lips that did little to hide the brilliantly-white teeth that sat in a row behind them. He held out a set of fingers the size of sausages, and I awkwardly took it and shook.
“Sal,” he boomed. “Santorini Sal, if you want my full name. Even says so on my driver’s license, you wanna look at it.”

I wanted to get to my hotel more than I wanted to see this bloke’s driver’s license, but he showed it to me anyway and, sure enough, his name actually was Santorini Sal. Seeing as he was clearly American, it had either been an incredible act of foresight on his parents’ behalf when they named him, or he’d changed it after moving to Santorini. I admired his dedication, even if I didn’t admire how close he was standing to me, or the stench of body odour that hung over him like a thick fog and almost burnt my eyes. I turned to leave, but one of those big hands grabbed my arm. Not forcefully, but enough to stop me from leaving.

“How’d you end up here, man?” Sal asked.
“I came on the ferry,” I shrugged.
“No no no, I don’t mean that,” he replied, before taking a heavy drag of his cigar. “I mean how did you end up here, in Santorini, dragging your bags through the streets by yourself. What’s your story?”
“I’m here on holidays, been in Europe, flew into Latvia and have travelled down from there.”
“That ain’t what I’m talkin’ about. You got a story to you, I can see it in your eyes, but I feel like you ain’t bein’ truthful, even to yourself. You’re on a journey to find somethin’, not a holiday. Tell you what, go and put your bags away, meet me back here, right on this same spot, in two hours. I’ll show you somethin’ that might clear up some of those questions swirlin’ around in your head.”
“Dude, I don’t have questions.”
“Might not know it now, but you do. Two hours, Row, two hours.” With that, Sal took another drag of his cigar, turned swiftly for such a big man, and headed off into the swarm of tourists, his stench lingering a little longer than he did. I stood there, looking dumb. I’d never told him my name.

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I continued up the hill with my bags, trying and failing to dismiss Sal as a crazy man. What he’d said was weird, no doubt about it, but there was also some truth behind it. I didn’t really know why I was here, aside from some vague notion of going on a holiday. I did have questions about where the hell I was heading in life, what the hell I was doing with myself, what was going on in my head. I tried to take in the ancient concrete buildings and cobblestone paths around me, but all of that had started fading away, replaced by questions about who the hell i was and where the hell I was going. I checked in to my hotel, put my bags away, and then lazed around by the pool, too deep in thought to even let my eyes wander to the attractive blonde in the bikini across the water (alright, maybe I looked at her once or twice).

And then, after a swim in warm water that did nothing to wash away the questions that were eating my brain, I started walking back to the heart of Thirra, to the corner where I’d first met Santorini Sal. And when I got there, my life changed forever.

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Find out what happened when I met up with Santorini Sal, tomorrow on Drunk and Jobless…

The Row Show climbs a mountain

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I never learn my lesson. I’ve never learnt that strippers make lousy girlfriends,or that I shouldn’t sleep in bins after drinking all night, or that the Raiders will never again win a Grand Final. I’ve also never learnt that climbing mountains isn’t a very sensible thing for me to do.

Climbing mountains has led to me being assaulted by a deranged Slavic gentleman, almost killed by a a wild storm, and pushed to the verge of freezing to death. But, disregarding all that as mere bad luck, today I decided to climb up Naxos’s tallest mountain, Zeus. With a name like that, you know the big fella is a bad arse (or a dickhead’s dog – Zeus is definitely the sort of name a dickhead would give a dog), but I was sure I could handle him.

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Filot’i Fish

I rolled out to the town of Filoti on my quad, and it was a bewdiful cruise through the interior of Nazos. Hills, valleys, villages and more rolled past as I hooned along the road, feeling like the toughest bloke on the planet (I’m not, just in case you’re thinking of ‘testing’ me by punching me in the face). It’s most well signposted, and even if you get lost, who cares? Half the fun of running around is finding weird little houses at the end of lonely tracks.

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Look, Mum, one hand!

Finally, Filoti came into view, and behind it stood Zeus like a gigantic stone shark’s fin. Suddenly, the thought of climbing that big bastard didn’t sound so easy. I fanged through the township and up the side of the mountain, willing the track to keep climbing before I had to dismount and finish off by foot. Unfortunately, the tracked stopped a long, long way from the top. Even worse, there wasn’t an escalator or cable car to take me to the summit – how third world is that!

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I would’ve made it to the top quicker if I didn’t keep stopping to pose for photos

With the temperature hovering above 33, and feeling a hell of a lot hotter than that due to the sun bouncing off all those shiny white rocks, the ascent was as tough as a $2 steak and just as devoid of taste. The start had a nice path to follow, but that soon disappeared and I was left scrambling up rocks like some sort of demented goat. I fell over and cut my knees, sweated like a paedo in church, and generally had a rough time of it as I got closer to the top.

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What a scrumptious view!

It was worth it, though, because the view from the summit is immense. Naxos is a fantastic island – big enough to make exploring it fun, and still rural and traditional enough to make it feel authentic, and not just like another tourist attraction. There are enough restaurants and shops to make it a relaxing trip, but it actually feels like a part of Greece, unlike some of the other islands. In saying that, tomorrow I’m shipping off to Santorini, which might be the exact opposite…

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Sleazy Rider

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I’ve spent the last three days on the Greek island of Naxos sitting around in my undies, drinking beer and doing my best to convince sexy Euro women to take off their bikini tops so that they don’t get tan lines (they don’t take a lot of convincing, by the way, especially when The Row Show is the one doing the pleading). So today I decided to get out and see some more of the island, and since Naxos is the size of Meshel Laurie’s’s left arse cheek, I decided to rent a quad bike.

I would’ve rented a quadriplegic, but I’m on holidays, so I don’t need to have my vegetables.

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Anyone who knows me is painfully aware that I’m no good with cars or machines or anything like that. The last time I went go-karting I was lapped by a wombat and I regularly crash my mobility scooter, so the chances of me being a natural on a souped-up, four-wheeled monkey bike were as low as a midget’s ballsack. But, after driving up the street with the brakes still on and bringing Naxos’s main street to a crushing holt, I finally worked out what to do and was on my way!

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Zipping around on a quad really is the best way to explore the islands, so forget about hopping on a bus or walking. The roads are mostly empty and usually in pretty good nick, and I had a great time darting up alleyways and discovering villages and beaches. I got lost time after time but that didn’t matter, because I always ended up somewhere cool. I stopped off at half-a-dozen awesome beaches down the western coast of Naxos and swam in them all – you can thank me later for that one, ladies.

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It’s a beautiful island, exhibiting everything from the clearest beaches you’ll ever see, to rocky hills, ancient villages, and steep mountains. Flying around on that bike was such a brilliant way to spend a few hours, providing a great sense of freedom on one of my last days before heading back home (boo hoo). Unlike most holidays I’ve been on, I really don’t want to head back, but I guess it’s time.

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I’ve been thinking about what life will be about when I get back, and there are plenty of options – and none involve working too much. I already have a paragliding trip in Indonesia planned for later this year, and I’m hoping to spend a few weeks driving up the East Coast of Australia, hanging out on beaches and fucking around (much like I’m doing at the moment, really). But don’t worry, I’ll still be Drunk and Jobless in Europe for another week or so, which means there’ll be plenty more adventures of the fuckwit kind!

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