Story and Photo by Vanessa Karalis
A salty breeze rolls past sleepy sheep farms and untouched patches of wild flowers, slapping the shutters of our window shut as Sophia, our maid, beats a rug outside the door of our small hotel. It is April in Mykonos and all is still.
“Today, the weather will be good,” Bobby, our hotel manager, predicts—just as he did the day before and just as he will continue to do for each day to come. Our arrival initiates stares that quickly turn to smiles, waves, and beckonings. We are few but we symbolize many. We are the first tourists of the season.
Here, life is sweet and simple. But it became a little less so when Jackie Onassis arrived by boat and set foot on the rickety wood of the isle’s port in 1961. The wood is long gone, as the old port was expanded to accommodate the masses of travelers that flood in each day of “tourist season,” which spans from late May to early November. An island of 11,000 residents, Mykonos hosts approximately 50,000 vacationers during the summer months. Celebrities from Madonna to Roberto Cavalli have called it paradise, building seaside homes and Mykonos’ status as a European destination.
While its environs are nothing short of breathtaking, it’s this glamour and luxury that set Mykonos apart from most other Greek islands today. When taking a picture, we notice a laden clothes line rippling through the wind above a Hermès store—this is the Mykonian dichotomy. As the whitewashed walls of Athens diminish slowly into a crisis, the façades and sidewalks of Mykonos grow whiter as shop owners and residents alike spend their pre-season days meticulously repainting.
The streets remain reserved for local traffic, so driving our rental ATVs was surprisingly safe. When one of them breaks down, a local farmer named Yanni comes to our aid, followed by a flock of his sheep. Before long, we are riding further along the quiet seascape. It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks, Yanni and his sheep may be fixing more than one broken ATV. The streets will begin to crowd. The silence will be broken by bustling vehicles on their way to crowded beaches and parties. The word “cosmopolitan” will replace the word “quaint.”
This cycle repeats itself year after year. When Bobby drives us to our ferry at the end of our journey and tells us matter-of-factly to call him next time we are in Mykonos, we suddenly understand that we are part of this cycle. Despite the economic struggle felt by so many in Greece, Bobby will continue to pick up new visitors from each arriving ferry, Yanni will walk his sheep to graze each morning, and life in Mykonos will move forward.
This story appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Baedeker.