A World Away

I recently returned from five days on The Rock. The Rock is a hard place of barren beauty, indubitably physically attractive and compelling. It’s an Aegean must-see. And this long weekend was no exception for the now-familiar visitors: the luxury yacht guests; the day trippers; the stopover holiday crowd; and the refugees.

Marvels of naval architecture grace the outlying bays by day, where their guests swim, jet-ski, kayak and paddle before heading for lunch at a beach taverna or on board. By night, those private vessels small enough approach the main harbour, when, twinkling, sparkling and glittering, their lights add to the glaring shop and street illumination on land. Idling by, some of us try to go through the looking-glass, speculating on who we’d meet aboard these modern wonders of the world. Others, smelling the cash (and heady on the aroma), trip over themselves to entice that money into their business.

The vast bulk of people see The Rock for the first time as day trippers on excursion boats. Emptied into the hot cauldron of the harbour, organized groups recover awed breath (lost at first sight of the harbour), put cameras away and look around for their guide. The guide who’s going to tell them ‘all-about-the-island’ whilst leading them past sponge and herb retailers at a pace suitable for product placement (not for dawdling), before plopping them down, hot, laden with ‘facts’ and shopping, at a restaurant. Food, under starter’s orders, leaves the kitchen as soon as the group arrives. Later, some may choose to take the little train around the headland to enjoy the views, the breeze and cheesy music. Others may cool off with a swim or at a bar until departure time. Many are back on their boat well before it’s time to set sail, having ‘done’ The Rock and it having ‘done’ them, too.

Those of us who choose to stay awhile spread ourselves out over the few hotels, numerous holiday rooms and apartments. Slowly but surely over the years, the choice and quality of this accommodation has improved. With restrictions on water supply, however, its density is limited – which, of course, adds to its attraction. The Rock is a holiday destination which also attracts a certain competitive element. Loud, alcohol-fueled, conversations detail the speaker’s belief in their intimate knowledge of the island and certain of its inhabitants. One visit more, one year earlier, than their audience and they’re content. For all of us who choose to visit, for however long and since whatever date, the sheer beauty of the place and its environment helps steer us past certain human anomalies.

The island is a welcome relief to all of us, none more so than the refugees. For years now, people smugglers have dumped those who could afford their extortionate fees on or offshore and fled the scene. The hapless folk left to fend for themselves in the perilous waves and on the treacherous stones are soon found. Sometimes, just in time. For those of us fortunate enough to be entitled to the right passport, the return taxi-boat fare from the harbour to the island’s southernmost beaches is €14. For those others, it is currently €4000 one-way in unspeakable conditions. Holidaymakers and locals take care of the people for whom that beautiful view is breathtaking for completely different reasons. Once found, they are taken to the police station, given medical treatment and looked after until they can be moved on. From the arched first floor of the police station, men, women and children from Syria and Afghanistan look out over the luxury yachts, the neo-classical architecture and the Aegean and wait.

In this world and yet not of it: we all escaped something during our stay. The Rock is a world away.

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