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In the starlight, Maria dances a mesmerising slow duet with her favourite tree. The people have blended into the landscape to become almost invisible, with lean bodies the colour of the sand. In the morning, we go for a walk guided by a gentle young Greek with long black hair and beard; we would never have found the path without him, a very hard climb under a hot sun and a m scramble down the side of a ravine. Walking round the headland to Lavrakas beach, I see her standing up to her waist in the sea, bending forward and dipping her hair in the water then slowly swinging her head and body round to make catherine wheels of water in the air.
He used to be a Dutch software developer who painted in his spare time and spent his holidays on Gavdos. He looks like the "It's.
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Close to, they look like ancient Greeks but with longer dreadlocks and that rather disconcerting "18 going on " look, prematurely aged by the sun and wind but kept permanently young by the simple life, living close to nature if not to what most people would call reality. Ben Mallalieu finds a tiny island where the s never quite came to an end.
The mummies of Egypt were probably embalmed with juniper oil from Gavdos; the scent mingles with the wild thyme which grows everywhere, prostrate on the rocks and in dense hummocks on the sand. A naked old man with an impossibly long white beard dances along the shoreline, greeting the sunrise. The island is inevitably changing, but only slowly and not necessarily for the worse.
Ever dreamt of sleeping on a Greek beach for the summer, sitting round a fire listening to scratchy rock' n' roll under a starry sky? If you are eating, he has the initially disconcerting habit of helping himself uninvited to your food, but after a few days you cease to notice.
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Journey's end is Potamos, surely one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with half a mile of the best golden sand gently shelving into safe, clear water. But I like to think of Gavdos as Ogygia because it is, perhaps more than any place I have ever been to, enchanted. This morning there are no new human footprints on the beach, but a cat has added my tent to its silent nightly round. Sea junipers grow incredibly slowly.
Branches often die back for years then for no obvious reason spring back to life. You're not 40 years too late. Pines and tamarisks are fine and good, and palm trees, nodding or otherwise, can be found on half the world's best beaches, but the sea juniper, Juniperus oxycedrus macrocarpa, is the ultimate beach tree, and the tiny island of Gavdos has possibly more of them than anywhere in the world.
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Getting there Thomson thomsonfly. Gavdos is a small dot on the map 50km south of Crete; it is the southernmost of all the Greek islands and possibly the southernmost point of Europe if you don't count the Canaries. One of the taverna locals is Anthony Bijnen.
His name is Wolfgang and his philosophy of life is very simple: "Everything is easy," he says. The island is full of noises; sounds and sweet airs. She is one of the group who meet on a sand dune to watch the sunset.
No other trees, not even yews or olives, look so old, with twisted limbs bleached like bone. Lili and Sara are Spanish students who live under the tree next door and separately remind me of two friends from when I was travelling 30 years ago. And it is certainly difficult to escape from: ferry connections are unreliable and you can be marooned here for days, sometimes weeks, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. Greek Islands holidays. Apart from us, it is entirely deserted. New houses are being built on the Crazy holidays naked to Agios Ioannis, but the road stops at Sophia's taverna, from where it is a half-mile walk over the rocks, through the trees and far away from the 21st century to the beach where I live under a juniper tree.
Mosquito nets and hammocks are strung between the branches like cobwebs or moths' nests and decorated with flotsam and jetsam like Derek Jarman's garden at Dungeness, treading the thin line between art and litter. Maria is Greek with a very Minoan beauty; she studies modern dance in Paris and spends her summers on Gavdos with a little dog with large ears, like a bat with four legs.
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In Homer, glittering eyes were a of a god in human form. Gavdos is one of the places that claims to be the island of Ogygia where the goddess Calypso kept Odysseus prisoner, although the supporting evidence is slight: in terms of flora, fauna and geography, it fails to tick almost any of the right boxes, but then neither do any of the other possible claimants. The island also has a small group of Russian philosophers doing whatever it is that Russian philosophers do, and possibly a journalist: a copy of the Crazy holidays naked newspaper is dated "Sometime in November"; the front, and only, is covered with doodles and at the bottom is written "Sorry, there is no news today".
Where teh living is easy Ben Mallalieu. I can roughly tell the time of day from the shadow of a stick in the sand, but there is no easy way of telling the day of the week other than by keeping a record.
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Its permanent indigenous population is around 35 with a similar of "outsiders" from the rest of Greece and Europe. He can sing well too, mostly snatches from old Beatles songs. I sometimes wish all newspapers could be like that. Still crazy after all these years.
Today is Saturday: I need to write that down, because my phone is dead and my watch has stopped - perhaps appropriate on an island where time and the outside world hardly impinge but mighty inconvenient when I have a ferry and plane to catch on Friday. We drink ginger tea and someone plays a musical instrument with a series of metal blades like a jew's harp attached to a wooden sound box, twanging the keys and drumming with his fingers. I have some new friends who live in the woods and I cannot walk past their camp without being offered tea or beer or food, which is almost embarrassing until I realise that this is how life ought to be.
It has no hotels and fewer than apartment beds for tourists, so most of the 1, or so summer migrants sleep on the beaches or under the trees, which was usual on Greek islands 30 years ago but is now usually frowned upon, not to say actively discouraged by the police. At midday I sit outside Sophia's taverna in the shade and catch the breeze which blows a siren-like note across Crazy holidays naked top of my beer bottle.
They look as though they have suddenly frozen in the middle of some extravagant activity to which they will return as soon as your back is turned, like a game of grandmother's footsteps. Sophia's is one of the new buildings but it sells old-fashioned Cretan food, a choice of only two hot dishes - meat or vegetable - baked in the oven in the morning and kept warm on a hot plate until evening.
Six years ago, Bijnen painted a portrait of a taverna owner in the village of Sarakiniko who liked it so much he gave him a house, saying: "Every island should have a painter.
The road has been paved in the past year, the harbour at Karave enlarged; there could even be proper electricity soon. It could be a scene from a Minoan fresco. After one of the best and most refreshing swims of my life, I sling a hammock between the branches of a sea juniper and fall asleep listening to the waves, the cicadas, the bees in the thyme, the occasional bleat and tonk of a goat, and Lili and Sara laughing in the sea.
This summer, he is building a geodesic "egg" which will become the island's arts centre with facilities for anyone who wants to use them. Now they are a of a misspent youth.
Further information gavdos-online.