Spearfishing in Skatohori

The Weird Travel Writings of Matt Barrett

"When mind is in turmoil even heaven can seem like hell"


My first trip to Greece was in 1963 when my father got a Fulbright fellowship to teach at the University of Athens. In those days many of the streets were unpaved and shepherds still grazed their sheep in the empty lots between the occasional apartment buildings. Now there are no more sheep and no more empty lots, but Athens is an endless sea of apartment buildings... This is sort of the story of how I ended up doing what I do, whatever that is.

Part One: The Athens Gang

The Plaka

I used to love the Plaka. Now it's more of a love/hate relationship, a microcosm much like my relationship with the rest of Greece. The fact that there are about three restaurants in the whole area that serve something besides souvlaki, mousaka, pastitsio and lobster has a lot to do with it.

The Best Summer of My Life

I lay down on the floor, breathing deeply, focusing my attention on my breath rather than my problem. Gradually I cooled out and began to look at the situation in a positive light. Life is full of experiences, some pleasant and some not, each with its lessons. A trip through the Greek Army might be just the experience I needed for my own spiritual growth.

Saturday Night Apollo Express Fever

I'm too scared to tell Andrea our daughter is missing so I run back to look for Amarandi again. I search the ship like a maniac, up and down stairs and hallways. Finally I realize that the only way I will find her is by getting Andrea to tell the crew to start a ship wide search.

Arthur and the Heroes of the Revolution

At about three in the morning I heard a frantic knocking on my window. It was my neighbor Nicki. "Hey man, Arthur's been busted." I let him in and he told me the story. Nicki had followed the cops to the police station and was listening when they booked him. When he heard Arthur give my address as the place he was staying, he raced over to warn me that the cops would be there soon. We went through all Arthur's bags, finding hash, pipes and some dried opium pods. Nicki took the pipes and hash. We flushed the opium down the toilet. I went back to sleep, believe it or not.

Part 2: The Sifnos Monster & Other Tales


I've been coming to Sifnos since the late seventies. My parents and brothers and sister first came in 1972 during the summer while I was off in Mykonos. Back then Sifnos was primitive and totally undiscovered. There was no dock and the ferry would pull into the bay and be met by the fishermen who would take people back and forth in small boats. There were a few foreigners living in rented rooms or tents, mostly seasoned travelers who would rather experience the real Greece of the time, than be partying with me and my decadent friends on Ios or Mykonos.

The Sifnos Monster

"Do you hear that?" he asked. I could hear it. Even above the roar of the motorcycles the sound of heavy breathing came from the ravine that ran down the mountainside and passed under the road beneath us. It was unbelievably loud and it scared the hell out of us. We raced back to Kamares and ran into the Old Captain Bar. "There's a monster on the road! There's a monster on the road!" we cried in terror to the few remaining customers who looked blankly up from their drinks.

Sifnos 1996

When we arrive in Sifnos it is three AM. There is a small group of people on the dock including Kosta who owns the convenience store, there to pick up the daily newspapers, and Bouli's brother who is there because it is his job to catch the rope and help tie up the ship. I like getting in so late because I can walk down the street in quiet anonymity and not have to say hi to every single person I know from twenty years of visits.

Gone Fishin'

How did I get this passion for spear-fishing? I don't know if you can really call it a passion just as you wouldn't call watching TV every night a passion. Drinking ouzo and eating octopus is a passion, but I can't spend all day doing that. There are certain rules regarding passions and one of them is that if you do it all the time it's not a passion but a compulsion or mental illness.

Ferry Tales

Meanwhile on shore a demonstration had been organized and the crowd marched to the end of the dock carrying a large banner that said "NO TO THE GHOST SHIP." They chanted slogans and yelled at the ship with a megaphone. Many of them were tourists who had no idea that they were demonstrating, thinking they were taking part in some traditional island custom or welcoming ceremony.

Sifnos Summer Basketball

The basketball court was only a rumor when we searched our knapsacks for our sneakers on that cloudless July day in 1984. Nobody we knew had actually seen it. It was one of many Sifnos myths. It was said to have been built by the Gods, then passed down from generation to generation of tourists. Now we, a fresh new generation were about to embark on the arduous journey to Vathy in search of what was said to be the most beautiful basketball court in the world.

With Godfrey on the Holy Mountain or The Last Temptation of Matt

Perhaps there was some unseen force guiding me in the search for the spirit, but not with the passionate commitment of this monk I was speaking to whom after traveling the world as a sailor, tasting life and deciding he wanted something more than the transitory pleasures of the flesh, had devoted himself to the pursuit of peace and inner truth. Who was I but some kid from the suburbs who saw religion as a new high with no apparent dangerous side effects, and my relationship to God as proof that I really was a cool guy. In that brief shining moment I felt really stupid, which if you believe Socrates, is the first important step to enlightenment.

Reality Sets In

How do you write about a place where nothing seems to happen? Last night we ate here. Yesterday we swam there. The coffee was good somewhere else. We just seem to pass the time. I feel like Seinfeld without George, Elaine and Kramer.

The King of the Kamakis

I know that you are wondering what a kamaki is. It translates literally as harpoon. What it means is Casanova. It's practically a profession in Greece. It is seasonal and the pay is meager, but it keeps the young men, and some older ones, busy during the summer. Most of the victims are tourist girls. Actually, all the victims are tourist girls and many of them would not classify themselves as victims. Many women, mostly from cold Scandinavian countries, come to Greece with the intention of spending their vacation with one, or a few, of these semi-professional hot-blooded lovers. A trip to Greece without a romantic experience would be an empty one.

The Collage Bap

Kosta, who owns the Collage Bar, has been trying to sell his bar for an extraordinary amount. They call it "selling air." He isn't selling anything but the right to pay rent and have a bar there. He is selling a business whose customers live thousands of miles away and have never been here and may never come.

Vathi Vetoed

We have decided not to go to Vathy like we had been planning. I hate to admit that I am reluctant to return to "paradise," but Andrea confided that yesterday she had the same feeling she had during our last couple days in Vathi last year when we realized that we had been there too long and if we were to stay longer we might lose our minds. When we are sitting in our kitchen in Carrboro, North Carolina, looking at our photos with a longing for that simple life it's a whole different story than being here when it's a hundred degrees and all you want to do is sit in your hotel room with pictures of Greek Island scenes on the walls and pray for the meltemi.

Part 3: Adrift in the Aegean

Adventures in Milos

To make matters worse there was a religious festival and every room in the town was booked and every table at every restaurant was occupied. Not only that, but the only things I had with me was a tanktop T-shirt, my bathing suit and flip-flops, which I was wearing, my wallet with my passport and travelers checks, and a towel. I was traveling lighter than I ever had in my life. The girls had no sleeping bags. They each had a sheet, so that first night we slept on a little beach in the town, huddled together for warmth.

Mykonos Does Have Mosquittos

We got to Mykonos a half an hour late and fifteen minutes after the boat to Syros had left. It was the SYROS EXPRESS again. It just goes to show you that you can't outsmart the Greek ferry system. We decided to stay the night. Well, we didn't actually decide. We did not have a choice. There were no more boats to Syros until the next day so all we actually decided was to stay in Mykonos and make the best of it.

Goon Lives

We were not well liked by the hippies of Paradise beach. This was in 1971 and many of them were on the way to or from India where they had bestowed upon themselves an inner grace and serenity that they displayed for all. But we got on their nerves. We yelled and laughed and did funny dives off rocks and while they grooved on the sunset we destroyed the ambiance by having rock skipping contests and rank-out sessions.

Parthenon's OJ

I chose this particular evening to have my first bad trip and went through a silent hell, assuming that everyone knew what was going on inside my poor fragmented mind, and never let on about my suffering. Hours later when I had come down a little my friends were shocked to find out that I had been having a bad trip "I thought you were just being silently profound." said Peter.

Andros Chicks Are Easy

Despite the complaining going on I feel very happy to be in Batsi. I don't care that there are tourists around and that signs everywhere shout "ENGLISH BREAKFAST SERVED HERE!" The sea is my favorite color of blue and I could stay here all summer. I also know that I better enjoy it while I can because Andrea does not share my feelings about Batsi and I will be lucky if she agrees to stay until tomorrow.

Chora: The Secret of Andros

There are several museums in Chora. The first one we visit is the Nautical museum which consists of two rooms and a bunch of photos of oil tankers, most of them from the last twenty years or so, but a few old ones too. The place is falling apart and the curator just sits there smoking cigarettes and reading her fashion magazine. There is no admission charge, and nothing to buy and really, nothing to steal so why she is there I don't know. Maybe she's on some kind of community service, or social assistance work program. Maybe she's an expert on oil tankers but I can't even think of one good question to test her with, so we move on to the Goulandris Museum of Modern Art.

Bari Express

A little old man is walking around with bags of pistachios which he leaves on every table in the 3rd class lounge. His obvious strategy is that if he leaves them long enough we won't be able to resist and open the bag and he will have made a sale. They look pretty good but my taste buds are focused on the kalamaraki and galeos which the port of Rafina is famous for.

Rafina: Athens' Hidden Gateway

We arrive in Rafina around two in the afternoon and walk straight towards the least commercial looking fish restaurant in the port. Amarandi and I share a plate of kalamaraki that they didn't even bother to clean. Wrong restaurant.

Saint Matthew in Athens

I had a friend tell me she had a dream that I was living in a Greek temple on a mountain. I was making love to women and healing them. What a great job! I can hear it now; "Saint Matthew gives so much of himself to the abused women of the world. He is truly a good man." I can see my statue right next to Mother Teresa's on the road to heaven.

Part 4: Predator in Paradise
(A month on an island that is not really an island)

Flying Dolphin

We wake up at six this morning and leave our hotel to pick up Andrea's mother Elaine, who has just arrived from the states, at Mary's where she had spent the night. We easily find a taxi and are deposited among the other hysterical travelers who are attempting to get out of Athens on the only available sea-route, since the ferries are going to be on strike at least until next Monday.

Home Sweet Home

There was not a soul in sight as we walked down the beach marveling at its beauty and serenity. Just as we put down our towels, two enormous motor yachts sailed into the bay and stopped within thirty yards of us. A guy climbed into a speedboat towing a rope tied to the yachts' stern and walked right across our little beach blankets to tie it to the jutting rock we had been using to shade our sunscreen. After securing it, he then got back into his boat and raced back to the yacht without even saying a word, like "excuseme" for example. Then they lowered into the water a pair of jet skis and they all took turns racing around, back and forth and in circles right in front of us as the fresh air filled with exhaust fumes.

Uncle Mister Jack

Jack Marlowe was one of my oldest friends, my English teacher in high school at the American Community school in Athens and he's about fifteen years older than I am. He had come from San Francisco in 1969 and was by far the hippest and most radical teacher in the school. He liked rock music. He looked like John Lennon. He told me I was his worst student ever, and he meant it.

Fishing for Kefalo

Kefalo is not at the top of the Greek fish food chain. In fact it is down towards the bottom, maybe a couple notches above sea slugs and poisonous sand worms. These are the fish you see in the filthiest harbors, surviving on a diet of raw sewage and bread thrown from the tourists at seaside fish tavernas. They are not a bad tasting fish when they come from clean unpolluted areas like Kalohori and actually the best tarama salata comes from kefalo, though not the ones in the harbors.

Tales of Uncle Panoutsos and the Civil War

Takis tells us about my Uncle Panayiotis who in the village was known as Panoutsos. He didn't like to work much. He survived by selling off the family property a little bit at a time. If he hadn't we would be the wealthiest landholders in Kalohori. He had a fishing boat but he didn't like to fish much either. What he did like was playing cards.

Near Death Experience

Amarandi and I stop in at Katina's to watch the end of the Greece-Croatia basketball game on our way to Metropolis to meet Andrea and her mom. Thea Katina tells me that my mother had called and I should call her at three. My mother does not call me in Greece to chat, or to ask how I am doing. If my mother had called it was because something terrible has happened. My father had died. My house had burned down. I had been audited by the IRS. All the possibilities race through my head as my eyes sightlessly watch the TV screen. Should I call right now and find out what's wrong or should I wait and enjoy the last four minutes of the game? Maybe the news would be so tragic that these might be the last carefree minutes of my life.

Fishing for Lunch and Tales of Samson

The alarm rings this morning like a voice from the distant past and Andrea goes off to her watercolor painting lesson with James Crispy, the famous English painter who has taken up residence in Kalohori. I go down to the sea to catch lunch.

4th of July in a Small Greek Village

James and Joan had been stuck in Athens trying to locate their lost luggage. The problem was that nobody would admit they didn't know where it was. Joan told us, "They would just make something up to send us to the next place and get rid of us." They had to go to both airports and when they finally found their bags, they were locked together with some other lost luggage and nobody had any idea who had the key.

A Visit from Prince Charles

Prince Charles did actually come here last summer. So did George Bush. Both the guest of a billionaire named Latsis. But while Bush endeared himself to the mostly republican Greek-Americans by jogging through the olive groves one morning, the royal entourage kept to themselves in a tight little group on the beach. Surrounded by idle motorboats, water-skis, wind-surfers and jet-skis they huddled together, afraid to go in the sea or to ask the ship's crew, who were there to attend to their every need, to teach them to use any of the expensive beach toys they had with them.

Is there Life After Jack?

I realized that for Jack and Sue this was the end, and if and when they came back we would probably not be able to convince them to join us for dinner again. Life in this idyllic village was looking more and more bleak as I became more isolated from the people I actually liked.

The Waves

At last, the waves have come. It's a cool cloudy day with a wind blowing in from the sea. Storm clouds are hung up on the mountain peaks creating a traffic jam that might eventually bring rain. I was sitting in our house fuming because I had suspected that Elaine was smoking in the outhouse with Amarandi in there with her. I wasn't sure but I heard their voices and when they came out, Elaine, Amarandi and the outhouse smelled like cigarette smoke.

My Yaya's House

The house itself could be one of the nicest old houses in the village. Judging by its location in the center of town it has to be one of the oldest. It makes me sad to look at it. It reminds me of unfinished business. I think of all the plans I have made that were never completed due to lack of motivation. I realize that fixing this house will not make me happy, as nothing material can really make one happy, except for a moment or two. But it's a project. It's a journey. It's a problem to be solved but I am denied the right to try to solve it and I am the only one who wants to solve it. This house will continue to fall and in the end it will be paved over and Katina's customers will be able to park their cars a few meters closer to her store.

Sea Urchin Soup

"It goes great with ouzo." says Niko in Greek. I take a little taste. It wouldn't go great with anything, especially ouzo. I have eaten many archinoos in my life, but this tastes like raw fish guts, lemon, olive oil, vinegar and sand, and the texture is even worse. I try to just eat the eggs but they are impossible to separate from the grit and guts now that everything has been bonded by the oil. The grit is probably reconstituted sand. I'm eating shit soup from a creature that only eats sand.

Pip and Pop

In the bar I run into Pip and Pop, the English couple who come here every year. He's a retired police inspector and she's a vegetarian. Pip and Pop are not their real names and as I speak to them I realize that I don't know what their real names are and in a matter of moments I will have to introduce them to Andrea or Elaine. "This is all Jack's fault," I think to myself. He always called them Pip and Pop and so I never thought to ask what their real names were. Now Jack is happily thousands of miles away while I am going through my own private hell.


I begin the arduous journey back to town. As I approach the small dock in front of the first row of houses I am met by my fisherman friend Crysanthos, who wants to see my catch. He looks at the skaros. "You don't have to clean these!" he informs me excitedly. Then he teaches me a little rhyme to help me to remember. The rofos you eat the head, melanouri the body, but for skaros eat the shit, tell me which do you prefer?

Undersea Adventure and Epiphany

As I get closer to Saint George I keep hearing the sound of racing engines. When I round the bend I see to my horror two American style yachts. And racing around the tiny quiet bay are two jerks on jet-skis. "What is it with these people. They find the quietest place on earth and they make as much noise as they can. Anyone so obsessed with disturbing the environment must himself be quite disturbed," I tell myself, taking aim at a small skaros and blasting him into oblivion.

Church on Sunday

I had an unpleasant evening of tossing and turning thinking about the fish I had massacred. I had asked Andrea if fish had souls. If they could think or love. I knew they felt fear. I could see it in the eyes of a young skaros when I cornered him and he knew the game was over. I had been haunted by those eyes all night.

Arrival of Mitch and the Curse of the Smerna

I am depressed about shooting the smerna and worried that there is some curse that follows someone who kills one and does not eat it. What if this is the moment that changes my entire life and turns my joy-ride into a Greek tragedy?

The Long Sad Saga of the Water Taxi

Last night when all the boats were leaving for Agios Nikolaos to avoid the storm, the water-taxi had taken off in the opposite direction towards Agios Georgios. One of the villagers had gone there fishing before the storm and his worried father asked Nikos, the owner, if he would help him find his son, not realizing that the son had already returned. They saw the rocks too late to avoid them, and the hundred thousand dollar water-taxi smashed into them.


As we turn onto the road to Zarafona, storm clouds are gathering. The road climbs into the mountains, the sun disappears and the temperature drops to almost sweater weather. The first familiar landmark is the Venetian castle with it's tower, visible from miles away. I'm feeling a little apprehensive. I haven't been here since I was a little kid. Still, my memories are very strong.

The Bulgarian Wants Me Dead

I have two problems. The first is Andrea, who wants to change our relationship. She shows me some articles in Martha Stewart's Living, about how to build an outdoor shower and a folding bench to put next to your barbecue. When I don't show the proper amount of enthusiasm she threatens to leave me taking Amarandi with her because she wants to be in more of a partnership. If I don't want to do these things with her she will find someone else who does. My second problem is more serious. I think the Bulgarian guy wants to murder me.

Illegal Dancers at the Panigiri

As more and more people stand up and join the circle of dancers, I begin to notice the glares that are directed at Mister Octopus and his friends as they dance among themselves off to the side. They are bootleg dancers. Dancing Pirates. Freeloading the music that everyone else has to pay for. In a way, they are criminals and I can see in the eyes of the people who had paid for the right to express themselves, that is exactly the way they feel about it. Hanging's too good for Mister Octopus and his renegade dancers. I smell trouble and there in the middle of it is Andrea's mom. I find Mitch and grab Elaine. "C'mon. We're getting out of here." and off we speed before the men can un-sheath their daggers.

Surf's Up!

"This is great!" I yell to Andrea as a wave knocks the wind out of me setting off another episode of coughing and gasping for breath. Even Amarandi is laughing as another wave upends me and I try to smile and hide the gravel and seaweed I am spitting up. Andrea had complained that we were not doing anything as a family. Now she happily sits on the beach as I amuse them with my antics while fighting to survive. We are one happy family. The anger and hostility of the previous evening have been forgotten while they delight in my suffering.

Elaine's Patsa

We decide to eat in Metropolis. Elaine had heard that Tiris' restaurant has patsa which is a soup made of the intestines of a pig or a sheep or whatever unlucky animal happens to be around. Elaine loves it but says it's important that it is prepared in a very clean place. If it's not as clean as a hospital that's where you might end up.

Ferry Boat Day and Farewell to Mitch

The ticket man tells us that Mitch has to catch the boat at Saint Demetrios, a two-mile walk with full combat gear. We attempt to reason with him, trying to appeal to his last shred of sanity that not only is the boat more convenient, docking close to his next ferry within an hour of its departure, but it's half the price. And he won't have to walk for an hour in the boiling hot sun to catch it. And need we mention again how terrible a trip on the Flying Dolphin can be in rough weather? It doesn't matter though. Mitch is set firm on his goals and his schedule. What has seemed like paradise for us with it's beautiful sea, delicious food, friendly loving people, lush vegetation and free-flowing wine, has been a hell for him. Addicted to form, Mitch has found the formless existence of life in Kalohori maddening.

Battle of the Bands Panigiri

We know when we wake up that this is a very special day. The whole village knows. Tonight is the "Battle of the Bands Panagiri." We were never quite sure which saint this holy day commemorates. What we do know is that every year on this day, following a church ceremony that nobody has ever been to, all, most, many, or some of the villagers go to the two tavernas in Metropolis to eat, drink and dance to two bands. It seems like a great idea except both bands play simultaneously and each tries to play louder than the other. With the restaurants so close together, what you hear is ear-blasting, nerve-shattering noise. But the villagers seem to enjoy it.

Yaya's Last Night

I pass the church and swim towards the lighthouse. When I reach the point of the peninsula I come face to face with the biggest kefalo I have ever seen. It's about three feet long and is swimming with a school of smaller kefalo, like Baby Huey of the sea. I actually have two shots at it because it behaves exactly as they do, swimming back and forth like target shooting ducks at an arcade. Each time my spear seems to go in slow motion and I miss badly. It might be divine intervention or maybe the strong current coming from the open sea. Eventually the fish realizes that he has the whole sea and doesn't need to hang around in the same vicinity as me.

The Last Days in Kalohori

We all say our farewells and magically they are gone. We wave until the hydrofoil is out of sight and then we comment on the silence. It's a profound deep silence. I also realize that Andrea has relaxed and so have I. We both love our families but we are glad to see them go.

The Return of Uncle Mister Jack

I hate to admit it but I may be nearly ready to go. For one thing I am running out of things to write about. For another I am a little bored with spearfishing. Also I am getting tired of eating fish. At least the kind that I catch. I would like to go somewhere I can shoot at big, round, fleshy, white fish like they sell at the fancy tavernas in the Plaka.


We feel comfortable leaving as the Flying Dolphin roars into the bay and takes us away, back to civilization. As I stand on the wing, watching the rocky shore of the Peloponessos passing, I wonder about the month I have spent in my grandmother's village. I think of the dozens of fish I had caught and eaten and the thousands who were relieved that I was finally gone.

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