Seen from an approaching ferry, Mykonos looks deceivingly calm. Its rugged and barren coastline, dotted with little white houses and chapels, evokes dream-like images of remote villages and idyllic and secluded beaches.
This is far from true. As one of the world’s most sought-after party destinations, Mykonos welcomes around 1.5 million tourists a year. Gone are the days when the island was the exclusive playground of the rich and famous (Jackie Onassis and Grace Kelly were regulars in the 1960s): today there is a constant stream of aircraft flying in from all over Europe, and traffic jams are more resembling of Rome than they are of Martha’s Vineyard.
Unless you venture off the beaten track, get ready for music blasting from the bars of the island’s crowded beaches, hundreds of scooters and quads darting by on its narrow roads, and packed restaurants in the town center.
A BIPOLAR ISLAND?
I had wrongly assumed that the island’s visitors were for the most part either gay or jetsetters. Granted, there are still plenty of both, judging by the mega-yachts moored in the island’s harbor and by the incredibly high number of men in speedos. However, young straight revelers up for a good time seem to have outnumbered any other group.
Nowhere is this clearer than at the Tropicana Bar at Paradise Beach, where a man called Sasà entertains hundreds of vodka-chugging 20-somethings with his improbable chants, sexually charged comments, and anythingarian rants. In most other places, Sasà would be sacked for sexist misconduct, but not here – at Tropicana he is the king, and his elephant-trunk thong is a sensation to the seemingly lobotomized partygoers. It was sad to see how many of them were from my home country of Italy.
Tropicana offers a rather unbecoming spectacle made of sweaty people drunk long before dinner time, barely-legal girls twerking in their bikinis, testosterone-induced brawls and piles of empty champagne bottles (shaking them and spraying their content on others seems to be a thing). After dark, it is common to spot people having sex on beach chairs, which made me very happy we hadn’t chosen Paradise Beach for our afternoon sunbathing.
Thankfully, there is more to Mykonos than snobbish jetsetters and people that look like they just came out of an episode of Geordie Shore. In fact, the island offers an endless list of bars, lounges and clubs, catering to visitors from all walks of life. To be fair, even the supermarket close to our hotel had a DJ set!
Super Paradise Beach has a better, calmer party than Paradise Beach, and a much nicer beach. Its best feature is by far Jackie O’ (the new branch of the famous gay bar located in the town center and named after Jackie Onassis): its pool and terrace make it an awesome place for an aperitif, but cocktails don’t come cheap at €15 a pop.
Could it be that the gays have gotten the hedonism bit right in Mykonos, finding the right balance between sophisticated and carefree, raunchy and easygoing?
It took a while to feel clean again after what I had witnessed at Tropicana, but as soon as hubby wisely placed a margarita in my hand I began to understand what people rave about when they talk about Mykonos. The island has a way of seducing you. It makes you feel at home, invites you to indulge, and spoils you rotten.
A NIGHT OUT, AND A CRIME TO SOLVE
That night, a Saturday, we headed out for dinner and a stroll in the town’s narrow alleys. This area is traffic-free, and boasts great shops (save some space in your luggage for leather sandals) and cute restaurants (try the salmon lasagna at Niko’s). If you are lucky, you might even get to meet Pedro the pelican, something of local mascot.
We danced the night away at Jackie O’ (located on the seawall of the town’s port, steps away from the iconic Paraportiani church), which has great drinks and a nightly drag show. Jackie O’ got really packed at around 2am, and moving around became almost impossible – at one point, I was basically hugging one of the drag queens during her rendition of Mariah Carey’s My All.
At around 4am, we made our way back to our quad and scooter (which we had parked in a terraced parking lot adjacent to Agiou Ioannou) only to find the quad missing. It was pitch dark and I drove around the parking lot several times, hoping to find the quad. No luck. We quickly realized our key worked on other quads too, and started to wonder what we would have told the guy at the rental place. Our holiday budget certainly did not allow for the refund of a stolen ATV.
Before I knew it, I got all Anderson Cooper and started to record a video in which I commented on what we were seeing and showed that the key was not unique to one ATV. I didn’t realize until the following day how ridiculous I sounded, and how unnecessary my investigation (not to mention, my call to the police) was. When we went to the rental place, the owner shrugged and only looked mildly annoyed. He complained about those made-in-China keys that work on all ATVs and speculated that “some drunken kid probably took it thinking it was his own, and drove it to Paradise Beach.” He hopped on a scooter and off he was, searching for the stolen quad. Once given our driving licenses back, we quickly left. For all we know, the man is still looking.
GOODBYE, FOR NOW
A few hours later our Santorini-bound ferry left Mykonos harbor, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness. Our stay had been short, but quite extraordinary.
As the island began to disappear on the horizon, my mind travelled to the island’s windy roads and gentle slopes, to its breathtaking sunsets, to the middle-aged woman deejaying next to bags of chips at the local supermarket, to the aperitif at Jackie O’ at sunset, to turquoise water and gentle breeze. All of a sudden I realized that Mykonos doesn’t have two personalities; it has countless, one for each of its visitors. Everyone can find what they are looking for here, their own piece of paradise.
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