Things could not be more charming here in Zakynthos Greece. Couch-surf.com (an online community of people who like to host and be hosted) proved a wonderful option for us as we pulled up to our host’s traditional restaurant, “Malanos.”
“One of the most respected by locals here in Zakynthos,” said our taxi-driver as he handed us Nico’s card and came to a stop in front of a quaint little restaurant with an outdoor patio, gently shaded from the hot sun. Our host, Nico, is instantly heart-warming. A smiling man in his 40’s who speaks of having “a good soul and a strong soul.” This is how he manages to work 17 hours a day cooking and serving in the traditional restaurant his parents started in the 70’s. The food is as fresh as it can get, literally across the street from the garden that serves as a main supply for Nico’s dishes. Everything is fresh and as local as possible. The tomatoes alone, even uncooked and without a drop of the always-ready olive oil or oregeno, tastes better than any other I’ve ever had. And this is where our adventures began. Chatting with Nico in the restaurant he proudly runs.
By night-fall I had tried my first taste of octopus, free, courtesy of the chef himself. We’ve been here three days now and each morning starts the same- Nico plops his pack of cigarettes, an ash tray and a map onto the table where he pulls up a chair to tell us what adventures we can find that day. Sometimes it feels like an old-world quest. “Take this road until this road, and then at the beach of Porto Vromi, find a woman named Aphrodite. Tell her I sent you and she will put you on a boat…” or “Once you get to the town of Keri, find the Taverna and tell Andreas that I sent you. Ask him where the lighthouse is from which you can see the sunset.” Each day is this way- an old-world quest without gps devices or google maps or even a car. Just our friend Nico, his map and our scooter.
And I haven’t even begun to describe what beautiful places these adventures take us. Imagine jagged cliffs of salty white and water so blue it looks more like a sports-drink of some kind of ridiculously vibrant shade. Zakynthos is in all honesty one of the most strikingly beautiful places I have ever been. The streets are winding and narrow through old villas with clay-tile rooftops. These same roads dwindle down to lonely ribbons of pavement twisting through the scrubby cliffside brush only to deposit you out onto a terrifying cliffside above water so blue it could be the sky, turned upside down in the madness of the cliffside drive. I held my breath around the curves and listened to the cicada’s sing to the rhythm of the heat. I focused on their sound and tensed my shoulders, imagining the slip of a tire on the dusty road. And each time the road twisted past a cliff-side view, I exhaled just long enough to lean forward and say “this is beautiful.”