Kiwi Abroad

Matt Kennedy-Good extends his OE and follows his heart to Finland

The simple life

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As we stood on the pier and watched our boat sail away, there was a familiar sinking in my stomach. I wondered if we'd made a mistake coming to Iraklia.

We had just left the nearby island of Naxos. After four happy days there we felt no need to leave, except for the nagging sense that we should explore some of the other islands. After all, we were supposed to be "island hopping".

The choice of where to go next was tough. With over a thousand Greek islands - most of which are "charming sun-dappled unmissable gems" according to the Lonely Planet - we were spoilt for choice.

Iraklia, less than 20sq/km in size and with only a hundred residents seemed a good contrast to the relatively large Naxos.

The pier where we stood was inside a narrow cove, from where we could see an empty beach and beyond that a little village of square, white-washed houses.

It certainly was charming, but where would we sleep? Was it more charming than Naxos and the other 1,399 islands in the Greek archipelago?

The sinking in my stomach made me wonder whether to be "spoilt for choice" is really such a blessing.

In Western society, it sometimes seems like greater selection is presumed to equate with greater welfare; that choice is a byword for happiness.

I wouldn't say I'm naturally indecisive (well, maybe a little), but I do want to maximise my experiences.

This sounds logical, until I realise I've spent 45 minutes standing in a supermarket aisle trying to decide which type of jam to buy.

Psychologists call this paralysis "consumer vertigo".

But it doesn't end there. Even if I make the "right" choice, after so much consideration my expectations are so high that the experience is often ruined by disappointment and regret over missed opportunities.

This is one of the reasons I don't eat out very often. When I go to a restaurant I like a menu that is no more than one page long, preferably with little photos next to the options. Not only is paralysis minimised, but I'm much less likely to spend the meal looking at other people's plates consumed with food envy.

As it turns out, Iraklia is the perfect place for someone of my disposition. After all, desert islands are not famous for their selection.

Days were spent at the beach with a book, the main decision whether to lie on my stomach or back. At night we ate mousaka or fish at one of the two tavernas, with Greek salad on the side.

With such limited choices we fell quickly into a happy routine of reading, sleeping, swimming and eating.

The permanent residents on the island seemed equally content. Whether cleaning fishing nets, white-washing walls or gossiping on the street, they treated us like friends, rather than tourists.

After a day on the island, we felt like we recognised everyone who lived there. Even more gratifying was that they seemed to recognise us.

When we wandered up one of the village's three streets people waved at us.

The beautiful woman who ran the store taught us a new word in Greek every time we bought something. Outside her shop, the old, raisin-faced men always playing cards smiled at us.

Best of all the old woman who owned our studio apartment brought us freshly fried fish every day - without asking whether or not we wanted it.

After three whole days on the island we were beginning to feel like locals ourselves, rather than visitors.

Perhaps it is human nature to crave routine and familiarity even when we are supposed to be escaping it - or perhaps I like routine because it means I don't have to make any decisions.

Either way, Iraklia was our favourite Greek island. If we had just managed to find something to do there, we could have stayed all summer long.

Instead, after four days we were happy with our choice to move on.

- Matt Kennedy-Good

Click here for photos

Pictured above: A Greek sponge peddler. Photo / Matt Kennedy-Good

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