Finally leaving

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 21, 2006

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Saturday, July 8, 2006

Well, it's been quite some time. Call it laziness, the fact that Groundhog Day mode takes over your life in every way out here, whatever, either way, it's been forever and a day since I've proven to most that I'm actually alive. I joke, but making it out of Ios intact -- especially after two-plus months -- is a bit of an accomplishment. This really is unlike any other place I've been to. I've never been anywhere where I could say, with a straight face, "I had a quiet one last night, got in around 5." I will say this though about Ios, it's place I was most happy I stopped in. This place has forever changed me, and for the better. There's the old cliche that people say they travel "to find themselves." A lot of people make fun of this because it's cheesy (but aren't all cliches?), but it's true. For five months while I roamed around New Zealand, Australia and Asia I could feel changes in myself. Ios, though, was the place where all those changes were allowed to fully blossom. Maybe it was because I was able to unpack (you may not appreciate the joys of a dresser, but I do now) and settle down, develop a set of friends and have a sense of home, I don't know. But this place brought out the best in me. The problem, the thing that drove me away (I'm leaving this day, by the way) and ultimately drives most people away who have been here as long as this, is that Ios also has a way of bringing out the worst in people as well. Early on, it was hard to perceive any problems, everybody knew each other, we were more a tight-knit community than a collection of backpackers. However, as time wore on the island exploded -- what used to be an island full of Aussies with a few Canadians and Americans -- became filled with Irish, Scandinavians, Italians and so forth. Add enough drunken people together and problems start to arise, problems that can disillusion the people who saw what the island was like before peak.

And since you haven't heard from me in so long, here's some highlights from the last month:

Every Australia match in the World Cup was an event, particularly their first match, a 3-1 victory against Japan. Fun Pub was absolute mayhem, utter destruction everywhere, but by the time the USA match started an hour later, almost everybody was too drunk to do anything but go to sleep. That being said, the second Totti scored the PK that knocked them out, the place was like a funeral. There had been yelling and chanting all game, the second that game ended, there was silence. It was eerie.

On a related note, the night Australia clinched its way into the knockout phase there was a blackout on the island -- and it couldn't have come on a better night. Australia played a late match, so all the drunk Aussies came out to celebrate instead of turning in for a nap never to emerge again. The whole night had a certain energy to it, but once the power went out, everybody left the bars they were in and poured into the square. First there was just a mass celebration (the island was still mostly Aussie at this point) and then the crowd-surfing began. I was working in the square at the time and since there was no point in trying to recruit people into my bar, I was basically getting paid to watch a party. I have friends here who have been doing this for four season and claimed they'd never seen anything like it.

Swedish Midsummer was an unreal experience. In Sweden, June 23rd is a massive party -- rumor has it the sun never goes down the whole day, so the crazy Swedes drink themselves into a stupor and party through the night. By the time late June rolls around there's more than enough Scandinavians for a party and everybody else is more than happy to make an excuse to get smashed all day long. It was the most fun I had in one day, up until the time someone chucked me into the pool...while my camera was still in my pocket. It put of a bit of a damper on things, but I still have fond memories of that day, like, for example when I did the whole half an hour walk in my bright yellow boxers because all my clothes were still wet from my many excursions into the pool. Swedish Midsummer also gave me the idea to find at least one holiday per month to hijack from other countries as an excuse to have a party. So far so good -- we have Australia Day in January, Tet in February, Pattie's Day in March, Thai/Cambodian/Lao New Year in April, May is taken care of with my birthday, and now Midsummer in June.

To open July, there was a string of birthdays, in which at least one worker had a celebration between June 30 and July 6. On July 2, my American buddy Lance hit his birthday. Lance has been doing this for four years, so he's well known on the island. Every July 2, Fun Pub has a screening of "Bring it On" because the man himself plays one of the cheerleaders. I never imagined ever finding an excuse to watch such a crap flick, but it was great fun sitting in a packed room, hooting and hollering every time his mug showed up in the background. Now, I might even have to watch it again.

Independence Day was fantastic as well. Canada Day was three days earlier, and frankly the Canadians made a poor showing. The Americans felt obliged to show them how it was done. We were at our obnoxious, drunken best. The festivities started at noon and a lot of alcohol and body paint was involved. At the beginning of the day, I had USA written down my arms, I 'Heart' NY on my back and Happy B-Day America on my chest. That lasted until the pool throwing began. At least by this point I didn't have a camera to get thrown in. I just wish people knew how to do a proper pool throw, by the end of the day I had a bruise on the right side of my tailbone to match the one on my left from Midsummer.

And then there was my last day. For about a week and a half, I was ready to leave. I was still having a good time, but the place had gone stale. It was just the same thing every single day. Obviously, my same thing is better than most people's same day, but it does get old going to the same places every night, hearing the same songs EVERYWHERE (it's not usual to leave one club hearing a song and walking into a new one hearing the same exact one). My last day, however, was amazing. I spent the first hours making the rounds, catching up with everybody I could, collecting pictures and email addresses. In the afternoon, Far Out threw its first wet t-shirt comp of the season. Calling it a t-shirt comp is a bit of false advertising, clothing didn't last very long. After the boobies were put away, I went up to a restaurant, Harmony, that overlooks the sea and makes sure workers are well looked after. It's absolutely beautiful out there, and with the chilled out live music, it's the ideal place to waste away several hours. Just sitting around, enjoying the scenery, having friends come up to say goodbye and hang out, was one of the best times on this trip and allowed me to put all my time here in perspective. I was so ready to leave that I had lost a lot of the reason why I stayed so long -- by the time dinner was over I was sad again that I was leaving. The night out was surreal -- I have friends in every club on the island, so I felt obliged to pop into every single one to say goodbye (well, not goodbye, you never say "goodbye"). By the time I was done with the rounds, I barely had time to actually party. It was still amazing and my brand new camera's memory card is already half filled after one day. One of my best nights ever. To be honest, I'm starting to get a little emotional just typing this out, that's how special this place has been for me. Alas, you have to know when to say goodbye, and my time has come. I'm glad to see new things (although my next stop is an island I can see every night, I'm not going that far), but I know the second I leave part of me will want to come back.

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