Day 168 (6.30.17): Cave snorkling in Koufonissi Pano

After two days of very early starts, we woke a little later on our first morning on Koufonissi.  Technically, there are two islands in “Koufonisia,” the northern island of Koufonissi Pano, which is where our hotel was located (the unimaginatively named “Koufonissi Hotel”), and the southern island of Koufonissi Cato, which is generally uninhabited.  We started the day with the hotel’s breakfast buffet (where I took the bold move of eating Greek yogurt with Greek honey and Greek apricots).

The seating for breakfast was outside by the pool, and the girls were excited to go swimming after breakfast.  Julie took them back to the room to change into bathing suits, while I set off in search of snorkeling equipment.   We’d been talking about snorkeling for quite some time, and bought masks and snorkels in Oxford.  We had not, however, brought flippers, as they are bulky, and we have been travelling light.  While Julie was in the room with the girls, I set off towards “town” in search of flippers.  (As you can see from the map below, there is only one very small town on the island, and our hotel was on the edge of it, a five minute walk from the central port.)  Lucky for me, I bumped into Giannis, our friend from the day before.  He offered to help me find fins in town, and with his help we soon had the gear we needed.  The girls tested out the fins in the pool just to be sure that they fit.

IMG_3382 (2) Perhaps even more importantly, I asked Giannis if he could recommend a place for snorkeling.  Lucky for us, Giannis enjoyed scuba diving in the area, and suggested that we check out a cove on the north side of the island.

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Julie and I walked back to town to rent mountain bikes for our expedition.  With fins and wheels, we were off!  It took us about 30 minutes to reach the cove, where we locked up the bikes, and hopped in the clear, turquoise water.

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Three of the masks we brought from the UK are full-face with an integrated snorkel, as modeled by Cassie above.  The girls loved looking at the tiny colorful fish, diving down in spots to get closer looks.

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We were still getting used to the masks, but after some minor adjustments everything was working great.

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Julie and the kids took a break from snorkeling to relax in the sun, while I continued to explore.  Lydie and Cassie are always up from scrambling around on rocks.

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After a snack, we decided to snorkel our way across the cove, which is shown in the picture above in the upper left.  It’s deceptively far away, but if you look closely, you can see some people walking on the rocks to jump off the cliff.  Our plan was to swim across the cove to an inlet.  I had read about caves in the area, and we were hoping to find one to explore.  Julie was a little nervous, so we swam across as a group, holding hands to stay together and using our flippers to propel us through the water.  Being braver in the water than their mother, the chickadees took up the outside positions, with Julie and me in the middle.

Soon, the water got much deeper, well over 20 feet, but the water was so clear it felt as much like flying as swimming.  The sea floor also became sandy in the deep water, and we saw a small sting ray lazily making its way across the floor.  We also saw the first of many flounders, though they have exceptional camouflage and lie very still in the sand.  We started what would become our favorite game with the flounder: diving down to poke them.  It was great fun (for us).

On the far side of the cove, we found a large cave, and took a break from snorkeling to frolic a bit.

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The sun was dropping, and the light was beautiful.  We put our masks and flippers on once again, and continued to explore.

Near the cave above, we soon found a partially submerged tunnel, running roughly from east to west.  The cave was around 5 feet across with at least 5 to 10 feet of space between the stony ceiling and the water.  We also could see the other entrance to the tunnel, and decided to swim through.

It was an amazing experience, with the light of the setting sun filtering through the crystal clear water.  The tunnel turned out to be much deeper than it appeared, as much as 20 feet deep in places, yet the walls were close enough that we had to swim single file at one point.  Caught up in the moment, we didn’t take any pictures, even though we swam through twice.

We returned to our little beach, gathered our belongings, and biked back to our hotel.  We got hot on the ride home, and decided to cool off in the pool before working on a dinner plan.  Julie and I were also thirsty.

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It had been a busy day, and we were getting hungry.  We took showers and walked down to the small beach in the center of town, where we had a wonderful dinner just a few feet from the water.

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We had only been in Koufonissie for one day, but we already loved this little island.  We went to bed excited about the next day!

-Will

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