Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beer Island (Chalkidiki, Greece)

I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this 2.5 liter plastic bottle of beer by myself. After opening it for the second time in the last ten minutes, the beer’s lost most of its carbonation and will soon be flat, warm, and worthless.

I first laid eyes on this gigantic bottle of beer in Sofia, Bulgaria a week ago. My friend John held it up in triumph as he came through the front door of the apartment.
“It’s the largest beer of all time!” He said it as if he’d just caught a prize-winning marlin.
“Do you wanna drink that tonight?’ I asked, hoping he’d say no.
“No, Jesus Christ. It’s too big,” he said. “I’m going to save this one for Beer Island.”
“What?” I asked.
We’d been drinking that night, celebrating the beginning of summer (something one could claim for, say, the entire month of June). John had just come in from a solo midnight stroll. He was visiting Bulgaria for the first time, and had never seen a 2.5 liter green plastic bottle of beer before. It was a bit of a novelty purchase, but he had every intention of drinking it... once he made it to ‘Beer Island.’

Days later when my girlfriend, John, and I were packing our bags before making the drive to Chalkidiki, Greece, ‘Beer Island’ came up again.
“It might not fit,” I said.
“It’s gonna fit, no problem,” John said. We were talking about the huge beer bottle as he repositioned it in the cooler, smashing the ham and cheese in the process. “And it’ll be ice cold for when we’re drinking it on Beer Island,” he added, with a Midwestern accent to indicate that what he was saying was for comic effect, reminiscent of a cheesy beer commercial—nowhere near his normal level of sophistication and style.
We ended up barely fitting our luggage, food, beverages, camping and beach gear into our smallish Volkswagen Golf (small for America, medium-sized for Europe). It was not only the beginning of our journey to Greece, but the launching of our European summer road trip.

It took six hours to drive to Chalkidiki. It was hot the whole way.
Beer Island was mentioned at least three times during the journey.
“We’re almost to Vourvourou—the town our hotel's in,” I said. I could barely pronounce the name of the town. Even the region of Chalkidiki we were in—Sithonia—sounded like a fantasy sci-fi world cooked up by Outkast.
“What do you think, ten more kilometers?” Itoro said.
“That much closer to Beer Island.” John said it in the same jesting tone, though I suspect he was one hundred percent serious. 

After being in Vourvourou for a day, we figured out where the best, least crowded beaches were located. It required some walking and wading through waist-deep water (chest deep for Itoro), but we made it to an isolated, turquoise water, white-sand beach. It was perfect and, better yet, there were large flat rocks jutting out of the water about twenty meters off shore.
“There’s Beer Island!” John said, as if he was claiming it as his birthright.
“Do you wanna’ go?” I asked. “Where’s the Pirinsko bottle?”
“Shit, I left it in the hotel,” he said.
“I’ll get two cans then and swim out there,” I said.
I grabbed the cans and awkwardly dog paddled with one hand and my two feet. As I feared once I’d felt the water temperature, the sea was so warm that it took the chill right from the beer cans. It was a shame. Nevertheless, John and I sat on that flat rock and looked around at paradise and drank our beers. We talked about how if we had the 2.5 liter plastic bottle, we would’ve been drunk, but could have also used the empty bottle as a floatation device if necessary. But it wasn’t meant to be that day. After diving and jumping off the two meter high rocks, we took the empty cans and swam back.

The next day we all went to an incredible beach that had no rocks, or small islands offshore. Thus, no ‘Beer Island.’

Two days later we went back to the beach with the rock that John had claimed for himself and we’d labeled ‘Beer Island.’ We’d packed the enormous bottle, but neither one of us was motivated to drink much beer that day, due to the night before. So we left it in the cooler.

Needless to say (or maybe I need to say it), we never drank that huge plastic bottle of beer on Beer Island.
John flew out of Athens yesterday. My girlfriend is with me, but she doesn’t drink beer.
That’s why I’m trying to drink this oversized bottle right now, on our hotel balcony in Lefkada, Greece. I’ve filled up three 300ml glasses so far, and it’s barely put a dent in the thing. My chances of finishing it aren’t very good and, inversely, if I do manage to finish it before it goes flat, my chances for the rest of tonight and tomorrow morning will not be good either.

If I wasn't so eager to jettison this space-consuming bottle, I might just keep it as a monument to exaggerated, unrealized plans. It would be a good reminder during this summer-long road trip that it's all about the journey, not the destination.

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