Early one cold afternoon at the port of Piraeus, passengers, trucks and cars are loaded onto a ferry bound for Anafi. The journey takes around 11 hours, with stops at larger, more cosmopolitan islands along the way. By the time the ship arrives at Anafi, night has given way to the reds and purples of dawn, and few travelers remain on board. Most of the passengers that disembark are Anafi residents who caught the ferry from the neighboring island of Santorini, where they had gone to purchase basic necessities unavailable on their island.



According to Greek mythology, the god Apollo raised Anafi from the bottom of the sea one night to offer sanctuary to Jason and the Argonauts after they were blown off course by a raging storm. Apollo, hearing Jason’s prayers, summoned huge waves to propel the tiny piece of land to the surface. The exhausted Argonauts saw Apollo’s ray of light pierce the darkness and shine over the new island, leading them to safety.


The view of the port of Anafi after a winter storm is stark and mesmerizing. The dark blue of the sea contrasts with the wet yellow sand that shrouds the sidewalks and streets, carried there by angry waves. Nothing is reminiscent of the bustling, friendly Anafi of summer. Barely 200 people live here in the winter months.


On the island’s famed Roukounas beach beloved by campers worldwide, a lone figure sits on the black and tan-hued sand, hunched over his book, the wind ruffling its pages. In the peak of summer, three rows of tents line the shore as campers tramp back and forth busily, sharing food and seeking the best shade under the salt cedar trees. But in the winter, the only audible sounds are the wind and the waves.


The road to Anafi’s main village snakes up from the port, as it passes by traditional whitewashed houses with tiny yards and cobblestone footpaths. The silence is broken at Vythos, the café-bar frequented by the island’s young schoolteachers and one of the few establishments open in winter. Even in the dead of winter Vythos is packed, and the lively chatter of its patrons stands in contrast to the rest of the island. Here, it’s as if time has stopped and summer has never left. Vythos is a rarity – most small borderline islands have no such place to meet in winter.


Away from the bustle of Vythos cafe, the sounds of nature return. For 68-year-old Zabeta Alexopoulou, the preacher’s widow, the soundtrack of winter is the bleating and cawing of her animals and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. In the summers, she runs a busy tavern on Roukounas beach, feeding her devotees straight from her fields for the last 30 years. In the winter, her dog, Kanella, keeps her company as she follows Zabeta every day on her walk down a dirt road lined with scraggly sea cedar trees, on her way to feed her hens, rabbits and geese.


Zabeta recalls the old days, back when the island had lots of people “We were such tightly-knit families. Now it’s a lonely place. Everybody shuts themselves up at home. They sit inside watching television, and don’t come out.” In the fall, one by one, the summer cafes, restaurants and stores all shut down. “There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go,” says Zabeta. “Nowhere apart from our fields.” But islanders face bigger problems than loneliness. To stock up on basic necessities, they have to travel to bigger islands. There is no pharmacy on the island, nor a place to purchase fresh meat. Their biggest concern is the lack of a permanent doctor. “They are good kids, these doctors that pass through. But they arrive in Anafi straight from the classroom, what do they know? We don’t have an experienced doctor here,” Zabeta grumbles.



Every day, 88-year-old Manolis Sigalas puts on his hat and checks his pockets for the whistle he always carries with him before walking to his brother Antonis' house for a coffee. His brother lost the ability to walk after an accidental fall in his garden as he was watering his plants. Walking with small, slow steps and steadying himself with a cane, Manolis blows his whistle to let his brother know that he has arrived. He says these visits to his brother make him happy and help fill his days, as he lost his beloved wife several years ago. “She left suddenly, while she was drinking her milk,” Manolis says. “If the helicopter had come quickly, she could have been saved.”


On an island without a pharmacy, acquiring even something as simple as an over-the-counter pain reliever can be a difficult proposition. “You try asking the doctor for a Depon (paracetamol),” says Manolis. “He might lend you one, but you’ll have to give it back.” Clutching his cane, the former fisherman slowly shuffles away from his brother’s house and is soon lost between the whitewashed stone homes.


Aside from his brother, Manolis’ only other company is his friend and neighbor Markos Pelekis, who lives with his wife Maria in the house right next door. When the weather permits, the two friends put on their hats and push their armchairs outside. They sit side by side, sunning themselves and chatting with anyone who might pass by. At the end of the day, they tally up how many people they saw. “I saw five, six today. Now let’s see, will the doctors come this way or go the other way?”



“If you didn’t climb the rock, you can’t say you came to the island,” locals are fond of saying to visitors about the famous Kalamos monolith. The second largest ‘rock’ after Gibraltar, Kalamos stands 460 meters tall and is a renowned hiking and sunrise-viewing spot. In the summer, dozens of tourists jostle for space by the tiny church of Panagia Kalamiotissa, perched on the monolith’s peak. Visitors spend the night in the church’s courtyard, waiting for the sun to rise up from the sea. In the winter, the monolith has only one visitor, but he is a devoted one, coming by to greet it from Roukounas beach every afternoon. The only sounds on the beach are his footsteps, padding in sync with the crash of the surf.


The wind ruffles the shirt of 45-year-old Thanasis Varsos, the math teacher and headmaster of Anafi’s sole school, as he walks barefoot on Roukounas beach. When he was still a teacher at a musical high school in Athens, a colleague caught him daydreaming one day, and asked him what he was thinking about. Thanasis pointed to a drawing on the wall of their break room depicting a small paddock by the sea, and told him, “I’m sitting on the paddock fence, swinging my feet and looking at the sea.” That conversation marked the beginning of his travels. The public schoolteacher requested to be sent to remote postings, far away from Athens. In this way, Thanasis has been able to teach at a different Cycladic island each year. He started at Mykonos, then made his way through Koufonisia, Milos, and Tinos before arriving at Anafi.


As Thanasis walks, he leaves big squishy footprints on the wet sand. He calls Roukounas his sanctuary, and his strolls here, his daily joy. A fervent winter swimmer, he takes a dip even on cloudy and windy days.. He says there’s something about Anafi that complements his philosophy on life and personal idiosyncrasies. One time, he was chatting with a group of high-fliers at multinationals who asked him what his dreams and ambitions were. He answered that his dream is to be able to brew Greek coffee and look at the sea every single day.


When dusk falls, Thanasis sets aside his books and students’ homework, picks up his guitar, and heads for “The Joint,” otherwise known as Panagiotis’s tavern. There, an almost-nightly fiesta takes place, as Thanasis and the island’s motley crew of amateur and semi-professional musicians play and sing into the night. In previous years, the tavern had shut down for winter, like every other place in town. But Panagiotis was persuaded to stay open by the musicians, and his tavern has become the place for those left on the island to let off steam, to dance, to come together and break the loneliness of winter.


Thanasis has brought other schoolteachers into the musical fold, who have now blended seamlessly together with the locals. “Everybody pitches in, however they can. Somebody brings the amp, somebody else a microphone, somebody else a bouzouki, we all do our part,” says Thanasis. "Because people keep coming and asking for more every time.”As the night wears on, the alcohol and the music flow, the laughter increases, and soon people are getting up and dancing, the joy illuminating their faces. “It’s so different, to be able to come here in the evenings instead of being shut up in the four walls of your home,” says Thanasis. “You want to talk and laugh and see other people.”

DIRECTORYannis Kolesidis
PHOTOGRAPHER Yannis Kolesidis
VIDEOGRAPHER Yannis Kolesidis
WRITER Ioanna Kardara
ENGLISH EDITOR Phoebe Fronista
VIDEO EDITOR George Kolios

* All documentary material emerged from trip made in February 2020

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