Appearing like a mirage on the horizon, tiny Gavdos becomes visible as soon as the small ferry Samaria chugs out of port, yet it remains out of reach for around four hours. Accessible only from Crete, crossing can be a turbulent one in the winter. From the porthole, the view seesaws between dark clouds and choppy waves, as the ship rides through the swell. There are days when the sea is so rough, the Samaria must stay docked. The few residents of this remote island who depend on the ferry – and its cargo - to survive, are used to stocking up on supplies to get by; it’s not unusual for up to 15 days to pass before the winds die down and the Samaria is able to sail again.


Very few people visit Gavdos in the winter. Often, the only people aboard the ferry are the ship’s crew. Today, their sole passenger is John Daly, an Irishman who retired early and decided to spend his winter on Europe’s southernmost point. Leaning over the rail on the empty main deck, and getting salt in his eyes, he gazes at the frothing sea, anticipating his arrival and eager to explore the place he will call home for the next year.



Generally, doctors don’t apply for a rotation on islands like these. It’s really hard to leave your family, your friends, your relationship, to come to a place like this, where you are battered by the sea and the air, where no one knows you and you are all alone.”

Vassilis Oikonomakis

After receiving his medical degree, Vassilis Oikonomakis, a 33-year-old doctor from Crete, hoped to combine his compulsory military service with his compulsory medical rotation to save time. About five months into his military service, he was sent to man the Gavdos Medical Center, where he became the only doctor on the island. As Vassilis describes it, whoever accept this post on Gavdos must live in a constant state of anxiety, always worrying about not being able to get a patient to a mainland hospital in time. “We don’t even have a nurse here, I have to do everything,” says Vassilis. “I’m the pharmacist, the nurse, the doctor, the vet, I’m a little bit of everything. If something happens and there’s bad weather and the ship can’t sail, someone could die in my arms.”


Vassilis sometimes visits the island’s residents at their homes. This afternoon, he goes to see how Filio Koufidaki is doing. At 76, she’s one of the oldest residents in Vatsiana village. She lives alone in a small farmhouse, with only her chickens for company. Sometimes she doesn’t see another person for days. “I miss it, but what can I do? If you don’t see a soul or exchange a word all day, and are all alone, what can you do?”




Shepherd’s crook in hand, Nikos Lougiakis strides towards his animals that are grazing around Vatsiana. The 57-year-old farmer has never lived elsewhere. He grew up on a farm with no electricity alongside his six siblings. They all learned how to milk the animals, make cheese, and plant vegetables from a very young age. When he is not spending time with his family, he tends to his herd.


I spend most of my day with my animals. They are souls, too. They raised me, and now they’re raising my children.”

Nikos Lougiakis

Nikos and his wife, Effie, work hard so that their three children, Damolis, Nicholas, and Kelly want for nothing. The siblings are three of the four children that live on the island. What they lack is the company of other children. “There are no playgrounds or other children. They are all alone here,” says Nikos. However, he feels lucky that that his children are growing up surrounded by nature instead of shut up in a city apartment. “Compare a child who runs free only on a balcony with a child that is surrounded by nature, the sun, animals, and clean air.”




Every morning, the municipal school bus stops outside the Lougiakis’ family home to pick up Nicholas and Kelly. They are the only passengers on board - and the only students that attend school on the island. Their teacher, Maria Dana, waits for them at the door. Maria has faced any number of challenges since accepting her post in this remote location, but none have proved as formidable as the complete lack of community for her pupils, who, unlike most public school students, have no interactions with children their age.


Amid this isolation, Maria has formed a deep bond with Kelly and Nicholas. Class is an informal affair that Kelly’s puppy also attends. To study, they’ve created one big, cozy learning space by pushing together two desks in the middle of the classroom, with Maria sandwiched in between the siblings and notebooks scattered around.




The Russians are truly something else. They go everywhere to help. They are God’s gift to Gavdos"

Nikos Lougiakis

In Vatsiana, the same hamlet where the Lougiakis family lives, “the Russians” have made their home. That’s what the island’s residents call Aleksey Yuzgin from Russia, Marec Boronec from Poland, and Alla Yavtushenko from Ukraine. Their interest in philosophy became so great that simply reading it was not enough – they had to experience it in Greece.


“We had to come to the birthplace of philosophy, to breathe its air, to meet the people, to eat their food, to communicate with them. Books can’t show you everything,” says Aleksey. The trio visited several islands before settling on Gavdos. They believe that subconsciously, an internal compass kept pushing them ever southward. “We’re from the north, the cold,” says Aleksey. “We just kept going further south, towards the hotter regions and we got to Crete.” But when they reached Crete, they learned that there was another island even further south. When they arrived on Gavdos, they decided to stay, their desire fulfilled. The Russians are also artistically inclined – they constructed the now-iconic giant wooden chair that sits on a bluff overlooking the sea, marking the island’s southernmost tip.




For many, Gavdos is a refuge for weary souls, a place to escape and let go of any and all problems. 52-year-old Aris Karakiriakos is one such soul. He left Athens behind eight years ago, and ended up living in a camper van on Gavdos. He has found peace listening to the wind and looking at the endless blue from his window, a peace he could never find in Athens.


He first sought it in Crete, where he began working at the Samaria National Park to be closer to nature. There, a chance encounter with the mayor of Gavdos who also owns rooms to let, brought him to the island. “In Athens I don’t know what would have happened, if I could have ever gotten well. Here I have found myself and I am free. In Athens, I had lost myself, my values.”


I believe a lot of people come here during the winter as a form of psychotherapy, to escape from the city and its problems.”

Aris Karakiriakos



The local population in winter does not exceed 100. But the total number of people fluctuates according to the whims of its campers. Gavdos is renowned for its relaxed attitude to free camping, and thousands of tents are pitched on its golden sands every summer. But come September, some of those campers just don’t leave. They set up their holdfast among the plentiful cedar trees that grow on the beaches, securing it with rocks, rope and driftwood. Some have even built little wooden huts outfitted with beds and wood-burning stoves to keep themselves warm.


Niels is one of these perennial campers. Originally from Germany, he has been living on Gavdos’ Ai Yiannis beach for the last eight years. He has his own fair-weather tent and holdfast, but in winter he moves into a friend’s hut, sleeping in a bed and cooking on the woodburning stove for a respite from the humidity. “It’s like a little house,” he says. “It’s not very big but it’s enough for me.” During summer he works as a waiter and tries to make his wages last through winter. He’ll often do some gardening to pick up extra money.


It takes him 40 minutes in flip-flops to walk from Kastri, the island’s main town, to his hut and enjoy his freedom. When Niels first visited Gavdos, he had planned a two-week holiday, but ended up staying the entire summer. “I went to Germany for a little while, but I didn’t like it there,” says Niels. “So I came back.” That was the last time he saw his homeland, eight years ago.

DIRECTOR Yannis Kolesidis
PHOTOGRAPHER Yannis Kolesidis
VIDEOGRAPHER Yannis Kolesidis
WRITER Ioanna Kardara
ENLISH EDIDOR Phoebe Fronista
VIDEO EDITOR George Kolios

* All documentary material emerged from trip made in February 2020

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