The International Writers Magazine
Tanning in Kos

Tanning in Kos
Gregory McGuinness

I’ve never seen so many different coloured white people before. Colours ranging from just-off-the-plane white to a slightly off orange hue that any fashionable orang-utan about town would be happy with.

As for myself the prime directive had to be to get a tan that someone back home might notice and not just to increase the already numerous Irish brown freckles that are dotted up and down my arms. The dark flattering sunglasses are always helpful and when on the beach I could almost pass for a bit of colour. The beach itself (in the Lambi area in Kos) was very pleasant and close to the cooling waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Med was probably too inviting and I probably made the same mistake that most Irish people make when they are not used to being in the sun. Once you take the first dip then you have to keep going back. This wasn’t helping my skin to join the dots and form a golden suntan. The fact of the matter was that I was going to have lie down under the big yellow fellow and suffer its slings and arrows.

In actual fact the beach wasn’t that bad as Lambi has a cooling north wind blowing consistently all day, as well as having cloudless clear blue skies for the two weeks that we were away at the end of July. We made use of the two euros we had to spend on renting the sun beds from Spiros, the person on the beach who wouldn’t accept a tip. The young fellow was quite chatty in fact and was only too helpful to tell us some of the best parts to undergo the torture of sunbathing. He spoke proudly of how he was due to commence his national service and he already sported the army like crew cut which could be seen even though he wore a reversed baseball cap with the peak protecting his nape. He carried five or six beds on top of his head without breaking sweat, while trailing a couple along the sand leaving a spoor of tramlines. When he eventually did take a break he indulged in a little sun bathing of his own, even though he was an already cooked dark brown. When chatting he told us that National Service was compulsory at the age of eighteen and there were no exceptions.

Spiros directed us to a spot on the beach where it was close to the shower, as well as the immaculately clean toilets of the nearby hotel, which pumped music down to everybody on the beach. The splashing of the shower sometimes broke your concentration though when the mind sometimes wondered off to events of the previous few days; especially the wobbly landing at the very small airport on a very small runway. The splashing seemed to take a break and when I looked around I could see several small birds frolicking in the puddles that were left. The beach was alive with hundreds of different accents and some of the locals took shelter in the Cedar trees, which grew in small copses and forded valuable free shade from the sweltering heat. How could you get a tan like that? There were to be no sheltering trees for me. Not even a parasol. I was going to get a tan this year no matter what. The yelp from passing wimps walking barefoot in the roasting sand wasn’t going to put me off. After lying down for a while in the sissy sun I went straight for the factor eight. I wasn’t even sweating. Big mistake.

A day in the hotel room spent recovering from mild sunstroke and covered in coconut smelling aftersun wasn’t too bad if it weren’t for the omnipresent owls. The owls seem to have a hooting match from early evening right through the night and sometimes on to midday. The Cosmopolitan hotel had glorious gardens impeccably well kept by Tick Tock the gardener. Tick Tock seemed to be very proud of his bucolic surroundings and could be seen watering the plants meticulously everyday as well as the giant Yucca trees that stood guard outside the hotel rooms. I later found out that the trees were in fact nothing more than palm trees infested by owls but I can honestly say they are not a common sight around County Armagh. Tick Tock could be spotted in the heat of the hot afternoon sun turning the hose on himself and enjoying an impromptu shower as the water settled in his greying curls and soaking his bright yellow tee shirt. A very pleasant night-porter also called Spiros gave us some information on some of the staff. He informed us that Tick Tock was given his nickname because he had one hand shorter than the other. He didn’t seem to mind people calling him that.

The wind was very welcome but it also brought with it a very unwelcome visitor at night. The mosquitoes always found a way in and struck with relentless vigour before we forked out for the air conditioning. They seemed to find little corners of the knuckle and parts of the toe to feast on rather than a giant red belly or scarlet head to aim for. Bless their little bastard passion for blood. The morning wind was quite pleasant though when it caught the leaves of the giant yucca and it was almost like the sound of rain beating against the road. The swaying trees only seemed to anger the owls who were harmonizing by now, and their determination set off a multitude of cockerels who decided to enter the fray. The combination of the early birds and the banging battering hotel cleaners ensured there was no chance of sleeping through the day. An inviting swimming pool seemed to be the order of the day. I had to put the hours in if I wanted a bit of colour other than red.
The pool at the hotel was big and had plenty of beds which were surprisingly free of charge. The beds were slightly uncomfortable and a little unsteady and at least once a day there was someone, usually quite an attractive young elegant lady, who sat down too quickly after turning the bed round to face the sun and ended up with their legs in the air while trying to hide their embarrassment behind a book or magazine.
There was still a nice breeze at the pool but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. Even though it was quite cool I managed to follow the sensible code and use a high factor. The rays were very bearable in the morning so the major problem that faced a professional sunbather like myself was boredom.

Enter the magnificent invention of the I Pod. This is a must for any discerning sun worshipper but who would have thought that even this simple pleasure had to be offset with something bad. In my case it was I Pod neck. The general public at large will all know that I was a novice I Pod user when they see the white hoop like ring around my neck where the headphones sat instead of feeding them around my back. That mark never goes away even though I offered it up to get roasted every day after I noticed it. The music though helped to concentrate on other things but it doesn’t stop you from noticing a huge big bee thing flying around your red and white body all the while getting nearer and nearer. This thing just would not go away. It was probably waiting for landing permission.

The pool had its usual quota of attractive young girls and possible young male suitors who wore shorts that went almost all the way down over the knee. These longs looked ridiculous to a seasoned traveller like me but I guess that’s fashion. The pool also carried the latest inflatables and it was quite enjoyable watching some of the girls trying to mount an inflatable floating crocodile only to end up in an ignominious death roll with the green beast. We did meet some interesting people including a beautiful Welsh woman named Frankie who was sixty-five and had a passion for the Manic Street Preachers. Her white hair was very striking and flowed easily in the breeze while her perfectly tanned body showed she was no amateur at this sunbathing lark. She told us she had been coming to the same hotel for the past seven years and she was on a first name basis with all the staff; including Tick Tock. The locals had some problems with immigrants who were mainly Israeli and seemingly not very trustworthy. She was able to point us in the direction of some good restaurants and free Greek shows that she had went to frequently.

We were able to find our own piece of Greece with Niquita’s restaurant situated right beside our hotel where it wasn’t long before we were on first name basis with whatshisname and thingy. Demi was our young waiter who took great pride in explaining the island’s history and was popular with locals and tourists alike. His real name was Demetrius but we decided to cut it in half. He took time to explain that Kos was the birthplace of Hypocrites, him of the medical oath fame, and was able to give us a mini tourist guide on all the ancient ruins that dated BC. His friend pulled up alongside the restaurant everyday in a beaten up Volvo and hissed like a snake towards Demi. Demi hissed back combing through his black well gelled hair with his fingers, and then they greeted each other with a curious handshake routine that seemed to go for ever. I thought they were playing patta cake patta cake. Every time he ended our lecture he asked if we wanted vodka on the house. I’m not sure if he was supposed to be doing that but we graciously accepted, not wanting to hurt his feelings off course. On delivery of every drink he proudly said Yamas. We replied in kind hopefully thinking it meant something like cheers big ears.

The view across the restaurant was of a glorious hotel which had a white marble statue of Aphrodite outside. Around the corner in the grounds of the same hotel there was a statue of Our Lady mother of Jesus which was made of exactly the same material. We noticed a woman placing flowers into a small two foot square marble box with which sat on a wall beside the restaurant. There was a cross on top it and a candle burning behind a small frosted glass door. Demi told us that a child had been knocked down by a car in that same spot twelve years ago.

Kos has given me a colour other than white and people actually noticed I had been away somewhere. I suppose the peeling skin from the sun burn is worth it as well as my I Pod neck which could be hidden when tucked under a couple of my chins. I have noticed other weird and wonderful after effects such as my teeth seemed to be whiter and where did I get really pink fingernails. The daily routine of picking peeling skin from my ears and forehead will at last stop and serve as a reminder to slap on the factor 50 next time. For my wife and I who, in our mid forties, are not quite over the hill, but hovering near the top of it, the Kos tanning experience gave better results than most other countries. We didn’t inspect our arms every five minutes, more like every five days, but we were safe in the knowledge that we had bikini and boxer lines. My wife is never going to wear boxers again. We never ventured much into town though as Demi advised us that the animals come out after one o clock at night. I don’t think he was talking about the jumping spiders we saw at his restaurant, but the few nights we did go to Bar Street, there was a big police presence. The red mossie mountains on the skin lasted a couple of days and in their place was a golden light brown. The fact that we were able to sustain some sort of colour when we arrived back to Ireland means there is hope for the most aspiring of sun worshippers. I give it factor eight out of ten.

© Gregory Mc Guinness September 2006

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