Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Carol Sheppard

If you are staying on Crete and want to a different sort of day trip and are not afraid of catching leprosy then visit Spinalonga Island.  Actually, only joking about catching leprosy.  Although the island was actually a leper colony with its last resident leaving the island in just 1957. 
We approached the island from Elounda, a picture postcard resort filled to the brim with colourful fishing and leisure boats.  The island is just 20 minutes by boat from there although larger guided tours can be taken from Agios Nikolias.  We paid 30 Euros for two adults and two children to travel to Spinalonga.  It was a gentle boat ride across the water which is protected from the Cretan Sea by the peninsular.  Even my other half managed to get across without being sick, which is a miracle to say the least as he normally starts feeling queasy before the rope is untied from the harbour.  We sailed in a converted fishing boat with a (slightly muffled) commentary from the captain.  The sea was actually a cliché being turquoise in colour and crystal clear in places..
The boat landed at a small wooden jetty and we all disembarked.  The sun was scorching hot and we were glad to go through a very cool tunnel into what was the main part of the town.  The atmosphere hit you immediately.  Streets and derelict houses caught you eye, door frames and window frames still in perfect order whilst the walls and roofs had disintegrated in places.  We spotted shelves still on the wall of one house. What an eerie place.  No birds sang and only a few hardy bushes grew. 
I imagined what it must be like to have been a leper.  Being such a short distance from the mainland but knowing that you may never go home.  That this island may be your final home.  It actually put a lump in my throat.
The outer parts of the island are actually fortified as the island was first used as a Venetian fortress from 1579 to 1714.  It gave a solid presence, although you did have a feeling of incarceration.  Strength and weakness.  Ugliness and beauty.  A wonderfully different place.  I just wish we had had longer to visit there.