At 6 o'clock every morning the car ferry Skiathos readies for departure to the Greek mainland and the sleepy port of Skopelos comes awake. Watermelons and bales of hay are loaded for the provincial capital of Volos, seagulls dive low into the harbour amongst a babble of noise. Old men pull wooden carts with tourists' luggage, cocks crow as dawn breaks above the terraced town.
Skopelos, an island of 3,000, set in the central Sporades chain, is typical of the archipelago dotting the Aegean Sea. Its port and main city, sharing its name, is a prototype of the many villages and hamlets dotting rural Greece.
Life evolves around the village square or "platea," the home and the church. Its poverty is in sharp contrast to its lush natural beauty. Rock strewn olive groves dot the landscape, where pines and cypresses crawl down the cragged mountain, meeting translucent waters and sandy beach.
There are strict moral conventions on this island, and marriages are still arranged. Men sit in the coffeee house for hours, fingering worry beads. They gossip, discuss the island's problems, argue poltics.
Women gather int he courtyards of the villages' white-washed houses, with brightly colored shutters and doors, planning the future of children and making the major decisions of the home.
Fishermen have plied the waters off Skopelos for generations, and farmers have eked out a Spartan living from densely forested, 65 square miles of land.
The bells of the island's 360 Churches peal at sunset.
Tradition remains today. But things are changing on Skopelos. Tourists are arriving en masse. They have brought a cascade of problems, as well as hopes for a better life.
With expectations rising, a desire for cars, television sets and phones, the Islanders see tourism as their only hope for an economic recovery, and they are willing to make all of the adjustments necessary in their once tranqui, traditional and isolated life. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] mind them, opening shops and renting rooms in their rooms. Prunes and olives, once the island's main industry, are now neglected, and groves have fallen into a fallow state.
Men with olive trees complain in the coffee house that women who once did the watering now demand $17 a day.
"They'd rather sit at home, sleep in their kitchen, and charge tourists $20 for their bed," said one villager. "It's short-sighted, we're going to compromise our values and traditions. But Greeks are not people who look ahead."
"EVEN IF TOURISM stains the in-fra-structure, it's good for the island," said Machi Paschali, who rents rooms in ther sprawling, blue shuttered home. "The tourists bring in money, and almost eveyone on the island depends on the trade. We can't live on prunes and olives . . . and our young people are going away."
During the past 10 years, the population of Skopelos has fallen from 5,500 to about 3,000, a drop of nearly 50 percent, as hordes migrate to Athens and Salonica, or emigrate to Australia and the United States. Young men leave wives and children, to join the merchant marine.
Pinned to the 70-year-old plane tree, which, set in the center of the village, acts as a bulletin board, in between announcements of the mayor, notices of birth and death, are enticements from Athens to join the armed forces or the country's merchant marine.
Beneath the shade of the plane tree, is the Aktaion coffee house, the center of village life.
Here the elders of the village gather, sipping coffee, watching life go by. They argue that tourism has brought "corrupting influences," though they are still eager to see it grow.
There is now an acute water shortage caused by a dry winter, exasperate by 20,000 visitors who have arrived from January through July.
When brackish water occasionally trickled through the taps, the men of the cafe debated whether it should go toward two baths per day for the tourists, or to water the small truck gardens and fields.
THERE IS ALSO annoyance over the proliferation of nude beaches, which are regularly raided by the two-man harbor police force.
The three local buses that lumber across the island, always in second gear, have tourist spilling out the windows, squatting on the floors. There is no such things as a queue in this country, and bus boarding is new supervised by the local police. They give priority to the tourists, and the islanders, who rely on the buses as their only means of transportation, are meekly turned away.
"The tourists think we're innocent peasants," said a sage in the cafe, "but those days are over. We will become the most cunning in Greece."
"The problems of Skopelos are immense," said Ioannis Kathiniotis, owner of the Aktaion, "and if the government doesn't help us we're going to go bankrupt. Thus far, they've shown no interest in our problems, and there's no constructive cooperation amongst the people here. They're all looking out for their own selfish interests.
"Take the water crisis as an example. They's plently of water on the island but we don't have the machinery to get it out. We don't even have the roads to get to it, and only mules can get near the wells. The water system on the island is 100 years old, and we need a government loan to improve it. We've applied over and over, but we've gotten nothing but talk."
"This is an hour of crisis for islands like Skopelos," he continued, "and if something is not done immediately, we'll loose tourism and then everyone on the island will starve.
"The buses are falling apart, taxis aren't available, and we aren't getting the return we should from the tourist trade. Everything depends on a four month season, and we're living from season to season. We have nothing in the bank."
The reality on this island is poverty and money: a history and a fear of being poor.
There is also a feeling of isolation from Athens, and the the political leaders have little concern for the sun-baked reaches of Greece.
Other than leader of the Parliamentary opposition, George Mavros, who was exiled here during the military rule, no political party leader has visited Skopelos, and the members of Parliament from the area come only to campaign.
Thus far the biggest event of the season was the visit of a satirical theather troupe, whose message was more economic than political, and even the children in the overflow audience indentified.
The ad-hoc theater, set up in one of the village's labaryinthic streets, was filled not by tourists, but by Skopelon Greeks.