We arrived in Corfu with the European heat wave pushing temperatures over 100 degrees.  We should have known records were being set—for the first time in our sailing journey, we ran the ac on an overnight passage just so we didn’t slide off our pillows in a pool of perspiration. For the first time…I preferred to be on night watch with a breeze at the helm rather than sleeping.

Corfu is the northernmost island of this western Ionian archipelago and the first place to clear Customs and Immigration for vessels arriving from the north. Dripping in sweat upon our arrival into the harbor, we made the best decision ever—hire an agent to run around to the different bureaucracies while we spend the next four hours sleeping and swimming. We gained our clearance at the same time the heat index dropped from stun to scorching so we mustered the will to put on clothes and the energy to go ashore. I would have settled for a drone shot but instead, we panted our way up to the Old Fortress for a view of Gémeaux below. Next up was the customary stop when entering a new country to get a local SIM card. Generally, I forego this boring errand, but today I loved every second of standing in the air-conditioned phone store. As we wandered the streets of Korkyra’s Old Town, I seriously wondered what we were smoking when we put Greece on our itinerary for July and August. But then, as two liters of water and a pizza adorned in Greek olives arrived on our dinner table, I knew we’d be okay.

From the moment we entered these Hellenic waters, we were once again surrounded by private sailboats, meeting other cruisers. Over the next several days, we met fellow mariners from Israel, England, our winter marina in Sicily, and even a few from the U.S. The chance to connect with others living the same life and to exchange stories and information is a big part of our cruising life—it was nice to have that again. And, it was easy to meet people as we squeezed into anchorages so crowded, we could nearly shake hands across our bows.

We continued hugging the coastline, with short hops from one island to the next. The sun dictated our day—we rose before it did, made sure we were underway to catch some breeze at the peak of the day, and then jumped in the 85-degree water as soon as we anchored in the evening. We sipped cold drinks, constantly shifting our deck seats to hide from the sun, until 9pm, when that big fiery ball finally set and we could bear turning on the stove to cook dinner.

We motored down the coasts of Lefkada and Meganisi, taking in the names of islands and anchorages faster than we could remember them. Even Google Maps was challenging to navigate as we pieced together pronunciations based on a faint college memory of Greek fraternities. Missing the famous Exuma pigs in The Bahamas, we decided to investigate their Greek ancestors on the island of Ithaca, also home to Ulysses. And they were, well…pigs, drawing the same massive armada of charter boats as I guess pigs living on a beach would do anywhere. Quietly tucked around the corner in a neighboring bay, however, was a rocky amphitheater of limestone and quartz, stained with iron to create brilliant jeweled tones. Below the surface, we discovered a healthy marine habitat of red Mediterranean Parrotfish and a herd of fire worms gnawing away on a fish carcass.

Having studied up on the deltas and pis of the Greek alphabet, we ventured to the town of Vathy to resupply Mother Hubbard’s bare cupboards. The market was air-conditioned, well-stocked and staffed with patient workers who happily presented the three types of feta cheese all visitors should try. Learning the local language makes such a difference in visiting a country, but if there’s no time for Berlitz, keep your sentences brief, master hand signals, and for Pete’s sake, at least learn please and thank you. Parakaló…which, in Greek, means both please and you’re welcome…isn’t that handy?

The island of Kefalonia was highly rated as the perfect destination for nature enthusiasts. Olive trees and pines carpeted the interior, while mountains fell dramatically into the sea along the coast. Occasionally, a giant rock fall would create a porcelain white cliff and an instant beach below, like Spartia Beach. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were anchored in front of the White Cliffs of Dover. A Venetian fortress sat high atop the peninsula with its walls dipping up and down the entire steep and rocky perimeter—dang, that must have been an enormous task to build. After passing up several crammed anchorages, we arrived in Kimolos. I was so disappointed that the picturesque bay of Assos had no room at the inn and grumbled under my breath about the barren beach and dilapidated buildings that lay in front of us. Our luck turned when we found a patch of sand just large enough for our anchor and we successfully wedged ourselves into a tiny cove with just a single neighbor—sailing vessel Shira:)

A long snorkel and swim replaced any residual grumbling with a healthy appetite for dinner. We walked up the hill to the only dining choice in town—the Taverna Gialos. A simple balcony overlooking the bay where the staff welcomed us like guests in their home, eagerly teaching us new Greek vocabulary and presenting the requisite pitcher of house wine to give them a five star rating. I wish I could have snuck into the kitchen and watch how they made the most delicious mussels in garlic and lemon broth. And finally, a Greek salad!

We spent a mere seven days exploring the seven islands of this archipelago, nowhere near enough to do the islands justice; honestly, the extreme heat took away any enthusiasm for venturing far from the water. It was, however, the perfect introduction to Greece, with the longest coastline in Europe and more than 6,000 islands. Ironically, in this Mediterranean marine desert, the islands also hold claim to one of my best snorkeling adventures ever. Quietly searching for sea turtles, a Mediterranean monk seal curiously approached me and playfully showed off his Ionian playground, ducking under reefs and hiding in thick clumps of sea grass. I was too shocked to get any photos, but I will treasure the memory forever.