INTRO: As seems to be customary in the Ionian Islands my stay at Corfu’s infamous Pink Palace lasted a little longer than the 2 nights I had planned. Upon sobering up long enough to compile some reasoned cranial thoughts I felt it appropriate to pontificate some glaring similarities between the Palace and extremist religious sects more commonly referred to as cults.
“I’m only staying one night”, a naïve proclamation often muttered yet seldom fulfilled at Corfu’s notorious home of travel debauchery, the Pink Palace. A line which I’m sure was also proclaimed by would-be worshipers of David Koresh’s when they first arrived at his Waco, Texas commune.
The Pink Palace is a traveller’s version of Waco or Prophet James Jones’s Jamestown. It’s followers worship a strange god who preaches by the infamous road trip motto, “what happens at the Pink Palace stays at the Pink Palace”, if you can remember what you got up to of course. Worship consists of party in place of prayer and preaching is replaced as a method of mind control by buckets of pink Ouzo served from 10am. Cult members kept in an Ouzo fuelled passive and carefree state are easily corrupted and deprived of the ability to make rational decisions.
Like any big event it pays to get acclimatised and I chose the party Island of Ios to familiarise myself with severe sleep deprivation and excessively rowdy music. However my momentum was significantly blunted by the arduous 20-hour journey from Ios to Corfu. One word of advice, FLY.
I was told to take the ‘Pink Bus’. Apparently it's one big pink 55 seat party. While this bus does in fact exist, it was waiting at the Pink Palace when we arrived on our cramped 20 seat, non-air-conditioned off-white coloured bus. A fuel saving austerity measure perhaps?
The torturous journey and sleep deprivation had set the scene for epic travel failure and the odds of this shortened as the first round of Ouzo emerged from behind the bar at 10am.
Ridiculous Greek check in procedures involving 45 minutes of confusion which somehow results in you obtaining a room key but losing any confidence of ever seeing your passport again, were now second nature and the resistance I had displayed to being separated from such an important document had been tempered by weeks of night time extravagance.
The rooms at the Pink Palace can be separated into two classes, funnily enough an A and B class. The A Class rooms sting you an extra €2 a night. Located in close proximity to reception at the top of the property they are neat enough, resembling a cheap Kiwi motel with the essential luxury of a semi functional air-conditioning unit. As is often the case with such overseas adventures I got to experience a B Class room located a little further down the hill with no air conditioning and a traditional Greek toilet that could barely hold down single ply.
Sleep is rarer than a budget surplus in Greece regardless of where your game of musical beds ends. The reception bar is open 24 hours, the ‘Palladium’ nightclub is located on site and there is no shortage of partners in crime for some late night streaking, skinny dipping or a renowned Pink Palace communal shower if sleep isn’t an option or a desire.
Never waste a sunny Greek day on holiday. My brain cells may have been in the throes of World War 6 in full 3D accompanied by surround sound but I gingerly managed to drag my unexplainably bloodied carcass off the basketball court as the sun popped its head up for day two at the Pink Palace. I could only assume the hard painted concrete provided me a bed for the night and I stumbled my way back up the steep incline to find a few Aussie battlers still perched at the bar, time check… 7.30am good effort lads, you out lasted me.
After a few looks of shock and a little detective work in a car side mirror, my self-prognosis was a large UDI (unidentified drinking injury) sometime between happy hour and 7am and I was now sporting a decent gash above my right eye and a grazed face.
I wasn’t quite cowered in the foetal position at the base of the shower with the steel wool scrubbing vigorously but it was close!
After patching up the eye with some good old fashioned kiwi number-eight-wire first aid and reconciling the trauma of losing a €10 Euro bond on my now bloodied pink toga I put my shaky hand up for the quad bike tour with a lusty bunch of Canadian lasses, a deviant Boston dweller called Jorge and a few dodgy Aussies.
Our guides were a smoothly spoken Ionian Island native who dubbed himself the ‘Quad God’ and a ginger Pom called Daniel. If you were luckily enough not to have lost your driver’s license or spent all your money at the bar the night before you could join the guides on a 200cc quad bike for €40 plus gas or for €25 saddle up in a gutless 50cc.
Quad biking is a great way to see the Island from top to bottom, on road and off and after narrowly avoiding a couple of incidents involving some customary errant female driving we arrived at our final stop a magnificent bar perched atop a tall sea cliff. Upon arrival we were encouraged to sample the ‘Happy Horny’, a rum based drink which it has been said lubricates the libido for later acts of indecency. Personally I thought it resembled drinking motor oil and Quad God had his own agenda in mind for acts of indecency but I will overlook his questionable motives as he sorted me out with a sharp albeit metro-sexual looking Pink Palace T-Shirt, good on ya mate!
You meet all sorts at the Pink Palace and one particular character from Boston left an indelible impression on the populace. Jorge, pronounced ‘Whore-Hey’ was an apparent singer songwriter who had just finished cutting his next MTV hit, on top of this he ran an escort agency or an adult movie franchise; I’m not 100% sure due to Ouzo haze. I’ve never seen a human engage the opposite sex with such motivated vigour. His efforts sparked a drinking game called sift and drink. Each time the cheeky wee man from Boston hit on poor unsuspecting female everyone would have to drink. Obviously it required him to be as oblivious to the rules of the game as he was to semi constant rejection from the female guests. It is a testament to his super human perseverance in the endless pursuit of a happy ending that we all ended up succumbing to Ouzo blur by 9pm.
Leaving the surrounds of the Pink Palace for alternative nightlife options was more of a task than digging through the walls at Shawshank prison with a rock hammer. The staff would send you into the ocean to drown before giving you a bar recommendation, I wonder what Dr George the mystic owner of the Pink Palace feeds to his staff, James Jones brand Kool-Aid perhaps?
I did manage to lead a small expeditionary unit down to a nearby bar, the Robins Nest which offered an armada of fancy dress outfits some of which had questionable hygiene properties and should probably be incinerated.
The ladies were in luck as the bar offered a free shot with any purchase, which reinforced the common Greek theme of plying the fairer sex with alcohol.
The beach is not ideal for skinny dipping or swimming for that matter and is quite rocky but the water is pleasant and the scenery except for the rather ‘beached as’ looking female creature selling the inflatable watercraft is to die for both in and out of the water.
You lose moments, minutes, hours and some people even misplace years at the Pink Palace and on what was meant to be my last morning, I nearly left without checking out or regaining my passport which would have resulted in all of the above being on the cards.
Rectifying my passport issue after sleeping off the best part of my hangover in another room required a further painstaking ordeal at reception complete with some tense negotiations over my pending removal of a couple of trapped Aussie girls who may have succumb to the cult without my help. I was finally able to leave with my Passport and the weary looking Australians but didn’t have any luck getting back the brain cells I had donated to the Party Gods of Corfu.
Like any true Cult though escape is never that easy and for my now extended three-person wolf pack this sentiment certainly rang true.
After a couple of relaxing days far removed from the Pink Palace, its mysterious cult forces somehow dragged us back. Tactically I had booked a hotel on the airport side of the island for a quick escape amid a country paralysed by strikes on the verge of complete financial and societal meltdown. However nothing was moving on Corfu and I toyed with a making a bound to be futile attempt to buy our passage round the island by speed boat fearing no possible escape from the Palace if we returned. My endeavours proved fruitless and I relented, begrudgingly realizing the only avenue of escape from Corfu was to return to the Pink Palace for one final night in order to catch what we were told was the only shuttle to the airport the next day.
By some form of Ionian magic the driver, who had never heard of Sun Rock when we wanted to their go two days earlier, was on the doorstep in an instant to return us to Palace Guru Dr Nick and his followers. As we arrived there wasn’t even a hint of surprise to be found on the faces of our captors.
Once again there was a long complicated saga at reception and the obligatory shots of Ouzo but this time there were familiar faces, people who had simply been passing through and now knew the staff by name greeting new arrivals like old friends.
The infamous booze cruise had taken place while we were away at a neighbouring township. After teasing us with its impending departure as we left, we had then been forced to sit helplessly on the beach as it cruised past us in all its loud pink glory. They use these events as carrots to hold the crowd and ration them out over time for maximum pulling power.
As we filtered back to our room for what I hoped would finally be our last night at the Palace we took an oath of at least semi sobriety to ensure we didn’t miss the 5.30am shuttle. I bumped into sifty little Jorge again who had cancelled his trip to Paris to stay on at the Pink Palace. He recounted many, mainly imaginary, tales of his escapades since we had departed. In fact most of the old crew was there, despite all being about to leave when we did. The cult factor was definitely gaining traction with this bunch of impressionable travellers. Would they ever leave?
I dodged most of happy hour by taking scenic run over the island; There is some great running real estate on Corfu, winding roads, trails and plenty hills for the serious runner. When I returned to catch the tail end of the 6 O’clock swill, I found one of the my Aussie roommates had already broken our oath and the cult-like pull of the Palace had seen her succumb to a carnival of drinking games and sexually-charged entertainment .
The usual mayhem began to unfurl and inhibitions were once again washed away like the innocence of first year students at university orientation week. I dodged most of the carnage deciding to be a discerning observer this time. As with any cult you can’t really avoid the mayhem and I was dragged into madness, dissuading a couple of date rapes and ensuring everyone made it to the shuttle. For once felt like I was the responsible one on this crazy voyage.
The shuttle was a surreal experience, like being let out of prison, were we ready for the real world, a sober world with no €2 beers and €1 shots. I met up with another couple of Kiwi lads who were just as glad as me to be leaving, we shared a similar sentiment about our time on Corfu, one of the best times of our lives but something best experienced in small doses. We were happy to be able to leave in one piece with only a few scars and diminished liver and kidney function.
My hangover took days to fully clear, my memories may never all return but the ones I can hazily decipher from my time on Corfu were very entertaining, it’s true social oasis an escape from reality but like anything you need to go back to the real world eventually or do you? Jorge, are you still at the Pink Palace?
Author: Mark Wilson
Photos: Mark Wilson/Polly Williams
© Mark Wilson 2011, no part of the material may be reproduced for commercial purposes without the express consent of the Author. Any non commercial reproductions must come with a full creative credit to Mark Wilson and a link to www.markwilson.co.nz
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