Lesbos falls out of love with lesbian tourists

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The Independent Online

Tiny Eressos on the Greek island of Lesbos is home to 1,300 people, several hundred animals, and, for the past few days, at least four television crews and reporters from most of Britain's national newspapers.

Tiny Eressos on the Greek island of Lesbos is home to 1,300 people, several hundred animals, and, for the past few days, at least four television crews and reporters from most of Britain's national newspapers.

The attention started a couple of weeks ago, when a saucy flyer for a lesbian holiday package sent the local mayor, Polydoros Abatzis, to court to try to block the tour.

The fuss stems from a few phrases: "erotic dancing," "sexy room service" and "wet pussy pool party", words that tour organiser Kim Lucas says were never meant to be seen outside the UK. "The language used in the ad was tongue-in-cheek," she says. "Unfortunately, it was translated literally."

On Tuesday, Mr Abatzis backed down, mollified by assurances that the flyers would be kept under wraps and that the girls would behave. All he wanted, he said, was that the 26-strong tour group "respect us as we respect them". Mr Abatzis probably did not prevent a circus, because most of the women said they came for innocent fun with like-minded companions. But he certainly unleashed one.

The group that landed on Lesbos on Thursday night was greeted by the television crews, including one from CNN. Two London-based print journalists alighted with them, joining the gang already there. On Friday, at the Aeolian Plaza hotel, where the group is staying, television and still photographers jostled for shots of the women sipping beer and eating salads by the pool.

Eressos, though rural and devout, is also the birthplace of Sappho, whose poetry celebrating love between women has spawned a large lesbian community. But, ironically, the scrutiny of cameras and the townspeople is focused on women who went on the "Women's Week" tour at least in part to escape the judgmental attitudes found elsewhere.

"It's to be able to relax and not worry about lots of adolescent boys making lesbian jokes," says Sarah, a 28-year-old from west London. "Just knowing there's a gay community, gay-run bars. It's just accepted."

In fact, Eressos' remote, relatively unspoiled nature is as big a draw as Sappho, locals say. The Aeolian Plaza hotel seems to have at least as many heterosexual couples, many with young children, as women-only groups and couples. The town may boast a high proportion of lesbian-run bars, but at the average postcard stand, photos of donkeys outnumber those of naked women three-to-one.

That, said Mayor Abatzis, is part of what he wants to protect. In his office under framed portraits of Christ and the Virgin Mary, he said he had no problem with lesbians. "We want to promote the tourist industry, but for everybody," he said. "We don't want this place to be a ghetto for these kind of women." The Women's Week tourists said they were not looking for a segregated experience. "We've all got families who are heterosexual," says one, a 21-year-old medical student from Cambridge. "Like anywhere, you just try to avoid the assholes. To go someplace and only be with other lesbians would be a bit much."

Rachael Woodgate, who helped Ms Lucas organise the trip, said the idea had been to provide an atmosphere in which gay women could let their guard down, not avoid heterosexuals. "Everyone's out there mixing," she said, gesturing across the hotel pool.

Ms Woodgate likened the tourism to the lesbian club scene in London. "In five years, we've gone from being underground to realising, 'Hey, we can be like any women'." With luck, events like the Women's Week tour will do the same for lesbian travel, she said.

Ms Woodgate said she appreciates part of gaining that level of acceptance lies in respecting the mores of the island. She and Ms Lucas asked their group to keep their bikini tops on, though topless sunbathing is fairly common in the island's resort areas.

And each member of the tour received a bright orange card with common Greek phrases, so the women could say please and thank you in the native tongue.

For the most part, the tour, which runs until Thursday, will proceed as originally planned. The wet pussy pool party - redubbed the wet girls' party - still promises "BBQ, booze & fun" on Tuesday afternoon. Monday's girly disco is still on, and the Lesbian Olympics will still feature three-legged races and other goofy childhood games.

Even the sexy room service - which looked endangered when a key piece of luggage went missing en route - is back on track. (Although a few of the women confided that they could not really imagine asking for erotic toys in the middle of the night.)

"It's not all rave, rave," says Ms Woodgate. Nor scandalous behaviour. "Everyone's looking at us like we're going to run down the street and rip our bras off," she said. "We want to show that we're just out here to have good, decent fun."