Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Find Yourself Tour

The connection from the long-distance bus in Athens to the ferry in Arkitsa which takes us to the northern most part of Evia could not be easier. The bus leaves us off right at the port where the boat waits patiently. A calm forty minute ferry ride in the late afternoon sun and we have arrived on Evia.
The return passage is not so straight forward.
It is a good thing I had a thermal bath and a massage in Edipsos and am relaxed enough to deal with the drama of trying to get back to Athens. I was naïve. Again. It will not be the last time.
I just missed the eight a.m. ferry so I am waiting an hour for the next one to depart. They move fairly quickly back and forth to the mainland all day so it could be within the hour, I am not certain. I am aware that I lately I have been arriving in destinations just minutes after my needed departures have left; causing me to wait, a lot. It happened at the bus station from Athens the other day when I met the San Francisco couple, and this morning I heard the horn of the leaving ferry just as I was rounding the corner into the dock. I am late these days.
Excited about heading to Athens now for an official few days of sightseeing and then it is New York City bound.
I am ready.
I have gotten comfortable with people staring at me now. They are curious because the tourist season has ended and I am one of the few remaining visitors still lingering around.

Last night, I met a group of terribly loud Americans in the only open taverna in the village. The women were getting drunk on white wine and the men were refraining because, "Someone needs to be able to carry her home."
I have spotted several Greek families on late season holidays and a few others who keep to themselves mostly. There is an unavoidable chill in the air in Evia.

I took a photo of a Greek couple on the street last night during sunset. They have visited America several times. Her husband has a deep, earthy voice and each carefully chosen word weeps slowly from his mouth when he tells me his impression of The States, "Like most countries, the people are good, it is the government that is bad.
"That’s how many of us feel too," I tell them.

His wife offers me advice on the eve of the eve of end of my Greek journey, "Forget all of the bad things; remember only the good things."
I say I will try, but secretly I wonder if this is possible, or even wise. Still, the more dangerously crazy moments do tend to fade to the back of my mind over time. Or maybe things just stop being so scary when you realize you survived them.

I have to specifically retrace the steps in my mind to recall the terror of my arrival in Santorini. However, I think I have an vividly clear memory of each delicious moment on Paros and Milos and other pauses along the way. I do not think it is a bad thing to remember moments of fear and uncertainty.

Waiting in the sun this morning I am reflecting...
I still see the expressions on the faces of the warm people in Parikia.

When I am quiet I can hear the soothing sounds of the church bells, and the smell of incense throughout the town, especially on Sunday mornings.

When I try I can recall the taste of feta baked with tomatoes and onions and want it now like I wanted it when it arrived at the table and the steam carried the odor into my senses.

I know what it sounds like when freshly caught octopus is beaten against a rock... ten times for every kilo it weighs.

… and the soft sweeping sound infiltrating the silence and darkness at dawn.

And I remember how nice the small hot pebbles of Paloeohori Beach felt on the bottoms of my feet; and how it was lovely-treacherous sliding on the big black rocks on the shore in Santorini. I was almost lost into the sea forever then, but no one knew it.

Ferry horn announces departure to the mainland.

There is no bus in sight when we arrive so I ask the man at the ferry ticket counter when the bus to Athens is due and he looks at me like I have lost my mind.
"You cannot get a bus to Athens at the port."
"But, the bus left me right here just two days ago. Does it do a pick up here on the way back?"
"No, you have to go to the station, one kilometer up the hill. You cannot miss it. There is a bus to Athens every hour." He tells me.
And now I am trudging up the hill.

Along a wide road with hardly any cars at all, I am walking as close to the shoulder as possible because I know that in Greece the cars, when they do come, have the right of way, always. I ask the builders constructing a house across the road if I am going in the right direction and they wave at me and tell me to press on ahead.
A road worker is laughing at me. I imagine he thought it was his imagination at first; the image of a lone woman lugging a suitcase along the road transformed from an unlikely mirage in his mind to a comic reality. He is amused and tells me that I am indeed going in the right direction. I stop a pick up truck and two men ask me if I am headed to Athens or Lamia because there are two different bus stations for the different routes. Clues, I think, come when you need them.
Things are getting complicated but I remind myself that in Greece confusing things make sense eventually, when I am patient. It is a stuggle against impatience now, that's all, it is a test. I am counting the hours left in daylight and creating plans B and C in my head for return to Athens. I am not a mathematician but this seems to be well longer than a kilometer. I am sweating through my sweatshirt, and this area is mostly deserted, no homes, no stores, no sheep. Still, the few people I do see all tell me I am heading in the right direction so I keep moving forward.

I would not call it a bus station exactly…

More like a wooden shelter at the crest of the highway off ramp. The only marking is written in black magic marker on the charred seat, "Demitri loves Vanessa." A sign of teenage mayhem.
There is a Mercedes Benz parked in front and Nikolai has his foot propped up on the road guard where he is tying his shoe. He does not hear me coming and is surprised to see me when I beg him to confirm that this is the bus station to Athens.
Nikolai assures me that I am in the right place. He too is waiting for the bus, he will give a mysterious envelope to the driver but not get on board. It is all very strange; but, I am relieved.
I am mindful that it has become a challenge for me to find my way in Greece these last few days. Lately it seems my life is a series of instances of being lost and found, and lost and found again... lost, at the moment. The time nearing the end of this journey has its heaviness.

Nikolai shows me photographs of his horses and his big house on Mykonos. I tell him I had a thermal bath and a massage on Evia. It doesn’t seem like a fair exchange.
He invites me to visit him on Mykonos where I can swim in the sea and ride horses on his vast land and he will teach me Greek. Then, quite suddenly, Nikolai gets into his car and drives away shouting to me out of the window that I should not worry, he will check on me in a little while.
I am very confused today in Greece.
There are precious few cars exiting on this offramp and now with Nikolai gone I am feeling quite isolated and maybe even a little frightened. I am wondering how all this is all going to turn out. I choose to be hopeful.

As promised, Nikolai returns several moments later. He is carrying three long stemmed roses, the cut ends wrapped in a wet paper towel. He presents them to me ceremoniously and tells me that when he saw me his heart began to beat faster. I am grateful for the effort but uncomfortable with my part in it. I pull my hand away when he tries to kiss the top of it. In and out of his car again, he gives me a feather that was dropped at his feet by a bird flying on Mykonos.

Nikolai is worried that the roses will die during the hot bus ride to Athens so he fetches a water bottle out of the overfilling trashcan next to the bus stop, wipes it down with his handkerchief and fixes the rose stems into the makeshift vase which he proudly offers to me. I do not tell him about my strict rule of not handling garbage unless fully outfitted in a hazmat suit.

Now I am wearing my heavy daypack on my back, my suitcase at my heels, carrying a used water bottle with three long-stemmed roses in my left hand and a single feather in my right. Desperate to ask Nikolai to take a photo but I refrain.
When the bus finally comes, Nikolai kisses my hand and tells me to call him as soon as I arrive in New York City so that he knows I am okay. The whole reality-dream is a little much for me today.
I eat dried figs and chocolate cookies with my sunglasses on. I am bus bound for Athens now…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Seven Weeks

It seems there was a small earthquake in Greece at about five a.m. this morning on the island of Evia. I am calling it an earthquake because that is what it felt like to me when, in terror I ripped the skin off the palms of my hands with my fingernails. Less dramatically (if you are Greek and not me) it turned out to be two tremors down in the earth somewhere. They were about ten minutes apart. You probably did not hear about it. It happens sometimes.
My bed shook as if a giant monster was pinned underneath trying to get out, and then there was the rumbling like a train speeding through the room. I tried to convince myself it was a dream which was working out fine because of my incredible desire for it to be truly all in my mind. But, when the second tremor happened I could no longer deny the reality that something loud and aggressive was going on and it was some kind of real.

I did not think earthquake at first, truthfully, I am still not altogether certain still. It made more sense to me that it was ghosts at the time. I am less afraid of ghosts because I think I can probably reason with them. Then I heard the people in the next room talking with what sounded like concern in their voices and I figured it was either a hotel full of ghosts or something more reasonable, like an earthquake.

I went out on the balcony to see if anyone else was concerned, or had part of the island of Evia fallen into the sea. I was looking for any indication that something unusual was happening and that other people were aware, and of course, that I was not alone. Sadly, or fortunately, everything was much the same as the last time I had looked outside about four hours earlier. It was still dark and no one was around.

It is nine in the morning now and the people do not seem to have minded the disturbance at all. It was the concierge who explained the regular happenings of small earthquakes in this area. She only offered that information after I inquired about strange sounds and tremors in the middle of the night; which she guessed must have frightened me, and then she laughed. None of the residents in this village were the least bit bothered when it happened, but, at five in the morning there was one American woman in room 202 who was dealing with a lot of faith to remedy her fear.
Oh, my Darlings, can you imagine me being woken by an earthquake?!

But, let me go back a few days in the history of me.
The family of English speaking tourists also staying at this hotel in Aegina had the same idea to come up to the roof to watch the sun set over Moni Island. They did not bring cheese and bread and tsipouro… but I did. The mother has a magazine and the boy is reluctant; the father is distracted by the dogs on the street and the girl is curled up in a ball in the corner because she does not like the cold.

The teenager is wrong when she says, "Okay, it’s over," just as the roundest tip of the sun dips below the mountain that takes up all of Moni Island across the bay from Perdika, Aegina. The whole quartet is incorrect as they tremble down the spiral staircase, holding tight to the railing and congratulating one another for watching the sun set tonight.

They left the roof too soon; the sun is really in the midst of setting, there is so much more to go. The sky is turning pale blue with various pink hues layered one on top of the other. The clouds are wearing golden halos and are making me very happy.
It may be trite, but watching dusk roll in has become a lovely pastime. I have neglected precious few sunsets these last seven weeks.

It was too windy take the five minute boat ride from Perdika to Moni Island today. I wanted very much to go because peacocks roam wild on the island and Demetra told me they will eat off of the palm of my hand. Sadly, I do not get what I want in the Saronic Gulf Islands; here, I only get what I need.

It is very windy here in Aegina, but few clouds. I have enjoyed spending the day on the rooftop wearing only the sun on my skin and listening to the roosters who crow at all times day and night. I intend to bring topless sunbathing with me back to the states, (I know I am not the first to try, but it is oh, so liberating), and sour cherry juice, and dining slowly through meals, and speaking loudly when emotional – which does not sound like yelling any more.

Demetra is the delightful owner of the Hotel Rosanthos, it is an oasis in the small little village of Perdika. Rosanthos means Rosebud in Greek. Demetra tells me this is her paradise and you can see it immediately from the particular care she has taken in the choices of colors on the walls and bedspreads, the lovely wall hangings and delicate decorations in the hallways, rooms and common areas. You can also feel her joy in the warm welcome she offers.

I have met some people who have found their paradise, I admire this very much. I wonder how one knows for sure when they have found it. Or if, like so many other declared certainties in life we wind up choosing with such conviction that the very act of brave confidence assures us we doing the right thing or are in the right place at any given time.
Over a glass of tsipouro Demetra tells me she thinks it was a good idea for me to run away from home. I tell her it is good to hear that today.

I am awake at six in the morning to catch the bus back to Aegina Town. The bus is late and I am cutting it pretty close to make the ten a.m. ferry which will take me to Pireaus. From the ferry port I will catch the metro into Athens and a city bus to the KTEL long-distance bus depot (one of three in the city, I hope to head to the correct station) and then it will be a three hour ride to Evia.

There is no usual bus stop sign so I am winging it waiting here near what looks to be a bus shelter. I am early, the bus is late, and it is just me and one other woman also waiting. Taxi cabs stop, roll down their windows and ask her something; she listens and then waves them away. The taxi drivers do not bother with me.

Last night I had three dreams that I remembered clearly when I woke up this morning. In the first I was kissing an unlikely and very handsome tall man and his lips were as soft as pillows. I took it as a sign that I should be more courageous and bold with my love.
In the second dream an unknown person smashed my computer, the sides and the corners were all bashed in and I was unable to use it at all. I took this dream to be a sign that I should be extra careful in the near future.
Elizabeth visited me in the third dream. She has visited me several times on this journey and it always feels like I am traveling with a good friend. My guardian angel, as she promised. Perhaps she is keeping me safe from dangers of which I am completely unaware. Or maybe she is just helping to pry open my heart when I am busy trying to lock it up.

I manage to make it to the KTEL bus terminal in Athens. I think my ability to remember how to do simple things like purchase tickets for buses, and transfer from trains to buses to ferries makes up for my abominable lack of direction.

I just missed the early bus to Evia, so I have a two hour wait for the next one. Evia is an island off the east coast of Greece. The southern part starts as south as Athens and the northern tip is almost as far up as Volos. The island is the second largest in Greece, Crete is first. Evia is famous for thermal baths which have healing powers. I am going to Edipsos, a small village that offers therapeutic spa treatments in both expensive spas and reasonable state run facilities. I am going to Evia because it is north and I quite like the people, terrain and food in the north of Greece. A massage and a healing thermal bath sound perfect.

I can tell by her kind smile when I lug my bags past her and sit in a row nearby that Sheila is friendly so I say, "Hello" and introduce myself. She and her husband are from San Francisco and headed to the island of Skyros, they too are waiting for a bus. Like me, they do not mind the adventure of finding places to stay when they arrive in new towns. They seem to like the mystery of it all, and the adventure. I understand.

Sheila reassures me that I will find accommodations up in Edipsos and reminds me that I always have in the past. I am aware of getting what you need when you need it. I tell them about Makrinitsa, above Volos, and encourage them to go if they ared in the area. And it occurs to me that part of the reason I am worried about anything could be that some of the best choices I have made have been on recommendations and vibrant stories told from fellow travelers. I am going to Evia because I read about it in a book, is that a good enough reason?
Because we are talking the hour passes very quickly and as they head out for their bus Sheila tells me, "Greece is just like its many mountains, lots of ups and downs."

The man sitting next to me on the bus and wearing the leather jacket has not loosened his grip on the handle of the seat in front of him since we left Athens and that was over an hour ago. He will not turn in my direction but I sometimes feel him staring at me through sideways eyes. He has an unfortunate mustache that makes him look creepy, but he is probably okay, only slightly smelly, but maybe I am too.

Note-to-self, NEVER lose or throw away transportation tickets until you are safely at your destination.

In the middle of the highway the bus pulls onto the shoulder and stops for no apparent reason. An inspector gets on and proceeds to check the tickets of every single passenger. Sudden panic that I have done something wrong and might be in trouble. What if I got on the wrong bus accidentally? Or maybe they have finally caught up with me when I took that bus ride in Athens a few weeks ago without purchasing and validating a ticket… it was a mistake, I swear! I didn’t know I had to buy it before I got on the bus. He will never believe me, I fear. After scrutinizing my ticket thoroughly the inspector smiles and thanks me in Greek.

The same is not true for the French speaking woman in the back who has been talking loudly on her phone since the trip began. She has been pissing everyone off and now has to pay a fine for having no ticket. No one on the bus is either surprised or compassionate. The woman is indignant.

To take a thermal bath in Evia you have to have a doctor’s note -- because you have to be healthy enough to take a healing bath??

I figure out how to pay people to get a ticket which is presented to a doctor who asks if I am on medication and then initials her agreement that I am healthy enough to take a sacred thermal bath. I pay a few euros and a woman directs me into an deep old tub with jets that channel hard water like a torrent on my shoulders, back and legs. I am cleansing the fear and trepidation right off of my body.
And tomorrow at five in the morning I will be woken suddenly by an earthquake.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Spetses Run Away

I think I have developed a new superpower.

Not really a superpower in the strictest sense of the word, I suppose. I cannot use it to save anyone from a burning building, it will not help heal the wounded or see through matter to locate treasure. More accurate than superpower would be to call it a remarkable ability to go in the wrong direction each time I disembark from a ferry on a new island. That must be worth something, no?
It is really quite extraordinary how I always choose to head in the opposite direction of satisfactory accommodations.

The familiar sounds of rolling wheels staggering along newly discovered streets are unmistakably me for the first several moments after arrival in any new destination. Sometimes the roads are paved smooth, other times they are made of tiny pebbles or large cobblestones causing me to feel ever so much more self conscious rambling around the newest maze. I am louder when I am lost and uncertain in these new towns.

And so begins the hunt for a clean, perhaps even inspiring, room for my temporary stay in each new village or town.

With my head up – always, or so I hope… so I think… so I try.

After a kilometer, more or less, without success café patrons see me retracing my steps as I do the Charlie Brown return walk to the port with my head tilted downward in shame and disappointment.
And then I begin again, this time to the…. Left?

This reliably consistent method now makes me laugh. And try as I do (and I do try) to sense the new environment with an open heart, get a feel for the area, a clear picture of the surroundings and make the smart choice. Oh, for God’s sake, Beth, won’t you just read that Lonely Planet book a little more carefully, it is filled with instructions! And all along, I am making good choices, decent ones at least, but still the hunt for accommodations bedlam always starts out somewhere between something of a silly mishap or, in the worst of times, a complete disaster. Time and again I manage to take a left when I ought to have made a right. Or I walk right when the best path would have been straight ahead.

This is my newest personal challenge.

Those who dare travel with me in the future would be wise to remember that I am unreliable with the first steps out of the boat and onto the port. It is actually creepy how confidently I walk in the wrong direction.
For me, it is the long haul, I suppose.

It should be noted, this phenomena does not happen when arriving by bus.

Winter is starting to take over Greece now. The tourist season is waning all over and many businesses have closed down for the season.. The Cyclades are rainy and cold, as is the lush green Pelion, and parts up north. I had thought of a stop in Ikaria, an island near Turkey, but the weather there now is threatening and gloomy, and so, longing for the sun, I have headed further south.

I have learned that I want to be near the sea as much as possible and to stay mostly out of the cities.

One night in Athens with beautiful Michele was fantastic. We first met in our beloved Paros and arranged to come together again in Athens, which worked out perfectly. Funny to meet people in distant places and feel you feel you have known them for lifetimes. Michele and I became fast friends; we did not have a lot of time for the slow get-to-know-you, acquaintance dance. Lovely Michele is among the greatest surprises on this journey.

Athens is fun when you share it with someone. We stayed in Plaka and dined alfresco with the picture postcard Acropolis staring down at us. We drank too much Tsipouro, Ouzo and red wine and now I am nursing a hangover on the ferry to the still warm and sunny Saronic Gulf Islands off the eastern coast of the Peloponnese.
I am on the speed ferry to the island of Spetses, farthest of them all but still only two hours away from Athens. The speed ferry is a different boating experience than my usual trip. It is not nearly as friendly nor as comfortable as traveling on the slow boats. We are racing away in the enclosed pod in pre-assigned seats and I hope I will understand the Greek announcements so that I get off on the correct island. I am ready for relaxation, a few good walks, and the sun soaking into my body again.

We make a short stop in Poros on the way to Spetses. I am not trusting my instincts this time when a quiet little voice in my head whispers, “Perhaps you should leave the boat now?”

Instead, I ignore the mumbling in my mind. Maybe it is the name of the island reminding me of my Paros paradise. I am fooling myself and return to reading my book, and I choose not to watch as we pull out of the harbor and onward to Spetses.
This will turn out to be a mistake.
In Hydra harbor it is impossible not to gaze out of the scratched plexiglass window. In the appealing little village people laugh and sip coffee at cafés so close to the water’s edge they might fall in, or at least get splashed by forceful waves reaching over the cement wall. The town rises high over the low port and up into the hills.
Yet again, I am ignoring my sense of this town and the warm feeling I have just looking out of the window. I am determined for Spetses.

There are hardly any other tourists on this ferry now. Just myself and the blond woman in a seat up front who keeps staring back at me, why? And there are a dozen or so locals returning home again. And the surly boat staff who tossed my bag around like it was a sack of potatoes when I got on back in Athens. I am suspicious of the vibe here and try to temper my irrational judgment.
Create your reality, I tell myself. Expect good things. Here too you can learn something.

I am disregarding all signs, humming and sticking my fingers in my ears to make it harder to pay attention. I should have gotten off the boat an island or two ago. I am going against my instincts, looking down, closed heart…. all of it. Not kicking and screaming, rather it is with resigned acceptance that I will soon relinquish my power and give it over to the man who decides for me when he takes the handle of my suitcase and tells me to come see his hotel.

I am disregarding the dark energy that wrapped around me the moment I lugged my bag off the boat without any assistance at all from the three strapping ferrymen smoking their cigarettes in the exit.

Or, perhaps I am making it all up, you create your reality, remember. Maybe I am bringing the darkness with me.

Never mind being ignored by the strong seamen who will not help any of us heft our luggage off of the boat. Not everyone needs to be cooperative. I am not taking it personally; nor do they lend a hand the elderly woman with bungee-corded boxes attached to her overfilled rolling suitcase which is splitting at the seams. See, I we are all invisible here on Spetses.

I lift the bottom of her awkward contraption over the lip of the ferry exit door and she accepts the assistance as if it were her birthright. I can hear the two people behind me sucking their teeth and feel them pushing ever so gently on the back of my thighs with their suitcases to move me along faster. The older woman slaps my hand away when we clear out onto the flat cement port and rolls her heavy suitcase over my feet as she waddles away.

I do not like it here.

There are no cars on Spetses, only thousands of motorbikes and some horse drawn carriages. Now a professional, I set out on foot away from the port determined to find a nice room with a balcony and a place to write and read in the mornings. I am sensing go left, it will be only another mistake in a day filled with them. It is early afternoon.
After a few minutes it occurs to me that I am, once again, headed in the wrong direction so I turn around and there is Pavlos, the aggressive hotel owner who had been following me, and now insisting I go to his small hotel up the hill from the ferry dock.

Pavlos is oozing counterfeit charm all over me. He asks where I am from and continues to pressure me to tell him how long I will be staying on Spetses even though I repeat four times that I do not know.
“I have not decided,” I tell him, “It depends if I like it here.”

Later he will accuse me of misleading him when I leave his hotel and the island abruptly. He will change the rate of the room from what we agreed in the beginning. And Spetses will turn out to be an unfortunate stopover on an insignificant little island.

Why choose now to depart from what I have learned is always the better plan, Beth? Why now become frightened and close down? This is exactly the time to trust myself and I am failing completely. I should have gotten off the boat back in Poros.

Consider whispers in the future, Koritsaki.

It can get better, I think, and I remind myself to open my heart, even in this place. Dodging motorbikes trudging up the hill to the hotel Pavlos tells me about the weather and the several beaches on the island. He suggests I rent a bicycle to tour around but he cannot give me the name of a good restaurant.

“And how long will you stay on Spetses, two days or three?” He asks for a fifth time.

There are wonderful lime trees growing out of the ground in the enclosed courtyard which could turn out to be a decent exchange instead of a balcony I had hoped for. Pavlos makes me a cup of coffee and unfolds a tiny map to tell me about the roads and beaches. Things are changing. The rooms are clean, if also boring and I will stay here for the night, and see about tomorrow. I am hungry and sunset is coming fast and soon.

I drop my bags and take off to explore a little of the area and find out a few things. Evading motor bikes on this car-free island is the main form of exercise and it could be effective, but I seem to be the only one who is getting in the way. The drivers are swearing at me in Greek even though I inch along carefully plastered up against the sides of the dull buildings. I am looking for something interesting, something inspiring, and something to eat.

This is the worst meal I have ever had and I cannot finish the tiny fried red-bull fish and cold beet greens, I do the best I can and wash it down with the swill he called red wine. The first bad meal I have had in Greece. I can no longer fight it, I felt safer and happier in overcrowded Athens and Thessaloniki. At eight o’clock I am taking my life in my hands attempting to get back to my room put on a face mask, give myself a pedicure and eat a dinner of chocolate covered biscuits I hid in my suitcase for just this kind of an emergency.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Best Remedy For Fear Is Faith

Tomas and I are driving to South Pelion through the mountains and then down to the shore through towns where insistent waves crash over the short stone wall that separates the sea from the road. Water splashes the windshield when we drive through the large puddles that cover the pavement. Tomas laughs as often as possible.
We cruise around turns, around hills and mountains. There are no straight-aways here in The Pelion.
There are not straight-aways.
There are sometimes sheep.

I tell Tomas I am impressed with these well-paved, pothole-less, smooth Greek roads. He laughs at me; it is not the first time he has laughed at me and it will not be the last.

Tomas dives Greek fast, explaining that it is not really so fast. Only thirty kilometers around turns. I don’t mind the speed. I am reclining in the passenger seat enjoying the sea view to my right, mountains to my left. Shoes off; it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a car.

I ain’t scared a’nothin’!

Clicking photographs like a typical tourist.
“El la, come on! Stop with the camera!” Tomas tells me. It sounds like yelling but it is just talking loudly.
The scenery changes so much every several feet… meters… I am going metric.

Every time I quiet my mind and open my heart something unusual and unmistakable happens. I tell myself to remember this, do not forget what happens when you have faith. Having faith that you are exactly where you ought to be always. Persist with faith when you are in trouble, confused, scared, and in your own way. Persist and see what happens next.
Remember this, Beth.

We are headed down to Palio Trikeri, a tiny island on the southern tip of Pelion Peninsula. My journey continues to get even more remote.
I am very happy to have met Tomas. We laugh throughout the day, he is very smart and charming. I would not have gotten all the way down here without his generosity and readiness to adventure.

Tomas stops a car with two men headed north. They give instructions for travel down to the little port at the very end of the peninsula. They give a phone number to call when we arrive at the port to arrange for a small boat to pick us up and take us to Palio Trikeri. That is how it works, you call when you arrive on tip of the mainland and someone comes to bring you across.

This is not the first time I am impressed by the carefully detailed instructions given by people in the know to people who are in the want-to-know. There is much willingness to take the time sharing information here in Greece. People offer seemingly small particulars that make the journey a little more comfortable, a little more exciting, often more special. You learn a lot when you let people in on your plan.

This conversation between Tomas and the men is all in Greek in the middle of the road, car window to car window. There is no need to pull over out here, no one is passing, no one else is here. I am pleased that I understand some of the conversation. I miss much of the vocabulary but the openness is unmistakable.
Down at the port, the boat arrives soon after we call. My bag is again ridiculously large for such a small island. It is funny now, and not such a hardship, I drag this baggage around without much fuss these days. I have unloaded a few unnecessary items making the weight lighter and bought a jacket and pair of boats to handle the rain and chill in the north. Still, I feel fairly compact and I like it. Maybe now I am finally turning into a minimalist.
It is a five minute boat ride from the mainland to Palio Trikeri. We recline on the top of the boat against the glass windshield in the late afternoon sun. I am so very happy to be here, I try to tell Tomas but cannot explain how big a deal every moment is for me. How the simple things like a little boat ride to a remote island sets me into a state of gracious joy that is so big it hurts in my heart from the stretching.
One day Tomas will read my blog and understand.
The port at Palio Trikeri is a tiny mecca of a few tavernas, rooms-to-let, and a mini-market. No cars here, only footpaths. We head along the only road leading up a hill and away from the port and run into two women resting on a bench along the hill. Lovely, warm visitors ask us if we are headed to the monastery where there are rooms to sleep overnight.
Sleeping in a monastery, this is unexpected.

The accommodations are modest, clean and comfortable. The community bathroom and cold-water-only showers are easy discomforts to overlook. Behind the walled fortress a large enclosed garden surrounds the magnificent church. In the mid-1940’s this monastery was used as a prison holding communist Greek women. We are told the surviving prisoners reunion here yearly.

There is a grand energy in this place, nothing like anything I have felt before. Tremendous peaceful solitude and a knowing calm. It is so lovely to share time here. I feel as if there is nothing between me and the universe. This is far way from chaos of Volos and the trepidation of arriving in Pelion as it was closing down for the season. I have a memory the warm concierge in Volos begging me not to go to Pelion and now it all makes sense. Faith again.

A monastery.

I tell Tomas I am going to cry. He tells me there is no reason for that. I tell him this is what I asked for, this is what I wanted exactly. I am too moved for dry eyes.
A caretaker lives on the island, another person maintains the well attended grounds. A priest wanders from time to time; we do not see him often.
Fifty or so cats have the run of the place, they are sweet enough but will not allow you to come near them. Fig trees, giant evergreens, plants of all sorts make it a botanical spiritual refuge.
A supreme feeling of serenity breathes within the enclosed walls of this monastery.

We are hungry now so we stroll back down to the taverna at the port where the owners greet us as friends and we dine like royalty on fried zucchini cakes, delicious cabbage salad with carrots and onions in olive oil, beets, bread and fried cheese. Octopus in red sauce; beaten forty times on a rock when it was caught to soften the meat.
We devour whole boiled shrimp that we rip apart with our hands. It takes me awhile to get into pulling the head off the body to lick the juice out of the skull but I do it eventually. And then I tear off the legs to suck the meat out of the claws. I am different now.
“Can I eat this red piece?” I ask pulling a strange dark pink shape out of the body of my shrimp.
“If it is soft, eat it.” Tomas instructs.
I will remember this advice in the future.
We drink Tzipouri – my favorite! Made from grapes with anise added sometimes, poured in a shot glass it looks like water, add an ice cube and the drink turns into a milky white mist.

We wander back to the monastery sated and sleepy.

A true sanctuary in a cloud of unbelievable tranquility and I am all presence listening to the wind whipping through the trees. Watching the night sky, constellations and the stars thatare so close to me here I think I can reach out and touch them. Too many shooting stars to keep count, I have had to stop trying to keep track, and who needs to keep score anyway.
In my mind is this wonderful truth, the remedy for fear is certainly faith.

Friday, October 3, 2008

You Have Got To Have Been There To Get Here or Orea Pelion Peninsula Part 1 – Do Not Fear Goats

Note: please forgive formatting and structure errors you are certain must be unintentional, even from me. Internet access has become a bit of an exciting challenge here in Greece, time to proofread is limited. The wordy title of this blog is intentional.
Thank you for reading.
Much love, Beth

The ferry is late.

Michele says, “Maybe it’s not coming and you’ll have to stay another day.”
I wish it were true, but the ferry is just late, that’s all. The boat will come and I will get on it despite the deep feeling in my heart that I should not leave Paros tonight. I have stopped listening to my instincts, I know it.

I am tearful as I board with all the others, the usual mayhem of ferry arrival and departure is not amusing tonight. Tearful farewell with Christina and now at the port with Michele; there is a heaviness pushing down on me. I try to take my typical spot on the upper deck at the back so that I can watch as we leave but as the last trucks and people board it is altogether too sad for me to keep looking so I move inside in an effort to avoid the torture of departure and unexpectedly run into Frank.

Frank has to leave abruptly because of a connecting flight misunderstanding to France. I have to leave because two days ago when I bought my ticket and booked my hotel in Thessaloniki I thought I was seeing the signs that I should move on. I was feeling stuck again, too comfortable. I had begun to live at ease as if I were hiding out. I thought changing location would start me up. Movement is good; it is time to move again.

Frank is prepared to watch in despair as the ferry pulls out of Parikia. I understand the need sometimes to face brutality so I join him in solidarity and silence. It is ten at night, raining, cold, cruel.
I think Frank is very brave to watch us depart when the pain is so big that it feels as if long ropes attached to my heart are stretching the skin on my chest from Paros all the way into the sea. But, when I stay with it, watching the lights of the island dissolve into blackness, I realize we are just being with our sadness. This is not a fine act of courage.

Soon all turns to blackness behind us and we go have a drink in the smoke filled bar and try to sleep until Athens.

I have that wide-eyed look again. There is no mistaking it. It is clear enough by the way people look at me, it is obvious in the stares I read as concern or maybe even pity. I easily feel it when the skin around my eyes tightens and the lids strain to open, and cool air burns when it sneaks into more of the sensitive whites than is usually available.

I see my own uncertainty reflected back at me in the expression on her face when she throws here hands up in the air and pleads with me, “Why are you going to Agio Ioannis?” It sounds like yelling but I have learned this tone to be Greek affection. “I want you to enjoy Volos!”

This after she has already asked how I slept last night?... And, did I have a good time?... And, had I enjoyed my dinner?... And, have I already eaten breakfast upstairs in the café this morning?
Yes. Yes, I have told her, and everything was wonderful.

And I took a walk out on the very long foot pier this morning to watch the fisherman sit with their feet hanging over the concrete wall casting their lines without fishing rods into the water and waiting for fish to bite.

More waiting, I thought while I watched the fishermen this morning. Again, there is so much waiting here in Greece.

“Volos is just too busy for me right now.” I tell her. “I want to see nature and quiet towns. If I don’t like it, I’ll be back.” I promise.

She tells me the only people I will see in Agio Ioannis now are the locals. She wants me to go dancing and out to the bars.

“Go to Pelion in August!” She pleads with me, explaining all the places I can visit in this area. She offers me her car if I want to venture out. I thank her a thousand times and tell her it is time for me to leave Volos. I promise to come back if her anticipated solitude of the Pelion starts to make me crazy.

I have something to get to but I am not sure where it is. It was not in Thessaloniki nor can I sense it here in Volos. Yesterday, in a bookshop on a standing card rack of a hundred cards there was one directly facing me, right at my eye level, screaming:

There is no set path just follow your heart.

I thought it must be a sign so I bought it and pushed it between the pages of my journal.

Sometimes it is difficult to hear one’s own heart through the other chaos. Volos is filled with car honking, motorcycle engines and blaring of voices emanating from the cafés and ouzeries along the waterfront. The see-and-be-seen bar scene covering a three street radius fills the air with a cacophony of voices, music, smoke and the clinking of glasses. The endless noise seems to aggravate the disharmonious racket in my head.
I am going to Pelion where there are mountains and lush greenery, cliffs and the best apples in Greece, or so I have heard. I am remembering Andreas from the flight to Athens at he beginning of this journey and all the good words he had to say about Pelion.

In the north people cross themselves when they pass churches more often than in the islands, or maybe I noticed it less there. It is a flurry of hand-waving activity on the three hour bus ride from Volos to Agio Ioannis. Even the rather large teenager sweating next to me in his gym-suit crosses himself in small gestures when we pass by churches hidden under overgrown trees. Sometimes you to know it is there to know it is time to worship.

I am headed into terra incognita again and I know it now; my pride-filled enthusiasm with the concierge in the hotel has tempered down now to a low-grade terror and I am thinking about asking the teenager to teach me how to cross myself like the Greeks do, but, I have a feeling the humor will be lost on him. Also, I am already accepting dirty looks from those two women in the front seats and don’t think I should push my luck. I notice I am one of four travelers with suitcases on this bus. I do look out of place.

To give myself strength, I make up a story in my head about how I belong anywhere and everywhere. It is something G. told me one day when he saw me filled with confusion. Later he wrote the same in a note that I am carrying through Greece in the pages of my journal. Sometimes people know so much more about us than we know about ourselves.

What do you do with your fear when there is no hand to hold onto? I think maybe I am grinding the enamel off of my back teeth on this ride through the high cliffs of the Pelion Peninsula. Towns are few and far between and the road winds and bends along the mountain ridges, tires holding onto nothing at all, surviving will be a major miracle. Laughable wood fences pretend to protect vehicles from steep drop-offs around dangerous curves that are too small for this bus to take so sometimes we have to back up and attempt the turn again.
A near miss with a truck has the entire bus load of people exhale a single community gasp when we lurch forward and fall back in our seats. I am in the second row, I should have sat in the back.

The countryside is breathtaking, I keep repeating in my head. Shooting photographs of little villages and towns tucked into the mountains and sometimes the spectacular view of the sea and islands rising out of it. The farther we go the greener it all seems to get; you are far far away from Paros now, Little Girl.

Agio Ioannis is deserted at five in the afternoon. I have an uncanny knack of arriving at destinations in the middle of sacred siesta. Three young men are on the beach, a woman is speed walking along the waterfront, a small dog jogs behind her looking crazy but harmless. As the bus pulls away I am left standing with my suitcase in middle of the road having visions of sleeping in an abandoned storefront for shelter in a twenty hour wait for the bus to take me away from here tomorrow. The same bus driver will laugh at me and I will run away from Pelion too.

Then I remember, this is the same vision comes to me every time I land somewhere new;
and, I remind myself that I asked for this.

I stop the only person I see and ask her if she knows of any rooms open in the town and she leads me to a restaurant and domatia I will later learn are her own. Nick speaks English and takes me to the perfectly spotless, clean room overlooking the sea. A wonderful large balcony where I can write and watch the water, and listen to the sound of the surf as I go to sleep at night. There is life in this town and things to explore.

I feel safe, adventurous and free.

I take a walk out along the waterfront. The Pelion smells so different than anywhere I have been so far in Greece. There is a wood burning smell in the air and thick grass in the parks. Old cobblestone walkways covered with moss and fallen chestnuts. Very tall trees that I do not know the name of yet and a fog covering on the mountain tops. A long waterfront road extends the entire length of the village. The air feels moist from the vegetation and the sea and the rain in the area last week and threats of rain today.

This is REMOTE.

Be careful what you wish for Koritsaki.

Nick invites me to look at the food on offer tonight in the taverna downstairs, this is the Greek way. I choose lamb kleftiko – meat baked in parchment with tomatoes, carrots, potato and three cheeses. I never thought I would be eating lamb but this is delicious. Christo brings me an apple with honey and cinnamon for dessert and Nick brings a shot of ouzo. I am looking out onto the sea and watching the street lamps grow bright as the sky becomes black and I am coming together again. The gossip was right about the apples in The Pelion.

Dawn in Agio Ioannis, I promised not to miss it.

Out here the old mule paths connect the small villages to each other, this is how the people used to get from one place to the next before the fairly recent roads were constructed. The mule paths they are still viable passageways. Sometimes stone walkways lead me along the beach then up into the mountains; across small wooden bridges and through overgrown brush. I break out onto the paved road for a few meters until I find the trail again. The smell of burning wood is gone, now just a sweet scent in the air and on my skin.

In Damouhari Thomas tells me this weekend they will close for the season. He will travel and rest and come back over Easter to start again. He gives me detailed instructions on how to get to Tsengarada, we talk about American politics and the depressing financial crisis. I have hardly kept up.
It must be noon because I hear the church bells. The sun is hot and it is very humid today, my back is sweating underneath my daypack. The birds are out, along with the flies.

One never stops listening to the sea though in between the waves there are the birds, and motors from engines somewhere, and the ominous clanking of goat bells. I am headed up a steep footpath built hundreds and hundreds of years ago when a herd of goats up ahead looks as if they are headed my way.

People who have been with me when I have been afraid would find this sudden display of panic much more than amusing. Sheer horror at the sight of the goats. One is chewing and staring at me, and I am pretty certain they are discussing my fate. I think I have a vague memory of a goat chasing me in a dream when I was a child. Nothing more to ponder, the goats turn me back. I am hustling in retreat down the treacherous path over slippery rocks back to the safety of the beach.

I am so disappointed in my sudden terror. To have a pack of goats stop me now just seems so ordinary. The Austrian man follows close behind, he does not seem worried at all and must have made it though the herd; they were fifty strong, at least. He laughs at me when I confess my fear of the animals.
“Better to be afraid you will slip off the cliffs in those shoes,” he tells me, advising against the trek to Tsengarada.
When he moves on I start up again despite my story that it is all too dangerous to do alone.

I do follow Tomas’ perfect directions up the steep footpath, around the U-turn and onto the mule path until it separates and then I look for the marking of φ to make sure I am going the right way. When the path gets too muddy and slippery and now I am just being foolish out here so alone.
On the way back I encounter the goat herd just to put that discomfort to bed. This time the goats barely take notice of me but the shepherd gives me some uncomfortable glances and I hurry away again and back towards base.

Back in Damouhari, Tomas and I have coffee on the deck overlooking the cove and the sea. We are resting before he takes me on a drive through some of the villages in the area. The light rain has begun.