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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Computer Troubles In Greece

Those of you who have been checking in may be wondering where I have been. Unfortunately, I am having computer troubles since leaving Paros and not quite sure how to handle them. I am useless with this sort of thing. So, here is my note from an internet cafe saying all is well except I am technologically frustrated. It takes a little while longer to post via internet cafes but I will make that happen soon.