Ecclectic tales from an independent wanderer…

Adventure

No Reservations

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Atop the Pindus Mountains, in the heart of Greece.


A term made famous by Mr. Anthony Bourdain, it’s my preferred method of travel.

But what exactly does it mean to say that you travel with “no reservations?”

That’s a question that can be a little be more difficult to answer, but more than anything I believe it’s a silent statement of traveling with both an open mind and an open heart.

For conversation sake & in more technical terms, here are my thoughts on the subject. Traveling with no reservations, specifically refers to these three things…

1) I truly do like to travel with no itinerary or hotel reservations. In many ways, I like to make my own way, go with the flow and let the journey engulf me in all its magic.
If I do opt for making travel arrangements, I usually limit them to the first and last nights of my journey. This can be extremely helpful if your luggage is lost as well, or if you know that jet-lag may be a reality for you after a long flight.
2) Always trusting my intuition, I NEVER turn down an invitation. A great example of this took place on my spring journey through Greece with Tripology Adventures last May. Following an incredible day of traversing mountain roads in a 4×4 caravan, a gentleman affiliated with the organization offered to talk me on a four-wheel-drive ride in a vintage Mercedes he had outfitted.
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The town of Karpenisi is located high in the Pindus Mountains and is recognized as having some of the cleanest air in all or Europe. Touted as being the Alps of Greece, this Colorado Girl can legitimately say that these peaks and valley’s made the Rocky Mountains look like Kansas. An avid off-roader (my first car was a Jeep Wrangler, Rio Grande addition complete with a front mounted winch & leopard print steering wheel cover) I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do some real 4-wheeling in this picturesque landscape)
Outside of the hotel, I met my guide – Theodoros Gravanis & his retrofitted, army issue rock-crawler.
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Theo & His Rock-Crawling Machine

The vehicle had no seat-belts, no airbags, no top and was basically set-up to be an all around, trail tackling, mud-busting, mama’s worst nightmare death machine.
Thrilled, I jumped right in – thinking to myself that what Mama-Didn’t-Know, wouldn’t kill her.
The ride was crazy, exhilarating & adrenaline pumping fun with Theodoros dropping it into four-low, taking the vehicle nearly vertical down steep ravines and up blind hills. Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery I had ever seen, I was in car junky heaven, all the while holding on for dear life.
Atop an incredible summit with 360 degree views, Theodoros even let me get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. Both of us swapping stories in broken English & Greek and each with shit eating grins of pure joy plastered on our faces.
My lack of “reservations” led to one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip and in seriousness, an afternoon that I will never forget.
3) Don’t let yourself be reserved by habits, eating or otherwise that might possibly have you miss out on something spectacular. Food is another great example of this…
Once upon a time in Pacific Mexico, a family offered to host my travel companion & I for dinner in their generations old hacienda. On the menu, Lengua – Cow Tongue which very much maintains it’s look and tastebud texture.
Hesitant to try it, I closed my eyes, shoved it in and was amazed at the eruption of flavors that washed through my mouth! Incredible, delicious and again, something that I will never forget.
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Traditional Cuy – Rotisserie Guinea Pig at a Roadside Restaurant outside Riobamba, Ecuador

I can tell you so many similar stories – Like the time I ate the Guinea Pig or “Cuy” as they call it, at a road side restaurant in Ecuador. All the locals looked on as a tried my first bites, avoiding the toenails that were still attached and the leather thick skin from its open fire rotisserie for who knows how many hours. One nibble in particular didn’t taste or feel right and resulted in a silent, but very obvious gag. The on lookers all roared with laughter and in that brief moment, we bonded – my culinary right of passage.
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Roadside, Rotisserie Cuy Outside Riobamba, Ecuador

Just because it looks funny, smells different or is something you have never once pondered putting in your mouth, give it a go. Chances are, you won’t be sorry.

When did all this begin for me?
Although it is hard to say as my wanderlust set in at a very early age, I know that one specific trip ignited my current drive for adventure and changed my perspective as a young adult.
In 2003 following my first year of University study at the University of Colorado, my very non-adventurous mother and I took a trip to Spain.
A spanish major, I had done my research, spoken with many different people and developed an idea of what I thought the trip would be.
My mother and I departed Denver on a two and a half week journey without one single hotel reservation or plan in mind.
Upon arrival, we found the airport information desk and were given metro instructions and a tourist map. I’ll never forget the train arriving to the platform and the two of us staring at the doors as they refused to open. An attendant ran up to us and instructed us to “Push the Button.” Laughing and feeling a bit insecure, we jumped aboard, bags in tow.
We left the airport in Madrid on the Metro, headed for the Puerto Del Sol, an area of the city that my Basques, Spanish professor had insured me was spectacular. Happy to stay in a hostel, we were told at the airport information desk that we would find many there.
Emerging from the underground metro station, not only did we find ourselves in the middle of a holy parade, but we didn’t see a single Hostel. I asked a shopkeeper, showing her a map with the circled destination. She chuckle and in Spanish replied – “You’re simply not looking high enough…” and then with a grin gestured to the upper stories of the ancient buildings above us where sign after sign displayed “Hostel Aqui.”
The rest of our time, resulted in laughter, tears, adventures, debates about returning home early and ultimately stories that she & I still tell with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Go. Travel. Open your heart and let the world fill it with endless treasures…

In the Shadow of Saints

 
From an outdoor terrace, the sun is setting over the spine of snowcapped Pindus mountains and a lush sunbathed valley, enfurls below you.   

Hard not to relax in this environment, clean mountain air fills your body with each passing breath as you sink deeper into the atmosphere all around you. More than the natural beauty, something nearly electric in the air captivates every fiber of your being.  

You are sitting in the shadow of saints.

In the heart of Greece, there is a magical place. A holy place for many believers and non-believers alike.

This, is Metéora – The final stop on our off-pavement pilgrimage through this land of myth & mystery. 

  
Rising from the once oceanic valley floor, gigantic sandstone pillars reach ever closer to the heavens. Atop many of these towers, handbuilt monestaries & convents that have stoicly stood here for centuries. Inside, faitful residents pray to cherished icons and keeping a watchful eye over mankind below. 
The word Metéora itself, translates to “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” and although the desire to be “closer to God,” has been evident across clutures & throughout centuries, the monastaries of Metéora carry with them a unique dedication to the spiritual pursuits that many other sites simply do not posses. 

Active today, the six  structures make up the largest and most important collection of Monastaries in Greece to the Greek Orthodox Church. Words can be dificult to find here.

Aesthetically rising out of the stone spires themselves, each structure has been delicately constructed, piece by piece over the course of centuries. Simple pully systems  were errected to  delviver supplies of all nature from the ground below.

Inside eleborate chapels are adorned with Icons of the savior & saints, relics that managed to survive the Spanish Inquisition & even the Crusades. Bones line walls of ossuaries, holy thombs for the devotees that helped to create these holy buildings.

   
   
From places near & far, believers flock with their families to enter these holy buildings paying homage to the patron saints, asking for blessings or seeking forgiveness. Places of reverence, it is hard note to be moved by the devotion expressed by those around you.

   

 


Gypsy Heart

 
Recently I participated in a media tour throughout the picturesque Greek countryside, traversing mountain roads, reaching summits and sipping coffee along turquoise colored streams. A true wanderer, I jumped at the opportunity to join the caravan hosted by Tripology Adventures as part of a group of eleven writers & three spouses. 

The first evening sent our group through the streets of Athens, meandering down a sunlit plaza on our way to a Acropolis view taverna. While walking, I stuck up a conversation with the organizations founder, Izhar Gamlieli a native of Israel. A tall, regal man with wise eyes, we chatted about our journies, the wanderlust that fills our hearts & the things we crave to date.

“I used to desire travel constantly,” he told me. “But then, I had two children. Beautiful children, who have completely captured my heart. Now, all I want is more time with them.”

“No children yet” I told him. “But they seem like a beautiful gift indeed.”

Continuing our conversation, I started listing off some of the palces & had traveled. My lack of a hometown and the laundry list of states I’ve lived. “Sleeping on airport floors, accepting obscure invitations to unique experiences, opening my heart to the world around me, letting the world take a piece of me with it – this is how I try to live.”

With a serious expression, but the faintest hint of a mischievious smile, he turned to me and asked, “Are you a Gypsy?”

Cocking my head in contemplation, I could feel the corners of my mouth curl upwards and my eyebrows rise.

“Of sorts” was my response. A chuckle escaping with my words. “A heart of a bird I possess within this chest.”

“So where to next?” he questioned.

“Wherever the winds may lead me.” 

 


The Road to Ruin

Our Tripology crew is well underway along mountainous passes & cliffside villages.   Yesterday, a road block was encountered which created a good deal of excitement but held us up for awhile prior to our picnic lunch on the precipice of a holy hill, topped with a church & bells.   

 Weaving our way through fog filled valleys capped by blue sky’s. 

The Pindus Mountains of Greece are our current host on our adventure through this culture rich country.  

From now on, we’re all trying to “Steer Clear” of road hazards.   

   


Adventures with Popí – Part 1

Deciding to come to Plátanos, and truly Crete in general was, somewhat of a last minute decision.

I’d bookmarked a number of flats in Athens to spend these four days acclimating myself after the long journey, familiarizing myself with the language and cultural nuances and most importantly jumpstarting my creativity for writing.

Stumbling upon a flight from Athens to Crete for less than 100 Euros, I started combing AirBnB for interesting, affordable accommodations.

What I found was the stone house. A place I have lovingly started calling Island Eden. 

  
My host, 26 year old Basilis was welcoming from the start, so I knew getting here would not be an issue. A small, isolated village I was hoping to spend my days in the lovely garden typing away on my iPad and possibly tooling around on the country roads via a rented vespa scooter.

What I found instead was an adoptive family that has truly taken me in as one of their own, as if I am simply their American Cousin, come for the week.

Initially upon arrival, Basilis’ mother Popí, was a bit shy, keeping to herself although completely hospitable. The first night she made dinner, ate alongside Basilis & I and then sent me into my apartment with two fresh eggs to cook in the morning. She hardly said a word to me.

The next morning, I was outside scribbling into my journal when she first came out of her house. Immediately offering me a coffee I graciously accepted and continued to write.

When she returned, she said “In more than one hour, I go. You come with me?”

I had no clue as to where she was going or what her plans might be but I immediately replied, “yes, please.”

“In more than one hour” she reminded.

So I got dressed and ready for an adventure to who knows where with a woman I had only just met who clearly speaks little english & I, no Greek. What has transpired over the last few days in undoubtedly a friendship that will span the ocean that lies between us.

Ready, I got into her car and we headed down the road.

“My English, not so good. Patient. We go to Kissamos. I have some work. You follow me?” she asked.

“What kind of work?” I questioned.

“I go to this place, we sell oil, oil from olive, then plants to put in ground, maybe a coffee, good view coffee. You follow me?”

“Yes” I said with a smile.

Piece milled conversation followed but we reached the neighboring village of Kissamos and wound through the cobbled stone streets. I still have no idea where she took me initally but it looked almost like some sort of tax office. An old building with lots of chatter coming from above. Inside a large office with lots of people waiting. What for? I can’t tell you.

She spoke briefly with a man, some women asked me a question in Greek to which I replied with a smile & shrugged my shoulders – they giggled and smiled back. Then suddenly Popí was ready to go.

“I think we go now to greenhouse. I worried they close.” she told me.

So off we went, winding once again through narrow streets where old Greek townies eyed my curiously as we sped by.

The nursery was like any other, full of starts – tomatoes, cucumbers, marigolds and even grapevines.

  

Popí starting working with a woman to select the plants she was there for and I tried to tell the owner that I work in the wine business, doing a funny little charade and gesturing to the grapevines.

“You like wine?” He asked.

“Yes, very much.” I said.

“Wait, you try. Is old, came from church today. Like Cognac. You try.” he told me as he disappeared into his office.

Back he came with a little plastic cup half full of deeply tan “wine” full of sediment.

Try” he said. “Taste.”

Hoping for the best but prepared for the worst, I took a sip, swished it around my mouth and was incredibly surprised by the flavor. Cognac had been a good description. The warm butterscotch flavored liquid had some characteristics of wine but indeed was better described as a liqueur.

Delicious, he brought me two more tiny cups while Popí, finished her shopping and caught up with a friend.

When she was finished, she turned to me and asked, “you want now, to go for coffee.”

“Sure, neh parakahlo (yes please).” was my response and off we went again, back into the heart of Kissamos and straight to the waterfront.

In the parking lot, we found her friend from the greenhouse and the three of us entered a Cafe with a stunning view of the bay. Filled with chatter of friends of all ages, we took a table and enjoyed a small cup of Greek Coffee. 

  
Before we finished, Popí turned to me and said “Yessica, this afternoon we put flowers in the ground, okay?”

“Yes Popí, sound good”

Before heading back to the village though we had one more stop – the fish market. There we purchased a bag of small fish she told me we’d have for lunch. A large map on the wall was the perfect way for me to show her where I had come from. “Savem” it read and she and the shopkeeper chuckled at how far away it really was.

Heading back to the village we passed a small church built directly into the hillside. Popí stopped and told me, “come, come.” Inside the cliff’s edges were still raw & rugged. Water dripped down from its course surface – she lit a candle, I said a little prayer. 

Combined with the stunning surroundings the entire atmosphere made it tranquil, peaceful and somehow entirely perfect.
  
Once home, Popí told me to get ready for lunch. She salted the fish, prepared a large tomatoes salad with olives and pickled peppers and sliced fresh bread from the wood fired bakery. The fish were quickly fried and then picked apart by the three of us.

That afternoon we planted the garden. Basilis dug the rows while Popí chose her placements. 

  
She put me in charge of picking large fava beans and told me that later it would be our dinner.
Once I had filled a bag, she put me onto the dill and showed me how big of a bunch to pick.

  
Beans sautéed in olive oil with the dill and potatoes, leftover fish, another great tomato salad and some easter cookies and cured lemon for dessert. The meal, was nothing short of incredible and the three of us sat around in the chilly night air talking & drinking Raki far too late into the evening.  

 

Yessica, tomorrow I go to Hania… You follow me?” She asked gleefully.

“Absolutely Popí. What time?”

   

    


Talking to Strangers

Interesting observations from a woman who travels solo. 

 

Being an only child makes you inherently comfortable with spending time alone. It simply comes with the territory. Still, many only children are extremely social by nature. The level of comfort we take in solidarity doesn’t necessarily mean that is our preference.

Now thirty, my passion for travel is raging more than ever. Independent, I often find myself with the time & finances to travel and very few friends who are interested or able to accompany me. 

Now, I simply dive in on my own, not thinking too much of it anymore.

Interestingly enough, it’s others reactions to knowing I am alone that still tend to surprise me. For instance, yesterday I flew from Athens to Crete and in the airport, sparked a conversation with a man in an Oregon State University sweatshirt. 

Turns out, he’s not from Oregon or even the US but rather South Africa; traveling with his parents to visit is Brother in Law (the OSU alum) who is an American now stationed at the Naval Base on Crete.

He mentioned to his parents that I was traveling alone & his father got a very worried look on his face. 

Later, in baggage claim, the kind man introduced himself to me and suggested they pick me up to go tour the island together. 

Politely, I declined the invitation, telling him that I was staying an hour away in a small village. 

He asked me how I was getting there and when I told him my host from AirBnB was picking me up, his ebony face nearly turned white. 

“It’s okay,” I told him. “I feel very safe & always use good judgement.” 

Sure enough, outside of the airport was my host Basilis, the absolutely picture of a handsome Greek man. 

Again, the kind man asked me if I was certain and I smiled, shaking his hand and told him everything would be alright.

Fast forward an hour and Basilis & I arrived at his home. A beautiful traditional stone house, the quiet village welcomes you in with an immediate air of tranquility. His mother Popi was there to great us and asked quickly if I would like a Greek Coffee. 

Together the three dined alfresco, farm fresh eggs over-easy with bright runny yolks, pan fried potatoes, crispy bread & traditional “Docas” like large bruschetta topped with fresh cheese, tomatoes & oregano. All of this was paired perfectly with locally produced Raki, a clear drink high in alcohol but smooth in flavor and back dropped by a stunning sunset. The evening could not have been any more delightful. 

 

Conversation followed and Basilis asked me to tell him about my life. Interested in my travels he looked at me perplexed and ask “how do you feel traveling alone?”

“Fine,” I told him as I went through my normal response. It was his next question that really threw me for a loop though.

“What do you do when you want to talk to someone?” he asked.

“I just talk to someone.” was my immediate response.

“But how?” he replied. “Do you simply go up to a stranger & say ‘hey you! come talk to me.'”

“Kind of” I told him. ” People are always curious to learn about someone new and different and I guess I’m just far from shy.”

Perplexed, he simply smiled & shook his head at me.

We sat together swapping stories & sipping Raki until the sun fully set & I retired to my apartment after a very long day of travel.

“From halfway around the world” he says.

Indeed. Making long journies and talking to strangers who quickly become friends.

 


Meandering through the Metro

Sometimes, the best way to get to know a city is to simply meander your way through its Metro system.

With a seven hour layover in Athens, I did just that. Purchasing a full day pass, I jumped onto the Blue Line at it’s end stop, the Athens International Airport ans began a 45 minute journey into the heart of oldtown.

On a mission, I had read about a self-guided walking tour, 3.5 km long along the base of the acropolis, past parliament, the temple of Zeus as well as Olympic Stadium, all before ending in the Monastraki Plaza which is home to a bustling market.  

 

A perfect way to reawaken my senses after a ten hour transatlantic flight, the short adventure also helped to heighten my senses and better prepare me for the rest of the day that laid ahead. 

 

Droves of school children gathered outside the Acroplis. Their energy infections as they giggle & play; free from the confines of traditiional school for the day. 

 

Lovers embrace one another in romantic landscapes, accented by ancient Greek ruins.

 The plethora of sights, sounds, smells all set within an alien environment can do wonders for your soul.

Plus, regardless of whether you speak the language or not, it’s never too hard to find your way on a linear metro rail system.

Next time you find yourself mometarily stuck in a fantastic metroploitan area, pay the few extra euros, dollars or yin, to store your luggage at the airport and take a micro adventure into the heart of the city.

Who knows what wonders the metro may provide.