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.”
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.
The Pindus Mountains of Greece are our current host on our adventure through this culture rich country.
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.
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.
Sometimes in life, you are better off simply throwing all caution to the wind.
Nearing my 30th birthday, I couldn’t help feeling an anxious twinge of disappointment, an emotion that wasn’t easily described. In many ways, this sentiment was brought around more in a manner of mourning the passing of my twenties, the closing of a door on a decade that through both its joys and adversities has helped to shape me into the person I am today.
In an attempt to celebrate this passing, rather than rejoice in the traditional manner, I decided to flee the jovialities and run away from my birthday.
Choosing my place of refuge was no easy task. Originally, I thought about Mexico, a place I hold dear in my heart. Then my thoughts turned further south, thinking a trek through the wine country of Chile or Argentina would be the soul food I was craving… After all, wine people are quick to lend a hand to a fellow enthusiast.
A financial turn of events steered me in a different direction however, when an unexpected $2,200 in repairs was needed on my seven year old Toyota Matrix.
Rather than put the cabosh on the trip entirely, I started looking at my resources and decided to cash in 30,000 in Alaska Airline miles and come to Hawaii.
The Big Island is my playground for the next few days as I traverse its stunning landscapes and dive into the unique phenomenon of AirBnB, staying with a new set of strangers at each destination.
Gratitude fills my heart as this unique journey begins.
Checking in at the visitor’s center, backcountry campers are required to sign a waiver, advised on supplies, are informed of the dangers and instructed to hike far enough in the Dunes to not be visible from the established campsites along the tree line. Roughly a distance 4 miles, getting into the thick of the landscape is no easy endeavor. Traversing each sandy hillside is a matter of one step forward, and three steps back. Hard work, hours pass before you make it deep into the wilderness.
With no water sources, backpacks are heavy going in, lighter coming out, and emergencies, meals and water rations, need to be prepared for.
Setting off later in the afternoon than I had hoped, wanting to skirt the heat of the day, inevitably thunderheads started rolling in. Hiking for over 2 hours, our party was tiring, but finally getting deep enough into the Dunes to start looking for a place to make our camp.
Made up of myself, a gal pal and two male friends, she and I were both runners and in good shape. Consistently pulling ahead of the two men; we were in a constant game of ‘hurry up & wait.’ Making our way to the summit of a large dune, she & I sat down to catch our breath while we waited for the other two to make their way.
Suddenly, the sky erupted. A crooked rod of lightening struck the summit of a dune, no more than 75 yards away. Just as she and I looked at each other, mouths gaping, a deafening roll of thunder shook us to our skeletons.
Still climbing & out of breath, the men were ready for relief. With one glance, I told them they couldn’t stop. We had to get lower.
A nationally registered EMT, certified in Wilderness First Aid, I knew we were in a dangerous place.
Pulling ahead of the others she and I walked into the saddles of a large Dune. Far enough from the guys, we took pause and waited for them to join us.
Giving a little chuckle she asked quizzically, “ha, ha, why is your hair standing up on end?”
Turning to face her, like a spiny sea urchin, her hair was straight on its ends, framing her face in a ‘Mad Professor’ halo of brunette fly-aways.
“Drop your pack”, I exclaimed. Doing the same, we started making our way down the wall of the saddle. Not wanting to venture too far knowing the work it would cause on our way back. Catching up, I told the boys to do the same.
That was when the cloud-to-cloud lightening started.
Jumping back and forth above our heads, we had no choice but to go deep, down into the belly of the dune.
At the bottom, took the lightening crouch position; Butts in the air, one hand on the ground, tripods quivering with fear.
Our hair stood up on end.
Our hair stood up on end.
Megan cried. I sang Christmas Carols, trying to lighten the mood. Every scenario played through my head, what we would do if one of us was struck. If it was anyone other than myself or Megan, I’d send her for help and stay with the victim. If it was her, I’d send one of the men. If it was me… I started making my peace with the world.
We waited in the belly of that Dune for close to an hour and even though the rain continued, we decided that with dusk quickly approaching, we needed to find a place to set-up camp and try to create some sense of shelter for the night.
Climbing out, we were greeted by a magnificent sight. The most incredible, double rainbow I have ever seen. Dipping below the horizon, both were crystal clear, extending past 180 degrees. Stunning.
Terrified, none of us bothered to take a picture. Instead we hurried along, keeping our eyes on the sky, looking for our next electric threat.
Cold, wet & exhausted, we made camp. Huddled in our tent, dinner was prepared, ‘Cup o’ Noodles,’ cheese, granola bars, all washed down with whiskey we had packed in.
The next day, we woke to crystal blue skies. Packed hard from driving rain, beautiful ripples crusted the sand. A hard surface to easily traverse through our exodus.
Changing each of us in our own way, lightening inevitably leaves an invisible mark our memories. Harsh lines that course through our veins, year in & year out.