Does anyone know why?
The manager of the restaurant slipped in behind our traveling companion and carefully looped the straps of her purse around the top left corner of the chair where she had been sitting. Everyone at the table immediately understood what he had done.
We were all comfortably seated at tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. It was 10:00 p.m., late by Yon standards, but not by local customs. But it was the last night together for our REI Adventures, Inc. group. Delays getting to Athens from the islands meant we had to act like grownups in a big city and eat late, or skip our group farewell dinner. We were not yet ready to let go of the experience or our new friends, so we followed the group to dinner and ordered expresso as soon as we sat down. Fortunately, no purses were snatched.
In contrast, late afternoon of the second day with REI, we boarded a huge ferry and cruised across the Aegean Sea for Tinos Island. Our abode for two nights on the island was the Onar Hotel in Tinos Town. It felt more like a very comfortable bed and breakfast than a hotel, with every day starting with a breakfast spread of marvelous food grown or raised within a few miles of the hotel. The hotel staff made you feel like family and when some in our group, anxious to go explore, realized they had forgotten to lock their hotel room door, a voice boomed out: “Don’t worry, no need to lock your doors here.” After all, it is Paradise.
Our REI guide, Christos Lepouras, was well prepared for our trip and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. On our third REI day, we began hiking to a monastery from the village of Feletados. The hiking was tougher and the wind was blowing hard when we reached the monastery. The monastery was empty on this day, but it was a perfect place to seek respite from the wind and wait for those going to the top of the climb to return. After we left the monastery, the wind got stronger and the trail got steeper, making it difficult to follow the trail. By the time we found the top, my legs were shaking from fatigue, Parkinson’s and the tension. The views from the top – all the way to Aegean Sea – made it worthwhile, though.
On the way down we walked through small villages and saw the rounded granite boulders that make the area geologically unique from the rest of Greece. There were always beautiful wild flowers everywhere. We also saw the “dovecotes,” small white buildings used to attract and raise doves for food and for fertilizer! For some reason, we never went in one.
Having survived the toughest part of the day, I got a lesson on how quickly a distraction can cause harm. The Church of Panagia Evangelistria (Church to the Virgin Mary) sits atop a hill, a short walk from our hotel. We were working our way up the hill, when for just a moment I turned my head left to see a small elderly woman working her way down the hill while hanging on for all she was worth to a wheel chair with a large man in it. I cannot tell you what happened to the wheel chair because my toe struck the side of a 4-inch high concrete protector.
Many of us know that awful feeling of realizing we are about to go airborne and knowing the ending is not going to be good. In the best of all worlds we get a second to minimize the impact and the injury. Of course, we also have time to make it worse.
In this, my traveling companions gave me quite high marks for the tuck and roll that allowed me to avoid scrapping layers of skin off or severely bruising or breaking any body part. But I paid a price for fighting the forces of gravity and momentum, torqueing my injured hamstring pretty good.
From Tinos, we ferried to Naxos Island, the largest in the Cyclades Island group (220 islands). Renowned for its white marble and the unfinished sculptures of Kouros, many of the sculptures have been in the same location for over 2,500 years. The tallest peak in the Cyclades (3290’) and the place where Zeus grew up, Mount Zas, is here, and of course, we climbed it.
Our last island was Santorini; the favorite of many. No doubt this is due to its “geological morphology”; Once an island that more or less formed a circle, volcanic activity sunk the middle of the island and formed a caldera. An entire civilization was destroyed in 2000 BC, although a lot of the structures they built were preserved when buried by volcanic ash. The hike along the edge of the caldera from our hotel through Fira to the village of Oia, approximately 7 miles, was the scenic high point of the trip. The clear cobalt blue water right beside us when we started, soon found itself 330 feet below us. Along the way we walked by and through stores, restaurants and bars built into the walls and caves on the side of the great caldera wall. At the other end the sun danced while hundreds watched it disappear.
I know this is a running column, not a travel column. But traveling and running are so ingrained into my character, they have been almost inseparable. Even when the running is limited by injury, it is still something special when the vast deep blue Aegean Sea is off to one side and island peaks off to the other. A pair of running shoes provide much needed freedom of exploration. The kind of freedom that makes one wonder why more doors can’t be left unlocked and why the Golden Age of Athens, with so much inventiveness and progress for humans, lasted for such a short period.