I washed my clothes by hand today. Afterwards, I hung them up on the rope that I had attached to several wooden beams holding up a tile roof over a whitewashed house with blue windows. The same rope goes on along the wooden beams to hold up the hammock that I had bought three summers before, the last time I was here.
Holding a pen and a note book I climbed into my hammock to try and figure out what to write about now that my new travel plans had motivated me to revive my old blog. Occasionally sipping the frappé (Greek ice coffee that I had forgotten how to make well) that I had placed on the little painting bench next to me, I begin to realise that I am not as homeless as I felt when I left my little room in the Dutch student city of Leiden, leaving behind 15 flatmates and three plants.
Eleven days ago an unplanned taxi, and a plane got me and recently ex-flatmate Justin from Leiden to Thessaloniki; two buses then moved us past Mount Olympus, along the Aegean coast to the coastal town of Volos. There we were rescued, after missing the last boat to Alonissos, by an old painter/sculptor friend of my mother, giving us our first bed in some 40 hours, in a stylishly decorated apartment full of art, cats, and dogs.
I was very surprised to be reunited with Hapsoo, a small fluffy orange-coloured dog that I had first met on the day of the total solar eclipse of 1999. There was a heat wave on that day in Greece and even on our island it got to be 43 degrees, so we spent the days in our Artist friends her house on the island, where they had air-conditioning and a puppy. Now 16 years old Hapsoo finally lives up to his name, as old age has him sneezing like crazy.
Surroundings inspire people and warm, homely surroundings and friendly faces can turn any sofa-bed into paradise.
The following day the remaining tiredness from having skipped a night’s sleep disappeared completely as our ferry left the port of Volos and the continent behind, I was finally back on the Aegean. Kazantzakis was right when he wrote in Zorba the Greek:
Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean sea. To cleave that sea […] murmering the name of each islet, is to my mind the joy most apt to transport the heart of man into paradise.
Perhaps it’s the power of happy, half-forgotten childhood memories or of wishful thinking, but every time I am on that sea, and glide between the islands where my father used to steer his fishing boat, I feel a mixture of peace and excitement that is different from what I have felt anywhere else. The closer we get to Alonissos the stronger the feeling gets, until after five ours I find myself looking at the small, elongated island that’s full of evergreen pine forests, countless bays and beaches, roadside herbs, many restaurants, quirky bars, and just two thousand inhabitants. It is the place where my grandmother used to walk every day, down the donkey path from the old village, to a well, to climb back up for fifteen minutes, carrying water on her head. It’s where my father went to a school, consisting of one room, but which had the following view:
It is the place where my parents fell in love , a place of many old friends, and family that are always happy to see me (although they always look at me like they forgot I existed each time I come back).
Back to beginnings
Now my flatmate went back to Holland and I’m alone in my house with a few stray cats and an orange tree (bearing, surely, the most disgusting fruit in the history of orange trees). But, despite having to wash my clothes by hand, this island lifestyle is not hard to get used too. Morning yoga, ice coffee, walking along the cliffs through the pine forests, choosing a beach as you go (I seem to have become the most physically active non-working man on the island, judging by the looks of people when I tell them were I walked), swimming from that beach to the next deserted beach,walking back home to rest in my hammock, before going out to drink with friends. I think I can manage here for a while longer.
But even here winter is coming — the island will all but empty out, I will need to find some work somewhere, and there is a world to see. My friendships on the island deepen, but there are also old friends to visit. Everything is constantly changing and moving, so I must too. So plans are made to visit a variety of friends in Spain, then meet up with old and new friend from the island in Florence, but yesterday I finally made the big step. I walked to the house of some friends who have lend me WiFi, settled against the wall of their patio, took out my phone and booked my flight to Sydney in December. The adventure is on.
While you can still walk, you might as well walk far.