I left the island. My heart is heavy. There will be a time to return again, but for now, I am on the ferry to Athens and heading away from the port. I can see Folegandros getting smaller and can still see friends waving from the dock.
Lefty and I are standing on the upper deck and wave back. I cannot see them anymore. The wind is blowing, the sea is rough, it is no longer summer, and I have tears in my eyes. There is something romantic and painful about departures. I remember those movies where people board the train and wave the white handkerchief out the window. Loved ones on the platform wave until the white disappears. The island disappeared.
Throughout the summer, I visited many islands and cities and left most of them easily. Lipari and Folegandros were different. Each of these places, when I boarded the ferry to leave, I had that lump in my throat. These moments mean something and are beautiful to experience. In the end it does not matter how popular a place is, how many fancy restaurants there are, or how many shops there are. These things become meaningless if you are there alone. Everything is always, always about the people. This is why I stayed so long on the island.
The running joke is that I came for a few days and stayed for a few months. Why? Of course I stayed on the island so long for the never-ending beauty in my days – from seeing a few sunrises (if I managed to wake up early), many sunsets, blue waters, and endless dark skies full of stars. But the main reason I stayed is because I shared my days and nights with Greek friends that I met.
Life is pretty basic here. Folegandros has a village with a handful of restaurants and a few bars. I could walk into Hora alone, see friends, and sit with someone. There are some shops, but mostly for tourist things and summer clothes. No cinemas, museums, mani pedi spas, sushi bars. Coming from NYC this is opposite, but yet, I was still happy. Note- Pavlos actually caught a tuna and we made our own sushi.
This island is unique, as it seems to attract the same people. Of course, not everyone is the same, but most people I met are on the same journey. We question life, what we are doing, what we are experiencing and if it is enough. We think. Philosophers, poets, and good movies mean something. This does not mean we sit around and discuss philosophy all day. No way. We have fun. The Greeks know how to live. My friend said the other day; “I either want to die making love to a woman, in the sea, or eating good food.” This sums it up quite well.
We pick herbs and make sage tea, watch movies, cook together, eat at the picnic table under the tree, sing songs, drink wine and raki and laugh for hours. Katerina teaches me how to cook Greek food and makes sure I know the difference between a ‘kitty pinch’ and a ‘Greek pinch’ when it comes to adding herbs, sea salt, and pepper. Dimitris plays the guitar and leads the singing with his amazing voice and talent. Songs are mostly about the sea, blowing wind, finding love, losing love, and leaving some island to go to another. I have no clue what the words mean unless Spiros translates. Regardless. I feel the passion in their voices.
I learned that the island was a place for political exile in the 70s. It still attracts those in ‘exile’ and we all agree. Not running away, just running towards something else. Some people I met are also looking to break out of the cage that we were in while living in larger cities, having jobs that were not fulfilling, losing a job in Athens as a result of the crisis, or having a passion that was only possible to live on vacation.
Often, situations in life back us into a cage. This kills our true essence of who we are. We live in this cage based on loved one’s expectations, pressure from society, or maybe we are not exactly clear on what we want. The door is locked. We cannot get out. One day we find the courage to take the key and unlock the door and step out regardless of what other people think. We are free.
There is freedom on this island that I feel each day. People are free spirits. We find each other here. We spend days together in the sea and nights together at the dinner table. We understand each other.
I smile when I think about how I ended up here for so long. To be honest if someone would have told me one year ago that I would spend months on a relatively secluded Greek island, I would have laughed. I can’t possibly do that. I have to work, need the city life, and what would I do for so long on an island? Well, now I know. LIVE LIFE.
Maybe I needed to learn a bit how to chill out, relax, not take things so seriously, not plan my days, and not run around from morning until night. Maybe I needed to sit on rocks, read a book, and welcome Zorba into my life.
In the book, the author (Nikos Kazantzakis) studied Buddhism, structured his life, did not live his life, lived from his head, and lived with worries and fear. Zorba lived life to the fullest, from his heart, and said before he died, “Whatever I have done, I have no regrets. I’ve done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years.” After a few months on the island, I am living with more Zorba in my life.
Yoga continues to be a part of some days. I joined a yoga retreat on the island in early September. Even after my boot camp yoga retreat in Croatia, I decided to give it a try. Refreshing. Mara is a great yoga teacher, friend, and beautiful person. The yoga was often quite challenging, but the energy in the class was supportive and calm. Mara brought lightness.
A Greek style yoga retreat is about yoga, good company, and after class chit-chat with raki, wine, and cigarettes. We had fun. No sense in drinking tea all week after yoga class and then going back to drinking wine the first day after the retreat is over.
At 3am while singing songs at my birthday BBQ, Dinos inspired me to skip yoga the next day. Made sense since the day before I stayed up late singing and just slept, sitting up, during the meditation. Danai convinced me there is no need to tune any chakras. I get it.
While trying to do yoga one day at the church, the loudest group of Greek people I ever heard came to the top. They were from Crete. I waited for silence so I could continue. I was initially bothered, but these people were having fun. The son sat next to me and asked, “Where are you from?” I told him NYC. He asked, “Oh, do you like Folegandros or NYC better?” What a question. It is exactly opposite and I like both. When his Mom found out that I was from NYC, she said, “Oh, sex in the city. Is it a true story?” We all laughed, I explained the dating life in the city, and that was the end of my yoga.
Doing yoga and things that are good for the body, mind, and spirit are very important to me. I will always be this way, but now I can see that these things can be done, while still enjoying life and having fun. When anything becomes too serious and strict, then the balance is lost. I am an intense person so it is easy for me to throw myself into something and have that all or nothing attitude.
It is easy for me to socialize and to beat myself up the next day when I have a hangover or ate two souvlakis at 4am. I used to also do this when I was working and if a meeting turned out badly or a deadline was missed. I would dwell on it. Who cares. Accept who you are, habits and all. Of course, we cannot live recklessly and cause harm to our health and to others. But once in a while, take that walk on the wild side. We all have the ‘devil inside’ and as Zorba said, “Boss, get some sense and just give your devil a name.”
A Few Days to a Few Months to a Changed Life
I boarded the ferry a few days ago a different person than when I first walked off the ferry alone in early July. I know people on the ferry and we are going back to Athens together. My last night in Athens, about ten of us met, and I sat there and realized how fortunate I am. I started my travels alone and met so many wonderful people along the way. All have enriched my life forever.
The best thing about traveling alone is that one is more open to meeting other people. All of these people taught me something that I would never have experienced if I stayed home. We cannot travel all the time so the key is to learn to live life wherever you are and to be open to others around you.
There are those that just go through their days, don’t question much, and are ok with this. Then there are people like me who want to grow, experience, and learn as much as possible. What do you want? Know it and go get it.
The water got cold. It became time for me to leave and to return to NYC. Reality called me the other day and I did not hang up this time. I am ready. I climbed mountains, dove in beautiful seas, laughed, cried, and learned a lot about myself. Initially I never planned to go to Greece. See what happens when we go with the flow. It always works out.
I followed my heart and have changed my life forever. I don’t know anything about the upcoming months besides that I need to get a job and figure out a way to free my summers so I can come back to Greece. I was told to just “Let the time tell.” I need to go back to see how I feel in the city and to organize a few things. I need to go back to the city so that I can come back again to Greece.
This ending of my ‘summer into early fall’ vacation is not really the end. It is actually now the beginning of something fabulous. I am ready. Bring it on.