I have been in Greece for over a week now, and what I have learned thus far is that I need to take time to relax and reflect throughout my day. I receive flashes of clarity where I stop and think, this is my life, so I better slow down and take it in. One day we all are going to end up in the ground, so why are we all moving in fast forward?
As Americans we live fast paced lives. Everyone is looking for the fastest transportation, the fastest meal, but we don’t get to look around and enjoy what we are doing most of the time. I think about business men in New York or Chicago rushing everywhere, whether they are rushing to get a cab or grabbing a quick snack. Then they rush home at five o’clock to kiss their wives and spend time with the family.
The group gathers together and we venture off to an oil press where we learn about how olive oil is manufactured. As a red blooded American girl, I like to eat. Specifically, I like to eat bread, and nothing goes better with bread than olive oil.
What I find extremely interesting about the businesses here in Greece is that they are usually run by generations of family. I first noticed this at a winery we visited, where they took so much pride in their family history. The young woman showing us around the mill explains that she is a part of the fourth generation of olive pressers. Her brother works on the mechanics of the oil press while their father sits on the patio puffing on his cigarette as his granddaughter sits on his lap singing and coloring.
I imagine growing up in a family like this, where your career is already decided for you. The Greeks place a lot of value on family and have large, extensive family trees. Many parents expect their children to remain close and undertake the family business. My parents sent me off to college and expect me to decide what I want to do with the rest of my life.
I wonder to myself if she wishes she could have decided her future, but then she shows us a video of her family and proudly pauses on her daughter, implying a new generation of oil pressing to come.
Later on in the day, I am the first one to get injured in the group. We hike up to the Dragon’s Cave, which takes us on an unpaved path with some poisonous plants, according to Charles, who acts as our Boy Scout. We finally see broken steps with overgrown plants leading up to the cave; the humidity starts to go down as we get closer to the rock. Upon entering we hear bats chattering along the top of the cave. If that isn’t an incentive to get the hell out, I don’t know what is. We all pull out our iPhones and turn on the flashlights, but of course the inventor of the iPhone 6 didn’t build in a cave setting so it is still difficult to see.
Upon entering the cave, we are brushed by colder air. You can hear water drops from the stalactites along the cave plummet onto the cool rocks. Bats chatter along the ceiling. The group lets out a sigh of relief to be out of the humidity.
As a few of us start to move forward my foot slips on a rock. Letting gravity get the best of me, I skid down onto the floor of the cave. Bats start to swoop over our heads and I start to feel my warm blood trickle down my stinging arm. I look down and notice my gashed elbow. I scramble to the top of the cave, slipping on the wet rocks and covering my hands in dirt. Jonathan, a graduate student from Boston, looks at my elbow and drops one side of his lip at the sight of the wound. He bandages my elbow up as the rest of the group emerges from the cave, then we carry on with our day.
After I get bandaged up, we travel to another area where the marble quarries reside. Walking along a narrow path up the hill, my breath is taken away by the overlook of the Aegean sea crashing against the blinding, bright marble.
Looking out over the quarry, we see pieces of history carved out of the stone. In the fifth century, the early Greeks had sailed to Thassos from Athens to retrieve marble to build temples for the gods. In this moment everything I learned in class about the ancient Greeks and the empire comes to life right in front of my eyes. Perfect cuts in the marble take us back to the time the Athenians came to the island for marble to build the Parthenon.
“Okay, go ahead but-” before our professor could finish her sentence, everyone ran off, starting to climb all over the marble. Everyone’s adventurous side is coming out as we scale, boulder, and scramble along the quarry. Avery and Charles, who can stomach heights more than I can, start to climb some of the tallest standing marble. Thankfully there were no busted elbows.
“Does anyone know where we are going?” I whine pathetically, resulting in Avery turning around and telling me to shut up. The heat beats down on our heads causing my shoulders to burn. We walk uphill on a dusty dirt road my Keds collecting with grime and tiny pebbles. Sweat drips down my back to cool me down.
We don’t know what to expect considering the only knowledge we have about this beach is a pixilated picture from Google. According to locals, Giola is one of the most alluring beaches on the island but is hidden away in the cliffs along the Aegean sea. As travelers, we set a goal for ourselves to find the hidden beach that only locals know of.
Our conversations get interrupted by the occasional bleating sheep that is restricted by a thin-wired fence. The trees along the road entwine together and weave themselves into the earth, with vines protruding out of the soil. These trees reside in fields of dust and dirt where rainfall is uncommon. Though their environment seems barren, life grows out of these decrepit trees. We are able to locate the beach by pieces of driftwood with painted arrows and the phrase ευθεία, telling us to ‘go straight.’
As we reach the top of the hill we look down over the Giola beach, which is more of a natural sea lagoon than a beach. Instead of sand, we walk along cracked rock caused by erosion. The Aegean Sea has carved out the rocks and with every tide that comes in, it fills the natural pool with water. Locals are doing flips off the rocks and diving into the water. Families sit along the lagoon, with parents watching their children splash in the water with their floaties. Similar to how penguins test the water, we send the bravest one first to make sure it is safe. In this case the bravest one is Charles, who immediately goes up on the highest rock and throws himself off into the water. My heart thuds when he hits the water. Charles then emerges from the water letting out a cheer to give his approval.
My fear of heights starts to kick in as I get closer to the edge. The ocean pours over into the lagoon, bringing in salt, sand, and god knows what else. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and diverge into the lagoon. I plug my nose before hitting the water. Suddenly, I get a wave of salty sensation and brisk water contrasting with the humidity in the air outside. My fear suddenly disappears and I remain afloat in the pool.
For two hours, we each take turns jumping off the rocks. Molly nicks her knee on a rock, causing blood to flow down her leg, but through the pain she still wears her bright-eyed smile. Every time I jump in the water, I must unclog my ear afterwards from all the collected salt water. As it gets later, the locals start to leave and families carry off their sleepy children. We remain sitting at the highest point, with our legs dangling over the edge, looking out onto the sea.
I look below into the lagoon and see something gold and shiny gliding across the water. I try to see if it might just be a reflection of the sun, but something swims below the surface.
Is that an octopus? I gasp, pointing it out to my friends. Sure enough, we quickly learned that we had been swimming with an octopus all afternoon. The little orange octopus skirts across the bottom of the lagoon, hiding itself under rocks. When another local jumps off the rocks, the octopus camouflages itself.
With the amount of heights I encountered today I am proud to say I didn’t back down, despite my fear. Seeing nature and all the history the island holds makes me believe that I am but a speck on this Earth compared to the great mountains and seas surrounding me. Those living fast lives, only appreciating what comes next, may not take in these moments that need appreciation and time. One must breathe in the salty air and bask in memories and take time to reflect.