πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει
Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed. -Heraclitus
Our last stop of the trip – we just couldn’t believe it. Maybe in part because we were in denial about the trip ending, we did almost no planning for our travels in Greece. We just picked two islands (out of Greece’s ~6000) and took off on a plane from Dubrovnik early one morning. After months in the tropics, we were surprised at how arid the Greek islands are. But the volcanic landscapes have their own charm. And what they might lack in jungle, they make up for in fascinating history.
Santorini – Pompeii of the Aegeans
Our first stop was Santorini, one of the few islands with an airport and famed for its picturesque blue-domed churches.
Jason rented a motorcycle – the biggest of the trip, 600cc. He’s been thinking of getting a bike when we get back to the States and he wanted to try out a variety so he could get a sense of what he likes best. We had fun on this beast, but he decided it was a little too heavy for his tastes and his favorite was the Honda CB300F we rented in Chiang Mai.
We spent a few days exploring the island via bike, including the ancient town of Akrotiri.
Minoans established the settlement around 3000BC. In part because of its position along an important trade route between Cyprus and Crete, Akrotiri developed into a relatively advanced and prosperous city, with indoor plumbing, 3-story houses, paved streets, a parliament, and high quality pottery.
Around 1627 BC, there was a massive explosion (probably the largest in the last 10,000 years), which released 15 billion tons of magma, created a 100-meter tsunami, and covered the town in 60 meters of ash and mudflow!
Luckily for archaeologists, the ash preserved much of the ancient town and it was rediscovered when crews were quarrying ash for construction of the Suez Canal in the 1860s. Since then, researchers have been excavating, reconstructing and analyzing the town’s history.
After traveling back in time, we happened upon a nude beach and pretended we were back at Boom and joined all the other naked swimmers. On the climb back up to the road, we were glad we arrived during daylight as several other bikers must have missed the edge and didn’t do too great a job of parking.
Páros – Home of the Thousand-Gated Church
Our next stop was Páros, a similarly-sized but lower-key island than Santorini – kind of like a Greek Ko Tao. We picked it because it has some great kitesurfing conditions and we were hoping to try out our skills again after the weather foiled us in South Africa. So we spent our first three days with Daniel at Páros Kite Pro Center.
We both picked up the skills we had learned in Uruguay pretty quickly. And then it was finally time to try to get up on the board! Daniel showed us how it was done and then Jason took his turn. Sarah bet Daniel that Jason would get up and start riding on his second try. Daniel laughed and said that never happens, but when he saw that Jason did just that, he yelled in disbelief.
Over the next hour, Jason (with ample wakeboarding and hanggliding experience) was able to ride the kite downwind in both directions. Daniel was completely shocked and kept telling all the instructors about Jason’s progress. Sarah made her own brand of progress – she got up fairly quickly but only managed to ride for about 10 seconds. We both had a blast and couldn’t wait for the next day. Unfortunately, the winds were low and our last day of lessons didn’t go as well as we hoped. But we learned a lot and can’t wait to try more kitesurfing in the Bay.
During the last lesson, Sarah managed to step on a sea urchin and got 10+ spikes in her foot. So she spent the next day soaking her foot in vinegar hoping they would dissolve (all but one were too deep to get out with tweezers). And we were careful to watch out for sea urchins whenever we swam after that. Can you spot all the urchins in this picture? (Hint: all the little black circles on the rocks.)
Páros also turned out to be the perfect place for Sarah to get some more practice on a bike. They didn’t have any motorcycles her size (her feet wouldn’t reach the ground!), but she enjoyed lots of time exploring the island on a scooter. There’s enough traffic to get practice driving in it, but not too much to be crazy hectic; the roads are decent; there are some dirt roads and steep hills to play around on; and the views are amazing. If you’re looking for a place to get more experience on two wheels, this is a great place – although every rental place in Greece (and maybe Europe?) seems to be very strict that Americans need to have a motorcycle license to rent a scooter or motorcycle.
More nude beaches! (This was actually on Antiparos, a neighboring island that we took a ferry to (with our bikes).)
And enjoying some delicious Greek food, under the watchful eye of Páros’ many cats.
Athens – City of the Violet Crown
The last few days of our trip were spent in one of the world’s oldest cities, where we soaked in more ancient history.
We also spent a night volunteering at the One Stop Project, a non-profit that provides laundry and legal services, food, music, arts, and children’s activities to homeless people and refugees. In the last few years, nearly 60,000 refugees have come to Greece from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
We met several people living as refugees in Athens, including ‘Mike’. Mike was a doctor in Syria and he told us his wife, two sons and parents were all killed before he finally decided he had to leave his home country to try to keep himself alive. The stress and trauma were apparent in his face, but he was friendly and curious and gave us advice about the most beautiful spots in Athens.
How humbling, and such a sobering reminder that while we’re on the trip of a lifetime, others are just hoping to live another day. If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, the refugee crisis is huge and immediate and there are lots of agencies trying to help refugees with basic needs, medical and psychological care, and legal and other support.
As we faced our last day of the trip, we were both incredibly grateful for this surreal riot of a year and excited to see friends and family, but also in disbelief and sadness that it was ending. We ate some delicious Indian, visited a tiki bar, and went to bed in a bit of shock.
To be continued… ???