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Week Four: Greece with the girls

Traveling to Greece has been a dream for years. I was infatuated by stories of Aphrodites and Hercules as a child in elementary school. When I listened to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book-on-tape in the seventh grade, I knew I had to make a Greek getaway happen. I’d lay half naked in my twin bed and fall asleep in the summer heat to stories of Lena exploring Greece and sailing on the Mediterranean with sexy Kostas. As soon as my sisters and I would finish listening to the audio book, I’d beg that we start it over from the beginning again. “Just once more! Please!” That feeling of wanting to start over again and time travel back to day 1 in Greece is exactly how I’m feeling now, just ten days into our stay on the Greek islands.

Coming to Greece for the first time was the reason this trip began in the first place. A few months ago, the girls and I were on the final leg of our month long Philippine’s backpacking adventure and discussing our future travel plans and bucket list goals. “Greece and Tahiti are next on my list,” I told everyone and anyone who asked me for the last two years. Although we were running low on funds after a month of island hopping and puddle-jumping around the Philippines, the girls and I agreed that we would make Greece a priority for the upcoming fall. Marissa’s birthday would fall on September 13th and she informed us that her only birthday wish was to celebrate it with us in Greece. And so - the girl’s trip to Greece was officially spoken into existence.

Traveling to Greece has been a dream for years. I was infatuated by stories of Aphrodites and Hercules as a child in elementary school. When I listened to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book-on-tape in the seventh grade, I knew I had to make a Greek getaway happen. I’d lay half naked in my twin bed and fall asleep in the summer heat to stories of Lena exploring Greece and sailing on the Mediterranean with sexy Kostas. As soon as my sisters and I would finish listening to the audio book, I’d beg that we start it over from the beginning again. “Just once more! Please!” That feeling of wanting to start over again and time travel back to day 1 in Greece is exactly how I’m feeling now, just ten days into our stay on the Greek islands.

Coming to Greece for the first time was the reason this trip began in the first place. A few months ago, the girls and I were on the final leg of our month long Philippine’s backpacking adventure and discussing our future travel plans and bucket list goals. “Greece and Tahiti are next on my list,” I told everyone and anyone who asked me for the last two years. Although we were running low on funds after a month of island hopping and puddle-jumping around the Philippines, the girls and I agreed that we would make Greece a priority for the upcoming fall. Marissa’s birthday would fall on September 13th and she informed us that her only birthday wish was to celebrate it with us in Greece. And so - the girl’s trip to Greece was officially spoken into existence.

A few months later, we’re here. Talking about Greece (again and again and again) all of those months ago felt a bit funny, because even though we all knew we so seriously wanted to experience the islands, it felt unrealistic picturing the four of us (currently very broke, run down and exhausted from weeks of non-stop traveling) actually finding the energy and the funds to make it happen so soon. Since returning from the trip, before getting back to work, bringing in a steady income again, being able to put money aside for a travel fund, etc. etc. I made it my ONE duty to verbally affirm and visualize each day that “Greece in September with the girls” was going to happen. If anyone asked me how my previous travels abroad were or how long I intended to stay home this time, I would be quick to tell them “I’m home for now but I’ll be flying to Greece in September to spend a month backpacking with the girls.” If my family members asked what my plans for the summer or the fall were, I told them “Greece in September.” There were no tickets booked, no time yet taken off from work, no itineraries or bags packed - just the certainty of our own Greek desires.

And now here we are. It is currently day three in Greece and I am lounging on the hot sands of a local beach writing this blog post on my iPhone notes page (again) as we await the owner of the small boat were about to rent for the day to come meet us for a quick boat safety briefing. My first day on the island was a bit of a blur, as I arrived very early in the morning and was so so so so tired. The girls had arrived two days earlier than me and were already sorted with a rental car and apartment for us to stay in, which was such a treat. They picked me up from the airport and drove me back to our hotel where we ate fresh bread, olives and cherry tomatoes while sipping on fresh-squeezed orange juice and catching up on travel stories from the past few weeks. It was so good to be with them again. I am reminded time and time again how fortunate to have friends like these when we reconnect after a few days/weeks/months apart.

From there, we gathered our hydroflasks, ripe peaches and beach padeos in the car and set off to explore the island. The girls had just discovered an incredible little milk-white swimming spot that was hidden amongst limestone rock formations on the north shore of the island that they insisted I needed to see. We hiked barefoot over the winding hills of salty limestone and found a flat spot to lay our beach blankets and tan for a bit. I dove in the ocean for my first Mediterranean swim and was very disappointed to surface the cold ocean water to find a filthy plastic bag wrapped around my hand. Gross.

That afternoon, we stumbled across a beautiful white church that sheltered a small dirt road leading down to the water. We sat on the sand and feasted on day-old fresh baked bread (gotta love a good oxymoron,) ripe avocados, hot sauce and nutritional yeast (which Marissa had brought with her from America. Well done, Marissa. Well done.) The girls and I have all carried our own cutlery kits, bamboo forks, knives and metal spoons with us while traveling and it has helped us tremendously with our sustainable travel efforts. Plastic cutlery sucks and so does tracking down a recycling bin or trash can when it’s time to dispose of it.

Salt, sand and sunburnt on Greece

Once we reached max sun capacity for the day, (Marissa and I looked as if we just received bad spray tans at a strip mall,) we headed home to shower and change before enjoying a dinner out on the town to celebrate Marissa’s birthday.

We sat on a nearby beach to watch the sunset and sit with another. The beach (and the sunset) wasn’t anything spectacular, but a beautiful hour quickly flew by between the laughs and stories shared. Its the simple moments like these, sitting with the girls, fresh air, ocean breeze, no wifi reception, good conversation and a decent view that I live for. I’d like to pass on one day and look back at my life as an accumulation of these sweet and savored moments shared with myself and others. Like a film reel playing back hundreds of thousands of sweet, simple moments I’ve enjoyed.

Once the sun set behind the mountains, we ate dinner at a nearby restaurant in town - where they served vegan fava bean spread, mushroom risotto and feta-less greek salad. We dined on our vegan feast and gelato for dessert before heading home to bed by 10pm. We talked about going out to local club that night to “check out” the nightlife. That idea lasted about 30 seconds amongst the three of us. I watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” on Netflix by myself (the girls fell asleep beside me within the first 10 minutes) before turning on my favorite  "Solfeggio Frequency - 528 hz for Deep Lucid Dreaming". Falling asleep to the sound of the ocean breeze in Greece is something I can very quickly get used to.

Slow and steady at sea

The last 4 days on the island have gone by in slow motion. We’ve been waking up early each morning to run the strip down the road to the airport and back (a scenic 5 mile run) and have been finding rustic ocean docks to sit on a mediate as the sun finishes rising in the sky. The early mornings in Greece are especially sweet. Pink, yellow, white and pale purple skies dance slowly around me while I run through the sea breeze early each morning.  The streets are silent here until 10 am when most people start their day, so I can relax while running and often only have the occasional truck or quad pass me on my path. After a cold shower back in the apartment, we head downstairs to eat cereal, almond milk, fruit and orange juice downstairs in the hotel dining room and then execute our day. Greece has consisted of copious amounts of saltwater and sunshine. Almost to the point of feeling like we can’t escape the sun, actually. Other than exploring the island by car or quad, going out for runs, swimming in the ocean or laying in the sand, we haven’t discovered too much to do. Which is essentially my ideal travel routine.  Relax, be, breathe and see how long I can last at the beach before I feel like a leather bag. There are no waves here, so surfing isn’t an option, but we’ve managed to survive just fine so far. Lots of reading, journaling and walks around the town to keep us going.

Although we only got to enjoy the boat for one day before winds got too wild, it was very much so the highlight of our trip so far. Ashley is by far the most seasoned boat captain of the three of us, but we all took turns driving the boat up and down the coast until the sun went down. The water was the perfect balance between crystal clear and bright aqua blue. It was so delicious to dive head first into clean, cold, deep sea waters. We spent hours anchoring the boat, diving, swimming and floating in the sunshine. I can’t get over how salty the ocean water is here - floating on the surface feels almost effortless. Like I could bring a book or a newspaper and read it with dry arms for hours.

Adrift

During the first week of my travels (almost four weeks ago) I watched the movie “Adrift” at my girlfriend Hana’s house in Honolulu. I was cracking jokes about being stranded at sea all morning, (which the girls didn’t seem too amused by,) so we took preventative measures and packed fresh bread, ripe avocados, peaches and green apples to eat onboard - or incase we get stranded at sea. We also brought the Bluetooth speaker, sunglasses, wooden utensils and water bottles filled to the brim. So we were pretty set, I’d say. It wasn’t until we were headed back to the port around 7pm that the boat engine slowly puttered to a stop and Ashley moaned “Fuuuck!” as the boat slowly puttered to a stop. We were out of gas. A drift at sea. (Side note, I am 99% sure is the first time I’ve ever heard Ashley curse out loud before.)

Of course, the basic boat briefing we received before leaving the port with the rental boat company did not include information on what to do if you were to run out of gasoline. Ideal. The girls and I ended up turning on Ashley’s cell phone with international calling and making a few panicked long distant phone calls to our fathers in the US to ask how in the heck we could refill the engine. No one answered their phones (standard) but we managed to only spend another 5 minutes frantically playing with the engine before finally figuring it out on our own. We swapped out the empty tank for a full one and made it back to the harbor just in time for our 7:30pm curfew. You could say we’re basically expertise boat captains by now.

Finding really good vegan Greek food, finally

After another gorgeous pale purple sunset in Greece, the girls and I went to a local restaurant down the road and discovered some of the most delicious Greek food we’ve had so far. Since then, we’ve gone back for dinner every night. We’ve been feasting on fresh lemon juice, Greek salads (loaded with tomatoes, onions, peppers, olives, bay leaves, capers + cucumbers - no feta cheese) fresh roasted balsamic veggies, grilled eggplant, homemade bread and fava bean spread (which is essentially just a really delicious greek version of hummus made with lentils instead of chickpeas.)

The girls and I have continued to wake up early to enjoy morning runs and meditation before hopping in the rental car and seeing where we end up for the day. Seeing the island from the coast was so sweet because it revealed so many incredible “hidden” zones we wouldn’t have known of otherwise. We discovered a beautiful beach/cove that can only be accessed by boat or wooden ladder, which we’ve spent the last two days sun basking, reading, beach napping and peach-feasting at.

Yesterday afternoon we drove back to ladder beach before going for a long swim around the sea cliff corners. I have not seen water so clear in years. I swam out as far as I could (no sharks in Greece, yew!) and floated on my back with eyes closed for nearly 20 minutes. I could almost feel every ounce of liquid in my body begin to spin and sway with the ocean waves. I remember a quote I heard online that said “When we walk down the street with our arms behind our backs and and look forward and upward, we are pure consciousness. We are not a body. We are not our arms, our legs or our feet. If we cannot see ourselves as a human body, what are we? We are simply an energetic being, fully present in this moment.” I couldn’t help but think of this quote in my mind while I floated in turquoise waters yesterday afternoon. Another treasured moment of pure consciousness and awareness added to my own internal collection.

Evening flow on the island + journey of awakening

I’m not sure if it’s still possible to be jet lagged three weeks into your travels, but my sleep most certainly feels a bit scattered. Yesterday evening, after returning home from a long day of beach exploration, island driving and a little bit of sea-side rock climbing, the girls and I passed out for an evening nap and didn’t end up waking up until 8 pm. Whoops. Fortunately for us, the locals here don’t usually head out for dinner until around 9pm anyways. We threw on some wrinkled dresses and made it out of the apartment just in time to catch sunset over the ocean while we waited in line for dinner at our favorite spot.

I’ve been spending the evenings catching up on emails, working on the blog as well as my online meditation coach school homework/weekly assignments. I’ve also started rereading “Journey of Awakening: A Meditator’s Guidebook” by Ram Das, which I actually read (rush read) just a few weeks ago before my meditation course began. I felt as though I skimmed through the book, rather than actually read it, so I’ve started from the beginning once again, and am so glad I did. The book is simple and straight forward. A clear and inspiring reminder of why meditation is such a powerful addition to everyone’s every day lives. I’ll link the book in the image above if you’re feeling called to a short and sweet spiritual read.

Today is Friday morning and as I type this blog, I struggle to remember exactly where I left off. Ten days in Greece has passed and it all feels a bit blurred between the long hours in the sun, numerous ferry rides, taxi rides and rushed morning pack jobs as we scramble to check out of various accommodations in time for our next move. Since leaving the small island off the coast of Santorini, the girls and I have made our way to Santorini and arrived to a town called Karimara (which I wouldn’t realllly reccomend) which appeared to be the only town on the island that offers hotel rooms for less than $800 a night. Santorini is CRAZY expensive. Air BNBs starting at $1,300 a night expensive. Apparently there are loads of millionaires moving into Greece from Japan and Europe, which has played a huge role in the increased prices on the island.

Four days in Santorini too many

We arrived in the evening and slept in later than usual the next morning. I headed out for my 8 am morning run around 10:30 ... and got a good feel for the local streets.

Kamari is gorgeous. But 90% of the entire town is populated by tourists or local Greeks working in the tourist industry. Kamari is right on the sea and surrounded by a long black sand beach with rich blue water. It is relatively tucked away beneath a massive sea cliff and is filled with an unlimited amount of hotels, restaurants and beach front cafes. In all honesty, it wasn’t really our style. Which was sort of what we were expecting. We knew Santorini was going to be so, so crowded. We knew we’d only want to spend a few days there. We just couldn’t help but feel “ehh we really should go and visit right? We came all of the way here.

Not only was Santorini crowded, it was VERY westernized. Almost every single restaurant we passed on the streets advertised “Traditional Greek Food + Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and French Fries.” I fend to feel a bit embarrassed as an American when I travel to countries halfway around the world and see signs/menus/banners oriented directly for us - written in English, advertising American flags, American food, American beer etc.

Bring your own cup + metal straw style at the local juice bars

Oh my Oía

We spent one more morning and day in Kamari - and were absolutely thrilled to discover a local juice bar on our morning job around the town. We came back for after a cold shower and enjoyed fresh green juice in our to-go cups before walking the streets for a few hours.

That afternoon we embarked on our journey to Oía (or at least that’s where we thought we were headed) which is the iconic coastal/cliff town on Santorini. Basically where all of the beautiful stacks of white and pale pink buildings line the vertical sea cliffs. According to Air BNB and Bookings.com is impossible to find an accommodation in Oía less than $800 a night. I spent a bit of time searching and came across an adorable/modern air BNB with a stellar ocean view that was only a measly $380 a night. $380 is basically the cost of living in Bali or the Philippines for a month or two - so it took a bit of convincing between the three of us to agree that we should treat ourselves to something spectacular and split the $380 by three. Turns out that when I am left in charge of booking accommodations, I book them in the wrong town. So rather than being in Oía, our air BNB was in a smaller, less glamorous and more affordable town called Imerovigli down the road. We took a quick taxi with our bags and checked in yesterday afternoon - just in time for a quick swim in our private mini-pool before heading out for groceries and sparkling water before sunset. Our apartment is adorable. Clean, white, simple and bright. Maybe too bright - if that’s even possible. We prepare dinner at home last night after exploring the cobblestone pathways barefoot under pink pastel skies and collecting bits of trash hidden from the bushes lining the walk way.

The next morning I headed out early for a solo meditation overlooking the ocean before hitting up the local hair salon for a quick trim. Soon after we hopped on the local bus and made our way to Oía with bikinis and cameras in hand. Oía was HECTIC. So f*cking hectic. From the moment we got on the bus to the moment we got off of it - we were slammed between hundreds of people all headed to same place. Seeing Oía for the day was so beautiful - but also so eye opening. Everywhere we went, crowds of tourist lined up around one another to take photos or have photos taken of themselves. It truly felt like no one gave a crap about where we were or how these buildings were built, but more so concerned about which rooftop they could stand on to get the most epic backdrop for their instagram photo. I felt a bit nauseous all day. It wasn’t until we hiked down the stairs to jump in the water that my heart really shattered into pieces. The cobblestone stairs were lined with dozens of donkeys tied up and waiting for the next paying customer. I took these photos and posted this Instagram caption to share some thoughts on this …


”The most difficult part of traveling for me is usually being exposed to new extremes of pollution around the world. It feels like no matter where I travel these days, discarded single use plastics appear around each corner. It’s especially horrifying seeing them floating in the ocean and washing ashore of some of the most pristine waters left on this earth. Even more emotional than this is seeing different methods of animal exploitation being carried out today for tourist attraction and satisfaction. Today, almost all packages/deliveries/luggage being brought down vertical walkways along coastal villages in Greece are done so by wheeled cart or vehicle. Donkeys no longer serve as working animals, but as attractions for paying tourists who wish to ride them along these streets. In-between rides, these animals are left in the scorching heat with little to no water, often tied to poles (or one another) with muzzles and tight ropes/saddles for hours at a time. Their presence here is no longer necessary - nor appropriate. PLEASE remember that there are more humane methods of animal interactions in foreign destinations than paying man for an animal’s service. Riding a donkey is no different or less cruel than paying to ride an elephant, giraffe, camel or dolphin. If you’re interested in learning more about native animals while traveling to new counties - I don’t blame you - consider looking into animal sanctuaries, rescue organizations or rehabilitation projects. It’s as easy as a google search in your upcoming vacation destination. Let’s teach our children that animals - like humans - are here to co-exist and co-habilitate with. No one species is greater or more deserving than the other. Animals are not ours to be ridden, worn, eaten or decapitated and hung out on the line to dry like wet laundry. Act with compassion. Put yourself in their shoes.”  You can read the full post and comments here.

Getting the funk off of Santorini

The next morning, Marissa and I packed our bags up early said farewell to our beloved, overpriced AIR BNB before grabbing a quick smoothie on the road and hopping into our shuttle bus. We arrived at the island’s ferry port and enjoyed a generous portion of pasta at 11 am before boarding a three hour ferry to the next island on our list. We were especially excited about this one. While on the ferry, I took some time to reflect on many of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been experiencing towards my travels the travel content I am seeing online these days.

I ended up lagging on releasing this week’s blog and instead shared something a little different. The blog post is called “Travel Quieter” and it can be read here. I really recommend this one. It felt good to share it when I did. Travel and social media isn’t always what you think it is. I discuss this idea further in the blog.

That’s it for this week, folks. This blog is getting way too long for my liking. See you next week for the last leg of our Greece journey before I fly to the next country.

Week Five: Stuck on Mykonos alone
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