Our first destination in Greece is the tiny, rustic and rugged island of Tilos, just offshore Turkey and two hours by ferry from Rhodes. Tilos, with its sage-scented hillsides, jewel-like bays and beaches and clusters of white-washed houses had bewitched before, and we planned to make it our designated base camp this trip from which we would explore the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean.
Trials of Travel
But Tilos would play hard to get to this time – unexpected roadblocks stretched our original two day journey from Vancouver to Tilos to six. A general strike in Greece the day we were to land closed Athens & Rhodes airports, forcing us to delay our
departure. Our flight to Rhodes is re-diverted back to Athens as it is too windy to land (not an unheard of phenomenon during winter and early spring in the Aegean). While Aegean Air puts us up in a five star hotel with five-star buffet meals in the “Athenian Riviera” overlooking the Saronic Gulf, another day is spent in transit limbo-land. Well, three actually, as we have missed a critical ferry connection to the island of Tilos.
Sifnos, Kismet & Bouzouki
Limbo-land when one is travelling is not entirely unpleasant – in this case it offfered the opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with the warmth of the Greek people. In Frankfurt airport, we strike up a conversation with a retired captain of the now defunct national airline – Olympic Air. He returns to Vancouver four times a year in order to help with his godchildren and because he loves the decency of Canadian people and culture. In a measured and rational Anglo-Saxon way, he tries to enlighten us to the differences between Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon mentalities while enthusiastically inviting us to his seaside villa next time we are on the island of Sifnos….. In Rhodes, an artist who customizes leather shoes fills us in on common Greek/Turkish traditions, like the practice of honouring one’s first customer of the day by offering them a discount, and philosophies they don’t share, like a belief in ‘kismet’ – i.e., destiny. While Muslims, historically, accept this, Greeks believe that we have some agency in our destiny (but not complete control as that would be hubris). Understanding what one has the power to change and what one does not is, as one recalls, the pinnacle in Stoic wisdom. All this deep thinking is washed down later with a bouzouki chaser as two amazing musicians, one humble Greek restaurant owner, and a lively clientele (chief among them the restaurant owner’s children) illuminate our first night in Greece.
Home-Coming on Tilos
Always exciting to explore the Old Town of Rhodes – with the history of the charismatic Knights of Hospitaller oozing from every keep and turret that loom above you as you wander the streets of the tightly walled and woven city – but for us, the fairytale truly begins the moment one steps onto a Greek Island ferry. One senses that whatever the destination, it will be magical. That certainly is the case when the ferry docks in Tilos; one is instantly enveloped in the joy and cacophony that erupts as people on the quay say goodbye to loved ones and greet those disembarking, as cargo is unloaded and vehicles wheeled into position. It is baptism at its best – all of us submerged in a ritual epochs old and drenched in its original meaning – a bestowal of love and security. Our hosts, Andreas and Irina, lead us past the small well-lit fig-bedecked square with the odd fleece-clad, Tilly-hatted foreigner holding forth in one of the restaurants or taverns dotted round it. We have the
overwhelming feeling that we are returning home – to a life wrapped in the safety, simplicity and sweetness of a much more naive time. We are soon toasting Greece, Kazantzakis and the spirit of Zorba from our balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, feeling once more “how simple a thing is happiness; a glass of wine, the sound of the sea.”