“I love you, Danielle” wasn’t the first thing I expected to hear when I began my three-week Greek excursion this summer.
But as the Mediterranean sun soaked into my already sun-kissed skin, every word coming out of the young, blue-eyed Greek sitting in front of me proved that expectations are useless in this world.
I expected to enjoy the beaches, the culture and the amazing travelers I would meet along the way. I expected to challenge myself, both with my itinerary and the activities at each island I stopped. I expected to explore, to push boundaries I knew existed within me. And yes, I expected to drink a healthy amount of Ouzo. And don’t get me wrong, I was not let down with any of these.
I jumped off a seven meter cliff, went to my first nude beach and rode a scooter through the cliff-sides of Crete. I snorkeled, dove, raced, and rode all over Greece.
But life always surprises and intrigues. Life always has other plans than the ones you think you’ll make. And meeting just one person can change it all.
After my first few amazing days in Athens where I explored the ancient cities, sampled the finest frozen yogurt and experienced the money crisis firsthand, I made my way to the island of Crete, situated at the very most south of the islands of Greece. There, I found myself in the small town of Plakias in the southwest part of the island. The hostel which I planned to stay for the next five days was something I had never seen before. After staying at dozens of hostels in my Euro travels, I had never experienced a place like this.
Walking on a stone path leading into a shaded courtyard with hammocks lining a wall of low trees on one side with the other side boasting large, welcoming picnic tables made for cooking, drinking and playing cards (and all for 10 Euro a night), I knew this place was a backpacker’s paradise. It was large enough to spread out and be with your thoughts, yet tight-knit enough to create a real family if you let it. I had planned to stay for four nights and instead stayed seven.
I know he’s reading this right now and smiling and I’ll spare you all the sweet nothings and “aww” worthy details, but there was more than one reason why I stayed in Crete longer than expected. Like a story right out of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants minus the feuding families, I met a Greek/Euro man that completely flipped my original trip on its head, making it one of the most carefree, beautiful times in my life. A time so pure and uninhibited that I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to match it again. Our paths crossed, and for a few short weeks they stayed entwined and it was wonderful.
My first risk was asking Pep (I shortened it from Pereklis) to come with me to Santorini after our stay in Crete. It was scary but that gut feeling was gnawing at me, and for once I quickly listened to it with surprisingly little hesitation. He willingly changed his plans and followed me to the island by ferry the next day.
We had the most amazing few days exploring the island of romance on a scooter, scouting out the most traditional taverns that didn’t need to say “traditional Greek cuisine” on its sign. We laid on the black, white and red beaches for hours letting the sun drain our hearts and our minds. We rode jet skis, watched one of the world’s best sunsets and drank some especially sweet Vinsanto. And at last minute, only a half a day before we were scheduled to part ways, we realized we hadn’t had enough.
We took another risk and abandoned the rest of our itineraries to travel to his vacation house in the southern part of the mainland of Greece to a small village called Skoutari. As we rode through the town with its seaside restaurants, octopus hanging from clothing lines and gorgeously tall blue verandas boasting brightly colored pink flowers, I knew I was in a dream world. I wondered how I could find myself in a place like this and even more curious, how did I get so lucky? I was experiencing a real Greek vacation, fit with a house on top of the beach, a real yaya’s delicious home cooking and a guy who wanted to let me into his very special life. Days were spent exploring the uninhabited beachfront, swimming in the calm and shallow waters of the Mediterranean and enjoying the peaceful scenery with all of the mojitos and Greek salads a girl could ask for.
I was living in the moment, crazy about each second I had with this person in this place. It wasn’t real life, not in the least. But it was what life was made for.
I asked myself, “where is this going? What will come of a time like this?” The scary truth is I have no clue where I will be and who I will be with. But opening myself up to this experience has taught me so much more about riding the wave – letting the current take hold instead of fighting against it.
It’s funny how a complete stranger can give you the boost you didn’t even know you needed. With this one person, this one soul, I am revived. I feel special, worthy and ready for life’s next challenge. I feel motivated and I’ve been reminded of the good things I can do in this life. At this stage I can do anything, go anywhere and be anyone I want to be, and that person will be good.
That person will trust and believe in herself. That person will take risks and not give a damn about what anyone thinks – within reason of course. That person will not only survive, but thrive in the beauty that is this world.
Had too much of this positive bullcrap yet? Well, too bad. Maybe its a bit over the top or up in the clouds, but if this makes just one person be reminded that this life is so much more special and outstanding than we give it credit for, then sounding like a pompous free-willed hippy will be worth it.
It seems that destiny, fate, free will – whatever you may call it – existed on this trip to Greece. I was meant to be on the island of Crete where someone could sweep me up and make me feel wholly special and deserving. I was meant to take a risk and put my whole heart in something. Although it was a hard experience to give up, and the future is so unsure, I know what I got was worth the difficulty of loss. Because without loss, there is nothing, absolutely nothing gained.
And as I ponder on the things I gained on this experience of a lifetime, I can only bear to believe what John Steinbeck wrote in a letter to his son in 1958:
“And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”