Ikarian highlights: beautiful sunsets, continuous ocean vistas, the islanders What I am loving: swimming in a crystal-clear, turquoise sea What I am struggling with: neither over-ordering nor over-eating Greek food What I am missing: me time (school is out) Most impressive thing about Ikaria: its energy Most disappointing thing about Ikaria: its wine (an acquired taste) New skill acquired: treating head lice (thank you, Goa) Family broken/lost sunglasses tally: 13 Items packed that have still not been used: mosquito nets, hairdryer
3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD
POST 16: 13th June 2017, Ikaria, Greece
Well, we started in Greece, so we thought we'd (almost) finish in Greece. After all, with a month to kill before re-entering the rat race (our house is tenanted until the end of June), it seemed silly not to.
We hadn't always planned a revisit. When we first found out about Goa in monsoon, we had toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere in India. The favoured option was Dharamshala - it is the hilly home of the Dalai Lama, many Goans spend the rainy season there, and I have never been to the Himalaya. But that was before I remembered that we only have one set of cold weather clothes each, that I really couldn't face any more Indian food and that after 8 months in Asia, I was a bit tired of it (and in particular, of not feeling fully relaxed about what I could wear, when I could wear it and what was deemed 'culturally appropriate' behaviour for a woman).
Photo caption: How parents deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top left); how children deal with 23 hour's non-stop travelling from Goa (top right); the view from our room (bottom left), the view up to our room (bottom right)
So we looked further afield. Costa Rica seemed enticing, Vietnam and Ibiza too, and whilst all of them boasted what looked like awesome drop-in schools for the kids to attend until the end of the summer term, plus a beach-based lifestyle and a cool, hippy-yoga vibe, none of them offered nearby golf (which is a non-negotiable component of Bobopapa's chosen career).
And so the itinerary for our final European leg was formalised: a second (golfless) stint on the wild and beautiful island of Ikaria, followed by nearly a month on the coast of Catalonia, Spain. Greece thus became our omega as well as our alpha. For what neater way to tie up the loose ends of our trip? And how better to test how we'd changed, if at all?
Photo caption: beaches, mountains, river gorges and turquoise sea - Ikaria has it all...
It is said that Ikaria either kicks you or kisses you. Indeed, visitors have been known to head back to the airport shortly after their arrival. Similar to other energetic hubs, such as Bali and India, Ikaria holds a mirror up to your disowned emotional baggage. It lifts up the carpet and hides the broom. And when you're not ready to acknowledge what is hidden underneath, it can feel a little harsh. In September we certainly felt its power. But this time, after 9 months of rummaging into our darkest recesses, we experienced a softer landing. Perhaps Ikaria decided that we had transformed enough, that we needed a rest. And so it bestowed upon us a big, fat, Greek kiss.
And here's how it felt: my star sign of Virgo is related to the element of earth. And I am indeed extremely dependable and productive - a mistress of assessing and organizing. Unlike the dictates of this element however, I would not describe myself as orientated purely to what is real, and I frequently find it hard to feel 'grounded'. When yoga teachers prompt their pupils to picture their roots digging deep into the centre of the earth - to feel heavy and supported by it - I often can't. Instead, I usually feel as though I am hovering a little above the ground. In Ikaria however, it was the opposite: I literally felt as though I was being pulled downwards - solid, embodied, real!
Photo caption: Play time! Jumping the waves (top left); sampling organic, Ikarian, goat's milk, ice cream (top right); feeding the turtles (bottom left); exploring nature (bottom right)
The locals must sense it too. Because you just couldn't meet more grounded people. In fact, they are absolute models of authenticity. On Ikaria, the western malaise of 'not feeling enough' does not exist; you are simply presented with what is and there is no effort made to embellish it. You get what you see and you either take it or leave it.
The first time round, we found this a little awkward. As is the norm back home, we were expecting to be rewarded for being who we were with a constant torrent of perhaps fake but polite niceties and gushing reassurances. And so the islander's lack of vacant chit-chat automatically led us to think that we must be rubbing people up the wrong way. But we weren't. We just hadn't got it. This time, we understood that small talk simply doesn't exist here: words are neither spoken to fill spaces nor to make people feel better about themselves. There is no need for frills because everyone is loved for who they are. Everyone and everything is enough. And we soon followed suit.
Photo caption: our local haunts - Christos Raches (or the village that never sleeps) for home-made cakes from the women's co-operative (top left); Anna's Taverna (top right); Thea's Inn (bottom left) and trying to make the most of a dodgy internet connection in order to work from home at Artemis Studios (bottom right)
Other 'wounds' that had been stirred up in us the first time, revealed themselves as healed. The need to be 'in control' for example. A formerly big manifestation of this in me, was to always favour giving over receiving. (Because the latter often felt slightly awkward and embarrassing. So far so repressed English.) Not an issue this time though! Instead, I was able to revel in the incredible generosity of Ikarians: accepting a free gift in the supermarket (without questioning how the cashier could even make a gift of something that surely wasn't his to give?); gorging on almost daily, fresh cake deliveries from the restaurant below our room "for the children"; taking advantage, as encouraged, of the endless bounty of fresh apricots from the tree outside our room - and all this without worrying about paying for it or doing something in return. Indeed, I happily left my coffee bill unpaid for a whole 24 hours because they didn't have the right change for me at the time, and received with a smile both the complimentary donuts at Raphael's birthday dinner and the last minute rounding down of my room bill.
And on reflection, it is really not surprising that the Ikarians are generous. For this is just another by-product of being grounded: if you know that you are enough, just by being you, it follows that there is enough. Once you see everything through the lens of abundance, generosity flows naturally!
Photo caption: when you've treated the whole family for nits and can't get the greasy stuff out of your hair, there is nothing left but to tie it up and channel Erykah Badu (left); our second birthday on the road (right)
And so as each day passed, we were shown how much we had grown in our absence. On our first visit, we had filled our days with exploring and excursions. Caves, mountains, forests, beaches, monasteries, castles and medieval towers - all of them we had enthusiastically ticked off the list. This time, there was no list. Not just because we had seen everything there was to see, but also because we were content just being rather than doing.
I also amazed myself by witnessing how what had really bothered me last time, didn't seem quite so important now: the derelict cars by the sides of the road, the seriously sketchy internet connection. But instead of getting riled by these things all over again, I quietly accepted the status quo and got on with things as best I could. (And those that know me well will realise just how monumental this is; before our trip, drama was pretty much my middle name.)
Photo caption: nature's slideshow - every sunset was slightly different but equally captivating...
And so our second leg on this quietly powerful island showed us both how we have changed, as well as how we are continuing to slow down. Not just in ourselves but also in the energetic winding up the trip. Because just as Ikaria served as a stepping stone between an easeful life in Europe and adventure backpacking in Asia, it acted as the opposite on our return. Which was deeply comforting. But also a quite odd. Because it made us feel as though we'd been in a bit of a time warp. Despite having spent two thirds of a year away, filling it with action-packed, assumption-challenging, culturally-awakening globe-trotting, the steadiness of Ikaria and its inhabitants almost made us question if we'd ever left. It seemed to make the intervening 8 months shrink into an almost imperceptible slice of time, when in fact they had felt quite the opposite.
Which is all down to the fact that Ikaria and its inhabitants don't really ever change. Indeed, they are defined by their slow predictability. Which is precisely why we love them. Unfortunately though, this made leaving quite a challenge. And it made me realise just how much this half of the trip has felt dominated by good-byes. For as we inexorably edge nearer to our return date, our departures become more and more emotionally charged: leaving Bali was an effort, departing from India was emotional and in Ikaria, I even shed a tear.
Photo caption: spot the difference - same sign (Xanthi), same girl (Xanthe), same rabbit. Who said we ever left?
Fortunately for us, life on Ikaria will always be the same. Or at least I hope it will. Slow. Unaffected by the outside world. Untamed and natural. What changes is the way we fit in with it or not. It acts as a barometer for our internal landscape. We may always find it unchanged on our return, but each time it will present us with something different: exactly what it is that we most need to look at.
And luckily, it is still relatively unknown. For now. But shhh! Let's keep it a secret. I'd like it to stay that way...
To see where we are on a map, click here!
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