It’s been a long month, and after endless beaches, cafes, mountain hikes, airports, late night bars and early morning struggles to pack our bags and hit the road, Jim and I are returned from Europe and I am safely seated at my mother’s kitchen table in Miami. How quickly the immediacy of the Greek islands and the ancient Italian cities recede; while there, everything seemed more vibrant, raw with potential, each vista that opened up around each corner or curve in the path impacting you with an absoluteness and vividness that seemed to say: this is where you are, this is a moment you are wholly living, and there is nothing but this sky, these white buildings, these naked cliff faces and crashing waves.
And now here I am, and that heightened state of living seems to be slipping away like the tide receding from the shore. Already I am growing lulled by the rhythms of my mother’s house, made complacent by regular meals, comfortable chairs, soft beds and the enervating humidity of the Floridian days and nights.
It was an incredible experience, however. There were moments of victory that will live on only in Jim and my memories, moments that we have already tried to convey to others and failed to explain adequately. For example: one afternoon we decided to hike out around the hills of green flint rock that descended in curtain-like folds to the azure sea that surrounded the island of Anafi, and attempt to gain the summit of a distant mountain on who’s peak was built a solitary monastery of startling white. We hiked for five hours with our packs on, only to gain the base of the mountain at dusk. Undeterred, we ascended through the gloaming, picking our way along a faint goat’s path that disappeared altogether when the sun finally set, and we only managed to find with the aid of our one flashlight. Up we went, for two hours through the dark, constantly losing the trail, plunging, harrowing cliff drops to our left, with no idea how far there was left to go. Finally, drenched in sweat, legs shaking and weak, high, high above the sea below, the path leveled off, and a ghost like building manifested before us.
The monastery. Laughing, tottering forwards, we pressed out hands to its cool walls, and turned to bear hug each other in victory. We had made it. Hours of climbing in through the darkness, with precipitous falls to our side, battling our lack of breath and with nothing other than bloody minded determination to keep us going and we had made it. That moment is engraved in my mind, I can still see Jim’s face split by his grin, hear our laughter echoing out into the night, feel that surge of adrenaline and delight. It’s there, trapped in my mind, but I can’t quite convey how it felt, not really. Lying on the tiny monastery’s roof some time later, a loaf of bread and a jar of Nutella between us for dinner, we lay quiet and stared at the stars, at the Milky Way which was a brilliant bruise of white across the heavens, a smear of light so bright we simply chewed and drank from our canteens and stared in silence for what felt like hours. Stars fell in burning arcs across the heavens, the winds ripped around us, high up on the mountain peak as we were, and miles below the waves of the Aegean crashed against the base of the cliff.
(A view down the mountainside, an idea of what we had to ascend)