I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Or in my case, that nothing happens for a reason. Tipota. As in, what I was able to recover from a corrupt hard drive. In Greek that means nothing, but the nothing gave me something to talk about. Luckily, the strategic move to London made sense when I considered flying back to Greece to reshoot my adventures in Athens. I could either be bummed that my 2 TB hard drive had crashed and deleted my memories for the past two years, or I could consider making new memories. I chose the latter.
An 18-pound flight on a three-hour budget airline later and I was feeling the sun and sea on my skin. It smelled like home, and I squealed at the thought I was back in my new favorite country. Sorry Italy, I’m cheating on you.
I only had four days to work with to recreate the 20 days I had spent solo traveling all over Greece this summer, so instead of taking a five hour ferry back to Santorini, an island I didn’t really fall in love with considering the “vacation factory feel,” I started searching the “best” islands near Athens to take a day trip.
After reading three different listicles, and texting all of the Greek friends in my phone (most of them thanks to Tinder), I settled on Agistri, what I found out later meant “fish hook” in Greek.
Funny enough, Agistri is a tiny island about an hour away from Piraeus Port, barely known by the Greeks. By the few people who randomly ended up there (I later joined this list), it’s loved for its leafy mountains, lack of consumerism, and sandy beaches. Unlucky for me, the day I booked my ferry was a grey one, and after checking the weather, I saw I’d be in town for the one shitty week a year in Greece. A “Medicane” was plowing through the Mediterranean sea, aka a Mediterranean hurricane that comes with cold wind instead of tropical. My one pair of long pants and jean jacket got their use for the year in that four-day trip alone.
Once I got settled in Athens, just feeling that freedom tingle that came with the exhilaration of solo travel, I was interrupted by loud thumps and threatening clouds that filled the normally blue sky. Regardless, the next morning I woke up at 6 AM to pack my things and catch the “flying dolphin” ferry to Agistri, this tiny island where I barely planned more than a hotel on the beach. Joke was on me when I got to the port, and the one-hour express boat I had booked wasn’t running because of less than agreeable weather, it’s always something. Instead, I hopped on a 9 AM open-air ferry and froze on a tiny blue plastic chair for three hours. I had a whole 500 person ferry all to myself, popular island this time of year.
There comes a point in a travelers life where you stop worrying about planning because your favorite moments in the past have been the unplanned ones. I embraced that concept full force and just showed up.
I knew no one on and nothing about the island.
I relied on my minimal Greek to order the survival tools: coffee and wine, and on my personality to open doors I didn’t even know were there yet.
Santorini was a cakewalk, when I showed up I made a friend within five minutes of checking into my hostel who I still text months later. The kind of friend that has your abs hurting from how hard you’re laughing in a public bus. Mackenzie made the solo trip in Santorini feel like I had shown up with one of my best friends. Agistri was the opposite, the vacant gust of wind in the streets reminded me that I was completely and totally alone.
When was the last time you walked alone? No music or conversation to distract you, no people watching because there were no people, and nothing to look at besides nature. For me? I didn’t even have an answer to my own question. Going out to eat alone is one thing, but walking for miles and miles on an open road surrounded by thick weeds and empty lots is another thing. I felt alive because I was the only living thing in sight. I took a five-mile walk to the neighboring village because I wanted to explore. I knew nothing about the other village other than Google map’s indication that there were a few restaurants in the area. So I walked because where food is, people are, or so I thought.
One of the few cars passing slowed down next to me as I walked on the road signaling for me to get in his car as if I were a hitchhiker. He didn’t look malicious, in fact, I should’ve taken his offer cause that walk was brutal. But I smiled and waved him away. Then I started thinking about how we automatically assume people are bad when most people are actually good. Thoughts like that keep you company on a long walk alone.
Then my mind moved to the fact that adults don’t allow themselves time to explore. The trek made me feel that inner childhood excitement of roaming around a forest near your house that seemed way bigger than you, there was so much possibility back then. Maybe it was because we were conscious of how small we were compared to our parents, the trees, the world, we were curious because we had no stresses clouding the space in our minds allowing us to present. Something about aging takes that temporary joy out of everything. I started going back and forth in my mind trying to find the core of why being a child is so much more fun, and it came down to the fact that we didn’t speculate. Just as I was midway through my own philosophical discourse, I looked up and saw the backdrop of the Mediterranean sparkling and smirking at my direction. Damn, what a country.
On another classic “traveling or trespassing,” I walked into a crevice between two aged stone buildings painted with chipped white and blue and followed the sea to get a better view. I found a makeshift viewpoint, it wasn’t a designated, touristic and organized area to get a good view, but what I saw was better because it was selfishly just for me.
Until a mysterious looking man came out of nowhere. As Greek and old as they get, he slowly makes his way towards me and signals at the camera. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I smiled hard and asked him if he wanted a photo in my crappy Greek. He smiled, waved no, and told me to have a great day. I was having a great day.
My favorite time of the day approached: wine time with as much Greek food as I could shovel down because prices weren’t a stopper, it was dirt cheap here. I was without a doubt the only none Greek in the restaurant, the only brown one, and yet I felt completely at home. That’s what happens when you show you’re trying with an “every day Greek” guidebook on the table. I ordered a Greek salad so fresh it felt like everything was picked out back. That feta was lifechanging, as was the plate of roasted chicken, crispy potatoes, and complimentary grapes for dessert.
My stomach and soul were full. Surprisingly, so was my wallet.
The food coma forced me to scavenge for good coffee. My hotel was depressingly empty: it was so vacant I got to pick any room I wanted. So instead of sitting there in my dusty room twiddling my thumbs while drinking chalk-like instant coffee made from a machine from Caesar’s time, I wandered some more.
I brought my journal as the activity if I didn’t have anyone to keep me company, at least my stories would. After five minutes weathering the crazy ass “Medicane” headed straight for the island, I stepped inside a nearby hotel, to be real, I only had three options, so I chose the middle one like Goldie Locks. On a windy, rainy day, it was perfect. I sat at the bar, ordered an espresso, and got to work on my journal. That was at 5 PM, just before the small dinner crowd started stumbling in, so I got to see the lights dim, candles lit, and the transformation of the owner’s setting an ambiance for their loyal patrons.
Around 7 PM, my hands started cramping from so much writing, so I ordered a red wine to cut off the edge. The owner pours me a wine so natural, there wasn’t even a label on the bottle. He had this old wise man vibe who had chain-smoked most of his adult life, creating this raspy and knowledgeable tone of voice he could spit in both English and Greek. His name was Μιχαήλ, in English, Mike. My stomach rumbled, so I ordered the most decadent pumpkin soup I’ve ever slurped in my life. The warmth was perfect to stage my cozy writing night for one. Until I wasn’t alone anymore.
Next thing you know, I’m the soup sales girl at the bar, convincing everyone how delicious the special of the night was. Mike pours me another glass of red, and before I knew it, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner with relatives I hadn’t seen in ages. 9 PM rolls around, and my ass is sore from sitting down for so many hours on the same bar stool. I learned about Greek, wine, Greek wine, and fell in love with this tiny slice of paradise even if it was downpouring outside.
“I just don’t understand why people kill themselves working 360 days a year, and complain the other 5,” Mike mentioned after observing vacationers and their high expectations to have the “post-card” worthy vacation. He was absolutely right, I came without expectations, which automatically made everything exceed what I had in mind. In other words, I gave myself a chance to genuinely enjoy what I was living in the present.
And damn, I was enjoying it.
We were both spitting nuggets of knowledge that I tipsily jotted down in my journal, “Are you writing a book?” He asked. “Eventually, and this will be a chapter.”
His wife and sister came out of the back during closing around 10 PM, and became my Greek aunts. They asked if I had eaten, offered me more food, hugged me when I said something in Greek that wowed them and told me I could always come back to stay in their hotel.
I kept asking the other guests at the bar how they ended up at Agistri, and one by one, they all told me the same thing. “It was close to Athens and I thought I was just coming here in passing, that was twenty years ago.”
I was stranded but never felt more at home listening to these conversations of ballsy experiences and fate-like encounters.
Sipping the red wine, I nodded at their stories, smiling at pictures from scrapbooks Mike showed me of all the guests who had become lifelong friends of his. He looked up and said:
“Joanna, you have blood on your lips.”
“Yeah, from the hook.”
Agistri reeled me in like a lost little fish.
The next day, I woke up to the news that my boat wouldn’t be arriving because of the weather. In fact, no ferries were leaving that day, which was completely inconvenient considering my flight left Athens the next morning at 11 AM. After checking out of my own hotel, I went to the place I had a life-time welcome, Oasis hotel. Like family, they called the ferries, confirmed the situation, and solved the problem by booking me a water taxi.
Strangers helped get me unstranded, and it all went into my jar of stories that remind me there’s more good than bad in the world.