ONE LESS ITEM ON MY BUCKET LIST

detailed-physical-map-of-greece-with-cities-roads-and-airports-copiaInterestingly enough, I didn’t even realize I had a bucket list until I started checking things off. I guess one of the first, if not the very first, was living in Madrid. When I thought about it before it happened, my response was: “Well, I guess it won’t be in this lifetime.” But, it happened when I least expected. I can’t remember what the second was, but it will come back… or not. The third was going to Machu Picchu; I was certain that I would not do it in this lifetime. I was getting too old to take the altitude and then there was no one to go with until, suddenly, when my son turned 50, it occurred to me that I could give him the trip as a birthday present (birthday present for me too, I guess), so we went to Machu Picchu: me, my son and my lovely daughter-in-law. Once the way to do it was discovered, the fourth item on the list was easy. The Galapagos Islands were seen and enjoyed with the most wonderful company of my daughter, my son and once more his wife.

The latest is Greece. I had no plans to go. Perhaps, I had thought, I could do it for my daughter’s 50th birthday: a sail around the Greek Islands, but while making the plans for that trip, I couldn’t find anything that convinced me, so instead we are going to Tahiti and the Marquis Islands. And then it happened, unexpectedly as with most wonderful 971771e3-ea24-4a00-ba7f-c31cc152191ethings in life. I opened an email from my English friend, Tamara, and it was an invitation to Kalikalos, in Greece, for a workshop of the Byron Katie Work. I had received that invitation several times before because Tamara does this workshop every year, but suddenly something in my body said “yes”, and I immediately wrote my friend an e-mail asking if she would accept me as a helper or staff. She agreed, I got my tickets and on the 25th of August, flew to Thessaloniki via Athens. There we were to meet in a hotel in order to drive to Mount Pelion the following morning.

untitled-hotelThessaloniki overlooks a bay in the Aegean Sea so that evening I sat on the porch of the hotel restaurant enjoying a Greek salad and finding it hard to believe that I was actually in Greece. The night sported a sparkling necklace of multicolored lights adorning the land-face and separating it from the black bodice of the bay. From pool-side speakers Latin-American music permeated the atmosphere mingling with laughter and conversations at other tables. I might have just as well been in Las Brisas, overlooking the Acapulco Bay. Even the gentleness of the waiters and the hotel staff’s willingness to be of service reminded me of Mexico. I wondered if the rest of the trip was also going to be this sweet sliding into nostalgia.

img-20160831-wa0000Tamara arrived just before midnight and I was almost asleep so we didn’t talk that night. The following morning after a satisfying breakfast, we climbed into a small blue Fiat Panda, picked up two lady passengers who were also attending the workshop and set off down the modern highway towards our destination on Mount Pelion, pelion-2a mountain forming a hook-like peninsula between the Pagasetic Gulf and the Aegean Sea on the southeastern rim of Thessaly in central Greece.

20160826_124430After driving past Mount Olympus we continued for hours on a straight motorway bordered by flat terrain, the unaesthetic forms of warehouses and the usual highway clutter; then we suddenly turned off onto a local road, passed the port city of Volos and began to climb. Immediately the landscape gave way to cliffs and lovely white and beige Greek houses huddled in the crevices and clinging to the mountain side like nesting doves. The road narrowed as it curved its way through township after town-greecetownship, each offering its produce for passing tourists: pottery, basket ware, honey and marmalades; hats, beachwear and inflatables bursting with colorful temptation. Then the forest began to thicken and the road seemed to narrow even more, hemmed in by tall trunks and mountain on one side and deep crevices on theimagesve4ywjdh other. Beech, oak, maple and chestnut trees competed with each other for room on the steep slopes, and stretched tall, harvesting their share of Greek sunshine. According to Wikipedia, the Pelion is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in Greece, and after driving up and down it various times, I can confirm that it is indeed beautiful. It is also a very popular tourist attraction, offering hiking trails, stone paths, springs and, of course, incredible coves and beaches, both sandy and pebbly, with the white, white stones that Greece is known for and that tourists like pebblesmyself collect to bring home and sport in our household flower pots. During the winter, the highest peaks gather a good covering of snow and two ski lifts take the enthusiasts up and down. So tourism is the livelihood of many mountain dwellers all year around.

Springs let loose rivulets that course down the mountainside and are sometimes domesticated by stone-guided streams providing the towns with water offered to passing visitors from public fountains. We stopped at one such source to fill our water bottles with the cold crystalline liquid which is known for its purity. In one of the small towns we lunched on the local fare of stuffed peppers and tomatoes, fried cheese, cucumber salad and steamed local greens similar to kale and fresh spring water.

imagesxznc0q6bMount Pelion took its name from the mythical king Peleus, father of Achilles and became the home of the Centaur, Chiron, tutor of many Greek heroes (Jason, Achilles, Theseus and Heracles). The symbol for Mount Pelion today is the centaur and this image can be found all over.

kissos-3We climbed up to 500 meters above sea level to a lovely little village called Kissos. The center of town consists of three enormous plane trees, a small church, several restaurants, a few shops, a neighborhood supermarket and a pharmacy. Saturday night we were treated to the music from a Greek wedding held under one of the plane trees, to which possibly all the neighbors had been invited, because it went on until 4am. Sunday, it was the voice of the priest and his second in command singing the mass over loudspeakers so that everyone (not in the church) could, or was img_2460obliged to, tune in.

Kalikalos, as our destination was called, was just on the other side of the village, amongst neighboring houses. A large two-story building offers several bedrooms with 2, 3 and 4 beds each, whereas a smaller one houses the kitchen and utility rooms across a stoned terrace where the dining space is located under a thick roofing of kiwi and grape vines. We were between 24 and 26 people staying and eating there, and taking advantage of the different offerings such as Tamara’s kissosworkshop, a facial-lift massage, reflexology and guided hikes up and down the mountainside. We were all invited to make ourselves part of the community by helping in diverse chores throughout our stay: cooking, cleaning, keeping the gardens, etc. This insures that every meal becomes a communal affair with laughter and conversation all the way through. Dinner, which is the main meal, is preceded by forming a circle holding hands and listening while the cook-in-turn announces the evening’s fare and wishes everyone a healthy and happy meal. The clean-up crew gets to serve themselves first so that they may begin their duties as soon as they are finished. Every chore has a ‘focalizer’ and 20160828_140047several ‘helpers’ so the work is done rapidly and efficiently. The community is set up in May and lasts until October (http://www.kalikalos.org/) and is open to all peoples. Our group had visitors from Hungary, Italy, Spain, France, England, Australia, Austria, Chile, the USA and Greece. The cooking was vegan and very tasty; I would have preferred some eggs and cheese, but it was plentiful. On one night we all went out to a restaurant and I ate lamb; it was nothing to write home about. My img_2478favorite –as far as Greek food- was the tzatziki dip, made with yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and sometimes quite spicy. The fried cheese, which somebody raved about, was a bit like eating a tasty breaded piece of rubber, but the veggies were great: aubergine, zucchini, tomatoes and onions… my favorite, and quinoa –no matter how it’s made- I can just die for! All in all I loved Kalikalos and there was something about the whole atmosphere that just invited me tountitled ‘space out’ which I did.

The schedule in Kalikalos is as relaxed as everything else, the morning dedicated to any workshop or organized activity that one has chosen, and the afternoon free for going to the beach or just lazing around. If Kalikalos and the mountain side villages were a delight, the Aegean Sea was beyond my wildest dreams. Now, understand that I have been to many, many beaches in the Caribbean and know what transparent, aqua-colored water looks like, but nothing prepared for the water of the Aegean Sea. It was like looking at liquid glass; it was not only transparent, but also had a crystalline quality to it that made it seem practically unreal. Of all the photos I took, more than 75% are of the water; I just couldn’t get over it, and obviously no matter how good the camera, there is no way to capture what the eye is really appreciating. But here they are anyway:

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This is one Bucket-list item that is definitely going to be repeated!

MACHU PICCHU

10259700_10204054925727072_4713911763883038271_n[1] My dream of visiting Machu Pichu finally came true last year in August when I travelled to Peru with my son and daughter-in-law. We flew from Miami to Lima and there boarded a plane to Cuzco. The expedition was led by Gregg Braden who met the group at the Sonesta hotel in the Sacred Valley. For almost two weeks we visited fascinating places with magical names like Ollantaytambo, Yucay, Urubamba Valley, Chinancero, Cuzco and Lake Titicaca and I took so many photographs it would be absolutle impossible to share them, just as the experiences were so varied and exciting that remembering them actually becomes painful in some sort of way. However, a few days after my return to reality (home) I wrote the following letter, which I want to share on this Blog.     30 Urubamba Valley or Sacred Valley

It is early morning and I just read a piece on death that someone wrote upon her mother’s demise and I cried; I cried yesterday night too after reading a form letter from Gregg Braden thanking everyone for their participation on the trip. I realized that I was going through a kind of “mourning” for the trip that was so wonderful, exhilarating, emotional and inspiring. It was a gift to have you both there to share it with; I guess I feel that we are “kindred spirits” to use a cliché. I hadn’t understood why I was feeling a bit down, dragging around, not really getting started on anything, not picking up my work again 10561689_1534980433402676_4636946343054596396_n[1]but rather passing the time doing odds and ends, dithering, watching the end of a series… nothing serious, and now I understand. Seeing Machu Picchu was a dream I had harbored for a long time, believing it not to be possible because I didn’t want to go alone and there seemed to be no one to go with until I thought of the fact that you, Peter, and Patricia would undoubtedly enjoy it, and had the marvelous excuse of your 50th birthday.59 P+P
    Then, as with all dreams, I feared the trip, the sight, the experience wouldn’t live up to expectations, that things would happen to ruin it, that there would be the inevitable letdown from exagerated 54 Terraces and montain Ollantaytamboexpectations. None of this happened. No, the trip was not what I expected, it was different.
Machu Picchu was not the high point, the great revelation, the unforgettable aha! Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Pisac were just what they are: ruins, stone remembrances of civilizations past and, as marvelous as they are, they are not alive, vibrant, or really inspiring to me. But the mountains, that landscape that speaks of an upheaval so powerful, a force so absolutely impossible and incomprehensible yet there, so much more durable and magnificent than any stones –no matter how large, how carefully carved, how 20140803_085417impossibly perfectly fit, how difficultly moved- that humans might have left organized or scattered over a tiny part of that landscape… those mountains and crags and peaks dwarfed everything around in their overbearing majesty. They were the gods the Incas saw and adored, their snowy glaciers glimmering in the sunshine against a vibrant blue sky; the mountains, the cliffs, the Apus… that was what I had gone for. When, against all my expectations, I climbed to the Sun Gate at the top of the Machu Picchu mountain, constructed over 2 kms above the famed site, and 20140803_090953arrived, breathless but exhilirated at 14,000 ft. I knew that it was for this that I had come, for these incommensurable upliftings of granite reaching for the unfathomable blue sky to enter into my eyes and my soul, expanding a heart that was already beating its way out of my chest as I gulped in the thin air and fell to my knees in awe. On that mountain top, above the impressively high Mayna Picchu that towers over the ordered stones of Machu Picchu, gazing down at the miserably dwarfed human expression of the ruins below and out across range upon range of Earth at its most magnificent with its rocky or snowy mountain tops, its glaciers, its jagged peaks, its20140803_072901 (2) fathomless valleys and the sky so inmense and indomitable with the sun bursting out from over the crest, I experienced a gratitude beyond words that was at the same time humbling and uplifting, that both made me feel so small and yet infinite, nothing and everything at the same time. So, I realized last night and again this morning as I write, that I am mourning that vision, that experience, that unrepeatable instant when I stood at the top of the 20140803_101016mountain and looked out over the Andes in awe.
    Now I am back in Salies, beautiful Salies where everything is human-sized and domesticated and for the first time in my life I understand why human beings climb mountains. So that is why my eyes tear up every time I think of the trip, of Machu Picchu, of our wonderful times together, of the laughs and talks, of sharing the incredible journey that is now in the past, and done and over. I am mourning the passing of an experience that I may never have again and I am also crying with gratitude for having had it.
So today, remembering once more, I pull out the pictures and try to chose which ones I can include in this memory, which would be meaningful or simply too beautiful to pass over, and once again my chest opens wide feeling so grateful, wanting to go back at the same time as knowing that what I lived then can never be repeated.10710557_10204054937167358_4846205909494950970_n[1]
10649745_10204054927807124_7413342280349671604_n[1]Like that magical instant that the Incas called “the crack between the worlds”, that short time when it is no longer day but night is yet to come,  it can only be experienced at the instant it is real; everything else falls short.
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