On Getting Lost
In Symi, our favorite Greek island
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We are lost. Well, more accurately, we are Google Maps lost. You know, when Google takes you through questionable pathways and you follow it anyway, trusting blindly on this technology we have become extremely dependent on, even when all signs point to a glitch.
I wonder how people even got to places before it existed, and then remember I actually grew up in that world, and if my terrible memory serves me, I think we got lost a lot less. But who knows, sixteen feels like two decades ago… because it was.
Our intended destination is the Castle ruins - "the best views of the island", our hotel host said - up in a hill from the picture-perfect touristy town of Gialos next to the water. There is a clearly marked path leading there from town, but Google took us the “short way” from our hotel, and we are following it, goddammit! We are bascally hiking, although totally unprepared and under the blazing sun.
We go up and up - it must be up, right?! - until we get…somewhere. Is it our destination? unclear, but we are somewhere very high up and the view is worth the way. We are the only ones here, being rocked by the wind while marveling at the giant sailboats down below and trying to locate our hotel. The perspective from up here changes my limited understanding of the island; water extends infinitely and in places you wouldn’t have guessed, like behind the town - “look, there is a bay!” - and beyond the hill we just climbed - “wow, a pretty beach!”.
After a while, we start walking again, still feeling lost but sort of liking it now. We see houses immaculately painted in that Symi-yellow - a light fresh color, optimistic and cheerful - next to completely abandoned homes, truly just ruins. The arm of a giant fig tree waves at us from inside a house, the ocean doing peek-a-boo in between its leaves. Large cactuses and bright buganvilias make the yellow houses pop. Still, there is an eerie feeling throughout, even the remodeled perfectly-manicured houses are empty, waiting to be revived, but by who and how I cannot tell. It's still only us up here, even-though we are in the middle of the highest season in Greece. It's so spooky that I expect a barking dog at every corner. This pristine ghost town used to be a bustling town of more than 22,000 inhabitants who built ships and dived for sponges. Yes, like for bathing, natural sponges! The oldest known form of underwater diving.
At some point we make it to the main intersection from town - you know, the regular path we didn’t take. We see people again! We sit down in a cafe and drink the coldest beer I have had in Greece, downing half of it in a gulp. We are a few tables from a sailor; at least he seems like one with a white small hat, a big cross on his chest, black slacks, white shirt, and a faded hard-to-decipher tattoo on his arm. On his table there is a glass of water, a cup of coffee, and a shot of ouzo. In his hand there is a worry bead, or is it a big rosary? The sailor keeps turning the beads over and over, the noise of big marbles hitting each other is all I can hear. After a quick Google search - see how dependent we are?! - I confirm they are indeed worry beads, not religious in any way and used to pass the time, just like we are doing now.
After a couple more beers and lots of people watching (read: mostly the sailor) we decide it’s time to eat. We had found an intimate restaurant up here with live music, so we decide to give that a try.
We walk there and go inside. The place is basically a hallway that feels like a narrow garden, welcoming and packed with plants. We sit against the wall and devour fried feta with fig jam - probably my favorite Greek starter - and a plate of “Symi shrimp” - little pan-fried shrimps eaten whole.
We are starting to wonder about the live music when two musicians sit down at the end of the hallway. She has long curly hair and is in a bright red dress, he has a guitar in hand, a round face, and a white beard. She sings in a deep voice, “I never believed I would fall in love with you”, and I sing along, thinking about this island. We had arrived at the shiny Symi bay at 11am that day, admiring from the ferry the many small yellow houses layered up the tall craggy mountain we are in now.
In the town below - the touristy area - it’s impossible to stop taking pictures. Everywhere you look there is a colorful little boat dancing with the soft waves, an endearing cafe, a pretty sponge store, rows of taxi boats ready to sweep you away into one of the many remote beaches only accessible by boats. It’s hard to not love this place. And the truth is that I loved Symi from the moment I saw it, but I fell in love with it in this abandoned town, getting lost in its backstreets, singing along in a hidden garden, “Symi, I never believed I would fall in love with you”.