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The Travel Spell
Finding wonder in Crete
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The sun is still high but the light is soft now, no longer burns. You can walk on the sand without running - oh oh oh oh oh - until your feet finally touch the cool water. The sun caresses the skin, there is no urge to get sunscreen on it anymore. The masses of people occupying every inch of sand have now retreated, leaving sun beds in disarray. The hay of the locally made parasols is no longer moving almost horizontally due to intense winds, but now flowing lazily, as if finally able to take a break from a hard day's work providing respite to beach-goers. The sun’s reflection is no longer everywhere in the ocean, but instead localized, a thick line that becomes thiner and thiner the closer to the shore.
My partner and I have a tendency to fall in love with places we travel to and immediately start talking about moving there. We are starting to feel a bit like this about Chania and surroundings - on the west side of Crete - which is odd because I didn't expect it, but then again places that surprise me are always my favorite.
"What do you think that condo cost?" my husband asks while pointing at the nicest condo on the beach - brand new, big terrace overlooking the ocean.
I glare at him, “maybe that one over there is more realistic?”, I say while pointing to a less fancy condo building.
We look at each other conspiratorially, and then at the beach, contemplating a potential future unlikely to materialize, but also not an impossibility given our track record. I didn't feel particularly drawn to Chania - and Crete for that matter - the first night we were here, when we walked its crowded pedestrian streets to dinner by the water, or even when we strolled its Venetian harbor under the blazing sun. It happened later, when we decided the only sensible thing to do was to exchange the hot concrete for the hot sand of the nearest pretty beach.
After spending 10 days in Crete and almost two months in Greece, I still find myself thinking of Crete often. It was the first place we visited in Greece before our grand tour through a dozen Aegean islands plus some of the mainland, so maybe it was the sweet shock of arriving to a new country. That destabilizing travel spell that shakes you into life, it screams: "You are alive! Feel it all, absorb it all, enjoy it all!". The world is full of wonder, it's always around us - no matter where we are - but familiarity breeds indifference. It's all too easy to stop seeing wonder in day-to-day life.
Traveling makes wonder obvious, everything is new and exciting! There is the sudden realization that your life could be totally different in this new place, that day to day life is different all around the world - what people have for breakfast, how they get to work, what they do in their free time, how they celebrate important milestones - and also utterly the same, after all, we all have hopes and dreams.
This travel spell draws me to far away lands, and makes me imagine myself in places where I don’t speak the language or fully understand the culture. When I wonder why, I always come back to what I was made to feel in that place - both by people and by nature. Like a warm interaction with a 55 year old Greek grandpa, or the insignificant feeling of being up in a mountain overlooking a gorgeous coast, or loud crickets reminding me it’s time to get out of the house.
The Greek grandpa was standing on the parking lot of a remote beach in northwest Crete, and waved at us as we were pulling out while saying, "ride?". We motioned for him to get on, and after a bit of trouble - he was tall and big, and our car basically a toy - he was seated in the back, breathing heavy. Cigaret smell permeated the car. The sun was brutal out there, and his skin showed it. During a 15min car ride, and in between his broken English and my broken Greek (read: zero), we chatted about his life. He proudly told us about his olive farm - "after summer season ends I go to farm, hard work!" - and with mischiefing eyes shared about his daughter - "she has three kids! why in a hurry? I told my son in law to slow down, watch more TV! you understand?". We locked eyes and I bursted out laughing. Before jumping out of the car he excitedly yelled, "Schumaher!", and clapped my husband's shoulder, who was driving a bit too fast down the dirt road. Of course we immediately got what he meant, as we would have used the same expression in Venezuela or Mexico, and probably most of the world. Just a small thing we have in common, a reminder that many things connect us, no matter how different we are from each other.
Earlier that day, we walked down a rocky path towards a remote beach. Mountain goats looked with contempt at the procession of people. It was dusty and hot and unpleasant, until our target appeared in the distance and made all of that fade away. Far below us: a beach, its waters separated into two compartments by a strip of sand ending in a small mountain. To the right the water was a deep turquoise, becoming more and more blue towards the horizon, little boats played with the waves. To the left it was much shallower, the water light gray with pockets of deep blue. I stopped and looked, then wondered who saw this view for the first time. Maybe someone just wondering, or an explorer with a destination but still wistfully ignorant of the beauty ahead. All of sudden he sees it, but no one is around to answer his “oooh ahhh” with a “I know!”. Still he exclaims, “wow!”, because it's worthy of that honor.
Of course, it was August in Greece so there were also the crickets, which to be fair were equals part annoying - so loud they wake you up! - and charming - the soundtrack of the summer. Early morning with one eye closed and another open I imagined them screaming at me, "you are on an island! the ocean is near, isn't this beautiful?! get up and enjoy!". They were such an integral piece of our stay that we talked about them regularly. "Why do you think they are so loud, are they mating or warning predators? Do they even have predators here? Maybe they are super territorial?", we asked ourselves over breakfast in the morning or a glass of prosecco at night. Throwing guesses before the trusting Google told us they are indeed trying to woo females.
Ultimately, no matter the language, the weather, or even the noisy animals, I think it’s easy to find wonder, even in your backyard, even in the mundane, just as long as you are paying attention.