Jul 31, 2008

Blink of an Eye

The final tale of our journey is indeed a wonderful one. In fact our merrymaking has been so intense in the last 2 weeks that our blog has suffered dearly. Who has time to write when you’re exploring an entire island by scooter? Why go online when dozens of beautiful beaches await us, lounge chairs and umbrellas galore? No time for pictures when there are so many gyros pita stands to try. Once Nick and Lisa landed in Santorini our travel brains seemed to turn off. These final two weeks were the only section of our 7 month adventure that was strategically planned. Hotels were reserved, ferries were booked, and budgets were thrown to the wind. This was the Greek islands in the summer, there where 4 of us, then 5, then 4 again, and we had more fun than can possibly fit into one of our Eagle Creek back packs. The alcohol was flowing and the mornings grew shorter and shorter as we partied our way closer to the finish line. And while time has erased so many details in my sun and beer soaked brain, I wish to stop with the generalities and fill in as many blanks as possible in the grand finale of Hablog Ingles.

Thira (Santorini)

Known as one of the most touristed islands of them all, Santorini, despite the throbbing crowds, did not disappoint. We visited the White beach, a beautiful outcrop of limestone that slid in the ocean creating a small beach of a beautiful color. We drove our scooters to the northern end of Oia to watch the sunset amongst hundreds of tourists. After the crowd applauded the sun’s final descent into night, a full moon made its glorious debut directly behind us. It was a memorable scene as we perched ourselves high in the bleached city that suspended itself on the edge of the cliffs, hundreds of feet above the sea. Thira is thought to be the site to the largest volcanic eruption in the history of the world. In 1500 BC the island’s entire center exploded into the atmosphere 30 km high creating a massive caldera that soon filled with sea water. It is one of nature’s masterpieces and the cause for all the crowds in Sanotrini. Yet, when the cruise ships depart and the sweet light arrives, this island is very romantic. The four of us relaxed, drank wine, and caught up on old times while staring off into the sea from our hotel.


After 4 hours on the slow boat, we arrived in the very un-touristed island of Amorgos. This island is basically a massive mountain protruding from the sea. We loved the contrast of its tranquility and serenity compared to Santorini. Again we rented two scooters because this is an amazing way to experience a Greek island. Here we went on a hike above the sea, and visited many beautiful classic white towns. We took the bus to a monastery that, because the Greeks love to do it, clung to the side of a cliff like the pickle from my quarter-pounder that now sticks to the window of McDonalds.


In Naxos, an old friend from France that Nick and I met in Costa Rica joined us. C’eline was happy to see us waiting for her at the port when she arrived. Now that the party had really started, the five of us rented an apartment near a very nice beach and lounged around all day. The five of us enjoyed the shallow waters as we tossed the Frisbee for hours. We had a wonderful seafood dinner that night and before we knew it we were off to …


As we stepped into the scorching heat of a bus parked in the sun, a fat sweaty man soon followed. He looked at his passengers – a rag tag bunch of independent travellers eager to see the island. “Welcome to Mykonos” he mumbled as his hand reached up for the stereo and the house music began pumping through the sound system. As our ride began and our heart beats assumed the rhythm of the music we knew that Mykonos would be intense. Mykonos, at least the part of Mykonos that the five of us experienced, is a never ending party. Our nights started at 11 and ended at 4 am. We sat at the beach among hundreds of party animals, a dance club party filled the background with all 3 genders joining in on the fun.
It is a beautiful island with some incredibly scenic towns and never ending white-washed buildings. But who cares when you’re gettin’ down at the night club SPACE or cruising the never-ending bars and restaurants that line every nook and cranny of this once sleepy place? We had lots of fun in Mykonos and though we had to say goodbye to C’eline, we were happy to be moving on.


This unknown was an added island as we decided three nights of Mykonos was too much for us. Turns out it was well worth the stop. This was old world Greece. Finally, we found towns with no tourist shops and only the occasional taverna. We took a drive at sunrise in our rented shoebox-of-a-car. It was a fitting farewell to our version of a 5 island tour.


Athens was the final stop of more than 100 for us. We made it. This is it. This is a dump. OK, so first impressions aren’t always accurate. Athens is a city that demands your attention to produce good results. While much of it is a ghetto, a little discovery will produce excellent eateries, wonderful gyros pitas, awesome bars, great vistas, nice beaches, and yes, the Acropolis. It’s too bad that so many tourists spend a whirlwind day at the Acropolis, Agora, and wonderful museum before boarding a ferry to the islands. It was a really nice city to spend our final three days. Since we had three full days, we did as Athenians do. We saw Mamma Mia at one of Athen’s outdoor movie theaters. Afterwards, we danced to some real music – none of the Mykonos house mixes here. The weather was perfect with a nice breeze for 3 straight days. We dined like kings and stayed out late. On the last night we climbed to the top of Lycabettus hill for a stunning 360 degree sunset over one the oldest cities of the world.

And then we flew home on four different flights. Just like that, the journey had ended. Seven months, thirteen countries, in the blink of an eye.

Jul 16, 2008

The Home Stretch

The sole of my right shoe is now peeled back a few inches from the toe. Amanda’s favorite shirt has elongated itself into a dress from so many hand washes in a hotel sink, and drying over the back of a chair. Our hair is long and shabby, our clothes need replacing. Yes, as I sit here in our beautiful hotel perched on the scenic caldera of the Greek island of Santorini, I am painfully aware that the end is near. Six months ago, this time would never come. Five months ago we had thousands of adventures in front of us. Last month we still had two countries on our list. Now there is Greece.
Before getting ahead of myself, I must back-track 1 week to Turkey. After taking a plunge off the mountain with the Mediterranean as my backdrop, we took a bus inland towards the ruins of Heiropolis in Pamukkale. This ancient Roman city resists the urge to be bland by perching itself atop a large outcrop of limestone terraces. The Romans shaped them into pools and what is left are stunning waterfalls of cool spring water into dozens of beautifully shaped pools over a bleach white landscape of calcium rich soil. It made for an incredible sunset. The ruins were crowned by an amazing Roman theatre – one of the best preserved in Asia. What might have caught our attention the most was the hundreds of bikini clad women, mostly Russian, posing in terraces for pictures. The beach was a hundred miles away yet everyone was in their bikini taking a swim. Considering the Turkish tourists wore headscarves and coats, it made for some bizarre contrasts.
We then headed for our final Turkish stop at the ruins of Ephesus. Regarded as one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world, we were certainly impressed. However, the stifling heat, encroaching forest fire, and crushing mass of cruise-ship tourists had us moving on our way fairly quickly to the port town of Marmaris. From here we took a pricey catamaran to the ancient Greek island of Rhodes.

Our guide book told us we’d either like Rhodes or love it. However it was dead wrong. These descriptives are far too weak and commonplace to truly explain the way we felt while roaming the ancient streets of Rhodes town on the northern tip of this large island.
Maybe it should have read: you will want to give up all your material possessions, renounce your citizenship to the US, climb a mountain, climb five mountains, do everything you hate – even listen to country music, just to be in Rhodes. It was fantastic. And all we had to do was give a company 50 euros each to get here! The old town is surrounded by ancient walls, 16 meters thick. The cobble stoned streets demand that you take your time as you stroll through crooked passageways, tunnels, and old, old, old. We loved our little apartment off the street. It was as though we had always lived there. And though the crowds could be intense, it was not difficult to find the quite streets where cats and old ladies still reigned supreme over mass tourism.

We took an excursion to the famous town of Lindos on the Eastern coast of Rhodes for a day of scorched skin, floating in the turquoise waters, and beer sipping.

After waking to a minor earthquake on our last morning in Rhodes, we boarded an 18 seat plane and now we are in Santorini; an island which speaks for itself. My sister Lisa and high school friend Nick will be meeting us here shortly. It is the beginning of the end and never have I experienced such a strong sense of the word “bittersweet”. We can’t believe our lives of travel are nearing an end but wow has it been great. We can’t believe we only have 2 weeks left but… we have two weeks to spend in Greece! Life is good. No, life is great.

Jul 5, 2008

4th of July

“This man stole my passport!!!” A small crowd quickly grew in numbers to engulf the scene that was unfolding in front of a fruit stand in the Western Mediterranean city of Kas (pronounced kash). Fists started flying as I held the man by my shirt.

Five minutes earlier, as Amanda and I strolled through this beautiful Turkish beach town, Amanda stopped me and told me something that really caught my attention. With her right pointer finger extended Amanda said: “Leighton, isn’t that the man that was on the beach yesterday?”

I turned for a look and began to follow him. It would be hard to call this a chase, but the guy sure was taking some strange turns as he wound his way through the small alleys and shops in the center of town. After nearly being run over by a kid on a scooter, my hand reached for what I suddenly realized was the exact shirt I had been wearing the day before.

Had I spoken Turkish there would have been many wonderful and glorious phrases spilling from my seething mouth at that moment. “You f#@$% sh@@#$ad ba#$%d. However, all I could think to say was: “That’s a nice shirt”. I said this because it was a nice shirt. It was mine after all, and after not having it for the night, I realized how fond of it I had become. It was really nothing too special – just a grey Jockey T shirt. However, when you have been wearing the same 4 t-shirts for the past 6 months, you tend to grow quite fond of them.

So now I was standing in the street holding a Turkish man wearing my shirt. This was the only man at the beach yesterday whose face I remembered. As we swam in the clearest and freshest seawater of our lives, he sat on a rock smoking his cigarette with an impossibly long ash.

“How you know he steals from you?” A thick Turkish accent from the crowd asks me this fair question. As I answered yet another local stepped up to bat. His right hand made a solid connection to the face of the man wearing my shirt. My shirt staggered backwards and fell into the stack of crates. More locals saw an opportunity they could not resist and crates began flying at the lanky man.

Amanda had left about 3 minutes prior to the flying fruit crates. As instructed by me, shortly after my first foray into crime fighting, she was causing a scene by running around the town screaming for the police.

The Turks will throw a punch at any opportunity apparently. So anytime this 6 ft scrawny man with a darkened complexion and dark beard’s mouth opened, it was met with a new fist. I was smiling the entire time.

We had spent a good portion of the prior afternoon at the police station struggling to fill out a police report in Turkish.

The bag sat ten feet behind me as we stared off into the Mediterranean in awe. In it rested my pants, knife, wallet, credit cards, passport, camera, cell phone, and many smaller items such as my insulin, blood tester, small plastic samurai man, luggage keys, and basically everything of value that I possess on my travels – including my Herpicin Lip Balm because lip herpes can be a problem in the sun.

I wanted to throw a punch but I’m just not a violent person. Fortunately he was bleeding quite badly by the time Amanda arrived with the police to a crowd of about forty.

While the owner of the fruit stand was no doubt concerned about his flying crates of fruit, I was more focused on my shirt. I really like that shirt.

Our fingers shook as adrenaline pumped through our bloodstreams. Amanda and I were escorted to the station by two detectives.

I sat in the blue chair at the end of the hall tonguing my herpetic lip, pondering which items I missed most. Was it the samurai man, the driver’s license, the passport, the camera? We sat at the police station for many hours. Amanda produced a beautiful image from her digital camera of the beach we were relaxing at the day before. The man with the now bleeding face sat in the left corner of the frame, waiting to run off with my possessions. The police loved it. It was possibly the first time they had evidence of a petty thief in action. They wanted to hire my little Sherlock Holmes on the spot. They took him into a room near where I sat. Apparently the man and four police decided to sit down and watch a Bruce Lee flick on high volume in this room. However, I did not notice a television. Nor were there any chairs. I was promptly asked to move down the hall, away from the noise. I never received an invite to join in the melee.
My translator was a Turkish man of 21 years whose German girlfriend was also a victim of theft that morning. Their criminal was caught on tape. We shared our stories and begged the police to let me search the man’s hotel room who at this point was still wearing my shirt.

Items began turning up one by one. First the phone, then the camera, then my bag, then my sunscreen walked through the door as detectives searched his hotel room and the trash bins around the hotel. “Where’s my passport?” I screamed in agony.

In the end, we left the man in his jail cell – minus my shirt. He has many pieces of evidence to prove his guilt and even more bruises.

I hope they cut his hands off. However, this law was abolished in Turkey with the fall of the Ottoman Empire nınety years ago.

I still have no knife, no shorts, and worst of all, no passport. I do have one hell of a great story to tell. It is certainly an Independence Day that will not be forgotten.