Saturday, September 29, 2007

Oh Holy Krishna

And here I am. In India. Lordy. I suppose the proper thing to do will be complete writing about our time in Greece. It's so hard to think about now...seems so far aay.
So, after another couple of days in Hania Austin and I decided that we couldn;t stay there for our last week. We needed a dang beach. So we bussed to a small southern beach town called Paleochora, about 40 kilometers south of Hania. It was a great little peninsula about 2 miles wide with a beach on either side. We quickly were absconded by another hotel owner who insisted we look at his small, family run hotel. We did so, and we very impressed with the somewhat spacious and incredibly clean studio. It was complete with a kitchen and a REAL SHOWER -- which, let me tell you, was an incredible relief seeing as almost all the rooms we had stayed in up to that point had some sad excuses for showers. Very disappointing. So we stayed in Paleochora for 4 nights and saved a ton of money by making our own food in our kitchen (and might I say, we even mastered making our own Greek salad) and being on the beach all day long. It was the perfect way to end our time together. From Paleochora we bussed to Hania, had a last couple backgammon games at Konstantinople cafe (though caught no sight of Sylvester) and caught the night ferry to Athens. One piece on night ferries in Greece: GET A SLEEPER CABIN. Just do it. Please. We spent too many hours sitting in our uncomfortable seats being unable to sleep due to the Greek soap operas that played all night long. Really not something I ever want to experience, let alone while trying to sleep. However, we arrived in Athens at about 6 am, and found our hotel partially due to a very helpful stray dog who, when I asked him if he could lead us to our hotel took us almost all the way before we realized we were following a stray dog and diverged from his path only to find out later that he was in fact taking us in the right direction. We spent the day in our extremely nice hotel room, with our extremely nice shower. Really just layed in bed drinking wine and watching BBC world news....splendid. Had our last Greek salad, moussaka and dolmades together and walked around the city a bit. We both agreed that Athens was much more likeable the second time. Now, I'm going to fast-forward through some of the next part because it still hurts to think about it too much. Basically, we got up the next morning, went to the airport, and said goodbye. And I only wish it were as simple as it sounds. Leaving your companion is never fun. I forced myself on the airplane and my eyes didn't stop leaking until I landed in Calcutta. I don't know that I've ever done anything as hard as walking away from Austin at the Athens airport. Ok, have to stop recounting it now. It's too soon. My entire flight was just filled with my mind going crazy. All I could think was: "What have I gotten myself into? What the hell am I doing? Why aren't I with Austin, heading home? What have I done?". I was convinced that something that hurt that bad couldn't have been the right decision. But I think I'm changing my mind. Slowly but surely.
I connected with a girl who is volunteering with me at the Frankfurt airport (we were on the same flight), which was very nice. Just to have someone to talk to. Upon landing in Calcutta we got our bags and were met by the program director, Vishal. He was very welcoming, and brought us to our taxi. The heat here is amazing. It simply never cools down. It consumes you, and you just have to get used to being slightly sweaty all the time. Daniela (the other volunteer) and I got to the guesthouse around 12:30 pm, and went straight to sleep upon our arrival. The guest house, by the way, is really amazing. I wouldn't be surprised if it is the nicest place for volunteers to stay in this country. It's very old, with really high ceilings, tall doorways and western bathrooms (thank god). And it's incredibly clean.
The other people staying there are amazing also. Many of them have been here for months, so it's great to have people around who know what they're doing, and have been through the hard stuff before.
Yesterday was my first full day, and it was pretty intense. The worst part really was just being in our room, alone with my thoughts, thinking about what I'm missing. Or rather, who I'm missing. But walking aroundthe city is great. It's huge (24 million people) and loud and bustling and dirty. There's shit on the sidewalks, people sleeping in the streets, entire families making meals over small charcoal fires as you walk by-- pretty much the definition of poverty. But it's amazing. It makes me quite sad that I can;t describe to all of you the smells of the streets. It's an incredible mix of incense, feces, wood smoke, Indian food, gasoline and raw heat. I was pretty surprised at how opk I felt walking around. I expected to feel completely threatened and entirely victimized, but it's not that bad. Granted, people stare, infact everyone stares, but they rarely really do anything. Although the children hanging off of you as they walk by you is pretty sad. Yesterday when I wouldn't give a little girl money and had dragged her along with my arm for two blocks, she let go of me finally and punched me in the ass. Not too bad. The grabbing is the only annoying thing. It'd odd to me how unaffected I am by the poverty so far. Perhaps because I've seen it before, because right now my mind is elsewhere, or because I'm protecting myself. But all I can think right now is how long it's going to be before I'm home. But it's getting much better. I hope I can start taking pictures soon (I'm definitely not comfortable yet) as the street scenes are breathtaking. I saw lots of great stuff yesterday that I wanted to capture, but didn't even feel comfortable staring for more than a couple seconds. At one point we passed two old men squatting on the sidewalk of one of the largest streets in the city, one shaving the other one's beard. I really liked that. I also really liked seeing the men with giant bundles of full dried tobacco leaves balanced on top of their heads, though the smell reminded me Austin a little too much. Maybe the reason I like the streets so much is because they distract me. God I hope my writing gets much more coherent while I'm here. I'm just trying to summarize I suppose.
In all, India is difficult thusfar. Wise words are always appreciated...and I thank those of you who have given them to me.
One last thing that I found interesting yesterday. We were talking with one of the women who's part of the program and oversees the guesthouse, and upon learning that I'm here for 10 weeks, she said: "You can't take India seriously. You must come to India with a sense of humor and lots of patience. Remember that." This stuck in my head all day and actually helped me a lot. I can do that. But how interesting, to not take India seriously...I'm still thinking about it...
Alright, well I love you all incredibly and think of home everyday. I hope to talk to you all soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Why Is This Site All In Greek? Oh Right...

Oh yes, I have been staring at this blog site for all of 8 minutes just trying to figure out how to write a new entry. No, I didn't remember from last time, ok? And no, I don't speak Greek, ok? Yet that is! I have 8 days left and I'm positive that I will master the language just in time for...India? Right, screw Greek, I'm moving on to Hindu/Urdu/Bengali. Oh Lord. Remind me why I didn't plan my trip in 2 countries that speak somewhat the same language? Oh well, no regrets thus far...
So from Matala we bussed to Hania, a larger (and much older) town on the North coast, which is where we are now. It is by far my favorite place we've been in Greece. Perhaps in Europe? Oh, I don't know about that. I've only been here one day. We arrived yesterday and wound through more tiny cobblestone streets until a cocky Greek hotel owner in tight Euro-trash jeans absconded us on the street and made us look at a room. Small, clean, orange, high ceilings, and a view of an ancient, crumbling stone wall with a garden behind it. For 30 euro a night, I was not willing to argue. I had also just hiked my hugenormous backpack up 2 flights of stairs and was feeling a hemorrhage coming on. When Austin asked if 25 euro a night was possible, the man grimaced and assured us that it was merely impossible to find rooms that cheap here. I mean, there was just no way that was going to happen. Fine, buddy. If it'll help you digest your cheese pies and baked cheese and fried cheese and flaming cheese and jesuschristeverythinginthiscountryisbuiltoncheese!....then yes, I will pay 30 euro a night. But promise me you'll buy new jeans.
Anyway, so after settling in we set out to explore. Hania is, in a word, awesome. Everywhere is old Turkish architecture, crumbling Mediterranean buildings, courtyard gardens and beautiful restaurants serving beautiful food to ugly people (sorry, I'm a little disappointed with the Greek'd be surprised how many stereotypes go unfulfilled in this country. Not to mention the Germans that seem to be more popular here than the goddamned cheeses). The city is built all along an old port, and you can spend hours wandering from restaurant to art show to cafe. For dinner we found Gyros (really, we're trying to cut down, I swear) and then came across a little turkish cafe called Konstantinople Cafe, which I believe to be my favorite cafe in the entire world. I no joking. No joke. We walked up to the low, heavy wooden tables set up outside under sheets and scarves draped overhead and seated ourselves on the cushiony chairs. A group of people (some of whom appeared to run the cafe) were sitting outside drinking, and one of them (a large one with about 4 teeth) was playing his guitar and singing. We ended up playing backgammon, drinking wine and smoking a hookah for about four hours. All the while being serenaded by a greek toothless giant playing Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye, and Greek folk songs on his guitar. I'll tell you now, what the Greeks lack in physical attractiveness they make up for tenfold in musical talent. They are really amazing. We also happened to befriend a very large and very drunk Greek Native American named Sylvester. I kid you not. He was friends with the people who owned the cafe and was sent to talk to us after all the other patrons had left and we were still giggling and wobbling on our cushions, heading into our 3rd backgammon game and second hookah coal of the night. So we made a friend. Sylvester ("Dontchu call me no Stalone! No Stalone guys!" as he says...) the Native American (or First Person as they say now?) Greek man who interjects "I don't know" and "guys" into his heavily accented English like any practiced American teenager.
"Oh man guys, I'm peesed, you know? I don't know. I on weekend, guys. That's why I peesed. Drink too much. I don't know, guys." And he pulls his tobacco pouch out of the fanny pack strapped across his chest to roll yet another cigarette. We have a date with Sylvester for lunch tomorrow. He's going to show us a traditional Greek lunch. I just can't wait.
I think we're going to spend the rest of our time here in Hania. Probably at our Turkish cafe. Playing backgammon like old men. When I grow up I want to be an old Greek man.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Yannos and the Gyros

I can't believe this internet cafe charges 4 euro for one hour of internet usage. I mean, that's just ridiculous. But then, I guess that realization sums up a large part of my trip to Greece so far...why do people feel the need to charge me 5 euro for a sandwich? I don't know. Don't I get student discounts here? No? Oh right...I'm no longer a student! In fact, that realization sums up far more of my time here. What I'm trying to say is that to all of you reading this who are in school, surfing the internet while you should be slaving away at your homework, wondering what you did in class today because you were so bored...I just want to let you know that not going to school (even if only for a year) is turning out to be the best decision I have ever made. While I do miss Portland, and my people there (and the dollar...fucking euro...) I am having an amazing time and do not wish for a second that I was sitting in a desk in Corvallis (shudder) in a Freshman literature class. In fact that sounds somewhat horrific right now! But perhaps that's only because I'm sitting in an internet cafe in a beach town in Crete, having just finished eating fresh fruit and yogurt on my balcony overlooking the beach with me manfriend. But, maybe that's not could just be Corvallis...
I suppose I'll start from the at your own risk though -- you know me...(at least I hope you do or you should stop reading this blog and never log on again you creep)
Th beginning: After a few slices of pizza with my parents at the Portland airport and brief hugs and kisses (and a sense of shock at how well my mother was keeping herself together), I shoved myself through security, into an airplane and shortly thereafter found myself 36,000 feet off the ground with a feeling in my stomach like I had just jumped off a cliff. Which, mind you, isn't neccesarily a bad feeling, just one of sheer adventure (and slight terror). Actually, it felt much more comparable to jumping off of a cliff into water. Basically I felt a mix of a few things: a) What the hell have I gotten myself into? b) there's no going back now so I might as well enjoy every moment of it c) the only way to do it is to just do it and d) ohmygod what the hell have I gotten myself into?. But after stifling a few minor breakdowns, I landed in Frankfurt, was shoved onto another aircraft and soon found myself hurrying through the Athens airport eager to meet Austin. The relief I felt upon meeting him there is somewhat indescribable. While I had almost convinced myself that I was going to be alone for the next 4 months, suddenly I remembered that I had another 3 weeks to spend indulging myself with my boyfriend in the Greek isles. Which, I'll tell you now, is a very nice feeling. A very nice feeling indeed.
We found our hotel in Athens without trouble, payed the 70 (!) euro for our one night in the very small but clean room and headed out to find food. That night we bounced around Athens, thrilled to be in Greece (and together) but also generally unimpressed with Athens. Really just like every other large european city only not as good. So we drank wine (maybe a little too much on my part), slept, and awoke the next morning to go get on the ferry to our first island. Which we was a big blur...but we found ourselves depositted in the port of Syros, our first island in the Cyclades. Syros was, in my mind, the perfect place to start. Virtually untouristy, and incredibly Greek. Exactly what one imagines the Greek islands being like. Tall white-washed houses everywhere covered in green and pink bouganvilliea with cobblestone streets that wind so extensively around the city that not getting lost is a chore. We found a perfect small hotel for 30 euro a night complete with a roof top balcony that overlooked the entire port and the surrounding mountains. Really breathtaking. We dropped our stuff in our room (which for me by the way consists of a MASSIVE backpacking backpack that I estimate to weigh around 430 lbs, and a shoulder bag filled with random useless shit) and hopped up to our roof top balcony to survey the sight. There we encountered our first fellow traveling friends: Ricardo and Carry, two 55 year old men from the Bay area eager to force feed us olives, cheese and Ouzo. We chatted with them for a long while, and I painfully sipped a glass of Ouzo. I must say, it's the only Ouzo I've had so far and I'm not a huge fan. Although, as Austin points out, how can you return from Greece with no Ouzo stories? (I believe my father can attest to this statement) So, I'll keep you posted. They were great to talk with as Ricardo had lived in Greece and had some great vacation tips, and Carry, upon hearing that we were from Portland, informed us that there's very little good marijuana in the islands, but that we wouldn't miss it. Gotta love west-coasters. After consuming about half of their food (at their insistence) Carry looked down at Austins shoes (which are basically brown suede walking shoes that happen to be Keens though they don't look it) and upon learning that they were Keens, exclaimed "Shut up!" about 4 different times with that same "Mean Girls" enthusiasm. I really liked Carry at that point.
So we hung around Syros for a few days, swam in the Agean Sea every day (which by the way I LOVE if only for the fact that you can float on top of the water for hours with no effort required), bought fresh produce everyday and ate gyros and greek salad.
I feel I should mention our diets here. Literally all we eat is greek salad, orange juice and gyros. And the gyros here are not what you are probaby thinking of. They're some of the best things in the entire world. Here, they're actually called "pita gyros" and they consist of a piece of toasted pita bread wrapped around fresh lamb or pork cut straight off the rotissery with tatziki, tomatoes and french fries. And they pretty much make me cry every time i eat one. I think Austin and I have probably averaged 2 a day since we've been here. And, they cost about a euro fifty each which is also a goddamn miracle. I mean really, skrew olives and fresh cheese and souvlaki and baked feta pies and stuffed vine leaves and the best tomatoes in the world. Gyros are where it's at. I just had to put that in here.
From Syros we went to Naxos, which was definitely more touristy, but not bad. I can't imagine travelling these islands in July or August though. They must get so packed with tourists. We hung out on Naxos, ate more delicious food, found a great bakery where we bought bread from an old greek man with an abnormally large head and abnormally good cream filled pastries, treked around, saw some old stone shit, and rented a scooter on our last day. Which was a blast. At least, it was a blast after I stopped squeezing Austin so tight he thought he was going to throw up. We zoomed to a beach and layed there for a while, watching the proud naked European men walk up and down the beach showing off their tan genetalia. Which, by the way, is a very odd thing to see indeed. I mean, besides the fact that it's old European men walking very slowly up and down the beach to make sure you don't miss a thing, I'm of the belief that genetalia shouldn't be tan. I mean, it's just wierd. Put it away, if only so it remains the color it should be: pale. Also so that I don't have to look at it. Well whatever, good for them. We need more people proud of their bodies anyway I suppose. So we zoomed up into the mountains for about 5 hours, past olive groves and hillsides carved into marble quarries (Naxos is that island where almost all of the marble in the world comes from -- including the Venus de Milo) and Tuscan like trees. Everywhere you look there are ancient stone walls outlining forgotten properties, so embedded into the landscape it's like they were born straight out of the earth, as natural as the fig and olive trees that surround them. Really one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.
We got back into town with just enough time to run to a Scandanavian bar and watch the Greece vs. Norway football game. I must say, Scandanavians may have some of the worst food in Europe (second only to England of course) but damn do they know how to drink. So we drank beers and yelled with the Norweigans and then wandered along the port looking for more Norweigans to yell with. It was a wonderfully rowdy time. By the way, if anyone actually knows who won that game you should inform me, because I managed to miss that little detail...
The only other important event that happened on Naxos was that Austin bought his blue Reebok speedo. I think he really felt left out of all the other men here. But it's awesome. I'll try to get a picture up , because I know you all want to see that.
From Naxos? Santorini. Everyone we talked to said "Oh, you have to go to Santorini, just to see it. It's so amazing." Well, my advice to anyone coming to the Greek islands: if you like fat tourists, no beaches, shopping, fat tourists, Americans, shopping, drinking, and tourists....Santorini is your island. We were entirely unimpressed by it. To say the least. And even the Gyros were mostly disappointing. Though the view off the cliffs was nice, it was generally obstructed but clothing shops and more fat tourists. We stayed for one night, spent about 2 hours sitting on a bench just watching tour groups go by and lamenting the loss of our other, Greeker, beachier, better islands. Although, I can't say we didn't have any fun. Because of course, what should one look for when they're not enjoying themselves? An Irish pub! So, after finding that little haven and spending an obnoxious amount of money on "beverages", we ended up talking to an Australian couple for a long time and meeting a couple girls from Bellevue, WA. Which, at the time we all found incredibly cool. And is pretty coincidental actually. Basically we stayed in that bar for far too long which we realized when I found myself not drinking at the bar, but rather dancing on top of it. That's all I will say. And that clothing stayed on. And that if my parents tell my Grandmother that, I think our family might fall apart. Or just tell her I was possessed. Well, when in Santorini I suppose...
So we got out of Santorini as fast as possible and caught a ferry to Crete which is where we are currently. We arrived in Iraklion (Crete's capital) 3 nights ago and, not having made any prior arrangements, found ourselves in dorm-style hostel beds. Which is precisely where we met Yannos. (Note: Minda, I think it's your destiny to write a story about this man ala the style of Rebart...). If you've ever stayed in dorm-style hostel beds in a European country, you know that in EVERY ROOM there is an obese, older man who is travelling alone, is possibly mentally disabled and who snores like a godddamned train the entire night. This man is Yannos. And that is what Yannos did. But mind you, that is not all that Yannos did. Yannos also awoke with the Taiwanese couple staying in the room (who apparently he felt very close to although they had no idea who he was) and demanded to see the womans mirror to look at his "tooth hurt" as he put it. We guess he was Romanian, and although I have met very few Romanians in my day, apparently cultural sensitivity is low on their priority lists. So Yannos made as much noise as he possiby could rustling his plastic bags and walking around in his jeans-with-suspenders-and-no-shirt outfit. Not a good look for an older obese Romanian man (or woman for that matter as Austin points out)...
Once the Taiwanese couple finally freed themselves of Yannos' "friendship" (and his very loud "Goodbye Ito! Goodbye Ito! Remember lock door Ito! Goodbye! Lock Door!") Austin and I found ourselves alone in the room with Yannos and one other young Finnish man who was equally appauled by our Romanian friend. I made the mistake of letting Yannos see that I was awake, and upon seeing my eyes open he got a very excited look on his face and turn around to rummage for something in his fanny pack. Oh shit. He returned with a small radio that he turned on to some local Greek station, turned up obnoxiously loud and placed next to austin and I's bed. I had to hide my face while he asked us "Is good, right? Is good? Yes." And returned to "packing", which for Yannos consisted of folding and refolding his clothing and shoving it into plastic bags, and then picking up what I figured to be lint off of the bed and cramming it into his fanny pack. He stayed in the room for at least another twenty minutes, at some point asking if the music "too loud?" at which point Austin informed him that yes, in was in fact too loud, and that "music off" would be fantastic. I think he was too stupid to take offense. Finally Yannos waved a loud goodbye and left the room. And I don't think a day has gone by that I haven't thought of him. Then again, it's been all of two days...
I forgot to mention how I first met Yannos! I was awakened when his persistant snoring stopped in the morning and opened my eyes to find a very large and very naked Yannos sitting on the edge of his bed rubbing his eyes. Legs open. Facing me. Welcome to Crete! Thankyou Yannos, I will never be the same and have had nightmares for the past two nights without fail.
Iraklio was fun though, and although we spent little time there, we discovered the best gyros yet (which is saying a lot). If you ever go to Iraklio, go to Izmir Kabob and get a pita gyro. You will discover divinity. Screw religion, take up the Gyro. Trust me, it is the way.
My god, I can't imagine who would sit down and read this entire entry (let alone even start it) here's the end: right now we are in Matala, a small hippy beach town on the South coast of Crete. It's absolutely lovely. Lots of old hippies, very laid back with apparently one of the best beaches on Crete. We have about 10 more days in Greece together and can't wait to find out what more is in store for us.
Love and gyros