It was short, but sweet…
After leaving the boot of Italy we sailed across to Corfu, the first Greek Island in the string of islands in the Ionian Sea. Immediately we were hit with how difficult the Greek language is, it's impossible to read street signs when you don't know the alphabet. But lucky for us someone recommended a book "Speak Greek Badly in 20 minutes", so now we do. "F Harry's toe" said really quickly is the perfect pronunciation for the Greek word for thank you, at least to our ears. Thankfully most locals speak at least a little English, but we have learned in each new country we visit that they always appreciate us making an effort to speak the local language, no matter how badly.
We attempt to talk with people everywhere we go. The owner of the grocery store that was a chemist not only had advice for cooking but also beauty tips using the local olive oil, the secret it seems to those bushy Greek eyebrows. The man in the chandlery (boat store) who shared his opinions on the US and Greece, he thinks things are so much cheaper in the US, which is hard to believe since it's difficult to spend more than 30 euros for dinner, including wine. But he says if you want more than gyros and souvlaki it's expensive, can you really ever tire of the Greek street food? The woman sewing cushions that put everything on hold to help us out with some foot stools before we left port the next day. The man in the bookstore playing his mandolin while giving me directions to his competition down the street when I was searching for a Greek cookbook he didn't stock. The Greek people have all been so incredibly nice and helpful. Although we have learned that we can't always trust the taverna owner when he tells us there is plenty of water depth to tie up on his dock, knowing that we are expected to enjoy dinner at his restaurant that night, and finding ourselves stuck on the sandy bottom when we try to leave the next morning.
And it's been easy to make friends with fellow sailors when you speak a common language. There are so many Brits sailing on holiday and they're happy to share their knowledge of these islands that they know so well. We have learned first hand so much more about Brexit, meeting people on both sides of that vote and many that have changed their minds since they voted because of the way it's all been handled. And it's been interesting to learn people's impression of America. Most people we meet like Americans, they think we're friendly, happy and easy going. America is a place most everyone would like to visit if they haven't already, it still seems to hold the American dream. But they also think we can be a bit self centered, knowing so much less about European countries than they know about America, and they may be right. An elderly Greek we met could name all the presidents back to Kennedy, we had a hard time coming up with the current president of Greece without turning to google for the answer. Most people know so much more about our politics than we know of theirs. And it was brought to our attention what an American cliché the word "awesome" is, and once that's pointed out you start to notice just how often it comes out of your mouth. We have realized that we don't want to be the Americans that know so little about the rest of the world, conversations have opened our eyes to many different points of view. We are constantly reminded of the fact that you have to know current events and the history of the place to understand the people.
After leaving Corfu we stopped at the small islands of Paxos, Lefkas, Milanesi, Kefallonia, Ithaca and down to Zakynthos, torn with the decision of quantity or quality, do we visit more places or get to know a few places better? Always working on striking a balance between the two. We were struck with how similar the Ionian was to sailing in the Caribbean, islands are so close together. After a couple hour sail you arrive at your next port, so different than the long sails we had between countries in other parts of the Med. But we experienced weather so unlike the Caribbean where the prevailing winds are so predictable. For three days we were holed up in Sami on Kefallonia when the strong sirocco winds were blowing, turning the sky this eerie brown and dumping sand on everything in it's path. It's amazing how much sand can fall from the sky, we were wishing for a heavy down pour to help wash it all away.
We enjoyed hiking the well marked trails on all the islands, just us and the goats climbing up and down over the rocky paths, through olive groves and cypress trees, to light houses, small chapels and old ruins on hill tops and along the coast, listening to a symphony of goat bells, roosters crowing and the occasional motor bike in the distance. We grew confident that even we couldn't get lost on these trails, until we reached Ithaca where we found ourselves searching the hillside for a marker to help lead us back down, the hike turned into an epic trek much like the journey of Odysseus that took him many long years to return to his home on Ithaca. It seemed like years, but hours later we finally made it back to our home on the harbor.
And it was such a great experience to spend Greek Easter among all the locals in the small harbor town of Gaios on Paxos. The holiday is taken very seriously with everyone participating in the somber candlelit parade filling the streets of the small harbor town on Friday night, the packed service in the tiny church on Saturday evening, followed by another candlelit procession and fireworks at midnight. It made such an impression on us that all the young kids were involved, no matter the late hour. It could be the fire crackers they continued to throw in the streets that kept them so engaged though. And all the teens were there as well looking so serious with their decorated lit candles, although they also held their cell phones in their other hand and were paying more attention to the opposite sex than to the priest up front. Some things are the same no matter where you go. The next day the smell of lamb cooking on open fires filled the air along with Greek tunes playing out the windows. But again the kids balanced out this idyllic scene with their skate boarding tricks in the street and the loud non-Greek music playing on their phones. And we took part in their tradition of tapping dyed red eggs against each other, the person holding the egg with the least amount of cracks has a year of good luck to look forward to, which happened to be me! By proximity Tony also thinks he will have a year of good luck since we are always together in this boating life.
We have realized that you could spend years sailing the Greek islands and still not have enough time to cover them all, there are just so many. We've accepted the fact that we will only experience a small corner, but we have immersed ourselves in those we visited as much as possible. And at the risk of sounding oh so American, the experience has been awesome, the water really is that bright turquoise, and the sky that blue, except when it's raining down sand.