Like every American girl growing up on 90s TV, I had a crush on Uncle Jesse from Full House. Ever since I learned that his TV character was half Greek, the Greek Islands have been on my travel bucket list. It just seemed to be a place where perfectly sun-kissed people flash perfect white smiles in front of perfect white houses with blue roofs, the whole scene bathed in the golden rays of a perfect perma-sunset. Have mercy!
Nate and I found a flight from Cyprus to the biggest island in the chain, Crete, to start our own perfect trip through paradise. We started on the west end of Crete in a town called Chania (pronounced not at all like it looks) where some couch surfers met us for a drink and taught me about cold espresso freddo. I was skeptical when I learned the liquid was served in dixie cup-sized portions, but all doubts were removed upon tasting that sweet nectar of the gods. If you are ever in Greece, do yourself a favor and have an espresso freddo. Capiche? (/Uncle Jesse catchphrases)
From Chania, we moved on quickly to a tiny inland village called Vafes because we had some couch surfing hosts there. Greg and Anna were a sweet as an espresso freddo. They gave us their spare room, cooked for us, and introduced us to a small shop owner/old olive oil press tour guide. The village was so small — like sheep-being-herded-down-the-road-with-a-moped small — but there stood a lone souvenir shop with a man who would take curious travelers across the street to show them how donkeys were employed to press olive oil three-quarters of a century ago. I’ve forgotten his name, sadly, but the shopkeeper ended up being quite the kindred spirit. He’d traveled pretty extensively in his youth and was eager to swap stories.
Based on some solid intel from Greg, Anna, and our shopkeeper friend, Nate and I decided to next take a day trip down to the southern coast of the island. We were told that Plakias boasted a palm forest that starts on the sandy shores and runs the length of a gorge. This turned out to be one of my favorite days of the whole trip. Greg had told us that we could follow the river back through the palm forest to see a waterfall. He warned us that eventually the footpath would give way to the sheer cliff walls of the gorge so that we would have no choice but to wade through the river and scramble over rocks to reach our destination. Let me tell you, that water was icy! And “wading” was more like “swimming” in some parts because the water was up to our bellies. We were determined, though, as we made our way scrambling and butt-scooting over giant boulders into the icy depths on the other side (Aside: I’ve always wanted to write “icy depths”). We were pretty cold and tired after an hour of intrepid exploration though, so we listened to our inner TLC and decided to stop chasing waterfalls (…don’t go chasing….see what I did there??? The 90s strike again!).
Back on the sandy beach, Nate and I contemplated our next move. The next bus back to Rethimno, a city on the northern coast where we were couch surfing, wasn’t for several hours. The only other option, a water taxi, was super duper expensive. This is where Nate declared that he wanted to try hitchhiking. I really wasn’t in love with the idea, but the Greeks we’d met seemed too laid back to be murdery. Still, I was nervous and mostly hid behind Nate as he stuck his thumb out to passersby.
To my wonderment, it worked! The first couple to pick us up said they were headed in the wrong direction, but they would drop us off on the main intersection. From there we hitched a ride with a vacationing German family. They had a van with three girls in the back demurely listening to some German book on tape. Not one of them looked like a serial killer. This family also needed to divert from our destination, so we were dropped once more about half way to our city. Finally, an elderly German couple picked us up and delivered us the rest of the way to Rethimno unharmed and unmurdered. Don’t tell Nate this, but I have to admit that it was kind of fun. I went from feeling like my out-stretched thumb was the temporarily misplaced half of the “L” for “Loser” sign on my forehead to doing little roadside dances. To top it all off, we made it back before our bus would have even left. I’m not saying that hitchhiking is going to be a mainstay of my travel repertoire, but it’s nice to know these thumbs are good for something other than belt loops and twiddling.
Next up on our island hopping adventure was the fabled Santorini. If you’ve ever seen a post card from Greece, it most likely came from the beautiful cliffs of this island. All of the buildings are white, only broken up by the occasional bright blue-domed roof of a church. The towns are built on the side of a hill as well, connected with narrow foot paths and staircases, creating a fun scavenger hunt to find tasty restaurants and spectacular sunset views. The stairs can be so steep in places that donkeys are employed (Again! Donkey unemployment rate is really low in Greece) to take passengers up or down. The sunset is the prized instagram moment of Santorini. Hoards of tourists flood the tiny passageways to the west side of the island to watch the sun sink in the ocean and to snap that perfect shot. Our sunset was spoiled by a cloud, but it was still pretty spectacular. Besides, it was pretty hard to be disappointed with a slab of fresh baklava in hand, which is how I recommend you watch any sunset, really.
Our final island was Paros, famous for…well, we never did learn what Paros was famous for. We had yet another amazing Couch Surfing host who put us up in his house that was a few kilometers from the touristy downtown. We were happy to chill there with him and his pup, Lucy, the entire time.
Just like that, our island adventure was over. Though Uncle Jesse still doesn’t know who I am, I feel it did reduce our degrees of separation in some way. And thus, some part of my childhood fantasy has been fulfilled. Likewise, Nate got to fulfill his dream of hitchhiking without even a single stab wound. Add in the baklava sunsets, and you have a pretty solid win-win-win from the Greek Islands!