Amorgos, Cyclades

Summer, July ’17 —

Amorgos arrived with an open heart; with arms wide in welcome. Off the port of Katapola, we have lunch at Viktoras Grill House, a humble restaurant with a deep blue front door and outdoor seating that extends into the main walking strip. We sit closest to the street because it’s also closest to the water. A young man takes our order: beer, Greek salad, and some meat. Fifteen minutes later, when we have almost cleared the plates and finished the beer, the waiter comes back with another bottle of beer for us. “From me,” he states simply and kindly, and then, “Can I sit?”. He pulls out a chair and lights a cigarette, but not before offering us one. He asks questions and tells us about his life. How he has an Uncle here, and how that Uncle owns this grill house. How he also builds walls up at Aegialis. How he has two younger brothers; one in Italy and another back home in Albania. How he has worked on the Islands before but went home to finish studying. How he wants to travel to America and Australia and Spain. His name is Eragu, his face is square but soft around the edges; his eyes smile when he laughs. We ask him about the weather, “Does it get cold at night?” Some nights, it’s so hot you can’t sleep. “Is it always windy?” Not always. At night there is kind wind. We laugh at that. Kind wind. And he comes to his defence because he thinks we are laughing at him: I am sorry for my English, he says, I translate it from my language. And I wonder how they talk about the wind in Albania, if everything is soft about it. Before we leave, Eragu points in the distance. He says, the beaches there are the best ones. The wind blows between us.

We walked our way through Amorgos: from Katapola to Chora to the other side of the Aegean Sea. The Big Blue. On the morning of our hike, we have breakfast at the only cafe that’s open. I order a chocolate crepe and Jane eats yoghurt and muesli. It is early, around 7AM, and Katapola is quiet. No ferries, no scooters, just a few early-risers and us.

At the top sits the heart of Amorgos: Chora, which simply means “the town” in Greek. The wind is strong and we find refuge in the maze of narrow walkways. We pass through. Our destination is not Chora, but what lies on the other side: The Monastery of Hozoviotissa, so we continue on, making our way downhill. The sun beats our backs and we reapply sunscreen. I hold a map of Amorgos stretched out between my hands and the wind crumples it in one breath. We continue on. When we neared the sea, when it came into view without announcement, just an extension of the sky, my heart choked at the vastness. There it was. The Big Blue. A body of water my body has never touched, never floated in. And on the left, built into the face of the cliff, a white slab. The Monastery of Hozoviotissa.

The second oldest monastery in all of Greece, The Monastery of Hozoviotissa hangs 300 metres above the Aegean Sea. Built as an ode for the Grace of Panagia, I see an extension of rock and resilience and mothers. If Chora is the heart of Amorgos, then this is the lungs. The breath and breathing. The path up to the monastery is steep; beside us, the water glistens under the sun. On the way up, the wind blows my hat off my head. My hands instinctively reach my head as I yell out, but the wind suspends it in the air before carrying it down the cliff face, disappearing into, perhaps, the sea. I look at Jane and we laugh and continue following the curve of the mountain, taking each step with a heavy breath.

It is at the monastery where we meet Daniel. Here is what we know about him: he is French. He speaks the following languages: French, English, Thai, a bit of Vietnamese, and is currently learning Burmese. He lives in South-East Asia for four months of the year working as a guide. He encompasses a childlike sense of wonder that is difficult to hold on to. But he has managed it. He talks a lot but only because he has a lot to say. It seemed as if he appeared out of no where. One moment, we were sitting on a rock a few metres away the monastery and in the next moment we were caught in a deep conversation with Daniel. A natural phenomenon. The statistical probability of parting ways and meeting again was slim, but in Amorgos, not impossible. We see him three more times after our first encounter. The second time, at Agia Anna. From the monastery, Jane and I walked back down and followed the road to the mouth of the sea. At the water, we find a spot and Daniel. We sit on the rocks while he tells us about Europe during the winter, Europe and its people, Europe and its weather. He talks and, with swim breaks in between, we listen.

At night, back in Katapola, after having dinner in Chora (beer, Saganaki cheese, slowcooked lamb with eggplant, Greek Salad), we stop at a cafe for sorbet. We sit outside, recapturing the day. The moments collect between us as we tell it back to each other and ourselves. In the distance, I hear a familiar voice and out of the corner of my eye is Daniel, wide-eyed and swing still in his step. He gives us a rundown of what’s happened between now and the last time we saw him. He had dinner in Chora. He saw a beautiful lady, red-lipped with the sunset captured behind her. He hitch-hiked back down to Katapola. He’s talking fast, words dribbling out, before his eyes light up as he remembers something. Out of his bag he pulls out a mini laptop and opens Youtube. “Zorba the Greek,” he says as a video starts playing a scene from a black and white film starring Anthony Quinn. He holds his laptop in the air with one hand and clicks his fingers with the other. His feet taps happily to the beat of the song. We are laughing. People are looking. That night, Jane and I walk back to our accommodation, arm in arm, heavy with sorbet, drunk on beauty, huddling close for warmth. The song from Zorba the Greek following us home.

Our last day in Amorgos is simple. The wind is gentle and the sun escapes through the clouds. We bump into Daniel, briefly, one last time. We are on a boat, ready to head to a nearby island when he strolls past in a blue long sleeve shirt and his orange backpack. “I am on a mission!” he exclaims. “I’m going to find the goat milk lady.” Last night, he told us about a woman he knows who once visited Amorgos and stayed on a goat farm. She passed on photos of her stay and Daniel turned it into a mission. Before he had no luck, but now he has a clue: South. South to find a woman and her parents who live on a goat farm. I hope he finds it. As the boat departs, we wish him luck. We wave at him in the distance and he waves back before heading South.

At the bus stop back at Agia Anna, a Greek man from Thessaloniki called Billy asks about the camera around my neck. We talk for a brief minute while waiting for the bus. He tells us about running up to the monastery; I tell him how we walked here from Katapola. When he went his way and we went ours, he said: You are very sweet. It was nice to meet you.

Amorgos, you are very sweet. It was nice to meet you.