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An Education in Greece

December 18th, 2013 · No Comments · Adventure, Travel Memoir

When Shelley Buck set out  on her own in 1972, hoping to travel overland from Europe to India, she did not realize how resourceful she would need to become in order to make the trip.  In this selection from her travel memoir, East: A Woman on the Road to Kathmandu, Shelley tells  how she acquired necessary survival skills on a Greek Island.

Milapota, this valley reached by donkey trail, had its own taverna. Over a small cup of thick Greek coffee there in the morning, I learned that one of the foreign travelers had gone away and that his desirable camping spot – an empty cave – was now available. I claimed it.

The cave was just steps from the taverna. It was not a real cavern, only a hole about a dozen feet deep, one of many that pocked the porous rock face behind the taverna. It had an arched entrance and a flattish floor. To reach it, I climbed the ridge behind the taverna until I was more or less  above the opening, then worked my way a few feet down the slope. Small bushes on the hillside made good hand-holds, and the descent from the ridge to the cave opening turned out not to be as sheer as it looked from above. Getting back down from the cave to the taverna at the beach was not as tricky as it looked, either. I could even slide down, if I didn’t mind damaging my jeans.

In no time, I learned how to scamper straight down the rock face to the taverna with no trouble at all. There, I tasted and liked mavro – the dark island wine made by the proprietors. This “black” wine was not really black at all, but dark red.

I drank more mavro. I ate island dishes, pasticcio, a ground meat and macaroni dish under a thick layer of cheesy cream sauce, kotópoulo, a golden half-chicken on a platter. Food money was no longer a problem. I had no rent to pay. I marveled that I could live in a cave and still go out for dinner.

I learned how to climb straight up the rock face to the cave. The climb required good visibility. I bought a flashlight, so that I could stay later talking with other travelers at the taverna and still make it safely up the cliff.

I drank more mavro and grew more agile.

At the taverna, I learned how Greeks fix meatballs with mint. I learned to love the rice pudding from the cooler case. I learned how Greeks extend the battery life for their cassette recorders by pulling out the batteries and setting them in the warm sunlight like little plants. New batteries were expensive.

I climbed back to the high village and bought a kerosene lantern. I learned how to cook in my cave, pulling off the lamp’s glass chimney to hold canned octopus in a metal drinking cup over the tiny open flame. A handy hiking sock became a potholder. I bought fresh-made yogurt and ate it with island honey drizzled on top. I learned the trick of squatting in the wild to pee, keeping hidden as cleverly as any deer though the only woods around were sparse olive trees and brush amid stones.

Cave life suited me. I was going back in time. Back to before the crowded commute from the hospital in San Pablo, before the SATs and college sit-ins, the anti-war demos and summer typing jobs. Back to stone and sea and olive trees….

I had written my mother about living in the cave. Apparently entertained, she sent me some traveler’s checks, enclosed inside a carefully-worded letter commenting on how exciting my life was growing. Had my enthusiastic letter home wooed my cautious mother into endorsing a life of adventure, or was she merely terrified on my behalf?

I didn’t know. I cashed the checks. I felt flush.

Temptation grew. Maybe I could get to India.

©Shelley Buck, 2013. Used with permission.  In addition to East, Shelley Buck is the author of Floating Point: Endlessly Rocking Off Silicon Valley, a memoir of living on a boat on San Francisco Bay.  Both books are published by WriteWords Press in paperback and as eBooks by ePícaro Press.

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