I'm still here and "...still feeling safely tucked under the ancient olive tree that resides high above Loutro bay in Crete. Stretched out against it’s cracked skin, gazing out over the Libyan sea, I’m drifting off behind the distant mountains with the sun." As began the last blog post, weeks ago.
Time stretches easily in to tomorrow, next week, next month. Winter knocks gently at the door for a day or two before balmy warmth rocks up again so I never quite know what to wear outside. Always over-dressed or under-dressed. I can hardly remember the days that go before today when friends or acquaintances ask me to list what I've been up to…errrrr...can't really remember. They've been good but they're melting in to a soft ball of slowing down, sleeping, re-connecting and looking in to the mirror and saying 'hello Dal, there you are!" Yes, here I am. Still.
The Crete trip was profound and it's soul seems to have leapt in to my bones and settled there. Earlier this year I’d found a writing retreat online in Loutro, Southern Crete, where Loutro was described as a soporific place, breathtakingly quiet, full of history and a haven for writers. Only accessible by foot or boat. Those words stuck in the forefront of my memory as I read more about Loutro in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and online. They all said the same - sleepy, soporific, going back in time. That is exactly where I needed to be. I would create my own Loutro retreat experience.
So, one spontaneously booked flight and frantic online room searching later, I arrived on Crete. After a sleepless night in a friendly little hotel in Chania with a very handsome receptionist called Stavros (honestly), a wibbly-wobbly coach journey sat next to a Cretan woman repeatedly signing crosses on her chest, I boarded the small ferry from Chora Sfakia which took me to Loutro bay. Along with what seemed like hundreds of other tourists. I arrived in a knackered heap, with aching ribs and some kind of lingering virus.
Loutro is absolutely lovely in many ways. There is not much to do there except eat, drink, sleep, walk, swim and BE. It is paradisaical. It is gorgeous. I can see how it would be a writer's haven. BUT with hundreds of other tourists. You’ll get away from it all with everyone else getting away from it all. Hmmmm. Good people watching then.
The best thing about thinking 'hmmmm' was getting lost. After a couple of days of sea gazing from the balcony, catching up on sleep and tears and being blessed by Julia, the studio caretaker, "I bless you not once, not twice, but three times with all the love in the world" followed by a hug and a kiss, I went walkabout with the firm intention of finally getting away from it all.
The Sfakian coastline overlooking the Libyan Sea is SPECTACULAR. The water is like pure crushed crystals. The mountains arid and wise, scattered with thousands of sea squills that light up every night at dusk. Mountain goats are everywhere, the bells a constant melodic tinkle being flung up to the sky and in to weary ears. Eagles and vultures fly high above deserted mountain villages. There are no cars. Just the odd hum of a boat engine. I found it so stunning that tears regularly filled my eyes.
I got thoroughly lost. Well as lost as is possible on a coastline. And found a little slice of heaven created by a hippy called Vangelis who ran the most basic of guest houses, nestling all by itself on a truly soporific stretch of coast. Complete with hammocks, swinging chairs, stone people and eclectic guests including a man from Paris who had spent the previous month sleeping under a two thousand year old olive tree. Utter heaven. It was QUIET. No pandering to tourists. Vangelis had inherited this little house from his grandfather and he and his wife had left Athens to live there. Just being in his presence felt calming and magical. I remember his big slanting kind eyes and his effortless slowness. The soft sea was medicinal balm for my weary soul. The Milky Way felt like it was going to fall from the sky and wrap me up in stardust. I was utterly BLOWN AWAY.
Writing this here and now feels difficult, to put in to words exactly what this whole trip felt like. What it meant. Feelings. It was more about feelings, presence, connection, healings. Less about words. Though words seeped through the pen to paper.
I wrote this pantoum, a hypnotic and repetitive form, hugely pleasing to write:
I rest against a creased olive tree amidst labyrinthine ruins the Sfakian sun begins his descent and suddenly, my eyes are on fire by a thousand sea squills.
Amidst labyrinthine ruins soaking up vanishing daystar rays and suddenly, my eyes are on fire by a thousand sea squills I wonder, do they dance like this at sunrise too?
Soaking up vanishing daystar rays twilight deepens, sea squills fall in to sleep I wonder, do they dance like this at sunrise too? Heartbeat slows, saltwater runs across my cheeks.
Twilight deepens, sea squills fall in to sleep the Sfakian sun begins his descent heartbeat slows, saltwater runs across my cheeks I rest against a creased olive tree.
Getting lost and finding my little Cretan paradise helped me to re-connect to many parts of me that had split off in the preceding 18 months. I'd forgotten how to get lost. I started having conversations with random strangers and making contacts, connections and links, broadening my horizons and viewpoints. I revelled in daily sea swimming and felt as if I was being washed from the inside out. I spent hours gazing at the setting sun under ancient olive trees. I got lost yet again in Chania, finding myself in the ancient synagogue on Jewish New Year, being fed and watered and invited back to teach some creative writing. All these experiences reminded me just how narrow and tired my life had become as a result of trauma and loss.
When we were little, my sisters' and I always used to shout 'get lost!' when we annoyed each other. 'Go away, get lost and don't come back' is what we really meant. Returning to Motherland 2 - Crete was about going away, getting lost and frankly I didn't want to come back! Yet I did. It feels like a subtly different me that came back. A me that has re-kindled some old dreams of spending more time amidst the goats and sea squills, of swimming in turquoise infused wetness and befriending old old trees. Of getting lost more often nearer to home too.
Not everyone is comfortable when you leave the safe shores of certainty to go lose yourself. It is deeply unsettling to them. They'll try to pull you back to shore. To the safe job. To the same old routine. But if you need to do it, to cut the ropes and see where you'll float off to - then do it. Bite that rope with your teeth if you have to. Fuck the destination, it doesn't matter. Destinations can be overrated anyway. Especially if everyone is going there. Stop reading guide books. Revel in the unknowingness of it all and speak to improbable people. It's not about being reckless. It's about being wise. It's about fuelling your soul, your spirit.
Now it's time for me to get lost again.
And to all of you beautiful beings that feel like my online sea squills, 'get lost!'.