I have like 30 minutes per euro in an Internet cafe but this story is SO worth it.
This is Samantha and me at our best adventurous selves. Unprepared and learning as we travel.
Yesterday the day begins when everyone wakes up and gathers in the Bohemian sitting room (bohemian sitting room is what Sam and I have dubbed it, we were staying with tremendously wonderful greek friends in Heraklion and it’s such a boho room) and there we begin deciding our plans for the day. We should have known that trying to plan anything is our first mistake. We decide to meet our friends at a fantastic secret beach outside Heraklion after Samantha and I pick up our car rental. We get a map and it all seems pretty clear cut.
Samantha and I depart on foot for the rental place, spend a good while lost and looking for the place we’d scoped out the day before. Finally, we find it, mostly lost in conversation and not concerned that we took so long getting there. That’s the way life is for us right now. Wandering in the correct direction and knowing we’ll find it eventually. We go into the rental place, an airy room with doors wide open and the warm Greek guy remembers us from the day before and we sit. We sat for another hour and half, him pouring us drinks (OJ for me and raki for Sam since I’m driving) and offering us food. Not just any food. A man comes in with a jar of sea urchins and sea water, caught in the past 24 hours. They fill shot glasses with the sea urchin and sea water and squeeze lemon on top. We take a good 5-6 shots of this and then another man drops in, delivering raw and wild white artichoke. This veggie in particular is available for only one month in Greece. We eat the tips of the raw leaves and he makes a salad of lemon and salt with the hearts. At the end of our long break laughing and sharing in the rental place, they friend us on Facebook and one ends up showing us videos of his pet cockatiel. They joke, “We have to be careful, we need to work today.” Eventually, we get our car and take off into the Greek streets. The car is a piece! It absolutely is a wreck and we paid too much for it but really, we gained an amazing experience just renting it.
We drive off into the Crete countryside after picking up our suitcases at the house. But, driving this manual car with the practically invisible roadsigns and Greek drivers– fun and that exhilerating kind of terrifying. Of course we get lost and end up in Bali… 25 km past our destination and we spend 2 more hours driving back country roads and stopping to ask for directions every 15 minutes or so. Laughing of course. Blasting the radio. Finally, we find our friends at the secret beach (so secret, it took 2 hours to find) and we swim, have sandwiches and drinks on the beach, sharing life and enjoying the beauty of conversation. After a bit, Samantha and I have a long drive to Chania ahead of us, so we split ways and head off to Chania. We get to the city and our directions to the hotel end up being completely irrelevant. No thanks to Google maps. The streets and signs are utterly a different story in reality than they seem when I wrote them out from online. So we’re lost (again) driving around Chania, constantly asking for directions, and getting so hungry and I’m tired of driving manual and surviving Greek drivers and city streets. Thank God for Samantha, she was the best navigator and side-seat driver, helping me. Eventually, we give up to eat dinner and find out our hotel is 20km outside the city.
After our nourishment, we head off. Very shortly, SO LOST. Again. And there: we had let the car rental guy talk us OUT of buying a GPS. But as we drive, we’re laughing as best we can and we’re making up stories and hypothetical situations about pretending to be heiresses and rolling up into the fanciest resort possible instead of finding our hotel. We pretend and I have light-hearted roadrage as I get accustomed to Greek drivers and my inner aggressor emerges. I even used my horn once and was so excited I did. We end up in so many dark broken roads and dead ends. Eventually, we turn around, park in a busy street and decide to go into the fanciest hotel we can find. “I’m so ready to blow some serious cash on a bed right now,” was our thought process. Half-joking. We don’t have 120euro for a hotel room but we want to see if we can haggle. The first place we try is “Summertime hotel and spa.” The inside is all pool, water, and glass … oh, and leather. We probably can’t afford to breathe in there. We go and sit at the hotel bar and order raki. We’re done driving for a good while so we thought, hey. We start talking to the barman about our problem. Turns out, he knows the hotel and his friends work in the bar there. He gives us his number and directions and we are so excited. It’s the first time that talking to a bartender has solved my problems. Or so I thought.
We spend a while talking to the guy there and then head off … it’s only 2km down the road so we’re sure we can find it. We don’t. We stop into the next fancy resort called Crete paradise to ask for direction. The man at the reception, we’d later learn, would be our savior for the night. But at that moment in time, we just thought he would be giving us directions. We got them, and FOUND THE HOTEL!!!!! It was past 11pm though (2 or 3 hours of searching + dinner + detours) and the whole place is dark. No one. I start to say to Samantha, this is like one of those nightmares where you are looking and never can find what you’re looking for. Like constantly lost. It wasn’t a nightmare in that it was a bad experience. We were flowing into the moment and enjoying the search and adventure of it. But it felt like those nightmares you hear about where you are lost and never going to reach the end and come to the surface. So we say, whatever, reception is closed. And we go back to yet another resort. This place doesn’t have anyone who speaks english when we ask for a room so he calls across the street and gives me the phone. It’s the guy from before at Crete Paradise. He tells us to cross the street and come talk to him. We get there and he says gently, “Tell me your problems.” We tell all and Samantha busts out crying at the desk. I look at her and I’m really concerned then I see her wink very subtly at me. I continue the game, consoling her and walk her over to sit at the couches. But I’m trying to hide a laugh as she mutters to me, “No one likes a crying girl.” Trying to activate pity. It’s the next route of action. I go stand at the desk again and the receptionist asks me, “How much money do you have?” A room in this resort is 120euro a night. He has one room. I say, I don’t have 120euro. He offers a room for maybe 80euro but he’s not sure if the room has been cleaned. We walk over with him through this green lawn area with sprinklers and pools (beautiful resort — SO ritzy) to check the room and it’s a mess. Last guests definitely took advantage of that room. So he says we can sleep in the lobby.
Samantha and I sit at the bar and talk with the really nice bartender (her name is Kiki.. how great is that!) and she is so sweet. She asks if we are hungry. Ravenous. We move outside under the stars by this amazing glamorous pool and they bring us not 2 or 3 but FOUR ham and cheese sandwiches and these amazing baklava-like desserts. And more drinks (pepsi of course) and we sit outside in the warm Crete air and eat and talk. We talk about how relaxed and beautiful we’ve both been this whole time. No sense in stressing. Life is a fantastic adventure and no one could have taken the fiasco like Samantha and I. We were filled with humor and the blessing of good people around us. Eventually even the bar closes and only the receptionist Nikos is left. He sits outside with me as Samantha goes for a walk to the beach under the INCREDIBLE night stars (every constellation) and he and I talk about life, travels, working in hotels, family, and everything in between. Then we walk to find Samantha who got distracted standing on the edge of the ocean with the stars all around and the waves on her feet. By 1:30 A.M, we’re back sitting at our chairs by the pool in this amazing resort under the stars (I keep emphasizing the resort, pools and stars because it was surreal and so beautiful) and Nikos almost timidly begins to mention that there is a staff room where hotel staff can sleep after working a night shift before driving home. He has a room and he isn’t using it as he works the night shift so we can stay there while he works and just leave in the morning when he gets off work and needs to sleep there. So there we are, walking down the white stairs to the basement rooms where staff sleep and he shows us the smoky, small room with two twin beds pushed together. He’s really concerned that there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom but we couldn’t care! We were overwhelmed and blessed just to see the sight of a bed. He goes to fetch toilet paper because he wants to make sure we’re comfortable and it was just the smallest gesture of wanting to be good to us to the very last piece of him. Truly, a savior for us. He leaves us to go back to his night shift and we curl up in the staff room there with the smoke in the air and mini fridge whirring so loud. The walls are somewhat thin so occasionally I hear a cough in another room. I’m in my bathing suit and sofies from the day and just a beach top cover-up and all I do is let down my hair, still wet from swimming in the ocean that afternoon) and nestle into the pillow.
And there, before we sleep, Samantha in her half-sleep says to me, “We keep thinking we know the depth of charity but people keep one-upping each other. They don’t mean to… because they don’t know what other people have done for us but they do [one up each other]. Just more proof that people are good at heart.”
And we slept.
We slept until 7am and I never felt so golden waking up in the morning with the salt and sea-torn hair curling and loose, never washed, and skin still salty from the sea, and this light in my eyes from the adventure. Nikos got off his shift and we thanked him, bade goodbye and got in our car to go find breakfast. Driving, we watched the morning sun over the water just like last night we watched the setting sun as we drove to Chania. So much had happened in between. We get coffee and sit in a park on a square in the city. I am quiet. That deep quiet of writing poems in my head (as my little sister likes to describe that silence of mine that comes when I am inspired). Then Samantha starts commenting about the masses of pigeons in the square in front of us. I play the game and so there we were drinking coffee on a park bench giving pigeons voices (how we imagine pigeons might talk — like, hey, hey, what’s up? I’m a pigeon. What’s going on? I’m a pigeon. I’m hanging out doing pigeon things) and then there’s this loud noise from a truck and BAM the pigeons all fly away. Samantha and I die laughing. Laughing, laughing, laughing like our lungs would die. It wasn’t that funny…. but it was that feeling of the immense hilarity of everything: sitting in a park bench imitating pigeons after an insane day and night yesterday). Then, there was the way I’ve never thought so hard about what it means to have a place to sleep. How do pigeons sleep? I ask Samantha. Across the square, a homeless man has his arm tucked under his head and he’s sleeping on a bench. Here we are, lucky. Samantha lies down, head in my lap. We rest there on the benches in the warm light of the very early day.
The saga DOES continue though. We go back to the place that was supposed to be our hotel the night before and they are open at last. But they don’t have our reservation at all!!! Fail. Samantha and I decide to go find an internet cafe and book some hotel (any hotel at this point) online for tonight. On the way, I see a small sign that says, “rooms for rent.” I screech to a halt and we end up down a back road on foot and find a quiet hotel called Anna Maria, right on the beach. We go in. No one is there but the maid emerges from the bathroom and doesn’t speak english. She calls the owner and I talk to the owner by phone who has ONE room for ONE night and she’s not even really open for the season yet (all guests begin arriving June 2) but she can give us the room just for tonight for 40euro. I SAY YES!!!! The maid takes us to the room and omg. Fantastic. It’s got a sunken balcony to a pool area with this beautiful blue outdoor pool, then a huge bed, table and chairs, tiled floor, kitchette with fridge and stove and wide window. Very sunny. I keep saying, this isn’t real, we can’t have gotten this nice a room on the beach for so cheap. But it’s true. And that sweeping feeling of the search being over and realization of everything that’s happened hits you… and I was exhausted. Washed up. Samantha went to the beach and I slept with a heaviness that didn’t matter if I missed the whole day just mattered that I was in a safe bed. However, the nightmare continued in my sleep and I dreamed that the room was too nice and they wouldn’t give it to us and put us in a dank, dark room instead with dirty sheets and thin walls, noisy because you can hear the other rooms and cramped– only big enough for the bed. I woke up relieved I was still stretched in those gorgeous white sheets with the soft sun and light, airy, clean room.
After all this, Samantha and I are impressed with ourselves, very acutely sure of how nice it is to have a place to stay for sure, and quite certain of the goodness of people. We are constantly being taken care of during our travels and I cannot say how grateful I am and this is it: traveling really shows you people. I constantly say that… but it’s not about the situation or the things you see but those you meet and those who change your life. Even if it’s just making one night better by bringing you a sandwich and letting you sleep in the hotel for free. Beautiful.