Thursday Bells and a Beach for Each.
Dingle ling, clangy dingy ling. That’s what we heard.
You know you’re in for something special when, as you pull into a little village harbour on your sailing yacht first thing in the morning, a herd of goats with bells around their necks come scampering down the dirt path to greet you. Yes, a herd of belled (pronounced bell-ed) goats, ran to us, bells ringing, and stood beneath the big old carob tree on the beach.
Oh dear. This is going to be another great day.
We anchored just inside the shallow Marmakas Bay on Ithaki. We plotted a swim to the big tree, around the inside of the bay, across the deep water for a few hundred yards to a tiny island called Nikolou Island, home of a tiny chapel. From there, cross back to the other side of the bay, around and back to the boat. A quick 1.3 miles or so.
That was the plan anyway.
Two hours later, we dragged ourselves back aboard, drunk on caves and chimneys and tiny beaches and rocks and bells. The Bells.
The bay yielded one tiny, perfect beach after another, so many beaches that we each picked one for our own. Some had swim throughs to get to them, some were lined with the most beautiful, sculptural rock walls. Each beach suited the person who chose it just right.
Our personal beaches from top: Jeff found his beach first and inspired the idea. Amy was patient and particular and found hers last. Heidi kicked right back in her mostly water, very little sand beach. Natalie found one with great climbing walls (shocker), and Kendra found a perfect beach under the shade of a big carob tree (she burns easily!). And all the ladies raided my beach which was full of the very best rocks. Simon claimed all of the beaches.
We finally tore ourselves from Ithaki’s shores to swim across to the little island. We did, and were met by more caves and crevices, chimneys and underwater archways. We ran into a paddleboarder who was just leaving. He said, “You must reeng thee chapel bell for luck. I came herrrre just to do dees” in his from somewhere in Europe charming accent.
So we climbed the old stone stairs to a perfect dirt path that led to the quiet little chapel. There beneath the perfect tree branch hung the bell. A perfect bell. It was so quiet and sacred up there. We each rang the bell. I got a little weepy.
We headed back down and the view was breathtaking. We could see the little pools beneath us and the blue blue sea beyond, and our yacht there in the bay waiting for our return.
We continued our swim around the island, in and out of natural stone sea-chambers. A little school of fish exploded out of a swim through and I cried again. I know. It sounds corny. It sounds too good to be true.
It was then that I considered it, and I spoke it aloud:
“Are we all dead??! Did we all die in plane crashes getting here and this is Elysium??!”
Everyone burst into laughter. And then we all thought about it for a minute. This place was just too perfect to not consider that we may have passed into another realm (If you’re actually reading this, please let me know).
Heads down again, we swam away from the little sacred island to the other side of the bay. It was here that I found my beach, so white and gleaming, bottom filled with perfect little stones, marbled and pure white and blue and striped and spotted and smooth smooth smooth. Like Odysseus with the lotus eaters, we felt high from bells beaches and stones. We all filled our bathing suits with treasure stones. We were like characters from some Greek myth…mere mortals filling their pockets with stones before swimming across the sea. Foolish as it may sound, we made it, returning to Caretta Nana from our two-hour Elysium tour. We told Richie and Lulu about our wondering if we were all dead and this was some charmed afterlife. In her perfect Lulu way she said: “It figures. You’ll all be swimming and I’ll be cooking for the rest of the rest of my life. I knew I should have been better!”. We all laughed. And lucky us.
I came into the salon to start editing and to get my thoughts down as my mind has been bursting with them through the whole swim. Richie pulled anchor and we set sail. Suddenly I heard the shrieking of Lulu and my fellow travelers: “Dolphin!!!!!”
I ran out just as the mammal kerplopped back into the blue, having done a flip that only Lulu saw. How perfect and apropos that the leap was hers to see.
Honestly, I’m a little wrung out from the splendor of it all.
And here comes another perfect lunch. I may need a nap before we do our next swim.
Right. So. Never did get that nap. But we did have a very nice sail to Arkudi Island, where we sit now in a south eastern bay. We had a swim, over a mile and a half, into a little secluded inner bay and back out again. When we first reached the wall of the shoreline to swim along, Heidi started shouting to me, excitedly pointing down. OH NO WHAT NOW??? I actually didn’t know how many more spectacular sights I could take.
It was an octopus. She saw it swimming over the rock wall, but then it stopped and blended in, so we had to really hunt for it. I spotted it and managed to get a pic. After that, I’m happy to report it was simply a beautiful, clear water swim. Lovely. No fireworks, no real caves to speak of, just a lovely swim with a sea star the color of beets (the beet star, I just made that up) and some lovely little fish. We split up toward the end, with Simon taking Heidi and Kendra for a little more, and I escorted Natalie, Jeff and Amy straight across the deep water of the bay back to the boat. We had enough wind that we had to aim ahead of the bow a bit, and it actually felt good to stretch out and be challenged a little. My three did great staying together and charging through. Simon and Heidi and Kendra returned the same way a short while afterward.
Then, of course, true to fashion, Greece wowed us with some small swimming creature we have yet to identify. Very cool. We even caught it in a bucket so Lulu and Richie could have a look.
And then Lulu walked out with a tray of Moscow mules and a plate of Croque Monsieurs – the fanciest damned little grilled cheeses you’ve ever had.
Then, just now, screaming from the cockpit. Tuna. Leaping from the sea. Tuna. Leaping.
Not so fast, Auntie. Lulu put out a phenomenal dinner of seasoned pork skewers, orzo salad, shaved fennel salad, sweet red peppers….and…
Wait for it.
I can’t even.
No. There aren’t any pictures of the crepes. We ate them all too fast.
The best part of all was that both Lulu and Richie sat with us and joined us for crepes. There was so much chatter and fantastic laughter. Ease. Love. I sat back for a moment and just took it in. All these strangers come together and live on a relatively small boat, united in passion and purpose. Within a few days, they’ve known one another forever. It’s pretty cool, what we do. They’re all still out there now, old friends, family.
So yes, it’s been another special day. Over three miles of swimming and meandering and spelunking and bell ringing. The bells are ringing here in Greece, for goats, for luck, for love and more. One more full day of this amazingness. I can’t even begin to guess what it will hold.
PS. The night ended with skinny dipping and a lap around the boat. Bioluminescence enveloped us. Everyone tucked in now. We did our last night at sea just right.
Kali Nikta (Good night).