Everywhere has a secret room. To discover it, you must knock on walls, as the detective does in mystery houses, and listen for the echo that portends the secret passage. You must pull books off shelves to see if the library shelf swings open to reveal the hidden room. As a pilgrim, you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.
— The Art of Pilgrimage

I am kind of a shitty traveler. I hate moving around from place to place. I loathe the actual process of transporting myself from one place to another. I never really do anything with all the guide books I buy. And when it comes down to it, I have no interest in bouncing around and running myself thin just to see things.

When I was in Pondicherry last March, I met two young girls from Germany who were taking the next six months to see India. They were spending only one day in each place and then moving on. 
All I could think was: "What's the point of that? Especially when you have so much time!" 

And knowing how incredibly long and labor-intensive it is to get from city to city in India, and that traveling that way could easily mean spending more time in a taxi, train, or airport than actually seeing India, I thought: "Dear God, that sounds exhausting!" 

I guess we all have different ways of traveling. But for me, more than seeing lots of things and going many places, I'd rather stay put and really get to know one.

That's what I find to be fascinating about travel: Getting to know the layers of a certain place. Peeling away the tourism gloss until I can see the insides, the beating heart, of it. I like to get into a place so much that maybe, just maybe, it's people may actually receive me, however brief, as one of their own. And instead of making sure I am accumulating enough pictures, souvenirs and experiences to take away from a place, I like to be present enough to contribute to it; and maybe even leave something behind. (Yes, I know I am terrible at taking and posting photos).

On top of that, I travel because I believe it is transformative. I travel to heal. I travel to unearth old, tired shit and see myself in the new light of foreign experience. Because new places reveal new possibilities for living. And just like you can't reap the benefits of a yoga pose if you don't hold it, I stay put in one place because, as the old Taoist proverb says, you can't see your reflection in running water. 

I've been in Skala Eressos for just over a week now and I have started to get a bit of a handle on the inner-workings of this place. Skala Eressos translates as "the beach of love." It is a tiny Greek village. Maybe one mile long. Maybe. There is no guide book or tour agency that you can go to for information on the best things to see, the best places to eat, where to find yoga, cooking classes, or parties at night. There is no one to organize guided tours of the surrounding areas, by horse, by bike or by foot. It is completely up to you to dig deep and find the spirit that breathes so much life into this town that people return year, after year, after year to feel it again.

On my first day here, I asked the woman who set me up in my apartment where to go for yoga. And she answered me the same way I imagine someone would if I had inquired about where to find someone to deal me cocaine:

“Walk down this street, pass two crossroads, and then turn left. Walk down a little more and you will see a big wooden door on your left. See if anyone is there. If so, they should know.”

Being "in-the-know" comes by word of mouth from the people who have spent their summers here for years, sometimes decades. And everything you find is entirely pop-up. I eventually found out that yoga classes are held on the terrace of a lesbian bar. Or you can travel up about 4 km to Eressos Village where a Greek woman holds classes in an abandoned pizzeria she shares with a dance teacher and martial arts instructor. The woman who gives massage and reflexology sessions simply lays out a towel on the deck of Zorba of Buddha (another lesbian bar at the end of the beach). And when I asked my friend from England about taking Greek cooking classes, the answer wasn’t “go to this place or ask this restaurant,” it was “I know a woman who knows another woman from South Africa who used to know a Greek woman who offered lessons out of her home.”

This place kind of prides itself on it's not-so-obvious nature. Just like Goa, to the blind eye, or to the traveler who is only here for a week or two, this place just seems like your typical beach holiday. But if you are here long enough to do some detective work and peel away decades' worth of layers upon layers of history, poetry, culture, revolution and social change -- you start to see that this place holds something very special and unique, and that this place just may be one of Greece's best kept secrets.  

Every morning, I participate in a long-held tradition called the Skala Women's Rock Group. It's a group of women who meet at a cafe to swim together to a rock island off-set in the Aegean and back. There, I met a London transplant from South Africa named Erica. Erica is a woman in her fifties who is working toward her MA in Positive Psychology. She is currently completing her dissertation on how immersion into nature heals and transforms lives. As a part of this endeavor, she leads week-long "life-changing" kayaking trips around the remote areas of Lesvos Island. When I told her I was a yoga teacher, she asked me to join her trip in early August and teach yoga and meditation to her participants (I am so excited!).

Last night, we met up for wine to discuss the packing list and itinerary. During our conversation, she revealed she has been coming to Skala Eressos every year, sometimes twice a year, for the past 14 years (which is a very common story to hear around here).

"You know the thing about this place, right?," She asked.

"Um... I'm not sure."

"Okay listen. I have been all over the world and I have never gone anywhere else twice. But this place... this place is something else. There are so many elements, so many rich dynamics, so much beautiful relationship -- every time I come here I feel like I am coming home to a group of long-lost friends. Skala Eressos is the most special place I have ever been."

She proceeded to tell me about how Eressos was home to the great lyric poetess, Sappho, the first woman who dared to express her personal feelings instead of praising the gods or singing hymns to male heroes. For this reason, Eressos has become a lesbian and women's pilgrimage for several decades. Because it is also a popular holiday destination for the Greeks themselves, there has been an interesting evolution as conservative Greek Orthodoxy and LGBT/feminist values have blended toward kind co-existence rather than intolerance or conflict. 

In addition to this unique dynamic, it is also home to some of the most lush vegetation and unspoiled beaches in Greece -- as well as a nudist colony, an OSHO ashram, a Greek Orthodox church famous for the profound healing it bestows to it's pilgrims and the International Women's Festival, where thousands of women travel to from all over the world every September. All this within a mile radius stretch. And the best part is, aside from the occasional inevitable lesbian drama, everyone gets along.

Not a word of this was mentioned in my guidebook. 

Just like every person has a story, every place has a room inside waiting to be revealed. It takes time and patience and a willingness to put yourself out there, to humble, and even embarrass, yourself at times. But excavating this room is, by far, my favorite part of travel. 

And, yes, you heard that right. I am going on a week-long kayaking trip along the Aegean Sea. No, I don't kayak. But a little more than a week ago, I wasn't a person who swam either. And a week before that, I wasn't a person who took off for a one-way adventure to Greece. So... I'm going with it. 

Blessings, ouzo and lots and lots of feta!


Jessica

 

Want to join me in Greece and experience this magic for yourself? (Santorini has it's own unparalleled magic and beauty -- one that is quite obvious to the average eye). Join me in Santorini, September 28th-October 4th, for a week-long immersion into yoga and abundance. 

P.S. I have a great group coming from Grand Rapids and we are taking a few days to explore the island of Crete before landing in Santorini for the retreat. So if you've always wanted to do a bit of Greek Island hopping with some amazing like-minded kindred souls, this is your time. Join the magic tour here. Or contact me directly at jessicaroodvoets@gmail.com.

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