After hitchhiking from Amsterdam to Athens twice, in winter 2016/2017 and summer of 2017, it was time for stage 3 of my journey. After a four-week break in the Netherlands in September and October, this new stage would be: take a flight to Athens, visit Greek islands on the route to Turkey, go to Istanbul and hitchhike back north from there.
I felt like an experienced traveller, having hitchhiked 9,000 kilometres in less than one year. And having lost part of my luggage in Salzburg and my backpack in Athens, I had learned to travel light, with minimum equipment.
On Wednesday 11th of October, I flew to Athens with my leather bag and a small suitcase. From Athens, I would take the ferry to the first island on my wish list, Santorini. Still, on a minimal budget, I had no plan how to travel the Greek islands. Would it be possible to find people who sailed the islands and ask them if I could come along? Maybe a cargo ship? Would hitchhiking over sea be possible?
I took it one step at a time. In Athens, I went back to what was familiar, ‘my’ park in the centre of Athens and the Athens University of Economics and Business, my regular working location. From there, my new adventure would surely enrol itself.
In my first week on Santorini I discovered the best sea route to Turkey: from Santorini to Rhodes, from Rhodes to Kos and from Kos either to Marmaris or to Bodrum, both cities on the Turkish coast. From there I could hitchhike either south to Cyprus or north to Istanbul, depending on the time remaining to travel Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia during spring 2018.
Before I would leave Santorini for Rhodes, my plan was to go to Amorgos to visit Marjolein, a friend from Amsterdam living there now with her Greek man, Dimitris. By the time I arrived on Santorini in the last week of October, Marjolein was in Amsterdam. She planned to return to Amorgos first week of November. Amorgos was not on the route to Rhodes, so it would be a return trip: from Santorini to Amorgos and back to Santorini. From Santorini I would continue to Rhodes and Turkey.
In the second week of November, in my third week on Santorini, Marjolein sent me a message to confirm she had returned to Amorgos. She would let me know the best moment for me to go to Amorgos. A few days later she sent me a message that she and Dimitris were busy harvesting olives, it was not the best time yet. I decided to wait and enjoyed my stay on Santorini.
In Greece it was still the high season to harvest olives. On Santorini as well, I noticed lots of men visiting hardware stores to buy or rent harvesting equipment. Where traditionally the olives were harvested manually with an olive rake, the newest gadget was a plastic, electrical rake. I saw lots of men proudly leaving stores with the modern tool loosely over their shoulder.
Long story short, I took the ferry to Amorgos on the 22nd of November, after four weeks on Santorini. It was a twelve-hour journey, three hours from Santorini to Naxos, I spent six hours on Naxos for my connecting ferry and then in three hours from Naxos to Amorgos. I would arrive around 3 AM and Marjolein would pick me up at the port of Katapola.
Getting to Amorgos was an adventure, not in the least because money was still tight. In the week before taking the ferry, I managed to get the 33 euro’s I needed for my ticket, simply by asking people to help me with my journey. If I would have been sensible, I’d arrange the money for the return ticket as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed in doing that and decided to trust on the situation on Amorgos and the help of people there.
After an enthusiastic reunion with Marjolein and a 30-minute drive, we arrived to their beach club, ‘Disco The Que’ in Aegiali. Dimitris had started the club some 30 years before, he and Marjolein ran the beach club together now for two seasons. Their house was adjacent to the beach club, so the summer seasons were hectic to say the least, with people partying all night and sleeping around the house, on the terrace in front of the club and on the beach. Never a dull moment, this period lasted from end of March till the end of September.
The morning after my arrival I met Dimitris and the three of us had great talks with nice Greek coffee. The days were still sunny, temperature almost spring-like, so I could take my morning swim by walking exactly 25 meters from the terrace to the sea line.
As the olive harvest would last another one or two weeks, Dimitris had still a lot of work, helping friends and family with harvesting and taking the olives to the factory, to press them to valuable olive oil. On my third day, I went with Dimitris and Marjolein to Michael-Ann, a good friend of Dimitris’.
Michael-Ann lived in a beautiful self-built house on a mountain slope some kilometres from Aegiali. It was the last day she harvested olives and cleaned them from twigs and leaves before taking them to the factory.
For one day I participated in harvesting and processing olive and pruning the trees to prepare them for the next season. Working a full day on the mountain slope, I experienced a tiny bit of the intense labor.
The next day, late afternoon we went to the factory to have the olives processed and collect the olive oil, the beautiful and precious end result of a full week's work.
While leading the process in the factory, Dimitris explained to me the changes in olive processing during the decades, from the traditional hand-driven ways to the work processes and machines in the modern factories in present times.
I took out my video camera and with the generous permission of the man-in-charge, I filmed the whole process.
We returned to Aegiali with two large jerry cans full of olive oil and celebrated the end of the harvest with drinks and food in a local pizza restaurant.
For me, staying with Marjolein and Dimitris felt like holiday. Marjolein took good care of me, I got to sleep in a bed and I could work in a comfortable place. After one week it was time for me to return to Santorini, longing to get back to ‘my’ island.
Amorgos turned out to be totally different than Santorini. With some 1900 inhabitants and only two cities, actually small villages with ferry ports and heavily depending on the touristic season, the island seemed almost abandoned, during my stay I saw no single tourist.
For my return ticket this meant a challenge. Expecting no money from my online work and not wanting to ask Marjolein and Dimitris for help, I took a walk to explore Aegiali and the surrounding area on my own. I estimated my chances to ask people to help me to support my journey, but with the villages practicably extinct, I had not much hope.
I started to analyze my situation. Firstly, I did not need 33 euro’s at once. I could split the amount in two: 12 euro’s for the ferry to Naxos and 21 from Naxos to Santorini. As Naxos had at least one city with lots of restaurants and terraces, my chances there would be better there. I walked around and asked two or three people, but no luck. Then I walked to the only luxury hotel up the mountain. With practically no guests this time of year, I managed to ask three people in two hours, they all could not to help me or didn’t want to.
At the end of the afternoon I walked back to Aegiali for a last attempt. I came to the first supermarket before entering the village. A car stopped in front of the supermarket, a young guy going into the supermarket. The driver, an older man, stayed in the car. I decided to ask the men for help and started to walk slowly in the direction of the car, so timing to arrive to the car around the moment the young guy would return, probably with cigarettes.
He took his time and I waited near the car for a few minutes. The moment he came walking outside, I addressed him and told him about my low-budget journey. Would it be possible for him to help me with some money? He looked at me a short moment and told me to wait a second. He turned to the man in the car and almost conspiracy-like they whispered to each other for about a minute.
Suddenly, the young man turned to me and said: “Here, this will surely help”. In his hand he had a 20 euro note and he gave it to me. “Good luck!”, he said. He got into the car and the men drove off. Completely flabbergasted I watched the them drive off in the direction of Aegiali.
The same evening I went to the ticket office with Marjolein and bought my ticket to Naxos for the next morning. I paid eleven euro’s and even had some money left and bought Marjolein a pack of cigarettes in return for het generous sharing the whole week. We ended my week on Amorgos with dinner in Dimitris’ favorite restaurant in Aegiali.
The next morning my ferry would leave around seven. Marjolein helped me to get up at 6 AM, we had coffee and she accompanied me to the ferry. The moment the ferry approached the port, Marjolein tapped on my shoulder and gave me a 20-euro note, which I accepted happily and thankfully. The ferry left, I waved goodbye to Marjolein and with my mind turning to Santorini, I watched the sun rising from behind the mountains of Amorgos.
I returned to Santorini on 28th of November. When I arrived to the main square of Fira and got out of the bus, I realized I had practically two weeks left before my 4-week Christmas break. Instead of rushing off to Rhodes, I took another two weeks on Santorini.
During my stay on Santorini, a total of six weeks, some special songs accompanied me during the many hours I sat in cafes and restaurants working with my laptop.
One of them is a mystical song from the seventies: "The Reaper", by Blue Oyster Cult (1976).
Despite great controversy around the lyrics, the song for me is about the eternal cycles we experience in life, something I became a little bit more aware of during my tiny part in the olive harvest, an example of a century-old cycle in Greece.