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The end of September thoughts...

What we have found in these past three weeks is that our experiences are incredibly enriched by the people that we are meeting along the way and the personal connections we are making. Without the people, our time is spent just as tourists, going to different places and sightseeing, but it’s not even close to as meaningful and impactful.

Also, having started our journey with a workaway I now realize that Jay and I are the kind of people that like to feel a sense of purpose in order to be happy. So for Skopelos that worked out perfectly, helping Heather with her project. But in Athens it was very different. We were just tourists.

And while it was nice to discover Athens, it just wasn’t the same. Our next stop was Zakynthos island and I was a bit apprehensive about what it was going to be like.

When we arrived I felt a little stuck. We had no plans, and knew no people. We had 6 days in front of us that were a big blank. I felt a little panicked because I wasn’t sure what we were going to do and how we were going to fill our days. Plus, the apartment we were staying in is on a steep hill, about a half hour walk down to the town, and an hour walk back up. And Jay was uncertain if he wanted to rent a car. This is the view from our window.

And from the balcony at night...

Based on what we had learned from Skopelos, and my questioning the people we met on the hikes, I knew that if we could find a hiking guide, we could join in and meet like-minded people. I had grilled the people we met in Skopelos how they had found Heather and so had gotten the 'brilliant' tip of googling “hiking in Zakynthos”. ;-) And so I googled “hiking in Zakynthos” and what do you know? I soon found a small independent company that leads hikes around the island. Just a brilliant idea! :-)

I immediately wrote to them to find out what they were doing this week. Also, I had seen that Heather sometimes welcomed people to help her at the last minute, if they wrote to her. And so, I looked to see if there were any workaway opportunities in Zakynthos that we might be able to join in. I found one that seemed very interesting and sent them a message also. Then it was a matter of just sitting and waiting to hear back from one of these two potential opportunities.

I soon heard from the company Fora Zakynthos that they had an activity on Tuesday and maybe we would want to join in. OK, that would be good, but it was only Saturday. What were we going to do in the meantime? And I didn’t hear back from the workaway guy.

On Sunday, after just hanging out at the apartment in the sky, we ventured down to the town and walked around.

Jay, by this time, was convinced that we did need to rent a car, thank goodness, and arranged to get one on Monday.

We learned that Fora Zakynthos was doing a traditional grape harvest and wine making on Tuesday and so we were excited to do this activity. But it was only Sunday. We said this was our resting day, but I was very restless and nervous about doing nothing.

Finally, Monday arrived and we got the car.

I am SO proud of Jay. He took to driving a manual car as if he had driven one yesterday instead of XX number of years ago. (He still hasn’t told me how many years it has been since he drove a manual! 😊)

We took off right away to explore this island, driving through the small hill towns and the coastal tourist towns, stopping at a number of beaches.

Jay was right in his element when we found some blackberry bushes and he was able to pick the berries right out of the car window.

and watching a storm move in and drove around in the rain.

It ended up being an excellent day.

When we returned in the late afternoon my phone rang and it turned out to be the guy from the workaway and he wanted us to come and help him with his project. I began to feel a lot better. Two great activities for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here's Tuesday’s amazing experience:

Spiros and Sabine run a small, hiking, nature-oriented company and they sponsored a traditional grape harvesting, wine making day at a small farm in the hills in the center of the island.

It was great in so many ways, was exactly what we were looking for, and yet exceeded any expectations we may have had.

First, it turned out that the small farm actually belonged to Spiros’ family and the grapes and wine were something that the family had been doing for generations. Spiros had decided that tourists would like an authentic Greek experience, and so arranged with his parents to bring tourists to their farm.

His mom and dad welcomed the fourteen of us into their private home with open arms.

Immediately upon arriving, we were served Greek coffee and traditional Greek cookies. We then received an orientation to harvesting grapes and were led into the grape field.

For several hours our small group cut grapes off the vines, chatted, and laughed.

Once we filled a crate with grapes, Spiros carried it over to the pit where we would soon be smashing them.

The group had a wonderful time getting to know one another, and we bonded over the collecting of the grapes. We actually cleared their entire field of grapes (it wasn’t that big)

and filled the pit with grapes.

We thought we would then be stomping on the grapes but were told that now it was time for lunch.

Spiros' mom had prepared a gourmet lunch for all of us. It was spread out on a large table that we all squeezed around, and we made a toast over the family’s homemade wine. Several kinds of cheeses, hard boiled eggs, fresh tomatoes, grilled veggies, pasta, and more were our lunch.

After lunch came the fun part. We washed our feet and legs and climbed up into the pit with all the grapes. We took turns smashing the grapes with our feet and watching the juice come out through the trough. It was really a lot of fun. They had music playing and we got strict instructions from Dad on how to smash the grapes correctly. (I actually only have video of this, which I can't post here so look on Facebook to see the video of smashing grapes.)

There were too many grapes to smash in one day, and so after a while, Spiro excused us so we could drink a coffee with his mom. And of course the coffee came with a plate full of grapes and some homemade apple strudel that Sabine had made. Now you probably won’t be surprised to learn that while the rest of us were drinking coffee and many of the group were leaving, Jay was still by Spiros’ dad’s side, helping him with the grapes. We ended up pretty much being the last to leave so Jay could finish his work. He had such a great time.

At the end of the day, we returned to our apartment and just crashed. It had been a fabulous day with Foras Zakynthos!

Today I articulated something that I think is driving me to find these different experiences. We are talking to lots of people who have dreams, and are working to try to make their dreams come true. By doing workaway projects, Jay and I have the opportunity to help people in a very small way, to help make their dreams come true and help them realize their passion. Today was an example of that. Workaway Wednesday: We talked to Kosta who is building a holistic wellness retreat in the northern part of the island of Zakynthos.

He invited us to come up for the day and help him build a stone wall.

So we left early in the morning and drove up into the hills. Although he gave us instructions, this place seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and we couldn’t figure out where it was. When we thought we were close we gave him a call and asked him if there was a sign that would show us which way to go. “Well,” he said philosophically, "there was, but I took it down.”

OK, so how will we know where to go? We described the trees and hills and road and oh, by the way, there’s a tent in front of us. Now he knew where we were and he directed us to his place.

It was GORGEOUS! Utterly quiet. On top of the hill, overlooking the sea in the distance. But also the area was devastated by recent forest fires.

You can read about the fires in the previous blog posting. Kostas was a gentle, sensitive man who, along with his girlfriend, was building this dream place.

He put us to work and we piled rocks inside this fencing to create a beautiful stone wall.

After working for several hours he showed us around his land and in the partially constructed building. His house and several apartments are complete and he is currently renting out the apartments. If you want a restful, secluded, peaceful place to go in Zakynthos, I recommend coming here. It was SPECTACULAR.

We then went into the nearest town, which by the way was surprisingly only a five minute drive away in the direction opposite from which we had come, and had a delicious lunch looking at the sea.

We had a great day and felt like even though we had helped Kostas for only a few short hours, we had made a small contribution to help him reach his dream. If anyone is interested in workaway on Zakynthos, this would be an interesting project and there is so much to do!

And then it was Thursday, our last day on the island. We decided to do a little trip to some beaches, but in the end it was just too touristy for us. In the afternoon we visited some new friends we had met during our grape picking day and had a wonderful visit with them. A lovely couple who have a resort of villas and houses right on the sea. If you are looking for a luxurious, relaxing vacation/holiday in an excellent location, just steps away from the sea, you should come to this place: and play the video on the home page to see how beautiful it is!

We had a lovely visit with them and we felt like meeting people like Demitra and Nicos made our lives richer for the short time our lives connected. We hope we see them again someday!

Today we leave Zakynthos and travel back to Athens, and then tomorrow we leave for Rome. We have been in Greece for almost a month, 23 days, to be exact, and we are in love with the country and its people. It definitely has its problems, with its economy and economic prospects for its young people and its general lack of conservationism and ecology. But we would definitely come back to Greece. Now, onward to Italia!

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