Our WeXplore confirmed many of my thoughts about TGS, with one major altercation at the very beginning cementing my misgivings. This experience hung over the entire trip, with tension simmering among the staff which we did our best to hide from the students.
We took an excrutiatingly slow bus trip to the Pelion mountain peninsula to end at a campsite right by the road in the village of Milina. A delightful, classically European village, one can walk from one end to the other in five minutes and we did that evening, having a sumptuous meal by the sea. Every day for WeXplore was packed with activities from sunup to bedchecks at ten in the evening (and sometimes past). These were light physical activities with meals and cultural experiences interspersed in between.
On our first full day, we hiked up to the charming town of Lavkos, sat in the square for a pastry, then walked back down. I took the opportunity to talk the ear off our guide in Greek, making fast friends with him and quickly exhausting my vocabulary but pressing on nonetheless. The views were bucolic and picturesque in that settled-for-a-long-time European way. We traipsed up the hills known for being the home of the Argonauts, overseeing the site of the naval battles of the first Persian War. As we talked on this, I analyzed my own awe. This place is rich and steeped in history, but is my home any less so? I have simply been taught the history of Greece, taught to revere it, to know the names of the places, the warriors, their leaders, their strengths, the dates, the significance to the millenia that followed. Yet the very soil of Gainesville is rich with the same history, history I could have felt and explored and revered in much the same way had it been taught me. I felt this throughout my early days in Greece. How I gravitated towards their ancient history and mythology due to my inculcation via the American curriculum. This is nothing to decry – on the contrary, it is a wonderful thing to feel a connection to a place and to see its geography and people from this deeper perspective. I only wish I had access to this for other places. Time is finite, however, and my curriculum decided to spark wonder for Ancient Greece.
After reflecting on this back at the campsite, I deliberately asked our Kayak guide Kiriakos about more modern history after he expounded on the importance of the geographical features (gesturing towards landmarks we could not see) to the clashes of the armies of antiquity. As a result, he touched upon the Ottoman time, the establishment of the Greek nation-state, and the significance of the geography to the partisan resistance to the Greek dictatorship. Back at the camp that evening, we listened to rebetiko music played by a swiss/greek couple that bore the imprint of that more recent history in the scales used and ornamentation of the notes. I exchanged my drawings of the duo for a set of wonderfully DIY CDs, then took out my own guitar after the kids went to sleep to practice through my own repertoire.
The following day took us on a winding road up and over the peninsula at a snail’s pace through streets barely wide enough to accommodate our massive tour bus. Running late, we split the kids into two groups and I accompanied the first set on a via ferrata up the canyon. I felt trepidatious at first when I saw ropes loosely looped around trees, but the gear steadily improved as we descended, with shiny new titanium bolts and rungs populating the bulk of the via ferrata through the gorge, with rapids splashing mist and water all over each rung and moistening the hand wire we clung to. Quite comfortable due to being secured to the wire running the length of the course with redundant carabiners, I shuttled quickly back and forth between the main group of students in the front and the terrified and agonizingly slow student at the back, taking photographs as I went. Towards the end I collided with Amethyst and splattered my white pants with dirt. I then spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the sun at a waterfall behind a bend in the road as students practiced archery above. Riley calls me a lizard, and I was happily joined by fellow lizards in this activity.
We ended the day at a ridiculously swanky luxury resort where the students “learned” to cook various Greek staples – moussaka, village salad, tzatziki, stuffed peppers, and grilled meat. The food that was served later was clearly the actual food that the students prepped, as the meat was rather oversalted. I sat at a table slightly off to the side with Shasta, and enjoyed the evening as a result.
On our last full day of WeXplore we took a yacht out to the island of Trikeri. I disliked this quite a bit, as it reeked of privilege, though Adnan rightly admonished me in letting the students enjoy the time. I was half asleep for the majority of the ride anyways due to taking a benadryl beforehand to cope with the expected motion sickness. We had the extraordinary privilege of staying the night at an old monastery in the middle of the island which was once used to house dissident leftist women during the dictatorship. A wonderful, peaceful place, I lingered to speak with the old women who cared for and cleaned the monastery, with them warming immediately to me due to my ability to converse with them in Greek.
We walked around the small island to a Kayak launch site once again, and took a short trip halfway around the island – curtailed from the original plan due to the exhaustion of the students and the gracious understanding of Kiriakos. It was wonderful to see him and chat with him again and hear of the history of the island as we stopped to eat a refreshing bulgur wheat salad. I took my camera out this time in a dry bag, getting more and more confident to my later regret. A few students kept racing ahead of the pack and I took it upon myself as one of the most physically fit to chase after then and corral them. I took excellent photographs throughout (which I cannot post here, I believe), but the wind began to pick up in the evening and caused considerable chop in the water. Just meters away from the dock, I turned around to take photographs of Ibrahim and a student coming in for the final stretch and before I knew it I was in the water, My dry bag was ironically open. I managed to maintain my camera above the waves, but it died later anyways. Kiriakos helped me flip back over and I rowed in to shore, defeated, wet, and humbled, waiting for my things to dry. My beloved Fuji perished that day, but I was able to retrieve the photographs.
I stayed back in the evening after switching into dry clothing, enjoying the quiet of the monastery without students for a few precious minutes before descending for some shrimp pasta at the dock. We said our goodbyes the next day before heading back to Athens, and I slept much of the way.