Last Saturday was my birthday, the first I’ve celebrated in Greece, the country where I would’ve been born had a group of army officers not overthrown George Papandreou’s government in the early hours of 21 April 1967. My mother, three months pregnant at the time, didn’t want to live under martial law and persuaded my father to go with her to Scotland, where I was ultimately born.
Twenty-one years later I finally visited the land of my conception. Outwardly I travelled alone, but was three months pregnant and carrying my own daughter. I stayed for a week with my father in Athens. Too short a time to build a relationship but long enough to know I wanted to return again to Greece, to spend significant time getting to know my other country, the language and its people. However, it was another eighteen years until I was to find myself on Greek soil once more but, as with my first visit, only for a week.
Seven more years have passed between then and now, but this time I’ll be here for six months. My language skills still only consist of a few greetings and a bunch of nouns (contrary to popular belief it’s not easier learning a language in-country, especially when so many people speak English), but Sean and I are getting to know the people of Vathy — our neighbours, the baker, a taverna owner, various shop and café owners, a few ex-ship captains, including one who spends his days fishing for octopuses, a pastime that yields greater catches in winter when the octopuses live closer to the shore, something we witnessed unexpectedly on Saturday afternoon.
We had gone to Sarakiniko, a short two-and-a-half-kilometre drive over the hill to a quiet bay on the south of the island. Sarakiniko has two small beaches, the first a fishermen’s beach and the second, slightly larger beach accessible only by a path over the rocks. We stopped at the first beach for a short while, Sean diving straight in for a swim and me staying on shore to photograph the boats. Then we climbed over the rocks and dropped down into the more secluded bay where olive and cypress tress populate the hill that rises high above the beach. On the side of the bay opposite the fishermen’s beach, goats climb down to drink from the mountain stream that flows into the bay.
We heard the goats’ bells ringing just as we were about to get out of the water. The sun had dropped behind the hill casting shadow across the bay. I was beginning to feel chilly so carried on my trajectory, but Sean turned back and swam over to the rocks where the goats were frolicking. Not wanting to disturb them, he didn’t swim right up to the rocks, but got close enough to see their faces and markings more clearly. Meanwhile, I watched from the shore, wrapped in the relative warmth of my towel.
The water at Sarakiniko is soft and warm at this time of year. Crystal clear at the shoreline it seeps into turquoise before turning indigo a little farther out. The beach itself is covered with smooth white pebbles. Beneath the path that runs between the fishermen’s beach and the bay are layers of rock, stacked one upon the other like phyllo pastry. It was as were walking back over the rocky path, looking down at small fish darting between the rocks covered with sea urchins, that we saw the octopus. Being a pale sandy colour it was beautifully camouflaged as it made its way across the sea bed to a rugged rock where it nestled itself into a crevice with such grace and expertise that it disappeared quickly from sight.
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Mufidah Kassalias is a writer, photographer and slow-travelling digital nomad. She’s also Co-Founder & COO of CreativeThunder.co, working with creative businesses and individuals, worldwide, to build tribes of loyal customers via strategic websites, visual storytelling and social media.