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The Call of the Cave in Santorini

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Once Upon a Dock in Santorini – No, Twice Upon a Dock…

Way down there.. the port and the cave

October 2008.I stripped off my outer clothes and jumped off the Old Port dock in bra and panties. Middle of the touristy Santorini day. My newlywed daughter shaking her head. She’d already been a good sport travelling the thousands of steps down the caldera, getting stinky and banged up, on a donkey. And now she got to watch her Mom strip and swim – in clearly a non-swimming area- over and under the anchor ropes of small fishing boats to reach the cave she had so long ago wanted to swim to.

I’ve never been able to put in words the exhilaration of that experience. I thought maybe I’d try in this post.

You see, 32 years earlierI had sat at that same dock. It was different then.. wood planks, no cafe, just donkeys if you wanted to pay for a donkey to travel those extensive steps. Earlier that day, I’d stood at the top of the caldera (cliff) and looked at those thousands of steps and a cave that called to me just a short swim from the dock. I had no money for a donkey as I was travelling on less than $5 a day. I’d have to climb those stairs down and back up again. “Crazy,” I thought on that very very hot day.. “crazy to tackle those steps.” But the cave would not stop calling me, and so I walked those steps, knowing I’d also have to climb them again, on that hot hot morning. Did I mention hot?

See that windy path? Stairs. Thousands of Stairs.

You can imagine how imagining the coolness of the water, and the magic of the cave kept me going. And now imagine me, reaching the dock, so relieved that I’d soon get to leap into this cool ancient sea. Just as I was prepared to jump, I looked closer at the water. A jelly fish. No, no, oh no… a thousand jelly fish.

I asked the donkeykeeper in my haphazard greek /english / handgesturing way, “would the jelly fish go away soon?” He answered, “about 3 days.”

I would have stayed to swim to that cave, but for the first time in my months long adventure, I had a schedule. I’d booked a flight back to Iran, where I was living. I had to book the flight because I heard the ‘magic bus’ through Turkey wasn’t safe… women were being stolen as white slaves, and I was pretty sure that would make my Dad very unhappy. I was going back to Iran because, through an american express office, I’d learned my Dad wasn’t well.. darned if he didn’t have a serious ulcer. I dunno, would you get an ulcer if your 20 year old daughter went romping around the world alone, and no internet and no phone to connect you?

Now, as it happens, I didn’t get an ulcer when my daughter did the same thing… and she went for 2 1/2 years, crazy girl… because at least we could be in touch fairly often. And when she was not in communication areas, I just kept reminding myself how happy I was that she was travelling, because her dream had been postponed so long after a car accident. That she was well enough to travel, kept me supportive and sane and ulcer free. I do recall, as my girls were growing up, hoping they wouldn’t truck off around the world alone, because now being a Mom, I could imagine what my Dad went through. Sheesh.

And so I’d booked a flight back to Iran to save my Dad more worry., although it’s true that he wouldn’t likely have gotten the letter that I was on my way until well after I’d arrived home. My poor Dad. No wonder he had an ulcer. He’d get a letter from me saying I was heading to Vienna. He’d get the letter after the earthquake that rocked that country, thinking I was there, but no.. I had changed my mind and not gone there. He’d get a letter saying I was heading to Barcelona. He’d hear about the revolution that happened while I was meant to be in Barcelona… and I was.. and be worried sick until he got the next letter from me assuring him that I survived.

And so I looked at the jellyfish and the cave that called to me and disappointed, I grieved the fact that I would never be able to swim to that cave.

Back to 2008: I’d told my daughters the story of that cave. We were back in Santorini because Courtney had chosen that ancient beautiful caldera as her place to be married. When people asked her, “Why Greece?” I was surprised to hear her answer: “When I was little we were at a restaurant with photos of Greece on the walls. My mom started telling stories of Greece, and I knew right then that one day I would go to Greece.”

Even as she and I rode our donkeys to the old port, I didn’t think I’d get to swim to the cave. It was obviously not a swimming area. But the moment I hit the dock, I remembered. I remembered the young girl alone, a future unknown, and the call of the magic of the cave. I reflected upon how I could never have guessed then, that one day I’d be back, this time with two beautiful daughters, a new son-in-law, my beautiful grandbaby, and the son-in-law’s family to celebrate a wedding. I’d never have guessed this would also be the reunion with my other daughter after her 2 1/2 year travelling journey. I’d never have guessed the ups, downs, losses, celebrations, tragedies, and joys that would become a part of my life and that would evolve to make me one of the most grateful people I know. (smile)

And so, I stripped and swam to the cave. I giggled and laughed and still can feel the salty warm water, and the coarseness of the ropes I swam over and under. I remember looking back and smiling at my daughter who both appreciated what I was doing and hoped that nobody would pay attention to her crazy mom.

I sighed out loud when I swam into the small cave and said, “And so, here we are.” Whatever magic it had to share, it did. It’s magic was the call… the call meant for 2008. The call to notice that what I once grieved evolved into a most euphoric moment. The call to feel the strength of the connection between me and my Dad, who’d passed away just an year earlier. The call to experience the hug of my 20 year old self and my gramanana self, and our choice to stay ‘hugged’. The call to notice that through no conniving of my own, the Universe and my daughter had arranged this magical experience. The call to remember we do not know fully what a moment in our lives is all about.. there’s always more at play: That 20 year old had no idea the call of the cave was for a future time.  The call to wonder if my one daughter soon returning home from her long time travel adventure, and the other now setting off backpacking with her new husband and a baby… would one day ‘randomly’ return to some faraway place and have a magical experience.   The call to celebrate the magic of my family, my life, and the Universe in all its wonder.

Yup, all that in a simple swim to a small cave from a small dock in Santorini.

Afterwards Courtney and I had a coffee at the cafe on the dock. I couldn’t put into words what I’d experienced. I’m sure she was relieved and happy that I got to do it, and perhaps even more, relieved that no one yelled at us. It was like nobody even saw me strip and swim to the cave. Perhaps there was some magic involved in that too.

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