Honestly, I’m so tired that I can’t differentiate between the days we’ve spent here in Greece. I remember the things we did, I’m just not sure when they happened. I had a hard enough time knowing what day it was before I lost all of this time traveling internationally, and now I don’t even know which way is up.
I’m pretty thankful for the way the days run together when things aren’t quite going my way. The rough moments are easily overtaken by the fun when you never know what time it is. Today I was told our ferry ride was going to last about 3 hours. It actually lasted 5, but I didn’t know that until I got off the ferry and someone else mentioned it. I thought it was possibly the longest 3 hours ever, but it was actually kind of nice not realizing how much time had passed on the boat until I was on the bus to the destination.
This trip has also been challenging in many other ways. I’m not exactly acclimated to the difference between Greece and America. I knew it would be different, but I don’t think it hit home until yesterday just how different it truly is here. This country is farther behind than I thought it was. Most of it seems to be related to the economic issues they are facing, for which I have found a special compassion.
The scenery here is beautiful and the food is great, but things I expected just aren’t there. It seems that every hotel we go to has a quality or amenity we have to trade for another. Our first hotel had wifi sometimes, air conditioning and hot water always, but the room was incredibly small. I had to stand in the bathtub to open the door. The second hotel had no wifi, but there was space and a comfortable bed. The third had no wifi and no air conditioning. The bright side of this was the combination of a patio door, a breeze, and exhaustion that prevented me from being kept awake by anything at all. The wifi situation is really only troubling to those who are only able to communicate through wife (i.e. me and the other students calling home).
Travel is simply an exhausting undertaking. Everyone finds a breaking point when you’re thrown together in a large group and attempting to navigate a foreign country. It’s even harder when you can’t quite figure out how the toilets work. Overall, I think one of the issues is that what we think of as problems are normal to the people who live here. Maybe they still view it as a problem, but it is simply a fact of life. I think this is because they have simply been surviving for so long that the last memories they have of thriving date back to the ancient days when the ruins before them were beautiful marble wonders.
This pile of rocks and columns was once the temple to Apollo where the Oracle of Delphi sat and gave out prophecies. The entire complex was surrounded by treasury houses that would seem small to us in modern times but were actually huge by ancient standards. These were buildings built by the different city states in honor of Apollo to give him praise for victories and good living conditions. Anything good that happened resulted in an offering being made. Huge statues were commissioned, gold and silver were shaped into beautiful items, and countless other meaningful tokens were sent by these people groups who, at the time, did not even form one single people.
In the midst of the memory of all of this opulence, I walked into a store and asked if I could pay for my souvenir tee shirt with a credit card. The store owner looked at me with slightly pleading eyes and asked for cash, then took almost 40% off the price just because I was willing to pay cash. I’ve seen people use sales tactics before. They mark up a high price and you barer a little, but in the end they still make money even if you feel like you’ve found a deal. What I saw from the store owners here was a plea for someone to buy their wares. They gave us little items to encourage us to send more people over to buy more things.
The Greeks are surrounded by more than just ancient ruin. We’ve been touring next to groups from cruise ships all week and our group leader asked the guide how they thought of the commerce the cruise ships bring. She said they were actually bad for the Greek economy because they spend less money on food and accommodations because the cruise line provides those for them. I would imagine the cruises are western companies, and many are probably American.
The truly sad moment was when a few of us walked down the deserted streets of Olympia and someone asked where everyone was. I realized that they were all gone because the cruise had left that afternoon. Or small group of 14 and one other tour group were staying in our large hotel, and I didn’t see many more elsewhere. The fact that really snapped me to attention was that this hotel was easily one of the nicest in the area, and it didn’t have working air conditioning.
We got the surprise that our hotel had been upgraded by the travel agency, so we had high hopes. Now that I am actually sitting in some air conditioning with access to wifi, I’ve had the opportunity to imagine what the other hotels were like. I’m starting to wonder what real Greek life is like. I didn’t think of myself as rich, but now I’m convinced that I definitely am compared to the rest of the world.
I’m thankful to share this time with a great group of people, and I’m incredibly grateful to experience Greek culture and history firsthand. Visiting the smaller communities and stopping to talk to the people I meet has given me a new perspective on what it means to thrive as a nation. America certainly is a great place, and travel reminds you how great a blessing it is to live there.