As many of you know, we went to Greece to watch the sun rise over the Aegean. So when we landed, we started asking locals where to go:
-Do you know a good place to watch the sun rise over the water?
-You mean watch the sun at night?
-No, watch the sun in the morning.
-I don’t understand.
– Do you know where we should go to see the sun come up over the water?
-No. Here is for the sunset. Everyone come. Sunset is beautiful.
-I know, but we need to see the sunrise too.
-Why? Why you want to do that?
That last question was repeated with such confusion from so many sources, that I began to wonder myself. Why the sunrise, exactly? No reason really. It sounded cool, so I put it on the life list, and then later, I started to take the list very, very seriously. So we asked again.
Sunrise? People laughed. Sunrise? They shook their heads with confusion, even irritation.
Sunset was the big event.
In fact, watching people gather in the evenings was one of the loveliest parts of the trip.
Sunset in Greece was social, celebratory, and… not what I was there to do.
I know some of you are already thinking, “So watch the sun set already, who cares?” And that is a very sane thought indeed. But I’m just not wired that way. With sanity, I mean.
And so the conundrum deepened. In addition to the cultural mismatch of our task, geography was also against us. The maps we consulted indicated that Santorini, where we spent the bulk of our trip, is actually located in the Sea of Crete.
Ahem. I haven’t spent a lot of time with maps, perhaps because I have been busy making lists of geographically implausible and culturally insignificant tasks to complete.
After much consideration, we decided to watch the sun rise in Mykonos as a celebration of our last full night together in Greece. We’d stuff our faces with gyros, dance until dawn, and pass around a bottle of terrible Greek champagne as the sun came up.
Then our ferry to Mykonos was canceled, so our last night there would be our only night there. Also, the only way to watch the sun rise over the water was to drive to the other side of the island. We arrived exhausted, ate dinner, stared at each other blankly. No one felt the least bit like dancing.
The Abject Failure
New plan. We’d wake at 4 a.m. (sigh), and go on a little drive. All of us feigned enthusiasm. “Yeah!” we said. “This will be amazing,” we said. Our eyes watered with stifled yawns.
We rented a car. Aubrey hopped in to drive it to our hotel for the night, and a few minutes later the car started to cough and jerk. The engine finally stopped on a very steep road. People were honking and careening around us. We sat for a moment and whimpered with fatigue. In sandals and a mild stupor, Laura and I got out to push the car into a nearby parking lot.
“Ready?” I asked Laura.
“OK, Aubs. Let the break out.”
Ladies and gentlemen, that is perhaps the stupidest phrase I have ever uttered.
Aubrey complied, and of course the car barreled backward. Our traction-free sandals skidded over the asphalt as the car shoved us down the hill. “STOP!” Laura and I screamed. “STOP! STAAAHHHHP!” Aubrey complied.
To shorten a rather long and traumatic story, we managed to restart the car, got it off the road, and stared at each other stunned for a few minutes. Then Aubrey and I shook violently while Laura walked to the rental place.
She returned on the back of a moped, and her escort did not believe any of us knew how to drive a stick. We bristled, because it wasn’t true, but also because saying that to an American woman is like telling her you think she’s untalented in bed. After many condescending glances, and an interminable inspection, he agreed the car was broken. Aubrey left with him and came back with a new car. At last! We were almost to our hotel when the gas light clicked on.
Yes, so. We returned to discuss our situation with the rental company owners, whose English skills seemed curiously diminished. They didn’t see the problem. OK. Did they have an alternate car? Or rather an alternate, alternate car? One with fuel? No, they did not. If we wanted gas we would have to get it ourselves. No gas would be more than enough gas for whatever we wanted to do. The island is small!
I looked at Laura and Aubrey. All of us drew our brows together and tried to make our brains work. Perhaps fatigue was affecting our comprehension.
We piled back in, the light popped on again, and we drove in circles searching for the gas station our proprietor had indicated with a vague sweep of her chin. Eventually a police officer asked what we were doing, as our frantic ambling had begun to affect traffic. He informed us that all the gas stations were closed by now. We wept softly, and returned to the rental office.
I requested a refund, and the owner’s English skills dissipated entirely. I dare say she was a bit aggressive toward me. And wouldn’t you know, I was feeling rather aggressive myself. I set my jaw and repeated myself through my teeth. She shrugged and went back to what she was doing when we arrived — sitting with friends in a circle of lawn chairs out front, passing a newspaper back and forth. I stood in the office with lava flowing out my ears.
After a few minutes of this, the American in me got very Ugly indeed. “ANGRY,” I said, in all capital letters. “MONEY,” I said, holding out my hand. This technique proved effective. Apparently she spoke Hulk.
By this time, not only were the gas stations closed, so were all the other rental car companies. There was a lot of silence among our little crew.
Aubrey put her hand on my back.
“What do you want to do?” Laura asked.
“I want to have a glass of wine,” I said. “Several times.”
So we did.
These are some fakey photos Laura Mayes took. It’s us not watching the sun rise over the Agean.
They amuse me, and I hope they will lend you some hollow comfort if you’re a fellow perfectionist. Even after everything that happened, I still feel like a celestial hand is going to reach down and write a red F at the top of this post.
But the truth is, when Intel offered to sponsor this trip, I didn’t go to see the sun rise. I just wanted to see Greece.
My Mighty Life List is full of things I want to do because I think I’ll enjoy them, and on this trip I realized that I can’t tackle it like a to-do list. Things don’t always turn out how you expect, and I have to start seeing my list as set of guidelines. It’s a living document, and it’s there to help me make a richer life for myself — rigidity is exactly the wrong approach. It can make you feel you’ve failed while you’re drinking a glass of wine with girlfriends and watching the sunset in Greece. And feeling like a failure in that situation? It kind of makes you a dick.
Especially when I’m traveling, I have a better time if I stop trying to control things. It’s so much more fun to let everything unfold, take the experiences that cross my path and tuck them away. So I’ve decided to put aside the stress over the one thing I didn’t do, and to focus on the things I did do.
I climbed the stairs to the Acropolis.
I saw an enormous pelican in Mykonos.
I tried my first Ouzo with new friends.
I made the kind of friendships you only make when you travel together.
I tried Greek yogurt in its natural habitat.
I danced on a rooftop in Oia.
And I also changed my list.
Have an exceptional time in Greece?
This epiphany brought to you courtesy of the team at Intel. They’re sponsoring my Mighty Life List as part of their Sponsors of Tomorrow Campaign. Because of them, I’ve learned a lot in the last few months, and I’m grateful for their support.