In a rut in paradise

On Crete we found a perfect place to put down roots, at least for a while. We volunteer and live outside a tiny village called Ano Kalesa, which lies about 15 km from the city of Heraklion. As the name suggests (ano in Greek means ‘above’) we live on a hill. This part of the island looks like an accordion wall: parallel hills stretch for kilometers, canyons in between them. Every window and the surroundings offer spectacular views: the sea, the olive groves around, other hills and a mighty mountain in the background, with dreamy-looking village of Krousonas lying at its feet.

Ano Kalesa balcony view

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The birds tweeter constantly, butterflies come out on every sunny day and with the approaching spring, more and more flowers start to blossom. Temperatures are pleasant and on some hot days you can even swim in the sea (in February!). The people around are an interesting bunch and many of them speak good English, so it’s possible to get to know each other. Our host family welcomed us like good friends, gave us a private room with a bathroom and a balcony with the best view as well as the opportunity to cook, eat, rest, work and play together whenever possible. Instead of telling us what to do, they waited patiently until we picked up some of the duties in a natural and gradual way. All of this, and the possibility of doing some work that interests us (farming, taking care of the animals, getting involved in the operations of the farmers cooperative), made us change our plans and instead of 1,5 month, we’ll stay here for longer.

So naturally, after a time, we’ve found ourselves in an everyday routine that started getting to us a bit. I’d wake up annoyed it’s too late again and the animals are waiting, try to zoom through my morning meditation, take a careless look at the stunning landscapes and rush to the kitchen to have breakfast. I’d angrily press the orange juice that I savored not so long ago. We’d go to the animals complaining about the strong wind and arguing who’s going to get the branches and who has to climb over the fence to the other stable.

We don’t do routine well. When days start to resemble each other, we feel discouraged and sick of whatever we’re doing. While for some people things like seeing the same faces at the same bus stop at the exact same time every working day may give a pleasant feeling of rhytm, safety and familiarity, for me it feels like a slow and painful death. Probably that’s why we chose the life of being on the road and arriving in places we’ve never seen before. We just prefer the movement and the variety. But then there comes a time, even for us, when we crave some rest and also want to dig in deeper into an area and develop a relationship with the place and the people. So, here’s the question – how to balance these two for the best experience?

So here we are, a bit bitter, complaining and arguing, about to enter the animal enclosure. Then, on even the most cranky day, something shifts. Involuntarily, we become mellow and start smiling again. We watch the chickens who, when we’re late, patiently wait near the fence for their daily supplies of greens. The oh-so-peaceful sheep ladies, with their gentleness disarm me in seconds, 100% guaranteed. We enter the goat nursery and pet the mama goats and the little ones. We watch them sleeping snuggled to their sibilings, learn to jump, nibble on our trousers and make first attempts at ramming each other with the hardly-yet-present, tiny horns. We listen to them calling their mamas when out of sight and mamas replying with a loud meeee. We laugh at the chicken riots when we try to move them a bit to collect the eggs.

In the other part of the stable, the little goat stands on the back of a huge ram for convenient access to the olive branches to nibble on. We dispense the grains, the hay and the olive branches while shooing away the hungry mouths that dive into the buckets and pull on the branches we’re carrying. We see the testosterone-bursting male goat running around and making trouble. We try to push the ton-of-fur-on-legs mr sheep to get access to the feeder but he doesn’t budge so I pour the grain over his head. We turn around and see the little ones escaping, as usual, through a hole, and Lima pretending to be a goat and running around with them or pretending to be a chicken and munching on the grain mix from the dispenser.

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We stay a bit too long, as always, for we love these creatures, how they enjoy every minute of their lives and do it so gracefully and sometimes, downright comically, too. There comes the promise I make to myself to be of the same kind. To wake up everyday really seeing the paradise I have an opportunity to live in. To soak in the panoramas one more time. To leave the room and on my way to the kitchen check the balcony greenhouse and just say hello to the sprouting tomatoes, aubergines and peppers which I guard from snail attacks. To enjoy the delicious cup of juice and the face of my man who cycled here with me through half of Europe . To pet Lima and the two sweet dobermans. To smile to our leaving hosts and wish them a very good day with sincerity. To enjoy the fact that nobody is pressuring me and that I already forgot what a deadline is. To savor the homemade bread, the Cretan graviera and mizithra cheeses, fresh avocado and a variety of olives and the fact that I don’t have to bother with wearing winter jackets to go out. It’s easy to say that if everything would change for the better, you’d immediately be a happy person, but that’s bullshit. Even in paradise, you can be a dissatisfied, old fart. The attitude makes the whole difference. On which side do you choose to be?

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