Kea is home to Karthea, a city that was first settled in the 9th century b.c. All you must do to find it is drive an hour up a mountain and hike an hour down into a lush valley.
So we rented a scooter and embarked on an adventure through time. Up the mountain we drove, past tiny white-washed churches and up above the capital city and its prehistoric carved lion. Wind battered us and threatened to knock us from the plateau. Sand blew in our eyes to hide the way but we would not be deterred. We drove past stubborn mules and fought herds of cows for space on the road. Finally we found an old half-dirt road that led to the trailhead.
We walked by stone walls built three thousand years ago to separate the tame from the wild. We walked under trees heavy with figs, pomegranates and lemons. We walked past skittish horses and their homes made of stacked stones. We walked past thirsty bees and scrubby bushes flush with pink flowers. We walked past secret caves and sacred springs. On and on we walked. The wild and the time didn’t seem so different after three thousand years.
An hour later we emerged on a beach. Three men labored to repair an ancient theater and a long-dry water cistern despite the sun and the wind. To our left we saw two temples on a thrust of land that stuck out into the sea like a stone battleship. We climbed the twisting marble steps to the temples at the top, as men and women did 2,500 years ago to worship their gods.
We reached the temple at the top of the hill and entered the Propylon. The archeologists have replaced only a few marble slabs so it has its original shape: a box of fluted pillars, made to cage only wind and shade. We approached the temple of Athena and its wall of pillars that have crumbled to waist height. The archeologists rebuilt a few of them to help less imaginative minds marvel at what 2,500 hundred years of rain and wind can do to stone.
From there we could see the Aegean foaming with waves interrupted by distant islands. They say tragedy was invented in Greece. And with islands on the horizon, I felt compelled to swim out into the sea and explore but to do so would be to lose myself to the sea, and add another page to Poseidon’s book of tragedy.
We descended from Athena’s domain to worship at Apollo’s temple. They say it was the most important place in Karthea. It was set on a point of the landmass that felt like it was stretching out over the ocean, the prow of the ship. The temple collapsed long ago, and Christians, surely overwhelmed with the power of the place buried their dead with the marble bricks that once housed Apollo.
Further we descended until we reached the beach, desolate save for us and the seagulls hiding from the wind. There was no one around save my beautiful wife and Apollo and Athena, watching us from their ancient temples built upon this thrust of rock that separated the twin beaches, so I threw my clothes to the beach and walked into the Aegean to feel the ocean upon my naked flesh.
It was cold. Powerful. Marvelous. A sea nymph in the body of a fish beckoned me to join her with a tailfin waving lazily above the ocean waves, so in I dove. As I surfaced from the cold sea my lungs burned and I reveled in just being alive. Perhaps I would have followed that fish into the sea and joined the watery domain of the Poseidon’s sirens, but a beautiful goddess beckoned me back to land with a towel and a sandwich. She convinced me to put my clothes back on and return to civilization with her. She’s with me now, sitting across the table, and has cast a powerful spell on me. I love this woman, who makes me food and keeps me warm, and will continue to so long as my lungs draw air. Such is the power of the spell she has cast upon my heart, a spell strong enough to pull me halfway ‘round the world and out of the ocean.