“This day that I am experiencing now, always seemed impossible, unattainable but long-awaited. Today I am flying on my own to Greece for a month-long volunteer work.
There were no parting tears (well, maybe a little), everything went smoothly. I even managed to have a coffee and a croissant.
I’m not prepared for all potential scenarios because that would give more room for the scary ones to swirl in my already exhausted head. This terrifying journey, I believe, marks the beginning of my crazy adventures. Isn’t living in a tent in Greece for a whole month one of the top 30 coolest things to do for an eighteen-year-old? I know, it does sound like something out of a teen flick. I meet almost all the criteria of the main character: I am sitting by the window (and looking out), listening to music, and writing with my new friend, a backpack, lying under the front seat.
A sense of excitement mixed with curiosity could also be added to the list. By the way, it has been a while since I felt that the end of the world is not near, and my life has a chance to “happen”. Until now, it seemed to me that the previous generations had tried, used, and learned everything, and after giving birth to us, they condemned us to constant suffering, that we would not be as human as they were. Movies, books, and so on, produced in the last few decades gave me the impression that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to experience THAT mysterious life. But today I feel that the ghosts that annoy me and belittle my life have moved away for a bit, so I am determined to start my acquaintance with the world. And the world won’t end if I don’t let it. Finally, it will all end when I die, which I’m not going to do at eighteen. Closing my eyes for now and see you soon in Athens! Plane. 06:58 a.m.”
This is an excerpt from my blue notebook, bought in Italy, which I have turned into a diary.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always dreamed of a youth filled with carefree memories. Throughout my eighteen years, I have certainly filled my memory with stories of all genres, both extremely humorous and those that you would like to forget. I could not say that up to this point, the experience I had gained this summer was sorely lacking, but my scrupulous world-scrutinizing nature had led me to the conclusion that almost all mortals in this world marked their youth by some sort of journey. So, I too, impressed by the life discoveries that young travelers usually experience in foreign countries, decided to embark on my own trip. I was to volunteer for a month at the ARCHELON organization, which protects and cares for turtles in Greece. You read that right – they are in charge of turtles. Don’t ask me why I decided to get better acquainted with dinosaur-era animals, because I don’t remember exactly, but in May, when I emailed off my documents, I knew only two things: I would be safeguarding Greek sea turtles and living in a tent.
The whole month and a half before the flight was full of anxiety, I couldn’t even really enjoy the beginning of summer, because I was constantly thinking about the unknown that I would find there: strangers and unpredictable challenges. To be honest, I was very afraid of the loneliness that was waiting for me, I was depressed about the loss of the memories that I would have made with my friends in Kaunas. No one promised me that that month in Greece would necessarily be as romantic as I imagined.
And it wasn’t.
As soon as I landed in Athens, I was surrounded by a chaotic, hazy atmosphere that did not appeal to me at all. It was a five-hour journey from Athens to Gythio, a town in the south of the Peloponnese. I have noticed that young travelers in foreign countries like to live according to the “trust your fate” mentality, but I will be honest, this attitude did not help me calm down at all when I could hardly talk to the ticket seller at the bus station, and in order to decipher all the information written in Greek on a ticket, I had to ask strangers for help. But despite all the misunderstandings and difficulties experienced at the bus station, I discovered the first miracle of extreme journeys that force you to leave your comfort zone: new acquaintances. A Greek woman living in Canada with her daughter helped me feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar place. She was very interested in me, and when she found out that I was from Lithuania, she said she would show it to her daughter on the map. This is how my fascination with solo travel began to grow.
After reaching the campsite, which became my home for one month, I had to set up my own room – a tent. I’ve never even been inside a tent, let alone pitching one. Luckily for me, a volunteer set it up for me and I just ran around trying to help at least a little bit. Due to terrible fatigue, I didn’t even notice that I went to wash in the men’s showers. That is where I broke down. I couldn’t stand all the tension I experienced when I arrived, and the 4 upcoming weeks seemed extremely terrifying. I must have looked funny from the outside, crying in the men’s shower with my head lathered in shampoo. But this is how my journey to my new home ended and my new life began.
Every morning, the sun rose and brought new challenges. Just two nights later, my sleeping mat, which my mother bought as one of the best at the camping store, exploded, so I had to awaken my hibernating survival instinct and patch the hole. I will disappoint, but unfortunately, my skills were not enough to save it – I had to buy a new one. I will never forget the first encounter with a resident of the wildlife – a centipede already familiar to the other volunteers – that decided to visit my room as well. By the way, my tent was the smallest in the entire volunteer camp, so my relationship with the centipede was also the closest. Again, the already awakened survival instinct was trained, so coming face to face with this uninvited neighbor, even after screaming all over the campsite (you should have seen the speed that the centipede’s legs can gather), I managed to control myself. It took more than twenty minutes.
There were also quite a few health threats. One day I was cleaning my suitcase and saw a bag filled with all kinds of medicines, plasters, disinfectants, etc. I was glad that I didn’t have to use it. Of course, after these thoughts, I hit my foot on the metal reinforcement of the tent and blood came out in a stream, so the contents of the bag came in handy. It would have been strange if I had gone without a sunburn in Greece. Somehow, even now, it is difficult for me to understand that the waves do not protect a person from the sun, so after an hour of diving around the kingdom of the sea, I became the crab that I saw at its bottom.
If I had to single out my hardest challenge, it would be building a deeper connection with new people. Some of the volunteers were already old friends or acquaintances, so it was not easy to fit into such an environment. After the first week, I felt emotional fatigue from repeated dialogues, the same questions repeated over and over again (remind me, what is your name? where are you from? how old are you? what are you studying? why did you decide to volunteer here?), which did not lead to any meaningful friendships and always left me with a constant feeling of loneliness. I was saddened that I wasn’t as lucky as the other young travelers, who managed to find almost their soulmates on similar journeys. That didn’t happen to me.
I am done talking about all the negative things and problems. It’s time to look back at the amazing, unique, and uplifting miracles I experienced this month.
,,[Text author’s name], never forget the first time you found a turtle nest – it was so nice to finally understand that obscure art of sticking two fingers in the sand. Remember how refreshing it was to slip into the sea a few times a day, just float, look at the mountains, and not think about anything serious? And when you returned to the tavern and wrapped a towel around your waist, you went to buy a cold coffee, the taste and quality of which constantly surprised you. Cherish even the sunburn because the sun kissed you too much while you were snorkeling and when you saw endless numbers of fish, several octopuses, and hundreds of sea urchins (they start waving when you touch a thorn). The second time you went back to the sea, you were not so curious, but instead, you found a small crab in the shell and found your shell, which you decided to leave at the bottom of the sea. Remember how beautiful it was in the mornings when the sun rose from the mountains and greeted us? And that afternoon in town, when you bought and wrote postcards and then you plunged into some kind of deep artistic state. The first strong, nimble, and very small turtles – that’s what made this whole trip worth going through! You, let me remind you, wept when you saw these creatures of God boldly rushing into the mighty sea. You were surrounded by kind-hearted people. One of them was the lady at the front desk who not only gave you a postcard for free but also a second laundry detergent pod, because the one you had exploded in your shorts’ pocket. Hang a hammock in your yard next summer – you liked it too. And, of course, cherish the Tarzan-like freedom, so delicious and fun. Dirty feet and fingernails, a sandy tent, hair curled up from the sea, ankle bracelets from a local seller wrapped around your tanned legs, clothes drying in the sun, which could be blown away by the wind at any moment – everything fascinated you. You fell down the stairs, got bitten by a fish, and found a leech on you; you flipped over in a hammock, and hurt your toe, which bled and burned your shoulders in the sun… but you felt like a living, human being. You should cherish that too.”
Finally, the time has come to summarize all this experience. Young travelers don’t lie – during individual trips, you get to know parts of yourself that were hidden until then. As trite as it sounds, I really became more friends with myself, because when both physical and psychological challenges came, I had only myself to deal with those difficulties. Although there were many difficulties (I have not mentioned all of them here), the experience was unique. I saw Greek life up close; I was part of an organization with forty years of experience, I got to know the characteristics of turtles, I interacted with people from different countries, and I fulfilled my dream of traveling alone.
Would I suggest eighteen-year-olds sign up for such an adventure? Absolutely. Will it be difficult? Indeed, it will. Will it be super fun? Yes, it will.
P.S. I spent two days before the flight in Athens and had the opportunity to ride their innovative cable car, which goes through a tunnel up the mountain, from which the entire panorama of the capital opens up, and the Acropolis is simply stunning with its grandeur. But no matter what views opened up to me then, I would never exchange them for the views of Kaunas, which make me happy when I go up in a cozy Aleksotas funicular.