Crossing Uneven Ground

Ithaca – The End of Our Odyssey

Sun Sparkling Aegean Sea

Our Journey Ends at Ithaca.

We left Ithaca today and here is how it went; travelled by taxi, ferry, taxi, more taxi, airplane and bus. I sat at a cafe so long I got wired on coffee, then some kid kicked a soccer ball into me, then I got bit up by mosquitoes at a restaurant and at least one of the cabbies overcharged us. We started the day at 7 a.m. in an all-island electrical blackout on Ithaca (we had breakfast by lantern light) and ended it in a pretentious, over-priced, rip-off restaurant in Athens. This day has the makings of a good travel blog post but it is no Odyssey; an Odyssey is something bigger.

Odysseus, my Bronze-age hero and his men had a tough time getting back to their home, Ithaca. Here is how that went; some men get killed by a god, some men are eaten by a one-eyed giant, the crew gets drugged up, Odysseus visits Hades (hell), some crew are eaten by a monster, Odysseus is held as prisoner by a demi-god. He starts off with 12 boats with 40 men each and ends up, 10 years later, with all men dead and and having to kill a bunch of guys who are after his wife. Comparatively, he had a much rougher time but I am pretty sure Homer embellished the story a little.

Statue of Odysseus

The statue of Odysseus in Stavros, Ithaca. The inscription comes from a scrap of script on a piece of clay found nearby. It means prayer to Odysseus or wishes to Odysseus ..something like that. It is believed to show evidence of an Odysseus cult on Ithaca. The story of this man’s journey struck a cord with people early on and the Odyssey is still a metaphor for life, strife and for hopelessly romantic dreamers and travelers.

On our last day on the beautiful Greek Island of Ithaca, Joanne and I were guided on a mountain walk by a Dutch woman who lives there. Her name is Ester Von Zuylen of Island Walks and she organizes walking tours on Ithaca. She showed us ruins that some archeologists think are the Palace of Odysseus. The place was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, but my only reference was the 1954 Kirk Douglas movie, ‘Ulysses’ (that’s the Roman name for Odysseus) and I’m pretty sure Paramount Pictures embellished the story a little.

Ester and Joanne

Our guide to the home of Odysseus was Ester von Zuylen of Island Walks. Anticipation builds as we walk past cold springs and groves of olive trees up toward the ruins of the palace.

Ruins, Palace of Odysseus

Home, after a long journey. Maybe this is the place where Odysseus killed the suitors of his wife, Penelope. We will probably never know for sure. What we do know is that this was a Megaron, the living quarters of a palace, that was occupied in the late Bronze Age on Ithaca just about the right time to start one of the greatest legends of all time.

Tom in ancient well

Here I am in a well that is shaped like a domed beehive. Homer describes a well like this at the Palace of Odysseus. It was a little staggering to think I might be in that very place.

Ithaca shoreline

On Ithaca, every corner reveals a different beautiful take on rugged shores and azure seas.

Ester, a fellow Homer fan, and I spoke at length about the point of the Odyssey. There is one part of the story that struck a cord with both of us. While Odysseus is being held captive by the demi-god, Calypso, she offers him immortality. She lets him know that if he knew what the gods had in store for him that he’d forget about trying to get home and instead take her offer to live forever snuggled up with her in a posh castle. Odysseus refuses, preferring to hit the trail.

Who refuses immortality? Homer’s hero turns out to be a down to earth guy. He shrugs off Calypso’s lofty offer and gets about his journey, preferring the mundane to the divine. For him, Ithaca is worth years of strife and the goal means home, family, friends and community. Immortality comes in second place to that. That puts things into perspective.

Sometimes life is a long slog that you have to muscle through, sometimes it is exciting, sometimes it is painfully sad, sometimes it is rewarding, hopefully it is interesting. You may encounter metaphorical monsters, you may have to use all your cleverness to figure your way through and I bet you may often find yourself between Scylla and Charybdis (a rock and a hard place). You may be offered immortality. That’s just part of the ride and it may be rough. The other parts are those happy moments when you can spend time with family and friends. Odysseus certainly had that goal in mind and went through many trials before that came to fruition. Our times together are ephemeral and a treasure. I can’t blame old Ody for putting it all on the line to get back to Ithaca.

For me there is another great happiness and that is travel. Hand in hand with Joanne I can’t wait to see what’s around the next bend. I’m on a hot, sticky bus now on the road from Athens to Meteora in Northern Greece. Greek music is blaring from a tinny radio; the bus door just slammed shut and my heart surged a little. I’m excited! (Joanne thinks a little crazy.) Our adventure really isn’t over you see. We’ve seen Ithaca and while it was the end of the trail for The Odysseus, I’m hoping there is another one out there for us, another Ithaca at the end of the next Odyssey.

 


 

Joanne and Tom Lemke

Few things capture my imagination and gets my adrenaline going like travel. Nothing makes me happier than traveling with my wife, Joanne. Stay tuned….I think we might try this again.

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