Last October I managed to transport myself from my everyday world to the Mediterranean island of Crete, Greece. How did I manage to pull this off? This is a question I ask myself. Sometimes, someone else asks me a variation of that question. I have been thinking about the many layers of answers which are accurate.
My wish to explore the ancient goddess civilization that flourished on Minoan Crete was deep and strong. I needed a stubborn desire because there were hurdles to my participating in the Goddess Pilgrimage. First hurdle was the financial consequences of withdrawing money from my retirement fund–not an easy decision. The health hurdle was a central consideration. In early 2017, I started chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumor affecting my right arm and right hand. By August, 2017 my energy was still good, but the long term exposure to the chemotherapy was an unknown. I signed up for the Goddess pilgrimage with high hopes. I believed this trip would “remind me of who I am”. And it has done that!
My belief in my creative self, and my trust in traveling with feminist women convinced me I could do the long flights and then fourteen very full days exploring Crete. The encouragement and support of both Jeanne, my life partner, and Martha, my friend of forty years, were essential. The woman who is my primary care physician also provided valuable advice and support. Many of my women friends cheered me on. As I prepared for the long flights, I consulted friends who have experienced the current airport security measures–this was a primary worry for me–how to navigate the Transportation Safety Administration rules and regulations.
The first step was obtaining a passport. I had only seven weeks! I put all my focus on gathering the necessary documents. Since Martha lives in New Jersey, I arranged the trip to spend one night with her each way. This would break up the trip from Arkansas to the east coast and then on to the twelve hour flight to Athens. Just in case the overseas flight arrived late, I needed to allow a long layover in Athens before the hour flight to Crete. I tried to figure all this out myself, but finally resorted to help from a travel service, i.e. Bank of America. (I was desperate for help.)
The woman assisting me was quite helpful and it took several hours on the phone–with lots of stress involved. Finding nonstop flights at the late date was almost impossible. I did manage to get a nonstop for the Newark to Athens leg at the beginning of the trip. But I did not understand the fare structure that the airlines had instituted to raise the prices of economy by offering a sub-economy fare with many restrictions. So for several of the flights I was on a sub-economy ticket and not permitted any carry-on luggage. Only a single “personal item” was permitted and within strict measurements.
This may seem like boring trivia, but I mention this because it can be a rude awakening at the airport. In studying the luggage weight restrictions, I quickly found that if your one checked bag weighs over 50 pounds the airline will charge you a $200 fee. To ease my mind I ordered, for less that ten dollars, a portable luggage scale which allowed me to weigh my luggage both going over and returning. A more expensive investment was our first smart phone–we were able to get a phone with an inexpensive overseas calling plan which let me phone home every day. This was a valuable lifeline.
Learning to think in Euros was another challenge. Twenty Euros was closer to thirty dollars U.S. dollars. I traveled to Greece with my cash already exchanged into Euros to receive the best exchange rate and to be familiar with the different currency. I would be illiterate in most ways, but at home I could learn how to use Euros to pay for necessary expenses.
Departure, Wednesday, October 27, 2017
The early morning drive to XNA to catch my first flight was harrowing because we encountered backed-up traffic on the interstate. We exited, but found that we did not know the best way to get to the airport. I was stressed and it was only 6:00 am! We made it. Then I survived my first security check, but was so up-tight I forgot to turn back to wave “goodbye” to Jeanne.
With a three hour layover in Charlotte, NC it became a long day on airplanes. When Martha picked me up at the Newark airport I was exhausted and felt lousy. Martha encouraged me to nap before we ate dinner. I still did not feel well on Thursday morning. I missed my flight to Athens that day because I was in the Princeton Medical Center experiencing dehydration! My dream trip began with a nightmare. After many tests and two units of IV fluids I began to feel human again. Martha, as an experienced nurse practitioner, was a great companion during those long hours in the emergency room. The other nurses took good care of me while I was there, but I wanted to go to Crete. Was my dream over?
Jeanne strongly encouraged me to not give up. Because the women organizing the Pilgrimage had urged each of us to purchase trip insurance, I had done so. (It had taken me two days to compare policies and to check ratings of various companies.) I did have a way to continue on to Crete at minimal extra cost.
Finally, Arriving in Athens
Saturday afternoon I left Newark at sunset and arrived in Athens twelve hours later at dawn. I requested wheelchair assistance at each stop for the rest of the trip.
Five hours spent in the Athens airport went slowly although I did have a friendly visit with a young woman from Puerto Rico traveling with her father.
We each guarded the other’s luggage for time to eat and use the restroom. Because I’d done my homework, I was even able to help her with her currency exchange situation there at the airport bank. I continued reading my thick paperback Maeve Binchy novel which had helped me pass the hours on the flight across the Atlantic.
Five hours later, on to Heraklion, Crete via Aegean Airlines
I’ve talked about some of the hurdles, but I want to include some of the thrills too.
I discovered with that first liftoff from Fayetteville how I thrilled at the miracle of each take-off and every landing. I felt so very “at home” inside each of the aircraft no matter what logo was painted on the outside of the aircraft. The narrow confined space with the tiny galleys and multiple port windows had been my workplace for sixteen years and five million miles. As we flew over the Mediterranean I admired the deep blue of the sea and reviewed my training about forced landings at sea.
Thirty-seven hours after leaving Newark, I was finally checking into the hotel in Heraklion, the capital city of Crete. As I was rolling my luggage in the front door, I met three women exiting the building. We passed each other, but I heard them question, “Could that be our missing pilgrim?” They returned, and I met the other women who were all leaving for dinner together. I was pleased to meet some of the others on the tour, but declined the invitation to dinner. I was exhausted. I’d missed the first full day of the pilgrimage, but my dream of seeing all Crete had to offer was just beginning!