The next morning, I wake before sunrise. As I perform sun salutations on the bougainvillea-draped terrace, the sun peeks over the mountain. By 7 a.m., it has embraced the landscape in its golden glow. I still have time for a dip before class. Driving down the mountain, I pass foraging goats and a sprightly elderly woman collecting branches at the side of the road. She motions me to stop. “Good morning, my child,” she says. “Where are you going?” When I explain in my rudimentary Greek, she smiles. “The sea is beautiful today.”
In the days that follow, I never pass a soul who doesn’t acknowledge me with a wave and a smile or a few kind words. It’s true that Ikaria’s beaches aren’t the best in Greece, and the sea is rough when the Meltemi, a northern summer wind, blows. But the people are among the most genuine I’ve ever met.
I get back just as students are being herded into class by the sound of a goat bell. There are four in my pre-intermediate group: Liz, a retired Englishwoman who now lives in Thessaloniki; Abby, an American student at Yale University; Vilda, a Norwegian teenager; and Jerome, a Frenchman whose grandfather was Greek.
For the next two weeks, my timetable includes four hours of lessons each day plus a sightseeing visit or a cultural workshop. For a few days, I carry around the schedule we’ve been given, until I realize that that there is no fixed schedule. The school’s director, Mihalis, is constantly adding new activities so that we don’t miss anything happening on the island. I embrace the spontaneity of life on Ikaria and toss my schedule aside. Each day, I await the oracle’s announcement of events — which never disappoint!
Culture and community
Ikaria turns out to be the perfect place to combine a vacation with education, because the locals are open-hearted and patient. I pop into the car rental agency in Evdilos, the island’s second port. I spend the next hour chatting with Argiro, the owner. She’s more concerned with circling the island’s sites on a tourist map than completing paperwork.
Later, I meet friends at a beach-side taverna run by a woman named Anna. She brings us horta (wild greens), spinach pie, fresh bread and tzatziki and then sits down with us. We ask her about the economic situation in Greece. ‘We deal with change, but we don’t dwell on it,” she says philosophically. “We’re not rich in Ikaria, but we have time for family and friends; we share our happiness and our hardship.” I’m struck by the strong sense of community in Ikaria.