I was sure I had poisoned myself.
When I finally summoned the courage to pluck an olive from one of the hundreds of olive trees along the road in Amorgos, I pictured putting it in my mouth and having a quintessential Under the Tuscan Sun European moment (one of my favorite movies, don’t judge). Instead, as I bit into the perfect-looking green olive, my mouth filled with a taste combination of hand sanitizer and Comet dishwashing powder. Immediately, the taste was was everywhere, my tongue, my teeth, the back of my throat. Spitting out the piece of olive didn’t seem to help. My anxious brain lept to “what if this isn’t an olive, what if I poisoned myself just because I wanted to have a Diane Lane European moment, between me and an olive tree.”
As my heart started to race, I remembered I had access to a modern oracle via my smartphone. I Googled “poisonous bitter olives”. Well, it turns out inn real life there are no romantic European moments where someone is eating olives off of olive trees growing along quaint roadsides. Why? Because olives are covered with oleuropein, a substance that is so bitter it will turn your insides out. As my heart rate slowed and I was no longer imagining someone finding my body dead and sunburnt, I started to wonder how anyone ever decided to eat olives anyway. And, then I thought about the first people on Amorgos. (In Amorgos, there are traces of human presence since the end of the 4th millennium BCE.)
Amorgos is one of the more remote, lesser-known Greek Islands. Like Santorini, Amorgos is part of the Cycladic Islands, southeast of the mainland in the Aegean Sea. However, unlike Santorini, Amorgos only got electricity in 1985. That’s right, 1985 —not just during my lifetime but my memory. We asked some people there about what life was like before electricity. The consensus (of the two people we talked to) seems to be that life before electricity was both hard and happy. Amorgos still does not have a hospital (which dissuaded me from trying to learn to ride a motorcycle there). (At the time of the 2011 Census, 1,923 people lived on the island.)
We only landed on Amorgos because of a yoga retreat through Jim Bennit, one of my yoga teachers. Neither Sendhil nor I had heard of Amorgos and didn’t really know what to expect. Not knowing what to expect may be the best kind of travel experience. We took a two-hour ferry from Santorini and landed in a tranquil port, surrounded by aquamarine, clear-to-the-bottom water.
Our stay in Amorgos was entirely, and expertly, planned by Ashley Bush. We stayed at AEGIALIS Hotel & Spa, which seems specifically designed for yoga teachers hosting yoga retreats. It’s fantastic — the rooms are a great size, delicious buffet breakfasts and dinners leave no need for lunch, and the views among the quiet are stupendous. Even among those, there is something that tops it all — the staff.
Across the board, the staff is kind, helpful, informative, and low-key. The staff more than anything makes you feel like you belong with them, in Amorgos, amongst the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. Here are some of the folks I had the best conversations with at AEGIALIS:
- Elvira is AEGIALIS’ concierge, but she’s really a play wizard. Elvira organized several wonderful activities for our whole group. Sendhil and I got to know Elvira a bit when she was our guide for an island tour. We spoke of her journey from Athens to Amorgos, how her heart lept when she first came to the island, her children and grandchildren, and her love of travel and languages. We experienced the quiet spirituality of the Monastery of Hozoviotissa, carved into a stone wall, the freedom of swimming nude in 6 shades of blue on a small private beach, and the joy of walking Chora’s (Amorgos’ capital city) labyrinthian streets and windmills. All the while, chatting with Elvira like we were all old friends.
- Hossain is one of the chefs at this resort. Hossain is an immigrant from Bangladesh. He works in Amorgos for 10 months of each year, and then goes home to Bangladesh to visit his wife and daughter. He and I talked about his skill at cooking Greek food, the (many) languages he speaks, and how his heart is always with his family.
AEGIALIS is located on a hill, about 20 km from Chora, the capital “city” of Amorgos. Since the resort is all-inclusive, there is not much to want for. If you are looking to explore, there is a 15-minute walk to the beach and a small port/town with restaurants, little shops, and a grocery. We also went on a 5-hour hike we found on AllTrails that was lovely (even if it didn’t quite have a clearly marked trail!)
After 7 days, we left Amorgos wanting more. More sun, more yoga, more quiet, and more reminders of how all of us, are simply here now, humbled and grateful for the quick breath we occupy in the whole of human history. Amorgos isn’t sexy, but rather substantive and real.