After her months of living and working with a Sifnian family, the time had come for Lindaki mou to leave. The world is large, it has plenty of places to be seen, and further adventures were calling to this teenage girl.
It was the 1970s, a time when vehicles on Sifnos were rare, but she was offered a ride to the ferry. She declined. She’d spent weeks and weeks walking this island’s paths and walking was how she would leave. So she bade her host family good-bye. Antonis, the boss who’d hired her and trusted her to go off to all corners of the island with his donkey, laden with goods to deliver to waiting customers. His wife Margarita whose kindness and generosity and delicious food Linda still marvels at to this day. Their young daughter Popi who, as they giggled together over the strange sounds of each others’ language, had become a treasured pal. And the old grandfather who, though he’d always said little, admired her spirit and willingness to step into the unknown.
With only her pack on her back, she set off. There were several paths that led down to Kamares where more than once she’d taken the donkey for a swim in the sea. But no matter which route she chose, it would lead her along marble-paved walkways, past stone walls thousands of years old, into quiet valleys and across wind-blown hilltops, and into the refuge of shaded churchyards where, she knew, she’d always find cool water in its well. Always the breeze would ruffle her hair, the scent of wild herbs would fill her lungs and the sun and sweet memories of her time in Sifnos would warm her skin and much more.
The easiest path from the centre of the island to the port starts in Ano Petali and goes mostly downward, north of the road from Apollonia to Kamares and roughly parallel to it. But easy was not Linda’s style. Instead she took a path on the other side of the valley, the one the Sifnos Trails organization nowadays calls route #6. I’ve taken it partway myself and an easy stroll downward, it is not. It takes you up, up and up from near Apollonia to the church of Agios Eleftherios where I stopped and turned around, and up again from there. It takes you past some of the remains of gold and silver mines that in ancient times brought great wealth to this island, a time so long ago that only myths remain about the mines’ demise. It brings you to places where the view across the Aegean is panoramic and where Kamares lies far, far below at your feet. I can barely imagine Linda’s mixed emotions as she stood there and looked out. But I can practically feel the knee-grinding trek that took her down, down, straight down to Kamares where the ferry that would take her back to Athens and the rest of the world was due to arrive.
As she approached the dock, she could see it was teeming with people and as she neared, they came into focus. There were neighbours. Customers from all parts of the island whose goods she’d delivered to them with the donkey and who’d always be waiting with food and drink for her. There were even faces, she says, she’d never seen before. But they knew her. They’d all heard about this teenager from Canada – a girl! – who loved nothing more than to work with the animals, and had come to see her off. Antonis was there too. He needed to pay her for the work she’d done, he said.
Pay her? In the whole time she’d been on this island, she hadn’t so much as touched a Greek drachma. She thought about it quickly and decided she ought to take some of his offer. Otherwise she might offend.
But not too much. Sifnos had taught her already there is so much in this world that’s more precious than gold.
Lindaki mou’s story begins: A Canadian in Sifnos in the 1970s