As you might know, using GPS in a foreign country can be a little challenging. Greece, for me, has been the most difficult I have experienced. I use Apple Maps, and after being here for over a month, we are convinced that Apple Maps is either trying to kill us or induct us into some secret cult high in the mountains.
We had rented an Airbnb for ten days while waiting to move into our rental house near Nafplio. As we hadn’t been to this area before, we put the address from the app into the GPS. We loaded up the car, including Kiki in her travel basket, and off we went.
It was an incredible drive down the west side of the Argolic Gulf. It was all mountains to the right of us and the Aegean Sea to the left, curvy roads, and many little villages along the way. We are from British Columbia, Canada, so for us, curvy roads are par for the course, but Chad and Amaya had yet to see mountains quite like these. Even though I’d lived in Greece for three years, I had never been to this area, so it was thrilling for me, too.
We reached our destination and contacted our host to say we’d soon be arriving. She directed us to meet Eleni, the caretaker of the house, at the Alvin gas station on the highway. Well, she didn’t say it was on the highway, but I know that now. We followed the GPS past the village along the sea and then up into the village in the hills, and then we continued up the mountain road. The road got steeper and steeper until we were driving on switchbacks and continuing to climb. We exclaimed at the astonishing view while Chad began to sweat bullets. He’s a BC boy, but he’d never seen roads like that.
Finally, he turned to me. “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”
I’d been thinking the same thing, but since I was the one who got us into this situation, I didn’t want to admit it. I checked my phone with sweaty hands. No signal. Great.
I could feel the tension building, and then one snap from Chad and I got defensive. We almost got into it until we heard from the back seat, “It’s an adventure, guys!”
Kiki disagreed with Amaya, but thankfully she was mostly quiet. She hated to travel, but after twelve years and several trips overseas with her Momma, Kiki was, if not accepting, at least resigned to her lot.
We had to laugh. This was what we’d come to Greece for. Adventure and a life change, which included letting go of stress and agendas. Yes, we had someone waiting on us, but if we were late, which we were, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. So, we kept going.
After another ten minutes of driving, the map said we were almost at our destination. The road began to level out near the top. We came to where the GPS said it was the turn to the village, and there was a chain across the road. There was no village and still no service. I could feel the tension begin to build again, but I fought to keep calm. This feeling of being the one in the know was new and a little scary.
When we left Canada, I knew that most of the success of our endeavor lay with me. I was familiar with both Greece and international travel. Chad had never been out of North America, and Amaya had never been out of BC, so they were relying on me, and I didn’t want to screw up.
Here we were, at the top of a mountain, with no AirBnB in sight, no village, and no cell service. What to do?
Chad said, “We’re at the top of the mountain now; maybe we should just keep going. I’m sure we’ll come to some civilization and can ask for directions.”
Sweet, sweet, innocent, Chad. I, on the other hand, was pretty sure we’d come to nothing more than abandoned houses and maybe a goat herder or two and no English. I’d been in this situation before (although not at the top of a mountain). I am an eternal optimist, so I chose to believe I might be wrong. Silly me. That’s what we found. Abandoned or shut up houses and exactly one lovely, kind goat herder who didn’t speak a single word of English.
He tried, oh, how he tried to get through my thick skull that we needed to turn around and go back down the mountain. Even with only a little Greek, it didn’t take much for me to clue into what he was saying, and I knew it wasn’t what Chad wanted to hear. He went pale when I told him he had to navigate those steep switchbacks back down the mountain. I felt so bad for him. One thing the goat herder made sure we knew, which was super helpful, was to keep to the paved road and not go onto the dirt ones. That ensured we were able to find our way back to the right road and back over the mountain.
Let’s say it was a tense ride down. We had one blowup, not a major one, but I couldn’t blame Chad. He was driving a small foreign car with a manual transmission, something we seldom have in Canada unless you seek one out, driving down a very steep mountain with his three loves in the car and their lives in his hands. He did a spectacular job.
We finally got back into cell range, and I contacted our host. She sent me a pin to the place we were to meet Eleni, and it turned out we’d driven right past it on the highway. We pulled in, and she was there waiting on her moped. She led us to a cute, traditional Greek house with an incredible view of the sea.
Once we were settled in and finally started to breathe normally again, we had a good laugh about where in the hell the GPS had been taking us. Chad started singing, “We’ll be coming round the mountain when we come …” and we all started laughing. It has now become our theme song whenever we head on a road trip anywhere in Greece.
“Maybe there’s some secret cult up in the mountains, and they’re trying to traffic us,” Amaya suggested.
We had a good laugh about that.
“Why would it take us to a road that was blocked off?” Chad asked.
“I think it was either the old village or maybe a monastery,” I said. I had been in Greece long enough to see a few old sites like that. “The problem is that the monastery, the village, and the new, modern village often have the same name. I forgot how careful you must be with GPS.”
Chad shook his head, “I’m pretty sure Amaya is right, and Apple Maps is trying to send us to a secret cult.” We laughed as he poured us some wine for our nerves. Amaya and Kiki had to settle for juice and water respectively.
We were sitting out on the terrace of the lovely little grey stone house with dark blue shutters. We couldn’t stop drinking in the view as the sun sank, turning the sky all sorts of yellow, red, and orange. It was what I’d hoped for when booking the place. I hadn’t planned on the side adventure, but isn’t that what life is all about? We had far too little adventure in our lives in Canada. It was so focused on being safe and keeping us away from precisely what had happened that day. But we all agreed it had taught us something, and none of us regretted the experience, except maybe Kiki. It got our blood pumping and made us a little unsure and even a bit fearful, but it also showed us that no matter what happened, we were together, and together, we’d figure it out.
I took a sip of the lovely rosé we were drinking and smiled at Chad. He smiled back and raised his glass. “Here’s to adventure and escaping the secret cult.”
“Yeiá sas.” I clinked his glass, and we drank to our new adventures, although hopefully less of the secret cult kind.
Brenda writes fiction and travel memoir, freelance articles, and has just completed her first young adult novel. Brenda lives and writes in Greece.