(Originally posted April 30th, 2014)
The Earth is over 40,000 kilometers around, and has a surface area of 510,072,000 square kilometers. We share this planet with over 7 billion other human beings. Knowing this, it would be hard to call this world we live in small. So then why is it that we seemingly constantly run into people we know while traveling to other countries? It’s not like there aren’t plenty of other places to be.
None of this was even remotely close to being on my mind back in eighth grade. It was summer, I had just “graduated” from seventh grade, and I was now at the top of my middle school game. Even better, I was at the top of my middle school game in Greece. To be a bit more specific, I was on a cruise through the Greek islands after having already been through much of Italy and mainland Greece. It was the third day of the boat trip on the Aegean Sea, and we had just arrived at Santorini, a beautiful and high-cliffed island. Due to said cliffs, our boat had just moored about 200 yards offshore, and we were being taken to the tiny port in small ferry vessels. As I stepped through an entry to the main boarding area on our much larger cruise ship, I rammed my knee directly into the steel door frame, hard enough to make my eyes water. The day was already off to a fantastic start.
I soon forgot about my knee as I got on the ferry and took in the coastal cliffs of Santorini with small, white-washed buildings perched way up top. The island itself is actually part of the remains of a massive volcanic caldera that erupted thousands of years ago, leaving a small archipelago of islands behind. This eruption was one of the largest of its kind; it is supposedly what spawned the legend of Atlantis. People have been living on Santorini since the 9th century B.C., but it wasn’t until 1830 that it was united with Greece, after becoming independent from the Ottoman Empire in 1821. With a population of nearly 16,000, this thriving Mediterranean escape has been a popular destination for over two hundred years.
The main issue with having massive 400 meter-high sea cliffs is one of transportation. As I stepped onto the dock under the cloudless heat of what was promising to be another perfect Mediterranean day, I was faced with the three options that the locals had developed to ascend the sheer rock faces. I could take the cable car, hike up the main trail, or ride a donkey up that same trail. The cable car was obviously the fastest, most comfortable, and most scenic. It was for those reasons that I chose NOT to take the cable car, and ride a donkey up. I had never ridden a donkey, I wanted to ride a donkey, and I did not feel the need to hike up a huge hill in the bright sun with donkey dung underfoot. I made the correct choice. Not only did I have more fun than those that partook in the other solutions, I actually got to the top faster. Nearly everyone on the cruise ship had gone for the tram, creating a huge line that I could gleefully observe from the back of my smelly donkey as we hoofed it up the cliff in style.
Upon reaching the top, two things became clear immediately. First, I wanted to live there. Badly. The white-plastered houses were beautiful, the weather was perfect, and the view was to die for with the deep blue ocean glimmering in the sun’s smiling rays. Second, Vespas were everywhere, whether leaning up against yet another perfect house or weaving through people and alleyways. Naturally, I wanted to rent one. No dice. I was only 13 at the time, and while drinking was A-OK, they were not about to loan me a scooter for the day. My disappointment didn’t last however, as walking through the narrow streets was just as fun. The vast amount of shops and restaurants could occupy even the most dedicated tourist for many days. After I had bought a three-bladed knife that caught my eye and seen most else I had wanted to, the sun was on its way down. We ate dinner outside, right on the edge of the drop off with the light breeze teasing through our hair.
All of this is well and good, but if you read like me then you’re probably beginning to wonder why I mentioned the size of the earth at the beginning of this story. Well it was there, eating dinner on the most beautiful island imaginable with the type of view people try to import, that a very peculiar sound reached my ears. Actually it wasn’t the sound that was peculiar, it was that I was hearing it there, on Santorini in the Middle of the Aegean Sea, that made it seem so odd. It was the sound of someone talking. But wait, it was English. That in itself wouldn’t be much of a surprise, but the speaker (a young man) had my accent. Alright so he was another American from southern California, that’s really cool, right? Wrong. Not only was he speaking my language with my accent, he was talking about a middle school that is two blocks from my house. That’s almost creepy. I turned around half expecting to know the guy. Turns out that while I may not have known him or his family, he did live in my neighborhood. Seven small suburban blocks was all that had separated us before, yet here we were, in a much different country and time zone, one table apart. We spent the rest of the evening talking about our home town and the mutual friends that were thousands of miles away, and by the time we were to leave I realized that I had forgotten I was in Greece. It was almost surreal getting on the tram and gliding back down to the water where the cruise ship rested patiently. It was then that my perspective shifted; I had always thought of home as being a set location, like a town or geographic feature. What I realized then was that home isn’t something we can ever leave; home is this planet we share with 7 billion other animals that look kinda like us. Seeing familiar people in unfamiliar places can be jarring, but in truth they belong just as much as any of the locals. So I guess a revision should be made to my earlier question: Why don’t we run into people we know while traveling abroad more often? It’s not like there are plenty of other places to be.