Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My six weeks at Kalikalos

The keys to Liberation are universal and essentially simple: disengage from all the stories you’ve been telling yourself about life and who you are or should be as you negotiate your way through, and all at once you know yourself as divine, all-powerful, unstoppable and magnificent, as any divine, all-powerful, unstoppable being would. ('Fuck It –The Ultimate Spiritual Way’ by John C.Parkin)

It’s my sixth and final week here at the end of the season. The Centre coordinator, Jock Millenson, wanted a post on the blog so I’m giving it a go, starting with the above from the funniest book that came my way! 

Over the last few days I have been reflecting on my time here and how my life has changed. Some people share their stories openly; others adopt a more reserved approach, which suits me. I decided to leave my old life behind and it has been good not to talk too much about the past but focus on the present and take each day as it comes. Not knowing anyone here was good as the fifty or so people I’ve met over the weeks have just known me as Gerry from England who is taking time out and travelling for a while. People don’t ask you more than you want to share, which suits me as I only share on a deep level with friends I’ve known for a long time. 

I saw Kalikalos advertised in Resurgence magazine at a friend’s house in Cornwall in January, looked at the website, thought it seemed interesting and saved it on travel bookmarks. Over the next few months, glancing at it occasionally, I subscribed to the newsletter, deciding in July to visit and see what it was like. The website looked a bit outdated but it appeared an interesting, affordable place to stay so I went for it! 

Kalikalos is near the village of Kissos in the Pilion region of Greece, up in the mountains, a retreat centre in a beautiful location, catering for up to 20+ guests at a time.

The venue is an old fashioned hotel with rooms in the main house and tents on a terraced slope with a couple of temporary structures for meeting spaces. I have a lovely little room with white walls, wickerwork stool, shutter windows with mosquito net up, a recycled jar with flowers, a little table ideal for my laptop and bathroom and toilet next door.

From my window every morning I see a beautiful sunrise over the sea in the distance. For the first week I was a community guest and then full time staff and helped in running the place for a week when Jock took a holiday in Istanbul.

It has been a hectic time, lots of fun and I met so many lovely people from all walks of life, some, mainly staff, I made good connections with as they stayed for a few weeks. There are three red slightly battered Micra cars for trips to local beaches, Plaka and Papa Nero at Agios. Ioannis, the main resort twenty minutes away reached down steep, mountainous winding roads.

I walked down to the beach a few times along cobbled mule track paths and got a lift back as walking in the hot sun is a bit too much! The resort has beachfront cafes, tavernas, a few supermarkets and tourist shops selling pottery, preserved fruits and honey. Memories are blue chairs, white tablecloths, a few trees, umbrellas and sunbeds, tourists, mainly Greek and German and little package tour commercial development, which is great. For the first few days there were huge surf waves, but over the next weeks it was like getting into a warm bath!

On free days/afternoons, I went on trips around the region and coast with other staff and P., a yoga teacher living in London. P's parents are Greek Cypriot, and she speaks fluent Greek so it was easy as not everyone speaks English!  Had lots of adventures down dirt tracks and rough roads to beaches with stunning views and scenery of houses and trees dotted around the mountains. Visiting stunningly beautiful picture postcard beaches at Milopotamos, Ag. Saranta and Damouchari, where Mama Mia was filmed, with a picturesque harbour surrounded by tavernas. Another highlight in the region is the cool shaded square or ‘Platia’ at Tsangarada, with an old church, springs, fountains and a massive 800-year-old plane tree.

At Kalikalos there are rotas for everything, organising or ‘focalising” meetings, washing up, cooking, gardening, cleaning etc and I’ve never hung up so much washing in my life! 

On Saturday mornings after new people arrive there’s a community meeting in the Roundhouse, where everyone introduces themselves and says a little bit about who they are and why they are here and can say as much or as little as you want to share. It’s a meeting space with flowers, candles, stones, a Buddha, and a ‘talking’ stick you hold to speak. In these circles, developed from Native American traditions, everyone holds hands, takes a few minutes for an ‘attunement’, and then the stick goes round with each person saying how they are feeling in the moment. 

The focus is talking into the middle and rather than saying” You piss me off’, for example we learn to say ‘I’ feel angry, upset, sad, happy because of…' With this process you really listen to what each person is saying and if you are being criticised or praised you have time to think about it rather than feeling you are on the spot and have to respond immediately, which is what we are used to doing. I experienced it as a simple but extremely powerful way of each person speaking and everyone else listening. You never really know what is going on in someone else’s mind, so having a space and really listening to your own or other people’s thoughts or feelings lets you know what the energy of the day is bringing. I felt a huge acceptance of my own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses. 

My routine at Kalikalos was getting up as the sun rises at 7am, having a coffee on my own in my favourite place and enjoy a peaceful, quiet start to the day before breakfast at 8.30. Food is wonderful, lots of, figs, grapes, bananas, nectarines, peaches, Greek yoghurt, wholemeal bread, honey, Greek salads, with staff and guests cooking an amazing variety of vegetarian food from different countries in the evening. At 9.30 every morning there’s a Staff meeting in the yurt, another meeting place where we start with an attunement—togetherness, candle lit, pinecone, stones and the "talking” stick. On Tuesday nights, no cooking and washing up, as we go out as a group to one of the local tavernas with wild or tame nights depending on who’s around!

I felt welcomed by everyone on arriving at Kalikalos and have met so many people from all over the world, seeing them come and go with some (who know who they are) being very special to me. It’s good meeting new people, although at times exhausting, with some very healthy ones as well as a few renegades. Iced coffee or mountain tea is available, red and white wines are palatable, beers reasonable and ‘Tsipiro,’ a stronger spirit, made from distilled grape residue is a popular local drink of choice for many old men.

I’ve had so many amazing days its hard writing about them all. Some highlights are taking supplies to Ag. Saranta beach, watching the sun go down and full moon rising, open fires, laughter, music and barbecues, old hippy style! Amrita playing accordion, Fabien, with endless patience and good humour, teaching simple dance steps and L, a French woman singing haunting Edith Piaf songs. 

Going to a beach taverna at Chorefto with P, O, and J and sampling fish, spinach pie and baked aubergine specialities. Exploring the peninsula, stopping at Paradiso beach, walking up amongst olive groves, watching a spectacular sunset and then going on to a small taverna at Argolasti town with traditional Greek musicians and dancing. 

Local people and village characters are etched in my memory and some recorded on camera. Days off, getting up to watch bands of red in the sky with the sun rising over the sea and for the first time really listening to the sounds of cocks crowing, dogs barking and bells ringing with early morning light on grape vines, fig trees and old feta tin cans overflowing with geraniums and colourful flowers. Workers, women and children are up by 6.30 in the cool mornings. Really noticing the ‘Platia’, fountain, imposing 17th century church and few old, charming character shops in Kissos, a basic general grocers, butchers, bakers, woodworking workshop, a few hotels, guesthouses and sprinkling of tavernas.

Out from Kalilkalos to the right is a long road, path and tracks that pass traditionally built stone houses with heavy slate tiled roofs common in the region and leads into the mountains. Mist over the mountains, sun breaking through, and a small Greek reservoir plant with water coming down from the hills. Reflections of chestnut trees in the water an old truck parked by the wayside. 

Walking further along are abundant apple orchards and chestnut forests with old crates stacked up for the apple-picking season starting soon. After taking a photo of a woman picking apples she gave me 2 huge red ones and a bunch of grapes. I stuffed my pockets with picked up chestnuts from the ground. Sun out; found a plastic chair in the middle of nowhere when I needed to rest and sit down. Peace and quiet only the sound of a chainsaw in the distance.

Kalikalos has a library of books to loan and lounging in the sun, slowly read ‘Fuck It –The Ultimate Spiritual Way’. Parkin says,

 "Fuck it is the perfect western expression of the eastern spiritual ideas of letting go, giving up and relaxing our hold on things."

It has come in handy when I needed a break from here and just said to myself 'Fuck it’, I've done enough work -and walked down to the village and sat an had an iced coffee. I have become more adept at doing what I want on a daily basis. Days when I feel like being sociable and others when I go off on my own. I have largely stopped feeling responsible for other people, only taking responsibility for myself.

I have over 500 photographs of the area; it’s beauty, people and my memories. At Kalikalos you have to work hard for yourself and others to get things done on time.

At the beginning of each week there’s often chaos as a new group comes together but as the days progress everyone shows more of their personality, make up and who they are. People visiting here from Findhorn say ‘Work is Love in Action’ and there is masses of work to be done, but also time to play, have fun and laughter. At the end of the day at Kalikalos as in other places, countries, or communities, everyone who is here is creating the energy and spirit of each day. The workcamp closing up the place for the Winter is nearly finished, with a great mixed team of staff with multiple skills from Germany, Switzerland, England and America who have come together, getting the place in shape for next year.

It’s definitely not 5 star luxury, but if you are happy with a slightly ramshackle environment teaming with character, creativity, natural beauty of the landscape, blue skies, seas and majestic mountains and want to learn about yourself, what makes you tick, and live and work with other people in a beautiful area of Greece then I would highly recommend it!!! I will soon forget the work done here, but remember the people and personalities I’ve met.

What will stay with me is so eloquently put by Parkin

‘When you say ‘Fuck It’ you give in to the flow of life-you stop doing what you don’t want to do, you finally do what you’ve always wanted to do, and stop listening to people and listen to yourself’.' 

Thanks John Parkin, for writing a wonderfully funny book I needed to read, Jock for being himself and everyone I met who made me laugh or cry, sometimes at the same time! 

There’s also Wi-Fi here, which enabled me to keep in touch with friends and family on my travels. I know I am very lucky! That’s all for now. 

                          Gerry A, New Zealand   x

Other photos, when I have time (!) will be on my website: