Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Greece ~ Just a Year Ago. . .

Happiness is not a goal – it’s a by-product of a life well lived.
              -- Eleanor Roosevelt

A year ago this week we packed our bags and headed to San Francisco, California. A short jaunt compared to our usual travels: an hour and a half flight each way, a couple nights stay and we were back home in the Pacific Northwest.

Such a tiny little trip with such a huge impact on our lives.

The Stone House on the Hill - middle row, far right
Today, sitting in our home in Greece where we are living as full-time expats, I think of that trip as the first domino to fall; setting off a series of  life-changing events. We’d gone to that city by the bay to  make a case for being granted an entry visa to Greece. A face-to-face meeting at the Greek consulate. That began the process of obtaining a permanent resident permit; one that would allow us to stay here longer than 90 days at a time and also allow us to buy and register a car. 

The application process – as you long-time friends and readers know – was a lengthy endeavor and so focused on it were we that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to ponder the possibilities that having it in hand might bring . . .

Pursuing the Possibilities. . .

“We need much less, than we think we need.”
              -- Maya Angelou

Rainbow over the Mani 
We went from pondering to pursuing possibilities in rapid fire succession once we got those precious little plastic cards proclaiming us residents of our adopted country.

While I often encourage 'pondering possibilities and chasing daydreams' in my writings, there comes a time in life when you’ve either got to act on them or file them away and get on with the status quo. We knew in our hearts and heads, that for these two boomer-aged adventurers, it was time to act.

So here we are. . .now what?

“Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”
                            -- Pearl S. Buck

Afternoon coffee break at The Stone House on the Hill

It has taken a year for the dominos to fall into place and for us to settle in to this new lifestyle. Although we returned for full-time living last fall, the reality of being based here didn’t hit until we returned from our six-week visit to the U.S. 

The few days we spent in the Northwest, tagged on to the start and finish of our Hawaiian timeshare life, were interesting. We loved seeing friends there. Time didn’t allow us to see all that we’d have liked, but time is limited when one travels. We lived in hotel rooms, each stay being only a couple miles from what was once our home.

It was unsettling to be in an area we know so well and to slip into the old rhythms and routines: running errands, making appointments and shopping with such ease, yet feeling a bit of an outsider to it as well.

Wild flowers carpet the olive groves in February
Back at home in Greece we found ourselves returning to our rhythms and routines here as easily as we had in our former Northwest stomping grounds. Just as we got caught up with friends 'back there', we’ve spent the last week getting caught up with friends 'back here'.

A New Chapter at The Stone House on the Hill
It is the first time we’ve seen the Mani in February. The olive groves are carpeted in wild flowers, almond trees are in bloom and roses are budding. Mother Nature can’t make up her mind to dress for spring or winter so sometimes we have 65F/18C days and others a howling wind and rain.

With the logistics behind us it is time to really live in Greece. The Scout is mapping out travel options in the Peloponnese and further afield on this side of the ocean, we have a stack of books to read (we continue to avoid owning a television) and the seed packets I stuffed in my suitcases when we moved last fall need to be planted. Our days are full. We sleep soundly at night.

The Stone House on the Hill from the olive grove
We’ll be welcoming three sets of friends who are visiting in the late spring, I’m going to make good on my promise to learn more Greek and my writing journal – that has sat untouched for a year – is going to be filled with scribbles. Who knows? We might even attend that summer Sardine Festival that I’ve whined about missing while high stepping to the “Schengen Shuffle”.

We’ve got a year to enjoy this life before we get back on that Road to Residency and begin our next journey: renewing our residency permits.

“At some point you gotta let go, and sit still and allow contentment to come to you.”
                                                     -- Elizabeth Gilbert

Sunset in Kardamyli village
It’s been an amazing year and we thank you all for being with us as we leaped hurdles, celebrated successes, stopped at roadblocks and then accelerated at full speed ahead.  We hope you’ll continue to be part of the journey as this is the year when the real fun begins!  See you back here next week and until then safe travels to you and yours!

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Best of Weekend

Monday, February 5, 2018

Ballistic missiles, tsunamis and other Tropical Tales. . .

We arrived in Hawaii the day after its now-infamous missile warning was issued – a false alarm that reverberated around the world.

A few days after we arrived we missed the tsunami warning for the island of O’ahu. It had been real but issued during the night and withdrawn before we woke.

Last week we missed – again, by a day -- a high speed shoot-em-up freeway chase on O’ahu’s west side near our Ko Olina resort  in which the suspect was shooting at pursuing police and later held them at bay for 17 hours in the small town just north of us.

It seems that even a tropical island paradise has both 'wonders' and 'warts'.  Regulars here know I usually focus on the ‘wonders’ because I want to inspire you to pack up and head out on your own adventures or to entertain you armchair travelers. But sometimes the ‘warts’ are as interesting as the wonders and are worthy of focus . . . for example:

The Missile Alert

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The emergency alert showing on some cell phones in Hawaii
In case you’ve been off the planet or away from the news in recent weeks, here's the gist of what happened: On Saturday, Jan. 13th the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) issued the alert shown in the photo above. It appeared on some cell phones and the state’s warning systems.

(Intercontinental ballistic missiles are designed primarily to carry nuclear warheads so with the war of words going on between North Korea and the U.S. you can imagine the way the message was interpreted).

Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 headline in the Honolulu paper
Within two minutes officials knew the warning was sent in error - there was no missile -- yet it took 38 minutes to issue a corrected message. Now that might not sound like a very long time, but from the stories we’ve heard and read, it was for many an eternity and a horrifying one at that:

*families huddled together in interior closets and called loved ones elsewhere in the world to say goodbye. Then cell phone systems jammed and phones didn’t work.

*at least one man on the island of O’ahu had a heart attack,

* some hotels evacuated tourists, others had them shelter in place some issued emergency directives, others didn't.

* a local man told us he grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels and headed to his roof to watch it end – he knew there would be no place to safely shelter, he said.

* a long-married couple visiting the island told each other ‘it had been a great run’, made themselves MaiTais and went to the beach to sip them while waiting for the end.

Remember, many residents of the island of O’ahu are only a generation away from - and can still tell personal stories of -- the World War II Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. So alerts for any type of imminent attack are taken seriously.

The Missile’s Fallout

The day we arrived on O’ahu; the day after the false alarm, the investigations were already underway. The employee in charge of pushing that button had done so in error, and was horrified about it, it was reported. News stories over the days following said the employee was placed on a leave of absence and death threats were being received at the agency.  . .

Headline Honolulu newspaper Jan. 31, 2018
Two and a half weeks later, the missile's fallout continues. On Jan. 31st headlines were still in mega-point type face and more information was being released about the investigation’s findings and conclusions:

*The employee who sent the false alert had been a ‘source of concern’ for more than 10 years. And had at least two times before this incident had confused drills with real events and had been ‘counseled’.

* 'HI-EMA had not anticipated the possibility of issuing a false alert and wasn’t prepared to issue a correction” and officials also mistakenly believed  they had to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency before  issuing an official notice of the alert being false.

* The Governor ‘was delayed in sending out social media notification because he forgot his Twitter password'.

* The employee was fired and the head of the agency resigned. (The employee has hired an attorney and been giving interviews to news media that counter some of the report conclusions.)

Then Came the Tsunami Alert. . .

Wind and rain often are part of an island visit
We first learned of the tsunami from an ex pat British friend back home in our Greek Mani who wrote a note saying, “Bloody Hell. . .now a tsunami?!”  I wrote back assuring him that the alert had been for the West Coast of the United States after an earthquake in the Pacific Ocean near Alaska. “No where near us,” I assured him.

Well, later in the day we learned that there had been an alert issued for our island as a second earthquake had occurred nearer Hawaii – several night owls here were up late enough to receive it on their cell phones.

Our resort  manager explained later that with a tsunami – unlike an incoming missile – there’s usually a four to six hour window before it hits so they were aware of the warning but opted to make sure it was going to stay valid  before rousting several thousand guests in the middle of the night. The alert was called off a few hours after being issued.

Ignorance is bliss, I’ve decided.

Shoot outs and other day-to-day realities

Beaches on O'ahu's west side
With a population estimate of 1.4 million people this island state ranks 13th in the US for population density.

The island of O’ahu (best known for its Honolulu and Waikiki Beach) has some 950,000 of the state’s residents. Crime shouldn’t be a surprise here but still it seems incongruous with the island’s beauty. We visitors find ourselves so enchanted with our surroundings we wonder how residents could possibly abuse this paradise with crime.

The shootout I referenced in the opening of this post took place on the Main Road on this end of the island, a few miles northwest of the resort. It involved a high speed chase with the fleeing suspect shooting at pursuing officers and ended with a 17-hour stand-off at a residence in the town of Waianae.. The alleged ‘shooter’ was reportedly under the influence of crystal methamphetamine, or ‘ice’ as it is called.  No one was injured and the suspect is being held on $3 million bail.
(Sounds more like an episode of Hawaii-5-0 than reality, doesn’t it?)

Junk card along one of the Waianae country roads
I’ve been working on a freelance travel article while we are here which has taken us to new territory on the island – beautiful places tucked away in the shadows of the Waianae Mountain range.  One of the most startling things about this new area was that locals are dumping cars along side the roadways.

We asked a local resident about the unsightly dumping and she said, “The Mayor came out and made them clean it up. They were all gone – they hauled them away but then they were all back again.”  'Really??', we asked ourselves. Sadly, that section of roadway looks worse than some third world countries we’ve visited. Warts, to be sure.

So . . .Warts or Wonders?

Lanikai Beach - windward side O'ahu
We’ve been asked a dozen times by people we’ve met this trip, “Why are you living in Greece?” but no one asks, “Why did you come to Hawaii?”   No one questions this tropical paradise as a destination. The parade of wide-bodies jets begin arriving early each morning from Asia and Australia and by early afternoon the parade is coming from the United States and Canada. The number of visitors here topped 9.4 million last year.

Ewa Beach area looking back at Honolulu and Diamond Head
Hawaii and our island of O’ahu haven't lost their magic despite bungled emergency alerts, irresponsible dumping, crime and other ‘warts’.

Sunset from our timeshare home at KoOlina - O'ahu
Bottom line is: no place is perfect – despite what the tourist organizations tell you.    And Hawaii’s welcome and its wonders continue to overshadow its warts. We are thankful the missile alert wasn’t real – what a shame it would be to destroy this tropical paradise . . .

That’s it for this week from the island of O’ahu. Our time in Hawaii has gone rapidly. Won’t be long before we are heading back to The Stone House on the Hill. Thanks for the time you spend with us and we wish you a safe and happy week until we are back together again.

Linking up this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Best of Weekend


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