I’ve always hoped to see a whale when coming in for a landing over water. I’ve created elaborate fantasies in my head of opening my sleepy eyes when descending into a destination, pushing up my plastic window shade, and seeing an aquatic beast breaching from on high.
I’d call out to the other passengers, ‘Look! A whale!’ And everyone would crane their necks to see the creature and share this special moment.
(Can you even see whales from a plane? Asking for a friend.)
Anyway, as I flew into Skiathos, Greece, I desperately searched the turquoise water for the outline of a whale, or really any animal, telling myself that this would be the time I’d finally see my own personal Free Willy, Shamu, Whatever-Regurgitated-Jonah. It didn’t happen.
After we arrived on the neighboring island of Alonissos, which was our final destination, I was delighted to learn that there are dolphins and seals there. They even have a marine park and a seal center!
‘Perfect!’ I thought. ‘I’ll surely see a dolphin or a seal while we’re here.’ Maybe then I could get over my Ahab moment.
On day one, our hosts invited us out on their boat. Marvelous! I love boats. We made our way down the bumpy road towards the water to ride a small dinghy out to the mooring. Sea creatures, here we come!
‘Careful!’ my friend warned as I gracefully did a split off the concrete dock and fell into the dinghy, losing my footing and crashing down hard onto my rear end. I looked to where he was pointing. Sea urchins!
They were cool-ish, but also a bit scary and a lot gross.
We paddled over to the boat and I made absolutely sure to sprain the other half of my groin while clambering aboard. I was ready to see my dolphin!
We spent the entire day on the boat and didn’t see so much as a tadpole.
A few nights later, we were flying home at the speed of light in a taxi when we encountered another animal. The driver’s headlights caught something tiny on the road ahead of us. We asked what it was.
‘In English, I don’t know. It’s like this,’ he said, making a mohawk on top of his head with his fingers. A hedgehog!
I tried to take a picture, but we were about to break the sound barrier so I didn’t manage to (also, he definitely killed it). I had never seen a hedgehog before. Cool, but not on the list.
On our last day in Alonissos, we went out on the boat again. We pulled into an indigo bay that became ever lighter as it reached towards the soft gray and pale beige stones that made up the beach. I was getting ready to jump into the water when I looked down and saw something brownish-yellowish floating beneath us. A jellyfish!
Its bell raised and lowered, propelling it through the water gently and gracefully, like a brainless, venomous ballerina. It appeared to be rolling a bit, perhaps because it just moves that way, perhaps to show off its tentacles, or perhaps to fart or spit at me through its shared mouth-anus. Magnificent creature, the jellyfish.
We counted seven, eight, nine, ten of them around the boat. My friend, who has frequented the island for 15 years, informed us that they’re not venomous (and even poked one to prove it). Nonetheless, we were a bit concerned about jumping into the water with them, so we waited for the bloom to dissipate.
I’m not sure why they swam away, because they they are indeed brainless, but they seemed to have the sense to get away from the giant piece of plastic covered with loud, hairy creatures that only have a paltry four tentacles. Can’t imagine why.
As we bobbed around in the water, it dawned on me that I had seen three different animals on the trip, but hadn’t paid much attention to them because they weren’t the animals that I had wanted to see.
I talk a lot about how travel forces me to be present, but in this case, I was searching for something and failed to notice what was right in front of me. I wasn’t even grateful for my little Greek safari. I learned a long time ago that the antidote to grumpiness is gratitude. How silly of me to forget that.
The next time I’m on the road, wishing for something to happen, I hope I can remember to open my eyes a little wider. The very thing I’m wishing for might just be right in front of me, waiting to release its spines into my poor tender feet or blobbing its tentacles menacingly in front of my face.
Want to go on your own personal Greek safari? Check out my guide on how to get to Alonissos! And if you see a dolphin or a seal while you’re there, let me know so I can silently hate you.