Living in Greece, my life was influenced by lighthouses in unusual ways. Little did I realize, when I traveled to Zourva Lighthouse on Hydra Island, not far from my home port of Piraeus to photograph it and admire its site above a cave-ridden shore, that I would be traveling the following week well beyond its perch. Its beacon warned vessels away from the eastern side of the Peloponnese and pointed the way back to my port.
In the course of the next week, calls came to me in the middle of the night from my native home in the United States from people who knew the time difference and who would call only to report emergencies. My family learned, in close succession, that my young brother-in-law, Roger had a brain tumor and faced surgery; that another family member Rachel, had suffered two heart attacks, the next projected to be fatal; and that my brother Robert had cancer and was headed to surgery. What could I do from abroad? In my soul, I felt this called for significant action, a “TAMA.” A “tama” is a religious Greek custom that calls for going on a pilgrimage to ask a saint for a miracle. In my case, I needed three miracles. I decided to go on a difficult journey to find a Greek icon inside a deserted, remote lighthouse to fulfill my “tama.”
The lighthouse I selected, the Parapola Lighthouse, required going far to the south of Hydra Island. I reasoned that the more difficult the pilgrimage the more justification of asking for three miracles. The very name of the lighthouse suggested how I should proceed. “Par” means take; “apo” means from; and “ola” means everything. Put it together and the lighthouse name means “take from everything.” I knew I must bring everything necessary onto the deserted island, so I assembled water, nourishment, a camera, a libation, and, of course, candles to light as offerings to the icon for the miracles I would ask for in the “tama”.
A ferry ride brought our small group to Hydra Island, where we made arrangements with the lighthouse keeper of Parapola for the more complicated part of the trip farther to the south. A rising storm, predicted to hit by mid-afternoon on our departure day, complicated our plans. We had to leave at 4:30 a.m. to avoid the storm. Choppy seas bounced our speedboat around for three hours. The lighthouse keeper could not believe I was trying to reach the island, which he called the “Devil Island.” His words did not deter me; I was on a pilgrimage!
As the island had no land dock for a boat, the challenge became setting foot on the island. While the speedboat bound back and forth against the uneven, rocky shore, my husband, Nikolaos, ran across the bobbling boat and, with good timing, leaped successfully to shore. He made it look easy enough. The lighthouse keeper was not as fortunate; he leaped, slipped, and splashed right into the water! We were alarmed - te boat could crash into him, but he escaped. Quickly he pulled himself out and avoided getting smashed into the rocks by the boat. What if I could not time my leap, slipped, and landed in the sea and received a knock-out blow from the shifting boat lapping against the land? Everyone thought the same after we had just witnessed the lighthouse keeper falling in. I would have to remain on the boat with the captain. Nikolaos and the lighthouse keeper went to check the lighthouse for any needed maintenance.
I was, of course, disappointed that my pilgrimage was not complete. I needed a strategy, so the captain took me to the other side of the island to seek calmer waters. One hope loomed: once there, we might be able to scale the cliffs and reach the lighthouse. We agreed that the boat would wait on the other side where it had a clearer view of the lighthouse and wait for a signal to return.
It was impossible to make landfall on the backside of the island, so as I waited, I remembered that the ancient Greeks offered a libation to the gods. I emptied a bottle of wine into the sea. In my mind, it worked; the sea calmed. Nikolaos and the keeper sent a signal for us to return so that they could collect supplies for a needed repair. I strapped my bag across my back, received a signal to make the “leap of faith” onto the island, and landed in Nikolaos’ arms.
We hiked to the summit (see photo) to reach Parapola Lighthouse. After a long search, I found a religious icon. The religious icon was the focus of my pilgrimage. I lit a candle for each family member in need of a miracle. I happened to have another, which I lit to give thanks that I set foot on the deserted island, ascended to the summit, and accomplished my goals of finding an icon.
Today, Rachel survived her heart attacks and came to Greece where we traveled to a lighthouse in celebration of her good health. Robert’s cancerous tissue was removed and he also made it to Greece. Roger still needs to make it to Greece, so we can all give thanks on Greek soil for the miraculous “Greek Tama”!
Note: You can learn about Greek lighthouses in “The Lighthouses of Greece” by Elinor DeWire and Dolores Reyes-Pergioudakis. ISBN: 978-1-5614-452-0
This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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