Editor’s Note: Trish Lemke is the founder of Joy Rides. She leads horse riding excursions around the world and is a certified Martha Beck life coach. Lemke lives in Durango, Colorado, with her family and horses. Check out her 2022-23 trips here. There’s just one spot left for her incredible Scotland trip!
Here, Trish writes about a horseback trip in Greece.
The sound of bells is everywhere. Mostly they come from the collars of the goats who roam freely through these hills. As we wind up through the ancient olive groves along abandoned dirt roads, we catch glimpses of them meandering through the rocky fields looking for the best blades of grass. Our horses are well-used to the sounds and sights in this remote corner of Crete, and are indifferent to the comings and goings of the goats, even when they pop up unexpectedly.
In the distance we can hear the different sounds of the bells of churches. Some still in use and others, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, just quietly falling down. There used to be a lot of houses and farms up here and I can imagine the churches, way back when, as the center of social gatherings. Now it’s just the bells and the wind and the bleating of the goats.
We are riding our horses in the early morning light, up to one of those churches. It’s still a place where locals go to light candles and make offerings for loved ones that have passed or say healing and protection prayers for those living now. We climb up and up, so grateful to our horses for carrying us on this journey. We finally get to a spot where our horses can’t take us anymore and we tie them beneath some lovely shade trees next to deserted gardens. There are still flowers that spring up here and there and they add to the loveliness, but also to a feeling of hushed melancholy of the many lives that were lived and now are gone.
From here we walk. We climb up stone steps that are smooth from centuries of feet walking upon them and from weather beating down on them and I’m happy for the rope railing in the slippery and steep spots. And then we find the bell. One of the bells that we heard in the distance from people pilgrimaging up here. We each get a turn ringing it and announcing that we too, are here.
The church itself isn’t so much of a church, but rather a cave. We need flashlights to see our way and for those of us who have forgotten our lights, we stop at the entrance, leave a small offering and light a candle as our guide. The candlelight feels magical and mystical and spiritual in this ancient cave of drawings and offerings. We make our way to the back where there is a little alcove to gather and we each share some blessings and gratitudes for our horses, our guides, this place, this life and for being a part of it all. One by one, we quietly make our way back out, leaving our candles burning inside the stone walls, to perhaps light the way for another pilgrim coming along.
As we enter the bright light, we see our horses waiting patiently below, obviously enjoying a nice, long rest after the climb up. We explore a bit here and find more treasures amongst the outcropping of buildings and it feels like we could stay all day. But eventually our stomachs start grumbling in anticipation of a fresh Greek salad topped with local olive oil and that delicious Chevre from all of the goats nearby. After lunch some of us indulge in a massage given by (I kid you not) a Greek god, some of us bring our books by the infinity pool and soak up the afternoon sun, and some of us relax for another hour or more down at the restaurant, chatting and laughing with the locals, as we share another delicious bottle of Greek wine.
As I walk back to my room, I look at the people with me and the scene as it unfolds and know that this is why I do these trips. The moments big and small, that make up adventures like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in all of my years of travel. As I write about this now, I don’t have to look at my pictures or read the things I have written, because the memories are so strong all I have to do is think about each place and I’m back there instantly. This is what I wish for you too. When you come on a trip with me, you will see what I mean.