Ikaria has many footpaths woven into its natural settings. During our stay there, we came across a very beautiful spot a bit off one of these footpaths in Chalares Gorge, with just minimal traces of previous trekkers. There were big, white rocks to sunbathe on, clean running water to drink and swim in and the whole place seemed unearthly and foreign as an environment; it drove through my body a very powerful sensation of isolation as if we were at the edge of the world.
Looking up at the towering mountain, I felt like it could swallow me at any moment and no one would ever know. I felt small and insignificant. And not in a bad way necessarily, but it did feel scary with a tinge of excitement. And as most feelings do, this one had a physical symptom; my stomach felt the way it does when I’m going up a ladder or standing on a cliff. That sense that danger could be imminent if one slight mishap should happen, but also a joyous thrill and sense of self-satisfaction for having taken the risk. I suppose this feeling comes from being in an environment without people and our everyday appliances that have become convenient tools for survival.
Interestingly, it is not just the isolation found in nature that instigates such unusual yet pleasurable fears. Sometimes the environment of an urban area that is overpopulated and overrun by traces of man inspires an almost identical sense. While sunbathing on the rocks, taking in the beauty of nature and made giddy by the excitement and fear instilled by my surroundings, I realized it all felt very familiar. It reminded me of walking on the sidewalks of New York City.
Instead of mountains making me feel miniscule there are tall buildings and an overwhelming population. Skyscrapers hover over sidewalks, casting shadows over the city streets. They are massive, imposing and beautiful like mountains. Walking on sidewalks entails dodging many other pedestrians, each one a reminder of how many of us exist in this world. Instead of being swallowed up by nature and digested in the ravine there is that sense of getting lost in the city streets or a huge park and vanishing without a trace for whatever reason. And in this city environment, that in some ways might appear to be less pure than the seldom-trodden footpaths of Ikaria, inspires this innocent feeling of fear and excitement combined, that anything is possible from being that glamorous looking woman a few steps ahead of you, to being that homeless bum begging for change on the stoop to the left of you.
Although the feeling was so similar, in New York City it was instilled by being completely immersed in a man-made environment whereas in Ikaria it was caused by being totally removed from such an environment. Both settings possess this idea of the infinite, in nature because of its vastness and in urban areas because of its density of human existence. Both environments have their qualities that can be used to develop an individual; the urban environment provides a ground to excel materially and practically whereas nature provides grounds to develop your spiritual self by reminding us of what is actually necessary for our existence and survival and separating it from our superfluous, yet not superficial wants and desires.