Ikaria is anything but ordinary. It is a unique island full of special people and places. It is definitely not for everyone, however, for those who come here, with an open mind and open heart, there are rewards of hidden treasures and the ancient wisdom that the island and its inhabitants possess.
Robyn (Ourania) Whatley had the courage and good fortune to move to this remote island with her husband and now has called it home for the last 10 years. She wanted to offer something back to Ikaria and its people that have given her so much. So to honor them, she created the photography book, Unique Ikaria. Unique is the right word indeed. Today we are sharing her story with you.
Discover Ikaria: Please tell us, why Ikaria? How did you end up here?
Ourania: Before Ikaria my husband and I lived in our homeland in the United States but for the last 30 years have lived in Hawaii, then the Caribbean, and now for 10 years in Ikaria. We lived through Hurricane Ivan, a category #5 (210 miles per hour wind) hurricane in the Caribbean. After losing our seaside home we were open to travel – being called homeless (she laughs). So instead of panic we chose to say that the ‘world is our oyster’ which seemed to help a dire situation become one of adventure. My husband had lived in Greece for a decade previously and already spoke Greek so we thought moving to a Greek island would be a smart way to go. After looking at Crete and Karpathos, Ikaria was the third island and after being presented with a traditional, 140 year-old stone house on the hilltop surrounded by fruit trees, a waterfall, a sea view and a garden for my husband to plant food, we chose Ikaria. Immediately we felt the magic of this place.
Discover Ikaria: How would you describe the start? Was it difficult for you?
Ourania: Upon arrival my husband’s ability to speak Greek was a great help. He seemed to gain acceptability due to his past farming techniques which he brought from Amorgos. Myself being a photographer since age 9, had my camera with me at all times and being more like an anthropologist I just started going to all the events to learn about the people, their culture and the island. After the first winter the Ikarians seemed to open their arms and hearts even more knowing that we’ll possibly stay. At that point we were invited to the name days, baptisms and weddings on a more personal level. It was harder for me as I didn’t speak the language, plus had just come from a background of being a professional singer with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra doing TV shows, concerts etc. So timing was down to a nano second.... Little different than ‘no time’ in Ikaria.
Discover Ikaria: How did you come up with the idea of a book?
Ourania: After taking thousands of photographs of the whole island, all its wonderful seasons and many of the traditional events including participating in a lot of them like the annual dance concert, carnivals and so on, I wanted to give back the island and the Ikarians who love their island so much. So I created this book as a treasured memento for any Ikarians that perhaps live elsewhere like Canada, Australia or the USA. It is also a great gift for the visitors of Ikaria.
The idea of using quotes of the ancient Greek philosophers came to me when I took a photo of a shepherd, totally content, sitting on his rock wall, watching his sheep. “He, who is content with the least, is the wealthiest of all.” (Socrates) And at that point the idea hit me that what I’ve learned and seen from the culture, the people’s attitudes and their philosophies was reality here while the ancient philosophers (Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurus) could only dream it.
Discover Ikaria: What do you like most about the island?
Ourania: I love the safety felt here. We leave our doors open, the children walk hand in hand throughout the villages by themselves. There is no fear. There is a sense of freedom that is just overpowering. With 62 villages, it’s a constant treasure hunt where everything is constantly ‘discovered’. There is an inner feeling of freedom, rugged individualism and expansiveness of character which, to me, seems to be like a reflection of what one sees in the surroundings. If you want to be alone you can be totally alone and safe. If you want to be social, it’s the most social place that I have ever lived.
Discover Ikaria: What do you like most about the people?
Ourania: I take weaving lessons from a 106 year-old women, YiaYia (grandmother in Greek) Ioanna and she is a fountain of wisdom. She stopped her singing while weaving once to tell me “Ourania, do you know how to live a long, healthy life? You must sing and dance every day.” And then, she went right back to her weaving and continued singing again.
What I’ve seen here is that people have amazing stamina; musicians can sing and play for 17 hours straight, women cook for 2 days to celebrate their husband’s name day. I’ve learned how the women are strong and self-sufficient making their medicines and teas from the indigenous plants and their marmalades and liqueurs from the fruits. It is very refreshing to live in a place where women don’t wear makeup and no one is judged by their outward appearance. They don’t believe in time. Nobody wears watches here and they have taught me, by living example, to live in the present tense, have no expectations and accept everything as a gift. That’s why I think every day is like Christmas here.
You can take a look at Ourania’s book, Unique Ikaria here.