We step out of the plane, blinking and stretching in the bright light and sudden blast of heat, and make our careful way down the set of metal steps that have just been driven up.
A strip of azure sea stretches along one side of the runway, just a few metres away, while ahead of us the sun-bleached landscape reaches up from the other side of the tarmac and runs off towards the distant mountains. The first breath of this air is always warm and thick, rich with aromatic oils drawn by the sun from the wild herbs that abound, although this time it seems fainter, hopefully just the effect of a different season rather than any erosion of habitat. I have never known another destination where the sweet scent of the landscape is the first to greet you, rather than industrial fumes.
Here we are, landing on this island, as familiar to us as an old family friend. My parents first came here before we were born, the start of a long love affair that has stayed with us all through the years. As a family, and then in ones and twos and threes, between us we have continued to visit most years: usually arriving with the wildflowers of spring, or the rich harvests of autumn when the sea is still warm from the long summer past.
Different places, different times, exploring the coastlines and the mountains in under-furnished hire cars (…surely there are supposed to be more cylinders in the engine block where those gaps are, no? No wonder it is struggling so… Is that smell the clutch? Ah … The tarmac ran out a few miles ago and I’m not sure the wheels will take much more of these rocks…). Visiting old favourites and discovering new delights, this island is a thread that runs through my life.
Back again, then, in a new configuration. Sometimes I catch a memory-glimpse of Dad floating in the sea beside me, or doing shark impressions in the calmer waters of a pool as I swim lengths. We will be back here again some day to bring him on his final journey, to send him off on the warm breeze across the dark mountains and over these blue blue seas; to honour his final request, and leave him here at last in the place that he loved the best. But we are not ready for that; this is just a visit, banishing ghosts and letting the stress roll off our shoulders and hearts and out across the salt water to the distant horizon, where white sails come and go.
A few snapshots then: the scent of Frangipani and Oleander blossom floating on the gentle night breeze; the sound of surf rolling and falling at the shoreline; a head full of salt-licked hair; condensation on a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice;a crescendo of cicadas in the canopy of a mulberry tree; bougainvillea, bottlebrush and silk trees, as tall as houses, resplendent against cerulean skies…
… savouring local food and wine; licking sticky fingers, and wiping the traces of fragrant sauce from the plate with the last piece of bread; passing pick-up trucks loaded with pyramids of oranges; trees full of green figs or olives; clusters of kittens tumbling in the dust; a few new words or phrases added to the hazily remembered vocabulary that begins to flow again in bits and pieces; slipping down to the beach at 5 a.m. in the pre-dawn to watch the sunrise; long early morning walks up around the headlands before the heat of the day presses down.
I have been away; it has been quite delicious. Summer has arrived and the garden has rioted while I’ve been gone, there is much to catch up on, both in the garden and back at my desk. Normal service should be resumed shortly.