Tourism in Greece has been a key element of the economic activity in the country, and is one of the country's most important sectors. Greece has been a major tourist destination and attraction in Europe since antiquity, for its rich culture and history, which is reflected in large parts by its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, among the most in Europe and the world as well as for its long coastline, many islands, and beaches.
The Egremnoi sand beach in the Greek island of Lefkada, noted for its blue crystal waters, is a popular tourist destination.
Greece attracted 26.5 million visitors in 2015, 30.1 million visitors in 2017 and over 33 million in 2018, making Greece one of the most visited countries in Europe and the world, and contributing 18% to the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Its capital city Athens, as well as Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Corfu, Crete and Chalkidice are some of the country's major tourist destinations.
In recent years, Greece has also promoted religious tourism and pilgrimages to regions with a significant historical religious presence, such as the monasteries in Meteora and Mount Athos, in cooperation with other countries.
I was one of those tourists.
It was around 11:00 at night, and I was walking back to the Royal Olympic Hotel from partying at the Parthenon with my friends, my bottle of Bacardi in hand. I was a little tipsy and just vomited my guts out, getting small specks of puke on my shoes. I dragged my feet as I walked, and looked around as Greece lit up like houses on Christmas night. After a 14-minute walk from the Parthenon, I looked up at the hotel's building, and saw something in the midnight sky. It kind of looked like a giant buzzard to me, but due to the midnight sky, it was silhouetted amongst the pitch black sky and was flying towards the Parthenon. Didn't know what to think, I raced back up the large hill and tried to look for... whatever I saw.
After hours of searching, no luck. I now thought it was just the alcohol making me see things, until I heard a slithery, dream-like voice which shook my entire human diaphragm, "What are you doing out so late?"
I slowly turned to see... it... It had the head of a human male with a buzzcut and a clean shave, and the body of a lion, which looked hairless. But there were a few strains of hair on it's body, much like a man. It also had large feathery wings, which was the reason I saw it flying around at night. It was the size and length of a monster truck, and as it sat up, it towered over my small, human frame, making me look like a child compared to it's monstrous size. I saw it's eyes, they were a shining neon green, and it's fangs were indeed feline and it's ears were large and bat-like, much like the ears of a Devon Rex, but they're where the ears should be on the human head.
I can feel my stomach churning and felt my knees buckle as the creature stared down at me. "I know, it's quite shocking, my appearance. It's not my first time with you humans." At first, I had a frog in my throat, but I finally found my voice. What I wanted to say was, "What are you?" in a shaky voice. But what came out, was a whimper: "Whaat…?"
Indeed I was scared, petrified even, I've never seen anything like this before. I mean, what the fuck was I even looking at? Is this a demon? Is it here to kill me, drag my soul to Hell? Is it a figment of my drunken imagination? These questions bubbled inside my brain as I looked into it's eyes.
"What am I?" the creature asked. I was flabbergasted, how did it knew what I was gonna say?! "The all-mighty Sphinx ,at your acquaintance."
I just blinked, I thought the Sphinx was a myth. Well, apparently not, as I asked, "Then you're probably going to ask me a riddle then. Then eat me if I get the answer wrong."
The creature burst out into a maddening laughter, which had somewhat put me at ease.
"Oh, Zeus, this joke again?!" it mused to itself, clearly amused by lack of awareness towards higher beings such as itself. "No, no, I don't do that anymore, it's a common misconception, however," it proceeded to note.
"You see, Sphinxes, the Lammasu, whatever -- we are all the same kind. We used to ask riddles to people, but we just got bored soon after. There is not much of the concept of killing or eating those who get the answers wrong. So we decide to just give up on the idea. Everything you know about us is a human fiction," it continued speaking, "Every time we tried asking riddles to you humans, you die of fright. I guess you're still not a high enough level to communicate with us."
This made very little sense to me as it was the opposite from what I was taught my whole life. I wasn't sure if I should believe this creature or not, after all, it was claiming to be a Sphinx. I guess it had noticed the doubt written all over my face as it made a snarky remark towards me, "If I was lying, wouldn't I be luring you into a false sense of security right now? You know eating you alive yadda yadda…"
"No, I just…"
"Yeah, I get it, you've been indoctrinated to believe in some weird anthropocentric story. Mind you that there are millions, perhaps even billions of species who are even more intelligent than your kind. To be honest, I'm pretty certain there are beings who are more advanced than the Gods, somewhere out there. There are probably beings higher than the King of the Gods himself."
I had nothing to say; I was completely shocked by this revelation. While on the one hand, the things it was saying were making sense, on the other hand, they weren't making any sense at all.
"So, how does this whole cosmic order thing work then?" I asked weakly.
"Hm, well anything with a consciousness mechanism has what you define as a soul, it includes me, you, everything else on this planet with a complexed neural system. Even Zeus has that sort of thing. Now, nothing is really eternal, eventually, everything dies. At one point, every sentient being will pass away," it answered.
"Even Zeus?" I was unsure if I even wanted to hear the answer to that question and yet I asked, anyway.
"Yeah. Someday, in the future. You are aware of the fact that he isn't all creator of everything?"
As obvious as this should have been at that point, this sentence sent chills down my spine.
"Hmph, here's the kicker though there one thing you humans got right, in a way, The Underworld is real. The circumstances around it are what you got wrong."
"What do you mean, don't the wicked go there?" I asked him in response.
"No, not the wicked but the guilty." It proclaimed.
"The guilty?" I asked, puzzled.
"Yeah, if you die feeling guilt over something, it turns into a negative energy and your consciousness goes to this dimension where it has to rid itself of said guilt. It has to be a major thing, however, if you feel guilty for something extremely minor, you are most likely to just dissipate into the universe."
Once, it had finished speaking about the inner workings of the universe, I looked directly into his neon feline eyes and asked, with as much confidence as I could muster, "So, why are you telling me all of this?"
It smiled, "It's because I need your opinion on something, let's have a walk, shall we?"
It got up and began walking towards the Parthenon. At first, I was hesitant to do anything and I watching it walk for a few moments before I heard him call out to me. Not wanting to piss off a thing that is more powerful than a locamotive, and probably murder me on a whim, I started catching up with it, ignoring the dried puke on my shoes.
Once I reached the creature, it was at the temple's entrance. As we entered through, a bright light engulfed me, blinding me for a moment. It felt as if a flash grenade was thrown straight at me, the light was so bright it almost burned me alive.
After an agonizing few seconds, the light began dispersing followed by a freezing breeze that sent chills throughout my whole body. Once I had regained my sight, I found myself standing in the middle of a familiar sight. "No way…" I blurted under my breath.
"We are in Mount Olympus, this is where it all happened." The Sphinx announced.
I looked around, we were 2,920 metres high. We were literally on the very top of Mount Olympus. For anyone who hasn't traveled up this mountain, there are within 15 minutes of each other on the Plateau of Muses, a stunning flat portion of the mountain above tree line and immediately below the Stefani summit. Both refuges are ~5 hours from the Gortsia trailhead, and only 45 minutes or 1.5 hours from the Mytikas summit, depending on your route.
As I was trying to process whatever was going on around me, the Sphinx asked me, "Tell me, do you believe that all humans deserve to have a second chance?"
It caught me off guard, but this was probably the easiest answer I had to give that day, "Yes, I do," I answered still eyeing my surroundings.
"Even the sadistic band of serial murder rapists in this world before us?" it asked again, pointing at the curving of the earth in front of us.
"Yes… even them… if what you say about them is true, they should be detained and tried, but they do deserve to live. Killing them won't make it any better." It was still an easy question, I don't believe killing will ever salvage anything. I doubt the death penalty is a good way to rid ourselves of crime even to this day.
"I see, well, follow me, I need to show you something that might change your mind." the Sphinx began walking towards the edge of the cliff. I stumbled after it. The alcohol I had consumed earlier was starting to take effect again.
A bright light blinded me again, and this time, I was surrounded with pitch black darkness. The floor felt... wet. As if I was standing in some sort of pool. I can hear the Sphinx, it's voice echoing in the darkness. "Hang on, I'll try and turn on the lights."
As the room finally lit, the torches surrounding the place were almost a disgusting green, and I was indeed standing in a pool, but the ground under the water was inky black. Damn, the place smelled like piss! I followed the Sphinx down the ominous caverns and I saw a large cove with water that looked almost like either vomit or urine. Or is it both? "What is this place?" I asked, not sure of my surroundings.
"This is the Underworld," the Sphinx announced, "this is the place I explained earlier. Yet, not as hostile as how humans described it, but still, it's not for the faint of heart."
I continued to look around my surroundings, and saw what it meant of; 'it's not for the faint of heart.' The skeletally thin creatures that swam in the waters rose out of the depths and stumbled towards me, moaning and groaning like zombies as they shuffled through the murky waters. I backed up, fell backwards in the water, and asked the Sphinx if we can continue. It agreed and we went on our way, the creatures following us very slowly.
We went down a very long cavern with countless candles lined up against opposite sides of the walls. Horribly decomposed bodies dangled through the ceilings and their eyes followed us as they looked down at me. I think I even heard one of them saying weakly: "Help me... Please... Help me..."
I shuttered as the corpse said this, but I kept walking, not leaving the Sphinx's side. Until then, we entered some kind of humongous chamber filled with bats, spiders, and to my horror, a giant three-headed dog known to millions of people as Cerberus. I kept myself close to the Sphinx as we walked, and suddenly I see a vigorous bearded man with pale cold skin and wore a dark grey robe with Greek sandals. He even had gauntlets, and his eyes were filled with so much malice, that it's gut-wrenching. The Sphinx then looks down at me and said, "I would like to introduce you to Lord Hades."
I shook my head in disbelief. I was meeting the God of the Underworld! I watched him walk towards me, every step he took made the knot in my stomach grow tighter and tighter as he came closer, his sword on his side and his scepter gripped tightly in his fist.
I cleared my throat and said, "Look, I-I don't mean no trouble. I'll leave, is that what you want?"
He just breathed low through his nostrils, eyes narrowed. "What I want mortal, is to see you suffer as I have suffered. I have seen that no one has to suffer like this, but none of that matters. The only difference is that my eternal damnation has now been revealed to the mortal world of light and pleasure."
I guess what he meant was, he had been in his brother's shadow, and everyone made him the "Bad Guy" to the media to maximize prophets (like Disney's version of Hercules). I noticed the creatures coming my way, "Why are they following me?"
"They are in pain. They need to feast on the man with blood coursing through his veins. It makes their pain depart from them, and satisfies their hunger. They used to be servants of the Gods, but rebelled against them, resulting in their fall. What was left of their humanity, is now a rotten, hollow shell."
He raises his scepter from the ground a bit, and places it down hard with a loud click, and with that, the creatures stopped for a moment, and looked at Hades. He just glared at them, and they went back to where they came from. Just like that. He didn't have to command them to do anything, hell, not even pointing at the general direction. He just looked at them and they were so scared shitless, that they just fled back to the grim lagoon they rose from.
I couldn't take the amount of shock value and said to the Sphinx, "No more, please."
The Sphinx must've known that I was getting uncomfortable, and most of all scared out of my wits, so we went back to the Parthenon. I fell on my knees and tried to comprehend what in the blue fuck just happened.
"Why... Why did you show me this...?"
"Because someone like you must know the truth. The truth behind the myths. And most of all, the truth behind the world."
"The truth?" I asked, looking up at the creature in front of me, "What do you mean the truth? I... I don't understand."
"None of you humans do." It replied, "You live in a lie. You've become prideful, thinking your on top of the food chain, and as a result, you seal your own fate by blinding the facts that your actions will lead you to your downfall. You people are the very dirt which you were formed in, but you created a link between you and primates. And you constantly bicker about which pet is better. Are cats evil, or is it dogs? To be quite honest, none of them are good or bad, their just like every animal on earth. Want my advice? Just stick to what the Gods have created, isolate yourself from the world and walk with the Gods, talk with them, and let them share wisdom with you. Your not what those eggheads at the University made you, they're simply pulling the strings. All of it is just simply an attack from Hades himself. Be what the Gods made you, and you'll be thankful that they gave you life."
I really don't know what to say at this point, it really got me in the gut, and everything that the Sphinx said, made me think twice about things. Things that we got involved in. Things that we knew made sense. And the things we do in this world.
"I... I, didn't know, I just..."
"Say no more," it interrupted me, "some things are better left unsaid."
It turned, and was about to leave when I called to it, "Wait! Just one riddle, it's all I can ask for."
"You're joking." It said flatly.
"No, I'm not. Just one riddle, and we're done. No more riddles, I promise."
It let out a sigh, and said this: "I am peace, and war, I can kill, and I can save - what am I?" It didn't let me give out an answer as it said, "This is a riddle you'll have to figure out on your own. Think about it."
Then it flew away into the night sky.
I was left alone to try and solve the riddle. I went back to my hotel room and tried hard to solve the Sphinx's riddle. Around the following morning, I watched the news and thought harder and harder. Until it showed a commercial of the GoArmy.com website. Then it hit me, the riddle, I figured it out soon afterwards as the ad played.
The answer, was people.
I wrote down my answer to a piece of paper, drove up to the Parthenon and set it down on the ground where the Sphinx once was before it left last night. Later that night I found a note on the windshield of my car, and a look of surprise spread across my face.
"You're absolutely correct. I'm impressed."