Cosmic Experience Tracing Jen's Roots - You Must Read This!July 17-18
As told by Jen
When we arrived in Athens, I told myself I had to find the tiny village of Kokoni. This was the birthplace of my Great Grandfather, Andrew "Pop" Barboulopolis. He was born there in 1900 and immigrated to Valparaiso, Indiana in 1916.
We couldn't even find Kokoni on the map. We knew it was about 90 miles Southwest of Athens. The problem was that we were only in Athens for 2 days. Then we had to catch a flight to Santorini which was impossible to change. Since we couldn't positively locate Kokoni while we were in Athens, we could only hope we could find out more while we were on the islands. We would then have to double back to the mainland at the end of our 3 weeks in the islands.
While staying in the town of Oia on Santorini, we met Eddy, our waiter at dinner one evening. Eddy had the missing piece to our puzzle. He is from a town near Kokoni! He gave us Kokoni's exact location, on the Gulf of Corinth in the Pelopennese. He also wrote out step- by-step instructions on which bus to take from Athens and what to tell the driver. This was incredible! We were so lucky to have met Eddy that night.
After being in the Greek Isles for nearly 3 weeks, we decided to add ne more week to our Greece itinerary in order to find my roots. From Syros, we took a 4.5 hour ferry ride to the mainland, then a 30 minute taxi ride to the bus station in Athens, then a 1.5 hour bus ride to Kokoni. We arrived in Kokoni at midnight without any idea of where a hotel might be or what to do. We were simply excited to be there! The bus driver was kind enough to point us in the direction of "Kokoni Beach Hotel." We put on our packs and headed down the pitch black road toward the Gulf of Corinth. After about 3/4 of a mile, we saw the sign for the hotel. We checked in and even got a room with air conditioning and a sea view.
Traditional village life -- men chatting it up outside a cafe, Kokoni
The next morning, we walked to the one main road in town (only around 1000 people in Kokoni!). We had merely expected to take a few photos and to find out if anybody remembered the old family name. We certainly didn't expect to find any living relatives in town. We stopped in at a cafe and started asking some locals about the family name Barboulopolis. I was directed to a mountain of a man named Takis Vourvopoulis. He thought the family names seemed quite similar. We sat at a table with Takis and two of his friends, Kostas and Sophocles (how's that for a classic name?). Kostas was the only one who spoke English well, so he was the interpreter. After a few minutes of conversation, Takis went to his house to retrieve a document. Upon his return, he handed the document over to me, I looked down and burst into tears! I immediately saw my Great Grandfather's name and I couldn't believe it! The document was a geneology listing five generations deep. Takis had just received it from an American relative one month prior. Even my father was listed as one of the descendents! There wasn't a dry eye at the table. I am related to Takis, maybe fifth cousins, but we are related. I like to think that this is an amazing twist of fate. I also found out that my Great Grandfather changed his name from Vourvopoulis to Barboul (not Barboulopolis as we had all thought) when he immigrated to the U.S.
Takis took us to his house for a huge feast and to meet my newly-found relatives. This is also the very same location where "Pop" was born! We met Takis' wife, his two sons, his sister, her husband and their daughter, Takis' mother Eleni and father Giorgos, who is Pop's nephew. Giorgos is 74 years old and very full of life. The original house where Pop was born in 1900 was destroyed by the big 1928 earthquake. Takis' newer home was built on the same location. There is an original structure still intact behind the newer house. This is where Pop learned to read as a young boy.
Jen with the Varvoupolises
We all enjoyed our feast under the 100 year-old tree next to the house. We laughed and used lots of hand gestures to communicate. It was such a special day for all of us. I never dreamed I would be so lucky to find this incredible group of people who are also my relatives!
They also took us out for dinner that night, tasty souvlaki and tzatziki. Afterwards, we had drinks at Club Africa, where Takis' oldest son is a bartender. We said our goodbyes at 2:30am in front of our hotel. We all felt sad to have this cosmic experience come to an end. We will be back someday!
Back to Greece pg 4 On to Greece pg 6!
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