Lethargy. Motivation. Heat.
Motivation follows action. The blank page can be terrifying. But type a single word and it’s no longer blank.
It’s a shame no teacher told me that.
Perhaps they did but I wasn’t listening.
There’s a sirocco bringing warm air, and sand, from the Sahara. Temperatures have been climbing for days.
It was 32° when we woke and a lot hotter now. At dawn the sea is perfectly still, oily, drawing me in.
Motivation follows action, but the least movement demands force of mind.
Without movement days drift by.
Work in the heat.
Around us the campsite team works hard to open its restaurant on the 1st June.
Men work in this heat. Pruning trees. Mixing concrete. Erecting a massive deck. Sinking umbrella bases half a metre in the sand. Physical graft.
Last night the owner told us his team are paid between €30 and €50 a day. Shocking. If that’s what these local guys are paid it left me wondering how little the illegal folk working in the hot houses receive.
Walking past the hot houses (massive poly-tunnels) the blast of heat feels like a blow. The smell is delicious, almost edible, tomatoes, or better still, peppers, on the vine in high 40°s with super humidity. But to work in these spaces…
When the wild north winds destroy the plastic greenhouses nothing is repaired. The old tunnel is left to slowly blow itself to pieces, huge shreds of plastic sailing off into the sea. It’s cheaper to build a new one, so that’s what they do.
Heat and the dog.
Polly’s just too good at growing her coat. She’ll see her grooming friend Samantha up in Kaleves in a couple of weeks, but for now the little bear wishes she could shed a layer.
She swims at least twice a day. On our morning stroll it’s easy. In the afternoon one of us has to carry her across the scorching 20m of sand that no sane person would walk upon barefoot.
If we can’t swim with her she’ll be hosed down, but the hose water is warm from flowing through black surface pipes.
In contrast to all that talk of work, the beach is back as the centre of Greek social life. We’re lucky here, there are pictures of beaches elsewhere that are rammed with people. Ours remains civilised, although very different to the empty picture of a week or so ago.
The Greeks have lived forever with crazy temperatures. They rarely shed their coats in weather we consider good enough for shorts and tee-shirts.
When it’s really hot they migrate to the beach, but they avoid the extreme heat of the day, with most people arriving after 4pm.
Yesterday Long Beach was busiest at 6pm, and an utter joy at 8pm.
By then the haze of desert sand had fallen leaving a deep calm through which the sound of happy families travelled great distances. The light fell but still we sat, absorbing the magic.
I remember nights like this on Gwithian as a child. I remember our towels, our blanket (I still have it), my sister’s changing robe. Perhaps it only happened a few times, but in my memory whole summers were lived on the beach until dusk forced us back through the dunes, mum and dad carrying me wrapped in the blanket.
The Greek lockdown has been a tremendous success, at least in human life terms.
The pressure is easing.
On Monday Crete will be the first island open to ferries from the mainland. Regional travel restrictions will be lifted too. From 1st June restaurants will be allowed to open their outside spaces.
External borders are expected to remain closed until July.
I often mention the pick-up as the antithesis of the car as status symbol that we’re familiar with. Here having a full table at meal times means a whole lot more – and it shows on their waistlines!
Greece had an horrendous war under Nazi occupation with as many as 1500 people a day dying of starvation*. It’s little known that the now famous Oxfam (Oxford Famine relief commitee) was founded to work with the Red Cross to bring in aid. It’s understandable that a full belly has been a cause for celebration here for so long.
Today, 20th May, we finally broke free of the campsite after ten weeks in lockdown.
We have both felt reluctance to leave the ease and safety of the site environment and our adopted family. At the same time we knew we had to break out. Whatever we were to be charged it’s money we don’t need to spend, and we didn’t come this far simply to bake on a grey beach outside of Ierapetra.
We woke apprehensive. We were excited too. We did a last machine wash, we swam, showered, shaved whatever needed shaving, we kept the dog cool. There was practical stuff to do, empty the loo, fill the water tanks, dismantle and pack the bikes, fold the soon dry washing. And pay.
There was no rush.
We hit the road at 14.30.
And what a road.
We know the Anatolian Peninsula as the majority of Turkey, but it’s also the Greek word for east.
Once we’d passed our previous furthest point the road swung inland to climb through the rough scrub landscape that Greece does so well. It’s harsh country where attempts at cultivation have generally been abandoned. Clearing the land of its sharp boulders would be near impossible, and beneath them the soil is thin and unnourishing. There’s hardly even a sheep or goat.
After the small town and military base of Ziros, we climb to a peak before a long winding descent through more tough scenery rendered stunning by the azure sea way below.
The coast around Xerocampos is harsh, even by Cretan standards. Tamarisk and date palms soften the jagged edges, but still this is not for everyone. I love it for being wild, remote, and empty. Even in a normal season I can’t imagine there are many people here, it’s too hard to get to. Today it’s empty. And when the sun beats down there’s nowhere to hide.
Now as I sit writing outside it’s 8.30 in the evening.
I have put my shirt on for the first time today, to offer less flesh to the flies rather than for warmth.
Across the water before me beautiful falcons turn tricks, seeking their supper at high speed. I learned later that they are Eleonora’s Falcons, a species favouring remote craggy islands and inaccessible cliffs. They’ll be happy here. So different to seeing gulls.
Zakros. Vai. Ermoupolis.
Despite another crap sleep (I have rarely slept well in 20 years so nothing to be excited about) waking to the gentle waves at our roadside pitch near Xerocampos was dreamy stuff.
A walk. A swim. Two strong coffees. Minty’s delicious green pepper and fresh garlic omelette. We were ready for anything.
We could have stayed just where we were, but we wanted to see Vai up the coast and tomorrow looks stormy.
We rolled on.
Oh good god I was born to be in wild places like this.
Deep gorges where nothing grows. One dramatically called Valley of the Dead**. With the car thermometer showing 38° we’re not tempted by a tough hike today.
Small white villages cling to the hillsides.
Blue and white striped church towers.
Geraniums. Thousands of geraniums.
Up close you see that many of the houses are in disrepair.
And knackered pickups gradually rust back into the soil that first gave them life.
Zakros is the start (or finish) of the 10,000km E4 walk across much of Europe to Portugal. I would love to attempt the 320km Crete section, but I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to complete the whole thing. The town has a special vibe even driving through in the time of the virus. I’d like to eat and drink well for a few days here before starting the big hike.
On the town border we fill water bottles from a mountain spring, then we’re straight back into the wild with only some rough vines, and of course the olives, showing that this place has been touched by man.
The palm forested beach at Vai probably heaves through a normal summer. Today a few groups gave it more life than most places, but it was still wonderfully quiet.
At Ermoupolis the ancient Doric city of Itamos is now a scattered collection of ruins. Pushing through the scrub you might come across large dressed stones that several men would fail to move, some with nibs and interlocking slots. And columns, yes, Doric columns, lie in the grass.
I wonder if, back when the city thrived, centuries before Christ, whether folk relished their sea views, the pretty beaches, climbing high to see for miles. Or was life a struggle simply focussed on staying alive?
And did they eat fresh garlic?
Max, one of our German neighbours, raved about fresh garlic.
In my ignorance I thought all the garlic we eat was fresh, or at least moderately so, but this stuff is so different.
It’s supper moist, hardly worth peeling, and so extremely pungent.
Max gave us a bulb which we started last night. When we went to bed we realised that the opened bulb was so strongly scented that we had to find it and wrap it and leave it outside the van. But wow it tasted good.
Back on the road.
Back on the road is a very special thing.
We were good in lockdown. We were the best friends that we have been in years, perhaps ever. It was safe on the site. It was easy. Showers. Fresh water. A shop not too far away. Other people sharing the experience.
After the restriction.
To be free again, seeing a whole new and exciting world…
Right now to be in the van looking out of the left windows at the afterglow from the recently set sun over hills that reach to the sky. Out of the right window there are rough cliffs, a huge date palm, a two thousand year old cemetery, a raggedy German van, the beach where some Greeks are killing a bottle of Raki, and the eastern Mediterranean. This is living.
As if all that weren’t enough, it has dropped to a blissfully cool 22°. There’s the possibility of a good sleep.
The Wanderers wander in wonder.
What? No luludhi?
OK then, just the one…
In late news.
Friday night. We’re parked high above the sea, west of Sitia, the sun is setting. Minty has just been out to take a few photos, too good to miss the cut.
*The starvation of Greece was not only the result of the practises of the occupying forces, but also the British naval blockade that for years prevented aid from getting to countries in an effort to hurt the enemy. Like most things it becomes more complicated as your learn more.
**Not because hikers die there but because the Minoans carried their dead to rest in high caves in the gorge.
The Koutsounari Family.
After ten weeks at Camping Koutsounari our friends there had become part of our lives.
Hans left before us, determined to make Jerusalem in his van before next winter. He’s 78. He has a pacemaker. But he stays healthy by taking all his alcohol in his Activia cup making every drink a probiotic.
Peter works on his script, and plans taking a house on Crete. We hope he does, and we hope we’ll be allowed to visit.
Gisi and Werner would like to be at home with their young families, but in the meantime they’re making the most of island life.
The regular evening meals brought our special household together, and only stretched the rules a little.