Sunday morning. 14th June. Today we’ll move on from our favourite town.
Paleochora is more Greek than most resorts. In winter there were several Germans here, and now a few Brits and a couple of Dutch have emerged, but it’s mostly Greek. It’s not in the least bit flash. The pretty streets have balconies weighed down with bougainvillea and jasmine, while pots geraniums line the pavements and oleander is grown as a tree rather than a bush.
Shops sell all you might need, but only if you want it, there seems no pressure to buy.
It’s an end of the road kind of place. You only come here because you want to be here. There’s no where else to go on to.
Our parking stop is a little beyond Methexis, the last (and best) taverna in town. It’s a large area of wasteland that will eventually be developed, but for now it’s where people bring their dogs for their ablutions, and the kids come to fish.
A little further on there’s the port. Before the port there’s an unofficial dogs’ shelter where there are a few kennels and feeding stations. Greeks abandon their puppies here, comfortable in the knowledge that their squirming canine poppet will have a home amongst its fellows. How the hell it’s supposed to survive can’t enter into their thinking.
I describe it this way to make it sound rough. It is. But it’s also our little paradise.
ArchieVan is nestled under the tamarisk that keeps us cool until past midday. Judicious use of the blinds and large sliding door has helped us keep the temperature inside the van below 30°, and at night it has been cool enough for a good sleep.
We’ve been in Paleochora for four nights on top of at least six nights on previous visits. We’ll leave at about 3.00 hoping to catch that period on a Sunday when everyone is having lunch. Time it wrong and they’ll be back on the road, most of them drunk from several hours of ouzo, wine and raki consumption.
En route we filled near empty diesel and gas tanks for less than £70. Both tanks usually comes in around £100. I doubt that will ever happen again.
In praise of Retsina.
Retsina is unlike other wine. And not everyone is keen.
It’s no good sipping Retsina expecting white wine. Retsina has been steeped in Aleppo Pine sap and it takes on a strong pine flavour.
These days sap is added as a flavouring (yes, it’s deliberate), but in years gone by the amphorae (those huge earthenware pots) were sealed with sap that would impart the pine’s essence.
Approach it differently. Think of the delicious scents when the trees ooze in the hot sunshine. Imagine that scent bottled. You might come close.
I won’t pretend that I love it. But I do enjoy a bottle now and then. Amanda won’t touch it.
Kalyves was hot, Xania would have been hotter. Despite promising ourselves a dinner in a favourite restaurant, despite even setting aside the funds, we skipped Xania and pulled up on the beach at Kissamos.
Last time we were here it looked the same but was so very different.
Last time we were here it was February, cold, there was no one on the beach.
Last time we were here I was poorly, properly poorly, and felt worse after I reversed ArchieVan into a pole.
When we pulled up yesterday all was quiet again. There were a few swimmers. Someone walked their dog. That was all.
After our stroll around the very real, very Cretan, very scruffy streets of the town we got back to the van at around 9.30pm. Still all was quiet.
Polly was walked, the bed was made, we listened to Evan Davis (uneventful) and settled down for sleep.
Then the kids arrived.
By 10.30pm the little beachside benches were swarmed by 50 or more youngsters. Show offs drag raced the only two fast cars on the island down the strip of tarmac behind us. The acrid stench of burning rubber filled the air. Motorbikes raced around. The music got louder.
In Britain we’d have been worried, I would have moved the van, but here we sat it out. A little after midnight they started to disperse. No one had touched the van. In the morning there was very little litter. Young Greeks tend to drink coffee day and night, few bother with beer, some smoke, but there’s no hint of weed. It’s very different. It’s very good.
We didn’t want another disco night so we moved a few miles to a gorgeous little beach within a short walk from the port.
A perfect horseshoe bay, golden sand, a few local bathers. Peace.
Nearby there are the earliest known footprints of man’s ancestors. It’s probably a place of global importance for palaeontology. Perhaps when they were uncovered they were clearer. Today considerable imagination is required to see anything.
Later the temperature dropped. We slept well. Woke early. Ready for the next adventure.
The Aqua Jewel.
Four hours across the choppy Sea of Crete.
Sailing never tempted me. It has slipped further down my agenda.
On the shady side of the ferry the Throw-up family suffered a relentless onslaught of seasickness. Mum, dad, son and daughter, each face in bag. Grim.
Minty found solace in her screen. I needed to be outside.
Move to Anti-Kythira?
Excitement came after two and a half hours as the Aqua Jewel spun the nautical equivalent of a three point turn in the close confines of Anti-Kythira’s only port.
The beautiful little island is less than 8 square miles and had a population of just 60 at the last census.
If you fancy taking island life to an extreme then this might be the place for you. In an effort to maintain life on this Mediterranean paradise there are grants available for settlers. Commit to living there for at least seven years, ideally with children, and you’ll be given a house, some land, and £450 a month (with nothing to spend it on).
It’s remote, beautiful but resources are extremely limited and life there is hard. The ferry drops in once a week. It’s two hours to real life on Crete, or similar up to Githeio on the Peloponnese. Often the ferry doesn’t turn up as rough weather prevents that three point harbour turn.
Our ship took on a car, and mailbags were swopped. Two sacks of potatoes were dropped off as was a couple looking for a previously unknown sense of peace.
The excitement of the ferry’s arrival brought half of the population out just to wave.
Worthwhile research: if it interests you search for the Anti-Kythira Mechanism. It’s often quoted as the world’s first computer. This device from before Jesus was a boy calculated positions of celestial bodies. It’s like was not recreated until some 1400 years later.
Surely this lump of limestone in the Mediterranean will be just like the previous lump of limestone in the Mediterranean.
You can fly here, but if you’re going to visit a small island then surely it’s best to arrive in the style of the ancients, aboard a ship. The Romans wouldn’t have had their camper van in the hold, but they did bring their beasts of burden and that was their equivalent.
The Aqua Jewel felt huge as it disgorged us onto the tiny harbour, but it soon faded to a speck in the vastness of blue.
The five or six people, including the customs officer, who greeted the ship quickly dispersed. Then there was just us.
Us. A perfect fine yellow sand beach. A few closed apartment hotels. A ship wreck. And not much else. That was Daikofti.
Over the hill in Avlemonas there were signs of life among the blue shuttered white houses. This would be a picture perfect village from a travel brochure, except there are so few people. There are folk on holiday. There are two café/restaurants open. There’s no English spoken (wonderful).
A few folk who live here. They fish, they offer accommodation. They keep animals. Their lives are as different to those of Londoners as they are to those of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia.
The island of Kythira is fairly low. We’re under the highest hill which is 350m and topped by the white church of St George, first built in c.7th.
In the clear light of early morning we can see Crete. It’s 200kms away!
If you’ve ever stood at Dover and looked for France just 19 miles across the busiest shipping lane in the world you’ll understand how amazing this sight is.
Tight. Steep. And overgrown.
We thought that Daikofti and Avlemonas were pretty special. There was more, perhaps better, to come, but first we had to get there.
The Wanderers like to leave the beaten track. Coming to Kytheria delivered on that straight away.
The roadsides are at peak vegetation. Much of it is above 2m high and encroaches the already narrow track. ArchieVan’s mirror smacks into fennel in an effort to create space and releases a refreshing hit of anise.
We tried hard, but to get to some of the more remote beaches proved a challenge too far.
The (fairly) normal road was an almost continuous series of switchbacks between villages, hugging the sides of ravines and taking 5 miles to cover what would have been a single mile in a straight line.
When we left that road to head east things started to get silly.
Silly steep. Silly narrow.
At one point I stopped ArchieVan facing down a 1:4 and walked ahead to check out a difficult looking bend. A beautiful dayglo green lizard the length of my forearm scurried across the track in front of me. The bend looked possible, and certainly favourable to reversing up the steep slope*. When I turned back ArchieVan was a picture, but in my nervous state I was in no frame of mind for taking one. The van dominated the track. The mirrors were wider than the two metres of concrete, the greenery brought the track in further.
We made the bend on the second attempt. Next was a bridge only just wider than the wheels, then a massively steep climb and finally out onto a more reasonable road. When the required track next veered off and down between tightly packed buildings we bailed out, turned around, and headed for the moderately less scary road to the biggest town, simply called Town (Xora).
It has been a while since driving has tested our resolve. We must be pretty calm just now. We knew this was stressful, but it didn’t break us. Our day’s drive of 21 miles took nearly two hours.
Xora and Kapsali.
We’ll go back to see Xora on foot. I’ll report next week. I’ll also report on the English heritage here.
The main town and its castle overlook the beautiful Kapsali Bay 200m below. Every turn of the long descent brings a new photo opportunity. A new gasp of joy. Tiny white churches dot the hilltops. There’s even one cut into the cliff. At the bottom twin horseshoe bays brought us shelter, crystal waters, swimming for man and dog, a friendly bar for a much needed drink, and even a clean toilet for the morning necessities**.
We will rest here awhile.
*Reversing ArchieVan. No one really likes reversing. Reversing using just the mirrors is OK, even though I broke the sensors a while back. But a long reverse is made much harder by the gearing that has the van flying back at 15 mph once you have the clutch up. Trying to back us up the 1:4 slope would have burnt the clutch out long before we got to a turning point.
**Readers in the comfort of their bricks and mortar homes may wonder at the frequency of toilet mentions. Readers in their van homes will be noting them down. Clean facilities take on a new importance when you’re not connected to the mains.