And on the 49th day the sea was wet again.
Greece went from no restrictions to complete lockdown in one serious move.
The great Greek festivities of Easter and Protomagia (1st May) were shut down. Saint’s days came and went. The people of the most sociable country in Europe stayed at home. Their great outdoor grills went unlit.
Fortunately the day before everything closed we checked into Camping Koutsounari. It wasn’t a considered move. We simply needed to do some washing.
And here we are, eight weeks later, in the same spot.
In eight weeks we’ve driven to town (Ierapetra) 5 times, that’s about 55 miles in total. During that time we’ve walked many hundreds of miles, and cycled a fair bit too.
Each time we’ve moved, whether on foot, driving or on the bikes we’ve had to complete a police form with address and identification details.
The sea, glittering and clear just 50 metres away, has been out of bounds.
But today some of that changed.
It’s Monday 4th May. From today a few more shops are allowed to open. People can move about without completing forms, and best of all, the sea is open for dips.
Polly and I swam before breakfast. It felt great to immerse ourselves in the cold water. Boiled eggs tasted better than they have for weeks.
OK. Polly didn’t have a boiled egg, but she seemed to enjoy her kibble.
It will be a long slow process to get the country moving again. Travel is restricted to within each administrative area. Wearing of masks in public areas has been mandated. Restaurants and hotels hope to be allowed to open in June. But then how does a country dependant on tourism open its borders while retaining control?
The fact that Greece was so successful in containing the virus means it probably has lower immunity than other places. Its key markets are Germany (medium infection) and Britain (high infection). As a Greek I’d be very nervous about the arrival of the first EasyJet flight from Manchester.
Keeping going on less.
I suspect that the simple lifestyles of most Greeks put them in a stronger position to withstand economic hardships than their rich neighbours. They celebrate in grand style given the excuse, but day to day living is less status driven and more orientated around first family, then friends.
If they had to get by on only domestic tourism until next year I doubt the country would change much.
Within a couple of hundred metres of the campsite rough tracks lead into the mountains. Over a number of journeys I have been exploring routes, with an aspirational destination of a particular mountain church.
Yesterday the sun beat down as I set off and I wondered at the wisdom of taking to the hills while it was so hot. My shirt came off as soon as I’d crossed the road into the olive groves.
Immediately after the start of the climb, the start of the pulmonary workout, my gag reflexes are put under pressure as I breathe the miasma of a dump of many thousands of cucumbers, their decomposition arrested by the plastic wrappers demanded by northern European supermarkets. Plastic.
Beyond this stench I’m alone. My only company is the tweeting of birds, the drone of a few million bees, and the sawing and crashing of crickets.
Down came the rain.
I get excited about the smells on a mountain walk. After several baking hot days the scents are exaggerated, but there was better to come.
The threatened thunderstorm broke suddenly in the hills above me. Huge two penny coin rain drops started as a splatter but soon joined to flow as a river direct from the sky. The hot chalk has a flat smell like natural paint, wet sage has citrus notes, pine becomes retsina.
I trudged on upwards through the downpour, and when it stopped I became a human cloud as steam surged from my soaking clothes.
Washed by the rains the mountain scene took on a sharper focus, heavy dark clouds were pierced by pure blues. The chalky soil became ice slippery and my gaze was drawn to my feet rather than the heavens. A single white villa stood out like a beacon in its private shaft of sunlight.
An hour or so later I saw the church I hope to reach sometime, but it was still a kilometre or more above me. One day.
The constant drone of the bees seemed to change, to get louder. I realised that it had become a roar and was no longer anything to do with the insects. Millions of litres of air were being sucked up the cliff face, surging, freezing, creating the next thunderstorm that fell as hail, stinging every inch of me.
Later, before my third soaking of the walk, an incredible innundation fell beside me, but not on me. A torrent beat down on the metal roof of a house, while I stood watching from the garden just 20m away. My respite was short, but fascinating, until the cloud absorbed me as well.
It’s a cat’s life.
All over Greece there are legions of stray cats, leaping in shocked indignation from the bins when you toss in your rubbish. It’s cute, they keep the vermin down, but it’s hardly ideal and over winter many starve.
At our site Minty is determined to do her bit to help them. She has brought health to the scrawny wretches that greeted us a couple of months ago.
Spring has brought the birds and the bees and in celebration of another winter passed the feline love action has been rife. The chance that the population would quadruple in the next month was high, but it could be avoided.
Cat Mother Minty was on the case and after talking to a local dog shelter she arranged a neutering programme that will be funded by the shelter’s charity. Programme sounds grand. What it amounts to is catching a couple of cats in fruit boxes and ferrying them to town where Nicki the vet has them sorted and ready for collection in just an hour and a half.
We make such a fuss of our pets at home. Here Nicki wasn’t bothered that the cats would be back out prowling as soon as they got home.
Five have been to the vet. George squeaks and misses his favourite lick, but he’s stopped looking at his sister with such intent.
Wall of death.
Most dramatic was shy Mabel who demonstrated a tremendous cartoon wall of death run around the consulting room walls after gouging Minty’s hand and arm on her egress from her fruit box captivity.
At the pharmacy they shot Minty with tetanus and antibiotics as the scared kitten licked her own wounds.
Where is the wildlife?
On a mountain walk you’re quickly out of sight, and you hope that brings you closer to the wildlife, but here there is so little.
In the hills there are plenty of bees. Greeks eat more honey than most, and there are millions of olives to be pollenated, so there’s plenty of incentive to look after them. The droning is constant, although you only see them near their hives.
There’s a fair amount of tweeting, I see many sparrow/finch sized birds, a lot of doves and occasional hawks. Higher on the cliffs ravens and rooks cry for arrak.
There are some goats, fewer here than in other parts, but still the dull clunking of their bells is pretty constant.
But that’s it.
Even the skitter of lizards is unusual.
The mountains look wild, but there’s little land that hasn’t been managed at some stage. The work must have been tremendously hard, and there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of benefit.
A house in the hills?
For all my talk of wanting to live here I’m actually looking forward to spending some time in Cornwall this year. Nonetheless the thought of a split life between Crete and St Just remains tempting.
One of our campsite team has taken the matter more seriously and went to see some places this week. We met local builder Manoli while poking around one of his places; that was a good start, we already knew that we liked his work. He offered Peter a tour of some of his other projects and naturally Peter leapt at the chance.
Tradition is strong here. Manoli had pulled out the Raki by 11.00am. They had beers with friends en route, and finished with a meal at Manoli’s house.
If property prices online look tempting, then the real prices possible from face to face negotiation are truly exciting.
Bear in mind that Peter is looking at ruins where he’ll have to start from scratch. He was offered a small village house for less than €20,000 and quoted around double that for the necessary work to create a decent house – €60,000 ready to move in.
A good restored cottage should come in under €100k in the beautiful village of Agios Ioannis, with views out over the Libyan Sea, baking hot in summer and probably cut off by snow in winter, but that’s part of the attraction.
We’re having to stretch a tea bag over two cups.
I favour decaf tea and despite the mercy mission package from friends Anna and Jay who visited in January we’re on the brink of running out.
Rick brought the Northern Brew from Rington’s, strong stuff that’ll easily make two cups, but after that we’re finished.
Yes the supermarkets sell tea, but it’s mostly variations on the theme of Lipton Yellow Label. Pish.
Next week the adventure will again. Slowly. Later we’ll make a day trip to the Butterfly Gorge for a stank. Hopefully it’ll build from there.
Afterword. Meat. And chips.
In the blog comments last week Margret added some numbers to the meat fest debate suggesting that Germans consume an average of 61kgs a year, with the European average even higher at 65kgs. I dug deeper to find that Argentinians and Australians both average over 100kgs per capita a year. That’s a frightening thought.
We contributed this week. Minty had her first pita souvlaki in two months, and shared it with me. While we shared, small kids queued to have one each. Small kids now, but not for long.
Meanwhile in Belgium folk are being encouraged to double up on their portions of frites to help move the 750,000 tonne potato stock pile that has resulted from their kiosks being shut for six weeks. Torture. I love Belge frites, a great dollop of mayo, and their sharp sweet ketchup. Take me there. We’ll help.