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Two People, Fourteen Months, One huge world!

Greece Part Three - Crete

GREECE | Thursday, 19 November 2015 | Views [1026] | Comments [1]

Ever since I had heard that the inhabitants of Crete were called Cretins I wanted to meet them as they would doubtless be close cousins to anyone on our school rugger team who met with the disfavour of the sports master Mr Horrobin. It did not take long to discover my mistake and that they were actually called Cretans but by then we were on the island and committed so decided we should make the most of it anyway.

The real reason for our visit was that we had spied an opportunity to save some money, learn new skills and meet new people. We joined the Greek WWOOF website (for those that don't already know this stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms). The place that caught our eye was www.cretanoliveoilfarm.gr which was looking for a couple to help with the olive harvest. Tamara was very keen on this as we have a mature olive tree at home in New Zealand and this year had tried to harvest and process some of the olives herself - with some success. Our olives appear to be destined for oil rather than for eating though as they do not carry much flesh. I was less keen as I know the realities of farm work at harvest time and my back is always a worry. Nonetheless we applied for the position, had a Skype interview and had soon booked our flights to Crete.

Chania Harbour 

Chania Harbour

Never ones to miss an opportunity we arrived in Crete one week early in Chania a small town in the west. After all our travel it was good to take a few days to simply be in one place, an apartment outside of the town, near to the beach and with a sea view but right under the flightpath of Chania airport. This airport serves a civilian and military function and so it was that our days were spent in complete silence which was occassionally ripped asunder by the ear splitting roar of four jet fighters! We got to cook for ourselves too which was very pleasant, buying salads fresh each day and accompanying them with a cheeky rosé.

Chania has a lovely old town centre and harbour where we were able to enjoy a beautiul sunset which silhouetted the historic lighthouse. It is always funny to watch Kiwis meeting fellow Kiwis in a foreign land. As we strolled along the marina front Tamara and a random stranger were suddenly in each other's arms with him delivering a kiss to each cheek while offering the Kiwi greeting of "Tēnā koutou katoa". Little clues had offered themselves to each party, Tamara's pounamu necklace and his silver fern emblem - that was enough and we were soon swapping travel stories. If we thought we were onto a good thing his seemed pretty awesome too. A keen sailor, he and his close friend had often chartered a boat to sail around Tonga and the like. After a while they thought that the way forward was to buy a half million dollar boat together, relax and enjoy life. The only problem was that our new friend didn't have the readies. Did I say problem? "No problem", his friend said "I'll buy it so long as you sail it for me"! The deal was quickly done and this gentleman now spends his life sailing a gorgeous boat around the world occassionally joined by his best friend who is funding it all!

The Kiwi love-in did not stop there though as a quick "Kia Ora" prompted a long and friendly conversation with the owners and crew of another yacht, the Kiwi flagged "Sabbatical". They were a long way from Wellington and we were a little further from Christchurch but each offered the other a little taste of home.

Close to Chania is the world famous Samaria Gorge and we were determined not to move on without experiencing its grandeur. Early one morning therefore, before sun-up we were waiting on the side of the road for our pickup and sometime later we were enjoying the views as the bus wound its way high up into the rocky mountains. We were seated at the front of the bus and so had prime position to view the scene as we rounded a corner to be faced with a group of sheep on the road. Brakes were applied but not rapidly enough to avoid heavy contact with one unfortunate. Driver and guide checked mirrors and exchanged glances. "Don't look" advised our guide while looking. A couple of moments later he was back on the PA system. "The sheep up here are all owned by someone so we must escape now"..... and with a shrug......"what can you do?"

Not the gorge!

By the time we reached the gorge the weather was inclement at best although only a few spits of rain were falling. We sat anxiously awaiting a decision as to whether the gorge was to open. Rain is well known to cause the river to rise very quickly and the gorge becomes too unsafe to traverse. Eventually the word came through that we were lucky - the gorge was opening! This did not seem to be a logical assumption as it was clear that rain was on the way and we questioned the decision. Once in there is a one way 18km walk down through the gorge ending at a beach where we would meet up with a boat to transfer us along the coast to a point where the bus could meet us again for the return journey.

With one eye on the weather we walked briskly down the steepest part of the gorge through very dramatic scenery. We had not walked five minutes before the heavens opened and they continued to empty themselves on us for the next hour until such time as we were turned around as the gorge had now been closed. Even the path was now a river and so this was not an unreasonable decision but the decision to open the gorge under such obviously pregnant clouds was such a poor one that, upon reaching the top once more we rapped on the ticket office window and continued to demand our money back until such a time as our whole group were rewarded with a refund despite nobody else receiving one. We were now utterly drenched from head to toe but there was more to come. Once we were on the bus what had been a flood now became a torrent and those unlucky enough to still be outside had to wade through the river that had been the road. The rocky cliff faces were alive with waterfalls as any rain that landed immediately ran straight back off. We did in time receive a full refund for the whole trip, not just the gorge entry, but did not get to fully experience what looks to be an amazing day trek. It is nature "......what can you do?"

Quirks of Travel 

Quirks of Travel

There are always little quirks as you travel, such as turning up to the beach just as an eccentric sailor-cap-wearing gentleman alights from his car, places a large blue and yellow macaw on his shoulder and ambles past with a hint of a grin as if he knows the effect he is having. Another would be sitting beneath a grape-laden pergola outside the taverna in Stavros which played such a starring role in Zorba The Greek. Yes, we did get to sample the grapes and yes, they were a delicious accompaniment to the complementary raki delivered with the bill. It is for moments like this that we travel and we have been privileged to experience many such moments.

Zorba's Taverna 

Zorba's Taverna

It was now time to go to work and so we started our journey across Crete by bus, stopping for a couple of nights in the ancient town of Rethymno. What a gorgeous place! A lovely harbour surrounded by stone buildings formed around narrow stone cobbled streets too small to allow vehicular access. We were fortunate to find a lovely small hotel right in the heart of the action and really enjoyed our chats with the owner who is a professional singer and used to be a bank manager. He happily gave that up for the chance to resurrect the hotel that his father had set up many decades before and is determined to build up a place renowned for its character and heart as much as for its accommodation. Now he is convinced that he never does a day's work in his life as he is enjoying himself too much to call it work. It was fascinating to hear from him of his early years in Rethymno when the villagers used to come down from the hills into the bars. As a young singer just out of school he would watch as they settled down to drink, making themselves comfortable by putting their guns on the table in front of them. In a scene reminiscent of the wild west one time a gunfight erupted in front of him and everyone hit the floor. Amazingly it seems that no-one was hurt! Apparently Crete has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world still, a throwback to the German invasion perhaps? In any case New Zealand's efforts to defend Crete during the second world war are still very well remembered and we were made to feel very welcome.

Rythymo Town


Bypassing Heraklion slightly we continued on to Agios Nikolaos at the eastern end of the large island. This is where the olive oil farm is and we soon met up with our new "boss" and host Costas. Costas is a 50% hippy who used to earn money very quickly and easily as a popular club DJ but who became unhappy with how the money affected him and so has decided that a world without capitalism is the way forward. He aims to assist this through transitioning the olive oil farm into a not-for-profit organisation over time. The problem with this is that his father, who owns the farm is desparately trying to transition the enterprise into a for-profit status as the Greek crisis has had a massive adverse effect on the bottom line! Some interesting discussions to come there methinks!

Down on the Farm 

Down on the farm

Fortunately for us the time for harvesting olives starts just after we finish and so we got to help prepare the farm for such an event rather than indulging in back breaking and unrelenting days in the fields. This suited me just fine and Tamara too as we were soon spending our days preparing sun-dried tomatoes and raisins, making bottled tomato sauce, making pottery bowls and plates, rearranging storage rooms and sheds and watching over the donkey, rabbits, bantams etc. Rather than being a farm per se the Cretan Olive Oil Farm is a tourist attraction in its own right and visitors are treated to a tour of the facilities which include an ancient and well preserved olive mill and press, a still for raki, an area for stomping grapes, a chance to throw your own pots under expert tutilage, cooking classes, a traditional dance festival and much more. If you are in Crete make sure you drop in and tell Costas that we sent you!

Lunchtime Relaxation 

Lunchtime Relaxation

As the farm is close to the beach we were able to take our long siesta break down on the sea shore and regularly indulged in a swim. One time we were encouraged by the nearby hotel to join in a water polo match which was great fun. Although we ended up on the losing side I did manage to get one goal which was very satisfying! A WWOOFER works around 30 hours a week for room and board. It is seen as a mutually beneficient arrangement and Costas was a really good "boss" and host. Theirs' is a vegetarian household and so we needed to learn a few tricks when it was our turn to cook but, as is often the case, if someone else cooked it, it tastes better so we got away with it!

Sarakina Gorge 

Sarakina Gorge

We were fortunate to have a second chance to go bouldering through a gorge as we hired a car for the day and drove to Sarakina Gorge on the south coast. Soon we were scrambling and wading up this narrow defile which at times was breathtakingly beautiful before a sunset swim in the amazingly calm Mediterranean at a deserted beach.

By the time our visit to Crete was complete we had achieved our target of getting $2000 ahead of our budget and we had had some good experiences along the way. Costas and his girlfriend Nadia were such good company and we hope that we enriched their life as much as they did ours.

'Til next time!

Tags: gorges, harbour, sunsets, wwoofing




I feel sorry for the poor sheep

  Frances Feb 25, 2016 8:55 AM



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