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Return to Crete, Greece – Where the Magic Happens

Come in.  Have a seat.  Stay a while.  I’ve got a lot to tell you.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I sailed from Santorini to the shores of Crete.  Stepping foot on this magical island, I feel instantly at home again.  No way to explain that.  It’s been one adventure after another, all unplanned and all good.

Out for the night with Couchsurfing host.

Out for the night with Couchsurfing host.

My First Experience with Couchsurfing

My first experience with Couchsurfing is a wild success, although I’m sure, a bit of an anomaly.  A man named “Michael” offered me a place to stay for free and since his reviews were stellar, I decided to risk it.  I’m so happy I did.  His kindness and generosity seemed to have no bounds.

Micheal picks me up from the bus stop and immediately takes me to dinner.  He is friendly, talkative, and not bad on the eyes either.  He refuses to let me pay, which I think is pretty fantastic hospitality, but things only get better.  He co-owns a hotel and my “couch” is a suite of my own overlooking the ocean with a jacuzzi, kitchen, and balcony!  How outrageous is that?

“Michael” is actually Sameer and is originally from Iran.  Ten years ago, in his twenties, he gave up his Iranian citizenship and became a Greek citizen.  His close friend, “Doctor”, who lives at the hotel is Sri Lankan and a great cook who never allows me to be hungry.  I’ve got it made.

One night they take me out.  I’m in the car with Doctor and Sameer and we’re winding on narrow roads through hills and olive groves.  The fresh smell of the sea air and the wild rosemary intoxicates me.  It’s 10:30 PM as we head into town.  “Too early”, says Sameer.

They take me to club “New York”, clearly the place to be seen in this neck of the woods.  It’s white and pretentious like the Fancy Feast cat.  Strobe lights, muscle-bound men, women in their Kardashian best, techno pop and a dancing woman on the bar complete the scene.  The drinks are more expensive than in New York!  Not my scene.

We move on to an Irish bar which while loaded with gap-year British kids, is still a thousand times better.  “YMCA” plays over the speakers while the ghostly-white British boys and girls drink from one-meter-high communal party cups.  Sameer, Doctor and I look like the chaperones of the party.  Except we’re drinking wine.  Lots of wine.

We return “home” at nearly five in the morning.  Oh what a night.

Doctor is quick to make a nice breakfast when I awake.  I spend the following day helping to spiff up the hotel, painting flowerpots, cleaning the grounds and making a few signs.  I am kept fueled by Retsina wine (uniquely Greek with a pine resin flavor) and delicious food.  What an amazing experience.

Kicking back at Rooms 47

Kicking back at Rooms 47 in Chania.

Going back to Chania, Crete

After three days, Michael drives me to the bus stop where I take a bus to Heraklion and then another bus to Chania.  My “regular” hotel in Chania is booked so I wing it and discover a new favorite place at Rooms 47.

Sofia, the owner, welcomes me and gives me a room overlooking the ancient Venetian harbor of Chania with two balconies.  Winning!  Again!  The building, dating to 1200 AD, delights me with it’s high ceilings and ancient creaky steps.  The highlight though is Sofia, a life-long resident of Chania and seemingly the cog in the social wheel of the whole city.  She and I talk for hours and her personality is so positive and eccentric it fills me with a happy charge.

Youngsters are Bad Influences

I end up staying in Chania for a few more days and move into a cheaper room at Rooms 47 that I share with a Peruvian German woman, aged 28.  One evening, she and her male friend from Germany offer me raki, and after talking for a few hours, they insist I join them for “one drink” on the town.  This insistence came at midnight.  One drink became two, then three… I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 5 AM, causing me to miss the bus I planned to catch.

Back to Agia Roumeli

Crete

Bus ride to Hora Sfakion. Crete is much greener in May.

Another day and night in Chania is nothing I will ever complain about.  I did, in fact, leave the next day.

I take a bus to Hóra Sfakíon and then a ferry to arrive in the place that is the ultimate sweet spot for my soul: Agia Roumeli in southern Crete.

I check into Paradice Hotel [sic] and Georgo remembers me from last October which made me feel warm and fuzzy.  My room overlooks the Libyan Sea and while simple, it’s everything I need for a very reasonable price.  I unpack my bag entirely.  “At last”, I think.  My heart has ached to be back in this place since I left in October of 2013.

Meeting the German Professor

Within an hour, I meet a German professor taking his European Studies students around Crete for a week of study.  Amazingly, the German professor, hereafter “GP”, knows Hans too from his previous visits to Agia Roumeli!  GP invites me to join them for four days.  “What is this?!” I think.  Here I have finally arrived in my happy place and the universe presents me with an opportunity like this?!

I get little sleep that night, reminding me of this night, trying to make a decision.  I really want to stay in Agia Roumeli, but in listening to my own advice that one should take opportunities when they are presented, I say yes, and am soon on a boat rocking and rolling all the way back to Hóra Sfakíon to begin a land journey around Western Crete.

Touring Western Crete

The students and the Professor

The students and the professor

We journey by car to an area around Plakias where the young male students, the professor and I take a hike through the mountains to the sea.  We exit at Preveli Palm Beach where a river, embraced by palm trees, flows into the sea.  Stunning.

Driving through Crete could cause one to inadvertently eat flies.  With every turn, a new vista causes the jaw to drop.  It is so beautiful.

The students seem to delight in the no-nonsense way that I speak with the professor.  While the professor is deemed “cool” and “not typical” because of his casual relationship with his students, there is still a code of respect between students and professor which, because he is not my professor, I violate constantly, much to their delight.  “I can’t believe you just said that to him!” was whispered with glee more than once.  I’m a rebel without a cause.

We visit the ruins of the ancient Minoan Palace of Phaistos (1900-1700 BC), where the professor leads us in a reading about the palace.  As we sit on the land which once contained the earliest civilization in Europe, I am asked to read aloud, something I haven’t done in 20 years, but I like it!  The famous Phaistos Disc, a still undeciphered clay plate of hieroglyphics was found here and we discuss ideas about it’s meaning.  I love the ideas being tossed about.  I am pinching myself.  How did I end up in a classroom in Crete!?  How fun is this?!

Kostas and myself in traditional scarf (sarikia).

Kostas and myself in traditional scarf (sarikia).

Unfortunately, as the day unfolds, I get a seriously sore throat and while I try to enjoy the rest of the journey, a fever and the inability to swallow prevents that.

Despite fever and pain, I force myself out of bed to join the group to meet a legend in Crete: Kostas, who along with his girlfriend Sofia, entertains us for two nights with great food and wine and raki.  He shares the mantinades (15-syllable rhyming couplets) that he is famous for.  He’s basically the Cretan equivalent of a freestyle rapper, coming up with mantinades on the fly.  And for gawd sakes, look at that moustakia (mustache)!  Epic.

A Typical Mantinada:

In Crete all men are brave without fears
And mantinades express both laughter and tears.

A Visit to the Hospital

The professor kindly took me to the hospital to be checked, while the students waited.  As a product of America, I imagined this could be an all day affair.  Amazingly, I was in the emergency room for ten minutes before I was seen.  The visit was free.  Tonsillitis the diagnosis.  Antibiotics were prescribed and the pharmacy supplied them for $17.50 US.  The easiest and best experience I have ever had with medical care in my life.  In Greece.

While the students toured the ancient city of Knossos (Europe’s oldest city and mythical home of King Minos and the Minotaur) and the newly reopened Archeological Museum in Heraklion, I slept in the car with fever and chills.  Someday, I hope I get a chance to visit these places sans tonsillitis.

Back to Agia Roumeli

Clouds over Agia Roumeli

Clouds over Agia Roumeli

And so I said my goodbyes to the Germans in Chania and made my way back here to Agia Roumeli.  Giorgo and his wife Maria welcome me back with Cretan hospitality and feed me fresh veggies from their garden and mountain tea to ensure my recovery.

There is so much more to these stories that can’t be explained here.  I’m saving the best for the book.  I assure you, it’s good.  Even I can not believe my life sometimes.

I am learning that when one is open to life, abundance rushes in.

Today, I feel at home with my village friends and the constant sound of goat bells and ocean waves.  I’m so thankful for this time and these experiences.

I have found my heaven on Earth.  And this time, I’m staying for a while.

Photos of Crete:

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