Early Days Chapter 02

It was nearly two o’clock when we arrived in Agious Nicholas. Everything was either closing or about to close. I found a cafe near the little bridge where the waiter spoke some English. I asked him if I could leave my rucksack there for a little while. “You can leave it anywhere” he said. I remember assuming that he had misunderstood me. I discovered later that I had misunderstood him. There was no crime in Crete. I could have left my rucksack almost anywhere at all and it would have been there when I returned. I thanked him and left my rucksack at his cafe.

I walked all over Agious Nicholas. Up narrow little streets and down wider streets. Looked in all the shops and was amazed by what I saw. Religious shops with icons and huge candles. Bakers shops with so much bread and cakes. Chair shops where someone made chairs out of wood and a weaved seat. Butchers shops with whole carcasses hanging and fish shops with huge bright eyed fish. Fruit and vegetables in beautiful arrays on the street even though the shops had closed. It seemed unreal. Here was a trust that was never simply earned but had existed for many years, many centuries. But the Greeks didn’t believe they were trusting people, it was just the way of it. The way that life was lived on the island. I liked it very much indeed.

Around five o’clock I walked back to the cafe where I had left my rucksack. I told the waiter that I would like to eat something. “What now” he said? “Food is at eight or better, nine o’clock. Have a snack.” So I had a snack. It was a small lamb kebab. The Greeks call it a souvlaki. It was delicious, I ordered two more. They were also very cheap. I also ordered a beer and decided to sit there in my adopted cafe and watch the world pass by me.

Four or five beers later I was still trying to sum up where I was and how it affected my life. I was born in south east London where the street was filled with bomb dumps. Broken, no smashed, homes and lives. I grew up there and when I was eleven my parents moved to a village just outside Luton. I battled through my school in Dunstable and finally my father had his way. I was a civil servant clerk in London. I hated it so much that I left within a year. This brought disagreements with my parents and the beginning of a huge need to travel away from them. Right now I had found a place to travel to. Surely Crete was not as idyllic as I imagined. There must be some crime here, some theft, maybe burglary. But there was not. The weather seemed incredible. The people were more than friendly and I was beginning to feel that I had come home – even though I had never been here before in my life.

I booked into the nearest hotel and returned to the same cafe-bar that I had been sitting at earlier. At eight o’clock it livened up a lot and at nine I ordered my dinner. The first meal I had in Crete. Barbounia, or red mullet in English. Guess what, it was more than incredible, it was superb. I had no idea that food could taste like that. The potato chips had been cooked in olive oil and rosemary and the dishes just went on. The waiter would bring them and say “try this.” The proper name is mezedes but to me it was so unbelievable that I cried. No one noticed, I am sure of that, but something happened inside of me that had nothing to do with places or foodstuffs. I was in a place I had never been before eating food I have never eaten before but it had nothing to do with time or food. I felt that I had come home. None of this was complex, it was drastically simple. I didn’t only love this island, I wanted it to be my home. It could not be so now, but one day, maybe. Yes maybe.

Later that evening I was wandering along the harbour wall. At the very end of the harbour the shrimp boats came in. They boiled their shrimps in large containers and offered them to all comers. I ate some. They were almost beyond belief. Tomorrow I had to leave Agious Nicholas, for how could anyone stay here in perfection and feel honestly that they should be moving on.

The next day had begun. I left my hotel and paid a fee similar to a French hostel. I boarded a bus to Irapetra. I found Irapetra on my map. The largest place on the south coast of Crete, but I had no idea what to expect. The bus left Agious Nicholas and went eastwards. We arrived at a junction and the bus turned south, heading for the southern coast of Crete. Beyond that was Libya in Africa. The bus wasn’t full. But there was a manic goat. The goat went up and down the aisle and never stopped. I guess busses and goats are not that compatible, but no one seemed to mind too much. As we drew closer to Irapetra I saw the oddest things. Greenhouses, plastic greenhouses one after the other. This was amazing to me. What was in them? I was soon to find out.

The bus arrived in Irapetra and I got off. As usual I found the nearest cafe and ordered the odd Greek coffee that I was getting used to. There are three choices of Greek coffee. Sketos – no sugar, metrio – medium sugar and gliko – loads of sugar. I ordered a metrio. This time I got a medium coffee, the lovely glass of water and a plateful of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Guess what they grow in the greenhouses. That’s right, tomatoes and cucumbers.

I liked Irapetra, but it was a busy town. Nobody noticed me, which was nice but a little unusual from the rest of Greece. Almost everywhere I went people would come up and try to talk to me, ask me questions, whatever. In Irapetra that didn’t happen. It was almost as though I was a local. I decided to go west again along the south coast. I got a bus that went as far as possible along the south coast to a place called Myrtos. The end of the road.

I am not sure of the distance to Myrtos from Irapetra, maybe ten kilometres. But all the way along the road, on both sides, were plastic greenhouses growing tomatoes and cucumbers. The bus stopped many times along that road but it still seemed odd to me, so many greenhouses – and in such a climate. Finally we arrived in Myrtos. What can I say. Dream of a beach in the sun on a tropical isle and you come up close to Myrtos. It was, in my humble opinion, a superb place. It was a place to stop for a while, relax, regenerate. Oh Myrtos, you were certainly that.

I am a little concerned that I keep on saying that the places that I go to in Crete are incredible. The problem is that it is true. Perhaps it is my background in the United Kingdom, I don’t know, but I was blown away by so much in Crete that I was losing touch with superlatives. But Myrtos was special to me. It always will be.

I got off of the bus and walked down to the beach. It isn’t even sandy – I am not a lover of sand per se – but the beach was grey and pebbley. Just the perfect colour and texture that I like. It was a warm beach, it felt that way. It was a kind and virtually deserted beach. It was perfect. Today I know that Myrtos has a promenade, but it had no such thing then. Just houses, not many, a beach and a hill to the west. Away from the beach was the kafeneon, the cafe. There I ordered my coffee and asked as best I could for a place to stay. I found one. It was pretty dire but it was enough for me. I could have happily slept on the beach after all.

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