A couple of days later I decided to get moving again. I walked to the eastern side of the Amari valley and then to the north-west. At each village they knew that I was coming. People would see me and say hello, ask me into the kafeneon for a drink and some food. Before I arrived they already knew my nationality and my name and always there was a welcome and never would anyone accept payment from me for anything. I was the xenos, the guest or the foreigner, it meant the same thing. Philoxenia, hospitality – the liking of the guest or stranger was in the Greek blood. I had even heard that in the war they would take German captives out of the village in order to execute them. No one could harm a stranger to the village.
As I walked through the Amari valley, I kept hearing of the story of the kidnapping of General Kreipe. General Kreipe was the new German general commanding Crete during the occupation. On the 26 th April 1944, Kreipe was snatched by Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss from near the Villa Ariadne close to Iraklion. Nearly a three week hunt by the thousands of Germans failed to find them and General Kreipe was taken off of the south of Crete around the 14 th May. It is a long story and a book has been written of this action that many see as an act of great courage.
Part of the chase went through the Amari valley. The Germans punished the Amari by shooting people and burning the villages. George Psychoundakis, the ‘Cretan Runner’ spoke of being in a cave above the Amari seeing burning from one end of the Amari to the other. In fact General Kreipe was no great prize, he was an academic who had just arrived in Crete and could give no intelligence. The action however spurred the evil commander General Muller to greater atrocities across Crete.
I make no comment here as to the rights or wrongs of such and escapade. But when your village is burned and your family killed, it is hard to admire such heroics.
To the people of the Amari villages, the future is what counts to them and new buildings and houses are seen everywhere here. As I walked along the valley I could see people working in the fields waving to me as I passed them. Each village however has a war memorial commemorating their dead and in the ossuaries – the bone houses of the villages, there are many skulls with bullet holes above the ear.
I stayed a few more nights in various houses in the Amari, talked to everyone I met and enjoyed very much their company and their welcome. I was not allowed to spend any of my money at all, the philoxenia by its very nature is freely given. The Amari is certainly a fine and noble place and I recommend it to anyone to visit.
Eventually in one of the northern Amari villages I found a bus going to Rethimnon. That was quite a ride up and down hills and across mountain roads but as usual we arrived there without incident. Cretan bus drivers are a breed of their own.
Once in Rethimnon I found a room in a pension overlooking the old harbour. I ate some of the food that I had been given in the Amari, watched the boats for a while and fell sound asleep.
Early next morning I was up and, believe it or not, the pension had a shower. This was luxury and in no time I had washed myself completely and some of my T-shirts and jeans which I left to dry on the balcony. I had some things to do like telephone my parents to tell them that I was OK and all was well. In order to make a long distance telephone call I had to go to the post office and they would make the connection for me then I had to get into the correct booth where I could speak to home. I just had three minutes but that was plenty to let them know that I was fine and getting on well in Crete.
Rethimnon is a really great little town. It has a fortress on the western side built by the Venetians and a lovely little walled ancient town with dozens of really interesting little shops. There were bootmakers where you could have your boots made, chairmakers, bagmakers and all sorts of skills being practiced before your very eyes. The town has a small harbour and a lovely beach stretching to the east as far as you can see. You can buy all sorts of different foods and fruit here as well as an occasional English language newspaper. It was several days old, but at least it was available.
I found an estiatorion, a restaurant that serves premade foods like stews and lots of other stuff out of the oven. I ate some rabbit stew which was really good and very tender. I could mop up the sauce with my bread and be filled just by one plate. Lots of other Cretans were coming in, eating and going out again so this must be a popular place. I wandered through the park that they had made with all sorts of unusual trees and bushes and just generally enjoyed the town. A good place to live, I thought, Rethimnon.
Soon my clothes were all dry so I spent the rest of the afternoon writing letters to friends and family. I reconstructed the stuff in the rucksack ready to leave Rethimnon the next day. This town had the feeling that it was somewhere to return to. No fuss was made of anything here and you could live your life from day to day in real peace. In the evening I had a super fish meal at one of the tavernas on the quayside and then went happily to bed. Another day, another journey to look forward to.