One thing we very quickly found out is that you do not have to travel far beyond the “holiday” zone along the coasts to find an entirely different Crete.
In Chania it was a block or two, down here in Iraklio, once you move back beyond the coastal strip you are experiencing what I assume to be the real Crete or “Crete unplugged”.
In our travels we tend to categorise fellow travellers into three groups. They all have there own motivation but the first two groups are always found in a similar type of place, it is these that we try to avoid if wanting to get the feel for a destination. However, there are many places that you simply cannot avoid the crowds, the rule is go very early or as late as you can. Our rough and very general grouping of fellow travellers is:
- Those who are on holiday and taking a well earned break from their normal daily routine. Their focus is going to a destination and doing as little as possible while there. Sunbathing, drinking, eating, reading, in general, relaxing. The resort areas generally cater to this group who probably don’t really care what country they are in provided they get value for money, are guaranteed good weather and can have a great time. They are easy to avoid, should you desire to wander into party central, just go early as they are late starters due to their late finishes.
- The “packaged travellers”. These travel in large organised groups and generally visit the “must see” sites, usually all at the same time. The mode of transport is bus or cruise ship (often both). They “hunt” in a pack and would probably get a much better view of the “things” that they visit by looking at them on the internet. They will also stay in hotel chains that ensure a pretty consistent country experience for all destinations visited. It is clearly the only option for many of those who still want to travel but for any number of reasons are unable to do it on their own. Some do not look like they are particularly enjoying themselves (I would love to help them escape this type of travel). Many would have it no other way, it is safe on all fronts and you get to meet interesting fellow travellers.
- Then there are the rest who travel on their own or in small groups and will have their own agendas and objectives.
So the first two groups have generally been absent in our second week in Crete, the third have been pretty “thin on the ground” but they will have encountered a raw version of Crete that has been a very different experience for us to the earlier part of our trip.
The further into the mountains that we ventured, the more amazing the experience became. In every village there was always a generous collection of men folk in the taverna’s drinking their coffee and no doubt catching up on the news. The older women were clad in their black clothing with headscarfs and often a walking stick of sorts. You would see them either with shopping, collecting a bit of firewood for the coming winter or chatting to others in the village.
The village streets are narrow, cluttered with cars and farm vehicles in various states of repair, usually parked at strange angles or simply parked forever. Dogs and people wander down the street (there are no footpaths) with a disregard for the traffic behind. The buildings show all the signs of rural decline that is common across the World and the lack of customers at the many tavernas speaks of the tough times that the Greek economy is going through. Life looks tough for the average rural Cretan but I suspect that many would have it no other way. Ruth was reading an article that younger people dissatisfied with life and growing unemployment is cities like Athens are starting to return. This is not the Greek Islands of the tourist brochures.
We have enjoyed our stay in the village of Siva, it is quiet, the accommodation in the house we have is excellent. It is a bit like a museum, it was Manolis’s family home and they have kept in the house many family mementos, photos plus a fair sprinkling of Cretan rural items, Furnished in a traditional fashion it has been an experience in itself.
There are no shops in Siva so we visit nearby Venerato for our groceries. It is a 15 minute walk away, there are a number of villages all within easy walking distance of Siva.
We have eaten very simply, Manolis and Susanna gave us a bottle of their own olive oil which we have been adding to the fabulous local produce. The fruit and vegetables are full of flavour, the tomato’s are the best we have tasted,ditto for the courgettes, the fruit is big and sweet. We are enjoying the yoghurt and feta, we can feel our life expectancy rising as we switch to a Mediteranian diet.
It needs to rise seriously because on the other side of the “ledger” is the appalling driving we have had to contrent with which seroiusly erodes life expectancy. I did a quick bit of research and Greece has the worst road accident rate in Europe. Apart from the drivers, the rural roads are mountainous, narrow and in poor condition. Safety barriers often vanish as you drive along and the road signs are riddled with bullet holes, probably all reasons why they are “roads less travelled”. Several of the roads did challenge my driving nerve, one in particular was only single lane, the drop off the side of the mountain was so shear that it was hard to see the bottom, we just prayed that no cars came the other way.
Some of the other images of Crete that we were left with were; rubbish, the road side was every Cretans rubbish bin. As we walked along them we were astounded at the “vehicle litter”. Plastic drink containers, cirgarette packets and lighters, snack wrappers, were the predominant “out the window” fare. There was a good decade’s worth of this piled along the side of the roads. We also see this a little in New Zealand and it never fails to amaze me that people who have great pride in their land can treat it as a tip. The other image was more recession related and that was the many shells of buildings that dot the landscape. They had been started but the finance had run out. It is a warning to countries like New Zealand who invest so heavily in property. Great while the good times roll but it does not add to productive capactiy of the country and enventually someone is left “holding the baby” when the music runs out.
Well we are heading into category (as in travellers above) 1 and 2 country tomorrow so will just have to suck it up and join the crowds. Will update you next time on whether it is possible to get away from the crowds on Santorini without staying in your apartment all day.