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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 07 September 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 7 SEPTEMBER 2019 15 TRAVEL Departing Chora Sfakion. Looking back towards Crete. Agios Ioannis beach at the north western corner of the island. My husband's eyes nearly popped out as we rounded the headland to this unexpected sight on one of our many explorations. PEOPLE WATCHING Gavdos is a place where you're likely to rub shoulders with eccentric characters from all over the world. One of my favourites was a larger-thanlife Athenian businessman, Yianni, who wanted to come and visit us in Australia, thinking it was only an hour's flight (perhaps he had us mixed up with Austria). Always on the lookout for his next wife, he was also obsessed with papagalo (parrot) and was desperate to find out how he could buy a sulphur crested cockatoo from Australia. When I told him that the flight to Australia took 24 hours and that there was no way he was going to be able to export Australian wildlife to Europe, he was bitterly disappointed. Another standout character was our mild-mannered friend and 'Sherlock Holmes' tragic Tim from Sussex, England. About 60 years old, he had had an incredibly varied life living in many countries starting as a young soldier in the British Army during the Malayan Emergency and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. Later he 'talked' his way into a university placement in Los Angeles and then went on to take a job as a meteorologist on Catalina Island off the California coast. He relayed many fascinating stories like the time during flying training he had run out of fuel and crash-landed in the Californian desert. But one of the most amazing tales was how he had been given a metal detector as a present and promptly found an ancient lead bucket full of Roman gold coins buried in his neigbour's field in rural England. Then there was the lighthouse keeper on Gavdos. Actually, the lighthouse had been shut down a few years earlier and replaced by an automated beacon financed by EU money. But the old lighthouse was still there and had been turned into a museum and tourists would gather there every evening to watch the sun set over the western horizon of the Libyan Sea. The Greek lighthouse keeper had wooed and married a much younger French tourist and she had stayed on and had a child. The remoteness and solitude of Gavdos must have been a long way from a life in France. What was amazing about him was that he looked just like the screen actor Kirk Douglas and Chris was totally fascinated by this doppelganger of the famous actor nattering away in Greek. The main focus of Gavdos is the magnificent Sarakiniko Beach a short 5-minute drive from the limni (lake). This is a broad stretch of golden sand with a magnificent views across the sea to Crete's white mountains on the horizon. Relaxing at Maria's taverna on the beach at the eastern end of Sarakiniko, on a balmy afternoon, with a gentle warm breeze, sipping cool drinks under the shade of rustling tamarisk trees is the absolute definition of laid back. It was like a snapshot in time of pure bliss. Maria was a beautiful host and we got to know her and her daughter over the couple of weeks we were on the island. Life on a Greek island can be harsh and unforgiving and Maria had known her share of tragedy. Many years ago, as a young wife with five small children, her husband, who was an local fisherman, set off one day in his small caique to sell his catch on the mainland. He was never heard of again, presumed drowned in the often treacherous waters between Gavdos and Crete. Chris who was wanting a Greek souvenir, had become fascinated with the little wooden oil, vinegar, salt and pepper holders ubiquitous in every taverna in Greece, one day asked Maria where can you buy these things. She promptly went back into the kitchen and re-emerged with one wrapped us as a gift to remind us of her. NATURAL BEAUTY At the opposite end of Sarakiniko beach perched on a rocky headland was a strange looking compound about an acre in size. It was basically a house surrounded a very high barbed wire fence. Since our hotel was set back a bit on a hill overlooking Sarakiniko we could see this place from the hotel's main common room and we asked one of the regulars what it was. It turns out that it was used as a prison by the fascist government. They would lock numbers of suspected communists in there and leave them to live or die without any provisions. Our friend told us that the inmates only survived because sympathetic locals would secretly throw food over the high fence to keep them from starving. One of the inmates interned there had been Mikis Theodorakis, composer of the famous musical score of 'Zorba the Greek'. It made us very sad to think that Greeks could be so cruel to their own countrymen. On the west side of the island, Diana Beach is a tiny sliver of sand that lies beneath the steep cliffs. Named after the late princess, it is the area she visited with her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed. One thing that I mustn't neglect to mention is the night sky. Sitting on the balcony of our rooms each night, looking across the water to Crete, the sky was so dark and the the stars so bright. I have never seen so many stars in my life. One night while marvelling at nature's celestial show a shooting star came speeding through our atmosphere crashing into the sea midway between Gavdos and Crete. For a few seconds it lit up the whole panorama brighter than daylight and left us breathless. In closing, I should really talk a little about getting to Gavdos. After the flight from Australia, we waited at Athens Airport for about 5 hours to catch the internal flight to Chania, Crete. Chania is a beautiful destination in its own right and well worth spending a couple of nights to rest and recuperate for the onward journey to the island. Nighttime around the old harbour is both a lovely visual and culinary experience. Also worth a day trip is the nearby 'Zorba the Greek' beach, about a halfhour bus trip from Chania, where you will immediately recognise the iconic mountain and beach where the logs flew down the zip line and Zorba and his English boss danced at the end of the famous film. From the bus station at Chania it is a two-hour bus journey over the majestic white mountains culminating into a steep, winding descent to Chora Sfakion: the village where the final acts of the Battle of Crete were played out in the early days of World War II when thousands of allied troops, many of them Australian, were trapped in this natural amphi-theatre by superior German forces. Many escaped to North Africa under cover of dark by submarine or small naval ships, but many also died or were taken prisoner. At the port of Chora Sfakion you meet the ferry Daskalogiannis for the 40km crossing to Gavdos. On a sunny still day it makes a glorious panorama as you look back at the majestic white mountains receding behind you and the low silhouette of Gavdos slowly growing on the southern horizon in front. I hope this brief story will whet your appetite to travel to some of the lesser known corners of the beautiful country that is Greece and which my husband Chris now considers his second home. The priest blessing the food on the feast day of the Holy Cross (14 September). View of Sarakina beach from Maria’s tavern. Our beautiful friend Kosta waiting for an apple.
31 August 2019
14 September 2019