Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Elafonisi Blues Partially Cured

Wednesday, June 16, 2011—Paleohora, Crete, Greece

Took a day-trip today to Elafonisi, on the southwest part of the island. Somewhat strange experience. My first reaction was to be a bit pissed off. The place is not only beautiful but unique, at least in regards to anything I’ve seen here on Crete. It’s a wide crescent of white sand laced with these fascinating spots and bands of pink sand (what’s causing this I do not know). Beyond this, what makes the place unusual is the way it shelves up. So far everywhere else I’ve been on the Cretan coast there’s a huge drop off not too many feet from the shore; the island’s basically a mountain range sticking out of the sea, so this underwater geography makes sense. Elafonisi, though is essentially an inlet where the water ranges from ankle to about chest high.

The reason I got pissed off upon first arriving there is because of what has been done to this rare and beautiful place. Virtually the entire main beach (and it’s a biggie) is covered with chaises and umbrellas for rent—seven euros a set! Using these were hordes of tourists—the unadventurous go-where-they’re-told-to kind of tourists that really bug me. I heard, though, that if you waded across the shallow lagoon to the narrow peninsula across the way you could largely escape the maddening crowds and have yourself a choice of semi-secluded inlets that you’d have to share with only a relative handful of people. This turned out to be the case. To cut to the chase, I discovered a nice little curve of sand with only a handful of people on it (far more interesting people it seemed than the one’s I’d left behind with their seven-euro beach furniture) and had a lovely day sunning, swimming in a beautiful little crystal-clear inlet, reading, and generally relaxing.

So the trip turned out to be worth the hassle of getting there (a fifty-odd minute boat ride). I think I’d been disappointed if I’d decided beforehand to make it an overnighter, though. The place, despite its beauty, is simply too overwhelmed with tourists. There comes a point where when numbers get too high people stop being people and become a swarm. Elafonisi was pushing a little too hard in the latter direction for my tastes.

I’ve decided to change my plans slightly. I’ve decided to head down to Gavdos, this island about 32 km south of Paleohora (I think I made a mistake and said it was 50 km in a previous post). As I may have mentioned in previous entries, Gavdos is supposed to be Crete’s ultimate chill-out zone: there’s nothing to do there but hang out on the nearly empty beaches, hike, read, think, and dream. I think I need a place like that right now—I need to pull back a little bit and reevaluate what I’m doing here.

I’m on day twelve here in Greece and thus far this trip is at odds with itself. What I mean by this is that heading into Greece I had several things I wanted to have happen. Some of these things are going down in force. Other important pieces of the puzzle, though, are absent all together.

First thing on the agenda was to simply unwind, really come down from years of stress and overwork. Though it’s early in the game, I think I can feel myself slowing down; my mind is being less crazy and my body’s (stress induced?) ailments are falling away. Another thing I wanted to do was to just see Greece, which has been a dream of mine for over two decades. That’s obviously happening. Another part of what I wanted from this trip is an uptick in my relations with my fellow humans. Between my teaching schedule and the time it’s taken me to write the first two Backwater books, in regards to my contact with other people, my life has become very narrow—dangerously so: my ability to relate to and deal with others has dropped thru the floor. All of this is a long way of saying that I hoped to begin reconnecting thru this trip. This has not yet come close to happening—and this is a big problem.

Why is this case? Well, largely I think because I have inadvertently picked a terrible place to begin rejoining the human race.

Frankly I’m amazed at what I’ve found here, in regards to the mix of people, or lack therefore of. One of my biggest fears concerning this trip, given that I’ve been off the road in any serious way for such a long time, was that I would now be out of place, that as I backpacked my way thru the Greek Islands I might be somewhat ridiculous, an older guy surrounded by younger people and not fitting in at all. As it turns out I’m having different problems altogether. Far from being the old guy out I’m practically the only guy in! What I mean is that this place, so far, seems to feature very few of the backpacker persuasion.

It’s to the point that I feel as if I’m the last of my subspecies, Homo sapiens backpackerensis. Where are the adventurous and interesting people I came to know and love on my previous trips? I’ve been finding their absence confusing and extremely disappointing. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on the subject, though, and I do think I’ve figured at least a few things out. I think economics could have something to do with it. Maybe with the world-wide recession most of the jam-econo types such as me have been forced off the road. More likely, as I’ve mentioned, the situation has more to do with where I am.

I’m now realizing something that I probably should have figured out going in. For Americans like me, especially those of us coming all the way from California, Greece is a faraway exotic land; for me it’s still the home of Zeus, Homer, Hesiod, etc. For most Europeans, though, it’s just flight away and a relatively inexpensive holiday in the sun—for them Greece is not an exotic adventure but just a place to unwind; it’s the equivalent of a Californian making the hop over to Hawaii or down to Mexico for a week.

As I’ve been figuring this out I’ve also began to realize that most of the interesting Europeans I’ve known in the past, the more friendly, adventurous ones, I’ve met outside of Europe. In other words, people who are not on “vacation,” but are on the road. My reality so far here, as I’ve discussed here and there in earlier diary entries, is that I’m surrounded by people who simply don’t interest me all that much and who probably find me a bit unfathomable. There are very few people here for me to play with, in other words …

Because of this I’ve had some very down moments come over me. Still, I’m hopeful. I mean, it’s a big country and I can’t be the only one in my situation—at some point I’m sure I will find my fellow weirdoes. Until then I guess I just have to be content with the amazing and wonderfully harsh physical beauty of this place and remember that whatever problems and misgivings I’m having that I’m lucky to be here—lucky indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rob, I'm surprised that you haven't met other backpackers, but I think you're correct in the point that you started the trip in a kind of out-of-the-way area for most travelers. But I think it was a good idea in the sense that you needed to relax and unwind first. You'll be in a much better state of mind when you start meeting people and partying. Wiki