Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gavdos Entries

Publication Note: Up until now i've been putting each diary entry into its own post. Since I haven't published anything since leaving for Gavdos, I thought it might be best and easier to put my Gavdos entries into one post. I think I have one more Gavdos piece sitting in a notebook. That'll be my next post.

--R.W. Paleohora, Crete, Greece

Thursday, June 17, Gavdos Island, Crete, Greece

Arrived at Gavdos Island about two this afternoon (it’s a little before eight now). I’ve been told that this place was out there, that it was Greece’s last stop, both figuratively and literally (the next landfall is North Africa). This has turned out to be the case: I really do have the feeling of being at the edge of the Greek world.

First off, there are very few people here. Just a few settlements that the term “ramshackle” largely covers. I’m staying at a place on the northwestern shore called Sarafinika Beach (most of the settlement is somewhere around here—the south shore is mostly high cliffs), which is just a collection of humble guesthouses and tavernas (Greek for little restaurants). There are people camping in tents on the beach and the in surrounding hills, so it’s hard to figure out how many travelers are here, but I’d be surprised if we altogether turned out to be more than twenty-five. I’m staying in a guesthouse, which is only 15 euros a night—cheap!). I can’t yet tell if anyone is staying there with me.

Today I hiked around the beach area and then went for a swim, which was really nice. The warm water (noticeably warmer than mainland Crete) never got more than about chest high, even as far as about forty yards out. Underneath me was a blanket of rippling white sand. From one end of its crescent to the other the beach is half a mile long. At most there were eight or nine people sharing this strip of sand with me. I get the feeling that this is what all of southern Crete was like when it was first discovered by young travelers (hippies—problematic term: it says far too much and far too little at the same time) back in the 1960s.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. Another day for sure. Perhaps as many as another three. Other than retrenching I’m not sure what I want from this place. Nothing except to just be for a while?

Tomorrow I think I’m going to rent a bike and explore the island a bit, track down a few of the far flung beaches that the travel books rave about (biking sounds really nice since my feet are too blistered to do any even halfway serious hiking). If I like what I find I’ll stay a bit. If I don’t I won’t. Tonight? Dinner while watching the sunset. After that I’ll probably read some, turn in early. I’m running out of places I want to see in Crete. I’ll probably be ready to leave before the month’s out. I might start thinking about what that might mean as well …

Friday, June 17, 2011—Gavdos Island, Crete, Greece

Day two in Gavdos. This morning I hiked to Korfas beach on the north/sort of northeast side of the island. It’s nice enough there but very quiet. The beach is pretty good, a lot like a considerably smaller version of Sarafiniko, where I’m staying. When I was coming over on the boat the owner of one of the guesthouses over there tried to talk me into staying at his place. I’m glad I didn’t. Korfas is a touch too isolated for me—it has two little guesthouses/tavernas (there are a couple more places in Metochia (spelling?), the settment a bit above it) and nothing else at all. I think I would have felt a bit trapped there.

Later I hiked the other direction to Agios Ioannis Beach. It turned out to be a really nice, a lot like Sarafiniko but with better, less rocky sand. Other than one little café there’s no “civilization” there (though there appears to be some guesthouses being build just up the road). What it does have is a bunch of people camping out in tents, on the higher portions of the sand and in the shady spots between the trees that dot the hill behind the beach. The campers seem to be a fairly mixed group, but the general vibe is kind of post hippy—the dreadlock crowd. I ended up spending almost four hours there sunning (I’m really burned, especially on my ass—ouch!), reading, and doing quite a bit of swimming; it’s as good as swimming beach as Sarafiniko, maybe a touch better. I have my tent with me and I thought of joining the tent town there for a day or two. But I’m not quite yet feeling the camping thing here yet. That may change, though—that kind of freedom is quite appealing, I must admit.

This does beg this question, though—if I don’t camp here where will I camp? t would be hard to find a better place. If the camping thing isn’t happening I really should ditch my tent. If I do that the weight of my pack will fall thru the floor, which means that once back on the mainland I can do some E-4 hiking without having to backtrack because I had to leave my main pack behind. Now I don’t mind losing the tent—it’s getting a bit on the old side and I’ve been thinking of upgrading for a while. What’s making me hesitate is that I might want it down the road. I mean, I still have over a month and a half here and my attitude or circumstances could change. Tough decision.

Not sure what my next move is. I’m enjoying this place, but I’m getting the feeling that I’ve had the Gavdos experience. Plus other places are calling me (I have a lot of Greece to see). The boat back to Paleohora leaves both tomorrow and the next day at 2:00 PM. I’ll be on one of them—the question is which one.

Saturday, June 18, 2011—Gavdos Island, Crete, Greece

Exhausted. Almost to the point where I can’t write. Attempted to hike to a couple of deserted beaches on the southwest tip of the island. The beaches looked spectacular. I say “looked” because I never actually made it down to them. Let me explain.

I was sitting around this morning after breakfast talking to the Austrian woman who runs the place I’m staying at. I was planning on leaving today, but the boat turns out to have left at nine in the morning, not two in the afternoon. I was asking her advice as to something different to do to fill up my day. She suggested the hike to the northwest shore—she told me that the beaches were beautiful there and almost always empty. I now understand why they’re almost always empty.

She made it sound like a very doable hike, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from where I'm satying. As it turned out, it took me nearly three-and-a-half hours of pretty-tough, hot, often uphill walking just to get to the trail head. From the top of the trail I could see both beaches. I guessed that the closest was at least an hour away. I was pretty bummed: this meant that once down there I’d only have time for a quick swim if I wanted to be sure of having enough daylight to get home (this place is dark as hell at night, and even with my Petzl light, which I had with me, traipsing home at night would be a bitch). It didn’t take me long to figure out that my calculation was way off, that the relative nearness of the first beach was an optical illusion. After maybe twenty minutes on the steep, twisty, rocky trail I realized that I was still at least a couple of hours of hard hiking from my goal—for all I could tell it might take considerably longer.

So I abandoned the hike. I really didn’t have much of a choice. There was no way I could make it to the beach and still get back to Sarafiniko before it got dark. There were other problems as well. Not expecting anything like the hike I found myself facing, I didn’t have enough water with me (the perennial Greece problem, I’m finding). I was also wearing the wrong shoes. I thought that I’d be on roads pretty much the whole way, so I just wore my Tevas, which meant I was slipping all over the trail and really punishing my ankles and Achilles tendons.

As I was taking the trail down I ran into a group of young Italians who had no clue what they were doing. They had driven to the trail head, thinking, like I had, that it would be an easy walk down. The best equipped of them had tennis shoes. Two of the girls in the group were just wearing cheap plastic flip-flops, the kind you buy in the tourist shops on mainland Crete. Before running into me they had attempted to go straight down the gorge, which looked like a freakin’ mini Grand Canyon. I got them straightened out and on the proper trail, sent them on their way, and hoped for the best for them. By the time I’d made it back up to the trail head and saw their car I’d pretty much decided to alert the police to their situation on my back to Sarafiniko (going to the police station would have meant only a minor detour for me). However, about an hour later they passed me in their car, having wisely given up their beach day.

So my day ended up being eight-plus hours of hiking with my goal unattained. Still I did pass thru some interesting and beautiful scenery. I’m also proud of myself for withstanding yet another hot, long-ass Mediterranean hike. If nothing else this place is certainly toughening me up physically …

After my hike I went for a swim here at Sarafiniko to cool off, took a shower, and then collapsed for an hour or so. Now I’m at dinner, nursing a bottle of Retsina and hoping I can stay awake long enough to finish my meal.

A Note on Language:

Really wishing I could speak more Greek. The people here seem quite open. I get the feeling I could really be accepted, that I could make some good friends if it weren’t for the language barrier. In recent years, as I gone deeply into my writing, I’m realizing how important communication is to me—deep communication: it opens up world, it is worlds. I’m beginning to understand that I’ve given myself do over to my own language that I’ve neglected others. I wonder if I’m too old to change this. Can a man in his forties really learn Greek? Is that something I really want to do?

Sunday, June 19, 2011—Gavdos, Island, Crete, Greece

Yep, I’m still in Gavdos. I’m really beginning to love many things about this place, but that’s not why I’m still here. I was supposed to leave on the 9:00 AM boat this morning, but last night the wind really started kicking up and when I got to the dock today I found out that the captain had called the trip off, deeming the crossing back over to mainland Crete to be too dangerous in such weather. I will make another attempt to leave tomorrow.

I was still zonked out from my hike (still am a bit actually), so I spent most of the day lounging around at Agios Ioannis Beach, half the time on the hill backing the beach in the shade of a juniper tree. I did make a little hike later in the afternoon, around the point that marks off the northwest end of the beach. just to see what I’d find. This involved taking a tricky little trail that ran along the side of the steep hill that made up the point. This trail later gave way to some sand dune/juniper forested areas. What I found around the point was pretty much what I’d left behind, except that the beaches on this side of things were smaller and much rockier. Not surprisingly, there were a lot fewer people there as well, fewer of the tent-campers, post-hippies I’ve discussed in a previous diary entry. I did run into some squatter’s residences, though, that were a lot more elaborate than what I’ve seen on other parts of the island, driftwood, stone, and cloth houses, essentially, taking on in a couple cases Swiss Family Robinson proportions. One even had makeshift docking facilities!

Like I’ve said, I have my tent with me, and today a part of me really wanted to pull up stakes here in Sarafiniko and join these campers. There are a couple of things that are holding me back (other than, as I’ve discussed, I’m just not fully feeling the camping thing as of yet). First off, it seems to be a very local crowd: young Greeks seem to make up the vast majority of these squatter’s camps. It’s also a couple’s scene, to a significant degree; so many of the tents seem to be housing a Noah’s Ark thang. The Greek stuff is what’s really holding me back, though: I really feel that I would be intruding on something that isn’t quite mine. If they were English speaking people I’d probably be there. The language issue strikes again …

Suddenly I’m feeling REALLY tired—my hikes of the last two days, way too much sun, and the red wine I’m sipping with dinner are no doubt combining to take me down. This sucks because there’s so much more I‘d like to write about—the funky taverna I’ve been eating in the last three nights, the nice older Dutch couple I’ve been hanging out with a bit. But all that’s going to have to wait until I’m more with it.

Random Notes:

Most of the locals seem to smoke here, even to a greater exent than on mainland Crete. I’m feeling conspicuously healthy.

The wind has died down some, but it’s still blowing quite hard. Things are looking very iffy for leaving tomorrow.

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