Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cretan gold

What is the real treasure of this island? An island that seems at peace with the sea that touches it on all sides? I have to think that Crete's treasures must include the olive. And the orange. And the fish off its shores. And the sunshine, of course! And the goats and sheep! And the people!

On this day, the last fully Cretan day, we had an abundance of all the above. So please forgive me if I overdo it here. If I include one too many photos of the princely goat, if I write too much about the beauty of the olive. As the day draws to a close, it's all that I have left -- the memories of Cretan gold. I put them down here, on Ocean, as a testament to the ravishing beauty of this island. So, here are my notes on the day and they're about the ordinary stuff we've done here today and every day -- we eat, walk, eat some more -- but now add the detail: the sunshine, the dazzling waters, the olive on the tree and off the tree and yes, the goats, the sheep, high high in the mountains, a dinner of fish served by a waiter whose hand extends in a warm farewell and you have Cretan gold.

First, a wake up to a gloriously sunny day. I open the window at the Mama Nena. How can waters be this blue?!

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Breakfast. Diana scrambles eggs from the farm. We drizzle honey on the sheep's milk yogurt. Ed finishes his week long project of reading one of Matina's beautiful books on Crete.

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And I have an errand at the market. So we take a leisurely stroll to it and because I've been a little remiss in posting much about Chenia, I'll include just a couple of photos from our walk.

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At the market, we admire the sponges, the oils, the baked goods, but I buy none of those.

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What I do pick up (small gifts), I promptly lose in the next store I visit (a knife store that also sells  belts... don't ask). Ah well. Ed tells me that I should learn from this. What? Don't buy anything!

More of Chania:

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the trailing plant is called a donkey's tail; the street lamp demonstrates a love of goats

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they've been making knives here for generations

Okay, I'm straying too much.

The day is so delightfully warm (60 for sure and very sunny) that we consider going back to Stavros beach for a swim. But it doesn't seem right for our last day here. Too cool, too complicated, too all-encompassing. We want to hike!

Finding a good place for a hike in the mountains has been a challenge, especially since my requirements are rigidly set: an easy drive to it (that's the toughest challenge!). A good view. A lengthy walk.

In the end, I suggest we aim for Voukolies. It's a small town in a valley that's not even 30 minutes from Chania and most of those minutes are on the National Highway. From there I see dirt roads on google maps and they seem to squiggle up in ways that suggest good climbing.

At Voukolies, we need to cross the bridge to the hamlet of Neo Chorio. After that, we should be able to pick up something good for hiking.

But... we can't find the bridge. We pull up to the side of the road. I study the maps. We both admire the view.

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At a gas station, we ask about Neo Chorio. The attendant tells us -- I'm from Neo Chorio! 
We want to hike into the mountains from there. Are there good paths?
Yes, yes, after the bridge, turn right and go up to the next village. It's just a few houses. Kafouros. Leave car there.

Okay. We spin back down in the direction of the bridge. Behind a truck loaded down with -- what else... olives.

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The directions are helpful. There's the bridge. Hidden around a curve. And just by the bridge, we see the now familiar markings of an olive oil factory.

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Should we look inside? We hesitate. So many sacks of olives to crush today! But the man in charge waves us in with a boisterous welcome. It seems to be a two man show here: the young one empties sacks of olives (making sure that those of different families are not mixed together).

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The older man provides the finishing touches.

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And so the olives are cleaned, crushed until all that remains is the golden green oil.

We admire the smoothness of the operation. And we thank the big boss for letting us watch.  He grins, takes a small bottle off the shelf and allows oil to flow in. He screws a cap on and hands it to us. A gift. The oil will be cloudy until it has tome to settle. We sample a little -- it will be the freshest olive oil I'll have ever tasted.

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We leave, touched as always by the generosity of strangers.

A narrow, twisted road leads up to the hamlet where we will be leaving the car. All around us we see the olives. And we hear the mechanized shakers.

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The pace of life quickens here now. But in another month the harvest will be over. Will it feel different then? Olives trees are such an accepted part of the landscape. To me, they're magnificent trees: if treated well, they'll only grow stronger, producing more fruits with age. Here, they're the wallpaper of the island. A place of shade for chickens.

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We pass groves and more groves. And modest homes with burlap sacks drying, waiting for the next shaking.

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Our path up into the mountains is actually a rutted road. A truck can navigate it -- to reach the olives, yes, that...

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... but as we climb higher, the olive trees become less of a presence. We are now in the thick of sheep and goat country.

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They're beautiful, noble animals -- both of them.

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Still, the antics of the goats are more entertaining. Once you spook a sheep, the entire herd moves away. After a while, at some distance, they'll stop, turn, stare. And then they'll run again. It's sort of like having someone hit the pause button over and over.

But the goats! Ah, the goats! I'm restraining myself by offering you just one (only one!) more clip -- it's less than a minute! -- you tell me that you don't find the goats completely entertaining!

We don't really have a hiking goal, except we sort of would like to reach a summit. For the views of course, though there are plenty beautiful vistas all around us, even at lower elevations.

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toward Chania

Again, we are mindful of the time. We started the hike late -- at 2. I tell Ed that I refuse to take a step further once we get to 4. I figure two hours of a solid ascent will translate (on this good path) into one and a half going down. We should be by the car before it turns dark.

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The summits are elusive. There is always another fold of a mountain and another. after that The skies are turning a little hazy in the way that they do sometimes at the end of the day. Evening is rapidly approaching.

We push our luck a little, but at 4:10 I say -- enough. This is our personal summit. Let's enjoy it and head back.

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(From here, we can see the western-most edge of the White Mountains.)

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And it's good that we do head back now -- the sun is like your gas gauge: that last quarter tank drains far faster than the first three fourths. So, too, it seems that the sun's last run toward the horizon is faster somehow. Before long, the colors are navy and, when a cloud retreats -- golden.

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Goats and sheep are there to remind us that we are not alone. Apart from their cries to each other, there is quiet. A dog barks in a valley below and after, complete silence.

We haven't the majestic sunset of yesterday. Just a quiet retreat. A goodbye that isn't all fanfare, but nonetheless, one that has its own beauty.

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We drive home.

Dinner? At this fish tavern.

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Matina had suggested it for the seafood. A fantastic last meal! We share a salad and a plateful of their  roasted wild mushrooms...

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...but we each hog our own red sea bream. These guys, proudly displayed to me before...

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...turn into this:

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As always, we are given cakes and pastries...

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...and the potent Cretan after dinner drink, raki (called tsikoudia here in Crete). These final nibbles are all free and we can never quite take more than a sip of the raki, but the memory of that sip stays with me. It's one of the many sweet images that I take from Crete.

After, the waiter shakes hands and wishes us a good stay here. Sigh... Not very many hours remain. As Ed and I walk along the harbor, the lights throw ribbons of color on the water. Yet another Monet canvas unfolds before us...

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We've taken some fish tails from the Taverna for the alley cats, but only one feline creature comes out of hiding when he sees us go by. 

Along the harbor, the houses are shuttered for the night. Not ours. Our top floor room has the shutters thrown open wide, so that we can revel in the view. There, you see the pair of lights? Our exquisite home at the Mama Nena.

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Tuesday morning we'll be leaving. Such great images I have of these islands and especially of Crete! A feta slice over a salad, a pitcher of morning orange juice, olive oil cake. Goats, leaping nimble goats. Sunshine over the White Mountains. Olive oil streaming smoothly into a tank. And the warm smiles from all those who have helped us explore their land. Matina and her family: they've  handed us the keys to their grandma's home so that we could look out at the harbor and think about how this planet is quite the beautiful place to explore.