This series started on Oct. 15 and will continue every other Saturday. I’m taking a trip back in time to my 4-month backpacking rambles around Greece in the early 1980s, which planted the seed for my recent novel The Ariadne Connection. Again, I apologize for the sketchiness of the few photos I’ve been able to recover from storage; some of these below are borrowed. (Map courtesy of complete-crete.com)
Leaving Loutro on a local ferry east, Jim and I enjoyed the deep blue seas and views of the rugged cliffs along the south coast of Crete. We disembarked at Chora Sfakion and were unable to compete with sudden hordes of young Germans on holiday scrambling for the bus out of town, so found a flat spot outside town to pitch our tent beside a small, abandoned chapel. Finally scoring a spot on the crowded bus to Skaloti the next day, sharing space with chickens, packages, and an assortment of Cretans including a beautiful young woman with a profile from an ancient urn, a handsome Orthodox priest with the tall black hat, and the usual exuberant bus driver. This one was a big, burly, graying man who gestured out the open side window and shouted greetings to locals sitting outside village tavernas just feet from the dirt road.
After many steep, tight turns, we reached the end of the bus line at Skaloti, which boasted one dusty taverna/market and no accommodations. With only an hour before sunset, we contemplated the 15-kilometer hike eastward to the next bus connection, the village of Rodakino. Spreading our sleeping bags in a field, we enjoyed a softly rosy sunset, then lay watching shooting stars streak across the distant constellations.
The next morning dawned clear and hot as we hiked along the coast. I have a distinct memory of part of the trail clinging to a cliffside high above the sea, undercut with the rock brushing the top of my heavy pack and almost tipping me over the edge. We vowed to lighten our loads when we reached the next post office to send some things home.
The last part of the hike returned us to the dirt road above the cliffs, where as we neared Rodakino Ano (Upper Rodakino village), we encountered a cheerful old shepherd with his goats. Josef, wizened and garrulous in Greek, seemed unfazed that I could catch only a word or two of his conversation, and we managed to communicate with gestures and much laughter. He chuckled as I scrambled over a rockfall blocking the road, and named me “Sara Kri Kri” for the wild Cretan goats. (photo below courtesy of west-crete.com)
Here is my Josef character from my novel The Ariadne Connection: (I hope the real Josef would get a kick out of his transformation into something of a rascal who has a grudge against Ariadne for being a bit too free for a “mere woman.”)
One of Josef’s goats peered in through the verandah doorway of the taverna, black splotches over the pointed white face, fixing its satyr’s eye on Peter. Beard and wattles shaking, it trotted over to its master, butting him half off the chair.
“Young upstart! So you think you can take me?” Josef roared with laughter and kicked the goat away. Mavroyennis came flapping his apron to shoo it back outside.
The old man hauled himself out of his chair, straightening with a grimace, teetering like one of the island’s wind-twisted olive trees. “Josef Andrianopoulos will live forever. Still potent as the devil!” He drew himself up and gave Peter a fierce look. “Seize life, boy! Grip it like a sponge and wring it dry! Fear is for women and—” He broke off into a coughing fit.
Josef smacked himself on the chest with a shaking hand and proclaimed, “I spit at death! I spit at God and the devil!” He hawked and spat on the floor as the owner threw his arms up. A brown hand gripped Peter’s shoulder as the old man leaned close to give him a significant look. “Toh tharos!” Courage. He seized his carved staff and shuffled out into the night, stiff but upright in his baggy tattered pants and cracked boots, calling for his dog, calling for his goats.
Jim, Josef, and I all shared the greening beauty of this stretch of coastline, its steep ravines sparkling with rivulets from the mountain springs, clothed in fresh leaves and spectacular spring wildflowers. I drank in the broad stretches of wild poppies, both red and white, mixed with unnamed purple, yellow, and pink blossoms. Josef ushered us to the kafenion (a very basic café) in the village, and promised to see us later. I was glad I’d decided to wear a hiking skirt, as the inhabitants of these remote areas seemed more welcoming to modestly-dressed visitors than the scantily-clad vacationers we occasionally encountered.
After lunch at the kafenion, we found the bus stop, only to learn that because of the upcoming Easter holiday, there would be no transportation out for several days. And the only road along the coast was blocked by a large pile of branches and wood scraps, in the process of being augmented by some boys dragging another branch over to the pile.
As we contemplated this mystery, a distinguished-looking Greek man dressed in nice slacks and a white shirt approached us to introduce himself and ask—in English!—if we needed help. Stelios Mamalakis, it turned out, had been born in the village but now resided in the States and was visiting his family home here. He asked about our travels, and I explained my lifelong fascination with Greek history and intention to write a novel someday. At this news, Stelios lit up and began to explain the history of the village, pointing toward the church that his grandfather had built. He guided us to the only hotel in town and invited us to come to his house later for dinner. We had chanced upon the fabled Greek hospitality to the wandering stranger!
Tune in next time for more about our guided tour of the area, courtesy of Kyrie (Mr.) Mamalakis, Easter celebrations, and the mystery solved of the bonfire in the middle of the road….
You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here on alternate Saturdays. Sara’s newest novel from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.