Soon after we arrived in Crete, we knew that the locals had warmed to us because they gave us the traditional Cretan greeting. That’s when you say: “A Cretan good morning to you, sir!” while you fake-shake the end of a man’s penis.
This is not actually a traditional Cretan greeting but one of us envisioned that it was. We’d pretend to greet each other like this, even though I don’t have a penis, over our three days on the island, during which the Beast did all the driving. (We got a VW Polo, which was marginally better than the Suzuki Celerio.) This was cause for another fight because he tried to drive like the Greeks: fast, and down-shifting on hills instead of breaking. I asked him to slow down. He took offence. As a cis male, he said, it was in his blood to drive this way, like the Cretan (cis males) did, and how could I possibly understand?
Crete is the land where Zeus was raised in a cave, where Theseus slew the Minotaur and stole away Ariadne, where the Minoans, one of the most remarkable and advanced civilizations to have ever existed, flourished some 3,500 years ago, and where they worshipped the ancient mother goddess Diktynna, which I told the Beast he wouldn’t understand because he’s a cis male.
Three days were not enough. We want to go back for 10 days, in order to explore the gorges, more beaches, and more archaeological sites. And we know we’ll make Villa Kamara, an Airbnb listing, our home base again. Our hosts greeted us with olive oil, bread, cheese, baked goods and tsikoudia (Western Crete’s version of raki, which I guess is sort of like grappa) all of which they made with their own hands. In fact the 200-year-old villa had been lovingly rebuilt by our host’s father. It was a magical place, not unlike a labyrinth.
We ate our breakfast on one terrace, and sipped our evening wine and star-gazed on another. At night, the only thing we could hear were goats and dogs and crickets. In the morning, we heard a rooster. Actually we heard that damn rooster at night, too, which made us think that Cretan roosters were crazy.
After settling in and pinching ourselves, we drove 25 minutes to Falasarna for a beautiful swim. The light changed every five minutes, metamorphosing the Mediterranean Sea as it shifted. I found a secluded cove that I named “The Rose Quartz Grotto.”
The Beast asked to eat a seaside tavern that he liked the looks of. It was a giant white porch with giant blue letters that said “TAVERNA”. That’s where we had my favourite meal on the trip: fried calamari, fried vegetables, boiled greens called stamnagathi, which are native to the region and which we became obsessed with, tzatziki, which was the most garlicky and most delicious we’d have on the trip, and a grilled dorado. We were the only ones there. And our server, an amiable thirty-something Cretan, with two degrees, was generous with the tsikoudia. He also brought us a heaping plate of yogurt for dessert, a plate of dark blue grapes, and some of his mother’s mithistra cheese.
It was hard to leave, but then the lights went out. Literally. Elefteris, our server, said not to worry. It was probably just a fire in a local village. The three of us chatted more. Then his boss called him over. Elefteris came back and apologized profusely but said they had to leave to help put the fire out.
It was the same fire we had to literally drive through to get home. We tried to bypass it–at one point, the Beast had to make a three-point turn on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea–but there was only one way out. Eventually we made it home. We sat in silence at the villa, shaking our heads at the surreal event, our clothes still smelling of smoke. In bed, listening to the crazy Cretan rooster, the Beast noted that it’s a good thing he was a cis male with the spirit of a Cretan, or how else would we have gotten home?
The next morning I wanted to drive to the Sanctuary of Diktynna, one of the oldest and most sacred spots on the island, to get in touch with the mother goddess and to see the ruins that at one point Hadrian paid to have spruced up. Also, I had become obsessed with finding hidden rocky coves with beaches with florescent water and the Blue guide hinted that we’d have a memorable and secluded swim here. The guide also said it was a rough road and four-wheel drive was encouraged. We started out. When the road ended and turned to a dirt path–at one point we found remnants of the Roman stone road!–we realized it might not be a good idea to keep going. We were the only ones on the road, beside some goats and a Polish biker headed to the sanctuary. We were only 17 km away but Google maps, which had been so precise throughout our trip, said it would take another hour or so to get there!
Sadly, we turned around. I hope the Polish biker made it there safely.
Instead, we drove to Balos Beach, which also required driving on a dirt road. It was actually worse than the road we’d just been on but there were so many other tourists driving shitty little cars that we kept going.
Oh boy was it worth it. We even found a secluded little area, which I called our “Electric Blue Cove”.
That night we had a beautiful dinner at Gramvousa restaurant. The Beast polished off a traditional Cretan pie stuffed with lamb, spices and honey. I had pork souvlaki. Again, the tsikoudia flowed like water.
The next day, we left the villa and headed toward Heraklion on the other side of the island. It was time to visit the palace of Knossos.
By this point, we’d become fascinated with the archaeology of archaeology, if you will. Knossos is a bit controversial because the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans sort of went hog wild: he filled in, some say garishly, many of the missing bits, leaving less for the imagination. I don’t know why, but this site, one which I’ve dreamed of seeing ever since my brother told me about the Minoan Bronze Age civilization and the Queen’s quarters in the Palace here, which was outfitted with an actual drainage system, was less magical than I’d anticipated. It was hard to make sense of what was Neolithic (7000 BC), the first Bronze Age palace (1900-1700 BC) that was destroyed probably by an earthquake,and the New Palace (1700-1450 BC), which was destroyed after either a natural disaster (although archaeologists have ruled out a tsunami caused by the volcanic eruption in Santorini, even though it’s so alluring a story!) or a man-made one (invaders) by the way of mainland Greece. In either case, the Mycenaeans took charge around 1450.
Although I was less swept up by the mythology of this being King Minos’ palace, of Ariadne dancing here, of Theseus navigating his way through the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur, I was taken by just how capable these people were: I mean, 3500 years ago they were trading with Egypt, with mainland Greece and within the Cyclades! They made these giant amphorae that were filled with grains, olive oil and wine! They were the first Europeans to develop a form of writing! The Queen had a fucking toilet!
It was time to drop off the rental car. The Beast drove 394 km in Crete (783 fewer kilometres than I drove during Part 1.)
We checked into the GDM Megaron, which overlooks the harbour in Heraklion. Everyone was so damn friendly here. We had a room with a view, which was hard to leave but we needed to visit the archaeological museum and then we needed sustenance, which was provided by Ligo Krasi…Ligo Thalassa, a restaurant meaning “a little wine…a little sea”. We were right on the water but close to quite a bit of traffic. No matter: the servers kept us laughing and drinking raki, which again flowed like water. They let us choose our fish and recommended an incredible bottle of Assyrtiko, a white Greek varietal that we’d become very familiar with by now. It was a fabulous meal, despite the Beast insisting on ordering an extra dish of fried little fishes, even though we’d already ordered so much and I knew he wouldn’t eat them all. (He didn’t.)
The next morning, after wishing the hotel staff all a traditional Cretan good morning and good bye, we made the 10-minute walk to the port in order to catch the Highspeed 7 ferry to Santorini. Paying an extra 7 euro each for the VIP section was the best money I’ve ever spent. It got us in the mind frame we needed before checking into the most luxurious hotel that either of us will probably ever stay at. We were ballers now, which also meant no more traditional Cretan greetings.