Monday, May 30, 2011

Road Babe Dispatch From Cycladian Islands

All the Cycladian Islands are stunning. With crystalline turquoise waters lapping a variety of terrain, from the red pebbled shores of Akroiteri to the sheer cliffs of Sounoin, this isn't an area lacking in natural beauty. Yet, in my humble opinion, the little-talked-about isle of Crete is the best.

Often, the least-mentioned places are most worthwhile. As Machu Picchu slides off the mountain from the thousands of tourists bused to the top daily, the Cretan coast relaxes in silence. It’s not only the absence of tourists that makes this array of colorful beaches so delightful. It’s also the presence of vivacious locals who know the meaning of hospitality.

I arrived on an overnight ferry from the port city of Pirreaus at five in the morning. After throwing my bags in the first taxi I saw, I gave the driver an address to the hotel I’d found in my guidebook. “Oh no,” he said, “You don’t want to stay there.” I assumed he was pulling the usual cabbie move, but he threw out an offer that was hard to pass up: twenty bucks a night at a hotel on the beach. At that hour I suppose I was easy to convince, but this guy was no ordinary guide.

Johannes’ promises were always exceeded by their fulfillment. Even his speechless Grecian wife was more striking than he had described. Whether it was cave-framed sunsets over the green bay in Matala where Zeus stole Europa as a bull, or eating head-on redfish and watching the noonday sun over the abandoned leper colony on Spiralongia, he always had a story to tell. “Matala,” he said sucking the fish eyes from their delicate sockets, “is Sodom and Gomorrah to the British.” His wife nodded before slamming a shot.

Pretty soon, they had adopted me as one of their own. I walked out of Phaestos, the famous Minoan ruins, to find Johannes parked outside. “Where’s Penelope?” I asked. He pointed off the side of a sheer precipice. Moments later, a cloth sack swung over the ledge and up climbed Penelope without even an extended hand from her husband. She smoothed her hair before showing me her prize: snails for dinner.

At their house, Johannes and I debated philosophy in his sea-side garden, eating cucumbers straight out of the ground and drinking warm homemade Raki in a humid breeze. We dug the fatty grey creatures from their shells with enormous forks. They introduced me to their daughter, who (after dancing me dead at four in the morning) left me at a high speed ferry headed for Santorini with the most beastly hangover possible. I raise my glass to Cretan hospitality!

Mittie Babette Roger is from Louisiana but lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University and authored the book It's Better to Visit the Shaman Without Questions to Ask. She travels the world volunteering to help disadvantaged children and promoting Blue Iguana Tequila to empower serious drinkers.

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