They shaded their eyes from the glinting golden sun reflected from alabaster walls. Their journey through the portal revealed, at last, an alternative Knossos, a temple like no other, neither in the past nor in the present. Hidden behind a secret waterfall, deep in the Asterousia Mountains of Crete, Minas and Kallia chanced upon the place the goddess protected. Theirs was an epic tale, of reality conjured from myth, and played out over a lifetime and a summer’s walk in the daylight.
Markos, who had built a dream retreat atop a mountain, he’d promised them something amazing, but who believes innkeepers and outdoorsmen? I heard of the secret cave beneath the falls, from our friend Marina, after an enchanting evening at the Minoan Theater. The actors in that entertaining play, unbeknownst to guests, reproduced the ritual dance of the ancients, onlookers growing suspicious because of ethereal emotions rising. Marina said Markos knew of this secret place, and I wanted to believe. But, it was Kallie who first questioned me in curiosity. How could I have known she would play siren and beckon her husband Minas to take her there, to the pool beneath the enchanted falls?
You’d think it a sad thing, that they never returned form the other side, our dear Cretan friends. But when they called to us at our little house in tiny Tsoutsouras, our humble place by the Libyan Sea. Mihaela, Paul, and I, and our Cretan Hound Mojito rejoiced at the song of their distant voices, their faint echo patting the gentle waves off the beach. “We are here, here where you said”, they kept whispering gently. At first, we did not believe, then familiar feelings embraced us, and a collective dream where their wonderful family clutched a sacred Baeytl, just like the one at the lost palace of Galatas. The conduit with the goddess, carrying their sweet voices to us. And I know what we had to do.
Markos Skordalakis welcomed us with that brilliant smile, his bearded face and scrolling locks reminding me of Herkules. Sitting on the stallion in the courtyard of Thalori, he was an apt icon, of the journey we’d set out on when we left clammy Germany years before. “Are you ready?” he asked with those luminous eyes. Markos, you see, spoke not one word of English. He didn’t need to. Some people express everything with their gestures and deeds. Dismounting, he took young Paul’s shoulder, gesturing him toward a path leading down the mountain. He’d had the staff prepare day packs for us, and my guess was we would not need more.
Down and down the cliffside we walked single file, prescient to the hundreds of meters of thin air between us and the sea. Paul, ever the brave one, tested the edges of oblivion along the way, which evoked the mothering severity of Mihaela’s rebuke. Markos, leading the way, just shook his head from time to time, perhaps recalling his own youthful exuberance. We soon passed through the opening of a cave punched into a solid rock wall. After some minutes of fumbling in the dark, a blue luminescence of the Libyan Sea made soft light tremble across the finely etched rock of the cave.
We emerged on a narrow path twenty meters above the water and cluing to carved handholds leading along the cliff’s edge. Then finally, we turned a corner to gape in awe, at Eden before us. Seemingly from nowhere, a hundred-meter high veil of water plunged into a blue-green pool fifty meters wide. I stood amazed that not a sound had emanated outside this little canyon. Surprise registered above everything else, that is, until she appeared from out of nowhere.
Until next time…….
Additional photo credit to Alexandros Roniotis, founder of Cretan Beaches, for the feature photo of the secret falls.