The smell of marine diesel fuel hung thick on Kostas’ zip-front jacket as we sped down the zig-zagging harbor road that snaked around tiny Ligaria Village of Crete. Back home in Georgia, in the U.S. we would call my thrill-seeking ride on the back of the fishing captain’s stalwart moto scooter, an experience where you “fear for your life.” As for Kostas, the everyday moto-trek only showed the man’s skill at doing what he does and doing it well. A Cretan fisherman some 4o years, the way KostasInd me hooked up is fodder for another adventure tale on this unbelievable island. In this case, don’t bother to fasten your seatbelts, because scooters and Greek fishing boats don’t have any.
When my wife Mihaela woke me up last Saturday, the blurry dreams spurred by this mythical island dissolved slowly. “Wake up honey, I’m in the mood for another adventure,” she whispered in the ear not buried in the pillow. For those of you who are not blessed with a crazy wife, it’s important that one act quickly if you want to grab hold of amazing. And here on Crete, amazement can come at any given moment. So, when Mihaela woke me, I jumped out of dreamland pretty quick. A jug of coffee from the amazing Hacienda La Minta shop just down the street and I was ready to plan an excursion. Limited only by a genius wife’s constantly rebooting brain, the ultimate plan took shape about the time I managed to put my shirt on right side out. With Mihaela (Mig) adjusting our trip parameters according to limiting her boredom quotient (she has the attention span of a speeding cheetah), 45 minutes driving quickly turned into 30, and then 15 – since long uneventful drives make her brain squirm like in the Doors song, Riders on the Storm. At length, the two of us climbed aboard our little green Ford Ka for the trip to the destination I’d chosen. Hiding our target as long as I could, I finally ended up yelling, “Ligaria, we’ve never been to Ligaria Village!” Our little boy Paul begged to stay home, probably owing to his hereditary short attention span, so we were blessed to be able to listen to Greek music without hearing our little boy squawk about the bouzouki playing in the background. More on Pop and “Uutz-uutz” music (Mig’s term).
About 15 minutes drive outside the capital of Crete, Heraklion, this quaint little seaside town was once an unknown (to visitors) fishing village. Today, like Agia Pelagia and many other Cretan coast hamlets, Ligaria (Lygaria) is a pretty popular tourist Mecca. Less famous than its neighbor (Agia Pelagia to the west) the picturesque village sits on an amazing bay that shelters the beach from seaward. Tiny tavernas and shops dot the beachfront, and vacation villas are scattered about the mountainous slopes that guard the place against any wind from the south. “Amazing” is the only word that describes the feeling the place evokes, but Crete is full of such places. The bay here harbors many secrets, which I will talk about in future stories, but our “mission” this past weekend was reconnaissance and photo ops. On the latter, we were only moderately successful since, as Mig told me, “I suck at photography.” But a chance discovery made our recon mission a total success.
After we’d settled whether or not we had actually ever been to Ligaria, Mig did her best to pose for cool Instagram photos on the deserted beach, on the hillsides, and against some amazing backdrops, you will see here. Though she insisted I pose like Brad Pitt for a vacation commercial, I managed to keep my extra twenty kilos of Cretan cuisine hidden from the general public, just a while longer. Then something cool happened. As I tried to frame Mig against a small boat on the beach, a smiling and inquisitive face appeared in the window of a tavern we thought was closed. There on the cliff-side, a pretty lady gazed down in puzzlement, at us “posing” on the beach. Seeing her I immediately understood how strange we must have looked, playing Vogue Magazine photographers in the dead of winter. A big wave from us, brought a gleeful acknowledgment from the woman. Later on, we learned that Emmanuella (her name) works every day at the taverna connected to the popular Lygaria Beach Hotel, which is a bit further up the slope overlooking the beach.
After a bit more exploring, we walked up the steps leading to the Lygaria Beach tavern, where Emmanuella and the chef, Marinos waited. Though they seemed a bit surprised to be welcoming “tourists” in winter, they were none the less super friendly, as is usually the case here on Crete. A light lunch of amazing grilled vegetables, Greek pasta, and amazing tzatziki, and we all joined in conversation at our table in the almost deserted taverna. Halfway through a talk on when, where, who, and how, and in walks, a stout, salty looking fellow in bright yellow rubber boots anyone would identify with the sea. Politely, Emmanuella introduced us to Kostas, whom she called affectionately, “the captain.” Next, we were joined by the owner of Lygaria Hotel, a tall handsome man named Yiannis. Half an hour later, the real adventure began.
After some back and forth, Kostas finally joined us at the table. Mig, as is customary, minced no words in inquiring about whether or not the captain would take her fishing. She’s wanted an authentic Cretan fishing trip since we move to Crete over a year ago, so there was little chance she’d pass up such an opportunity. Without a sideways look, Kostas assured my better half he’d show all of us the best fishing holes on the northern shore of Crete. That was, as soon as we went to the port in Heraklion to get fishing licenses. Undaunted, Mig agreed we’d obtain the proper papers, and we’d meet him at the dock whenever he said. Satisfied, the whole group ventured into another conversational territory, which seemed to make the non-English speaking fishing captain nervous. After a couple of minutes Kostas stood up and motioned at me, “Ella, Fillipos,” he said sternly. At this Mig insisted I follow, since she knew instinctively (she’s good at this) some great odyssey would ensure.
Following Kostas down the steep steps to the parking lot below, I could not help notice a well-used scooter parked at the bottom of the stairs. Thinking the fisherman was surely taking me to see his fishing boat, a death-defying scooter ride was the last thing from my mind. When broad-shouldered 100 and something kilos Kostas kicked the tiny beast of a motorbike to life and motioned, “Ella, ella,” I knew my sedentary writer’s lifestyle would be shaken alive again. Beep, beep! Off we rocketed and bounced toward destination “up or over yonder,” for I had no clue where we were headed. Too proud and manly to cling to the tough fisherman’s form, my 125 kilos clung to life and limb reaching behind me to grip the tiny fingerhold on the seat back. Somehow, amazingly, we sped up the steep slopes, and tested the tiny moped’s braked on the way down to Kostas’ waiting truck parked on the other side of the harbor. Again, “Ella, ella Fillipos,” and we were speeding up the mountainside in a late model pickup filled with the stuff working men throw haphazardly into their vehicles. For anyone who’s done a hard days work out of a truck or van, there are only 24 hours in a day and no more for pickup truck detailing and cleaning. You get the picture. Zoom! Off to God knows where or Heraklion.
There’s a funny thing in between men. Though some of us are born talkers or born listeners, there’s a strange release in silence. Questions, answers, the weather, mumbled topics and lazy inquisitiveness are actually contrary to good communication sometimes. Between me and this Cretan fisherman, amazingly, I found little cause to run my mouth incessantly. I know my amazing wife and all my friends and relatives will be in disbelief reading this, but I assure you Kostas and I did not speak 10 words between us in over an hour and a half. Arrving at the tiny port of Pantanassa halfway in between Ligaria and Heraklion, I did comment I’d been there once before. As it turned out, Kostas’ boat was moored at the docks here, which was a great relief from the unknowing in between. Once again, Crete had a funny and amazing mental surprise in store. You will laugh.
I had forgotten my jacked when I exited the Lygaria Beach tavern, figuring we’d only be gone a couple of minutes, I just ran out the door without it. Standing on the quay at looking at a beautiful 15 meter, wooden fishing boat (or Kaiki), I could not help but shiver a bit against the stiff wind before a pending storm. So, when Kostas motioned for a dock attendant to help him untie a 4-meter boat that sat underneath the bigger vessel, you’ll understand how my mind froze thinking about the cold spray that would surely pierce me should we motor out into the whitecaps outside the harbor. You see, I still had no idea what our ultimate “mission” was. Were we delivering Kostas’ boat back to Ligaria, an hour or more away? Did he want to, sure enough, take me fishing? Had some long forgotten enemy of mine paid the stallwart fisherman to send me to Davy Jones’ locker? Again, I hope I’ve painted a crisp and salty seawater cold image for you. If not, please consider how “brave” Kostas the fishing captain must be, in order to sail out into the Cretan Sea each day, in a boat taking on more water than it displaces. Yes, the tiny but sturdy craft could use some cork and paint, and probably a little diesel overhaul. Amazing, amazed, and reminded I am of just how tough and versatile human beings are. Bravo Kostas! For delivering on your promise to provide, no matter what. And, for just taking me to shore up the lines before bad weather moved in.
About the time Mig called to find out where the hell we were, I was pretty sure my honor would demand I go down with Kostas and his epic little fishing craft. Then that familiar gravely voice holler, “Ella, Fillipos, ella!” Then we made the drive in knowing silence back to picturesque Ligaria, to my wonderful wife, my warm Averix jacket, and to the seat warmers in our tiny Ford Ka. I cannot begin to express the kindness and kinship the people of this island give freely. You’ll have to ride with Kostas yourself, ride like 250 kilos of “hell bent for leather” on a scooter of which the name has long since worn off. Only then will you be able to deliver yourself to the fates that reside beneath the crystal Cretan Sea. Thank you, Kostas, for delivering me back to my roots and human beings who are normal in their heads.
Until next weekend, when we go in search of the eternal outside Arkalochori, I hope you got a laugh from our latest Crete experience. Hopefully, we can show the world what “normal” really means.