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::Stelios Jackson's walks
interkriti:the E4 and other Mythical Trails-by Stelios Jackson
A diary of events of the trials and tribulations
of a lone walker, in his attempt to cross Crete
from Kato Zakros to Kissamos...
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Chapter Seven: Vasilki to Selakano (Two days).


Monday the 19th of May
Openings
The check-out time from the hotel 'Apollon' was midday. It was fast approaching that hour now. Rex and I had spent the previous couple of hours, attempting to track down a replica of the camera I had so carelessly lost on the kaldemiri to Chisopigi. We had given it our best shot, so to speak, but there was not a Nikon Coolpix 5700 to be had in town. We had failed. We had failed miserably. I felt a miserable failure. Rex asked me to remove my hand from his knee. No, he wasn't miserable. Or a failure! I still had a couple of hours to enjoy Rex's company, before we'd be separated for the final time. I dreaded that moment. I tried to think of witty, pithy things to say. I failed at this too! My watch's hands ticked on, remorselessly. We reached the hotel at a quarter to 12, leaving me enough time to spot a disposable camera with the Greek flag embossed upon it in the window of a shop adjacent to the hotel;  buy it for all of  €8 (a net saving of up to the €992 I had been willing to spend this morning to replace my camera), gather our luggage, place it in the car, and all this before mid-day struck. Rex sparked the car's ignition into life, and we were on the road again. The drive was painless, other than a creeping feeling of imminent Rexlessness, which wasn't at all painless!

Half an hour later and we were sat outside the kafeneion in Vasiliki. We sat at an outdoor table, partly because it was a beautiful sunny day, and partly because the kafeneion was closed. We were joined by an elderly chap, who talked in sentences, most of which I didn't understand. Shortly after, our quest for a caffeine high was sated by the arrival of the kafeneion's owner. Three huge pick-up trucks passed the kafeneion, during our time there. One was selling chairs, another blankets and the third? Chairs and blankets. Of course! I came close to buying a chair from the first vendor, a blanket from the second, and one of each, from the third. I did none of these things. Instead, I sorted out my luggage for the final time from the car's boot. I still possessed more books than an average library. I decided that I could afford to take only  four of these along, with my preferred guidebook ('The Rough Guide to Crete') and eight(!) maps. I'd brought a Grundig Porsche radio with me. Ostensibly bought as a boy's toy and brought with me for its short-wave facility. So far, on this trip, I had managed to pick up 'Radio Libya FM' and 'Good Morning Cadafy', neither of which spoke my kinda language. I left the radio in the boot of the car, in an already overloaded suitcase. I had yet to discover the wonderful world of MP3 players, instead relying on the technological wonders of a CD Walkman and 11 CDs - of the 500 that I own -  ten in a carry-case plus one that lived in the player. The usual suspects: Beatles, Costello Bowie, and Coldplay The odd spot was dedicated to a band called 'Microdisney', that nobody other than my Polish friend, Bogus, and I have ever heard of. Well, that's not quite true, but we are the band's only fans as far as I can tell; conventions were probably held in a telephone box, and that only if the band members turned up.  No, I know you are not interested, but I like them, and just had to get the name of that band into this script somehow. It also delays the moment of that sweetest of sorrows. Parting.
Closure
Rex and I hugged for the final time. I was holding myself together pretty well, but determined that once I'd set off, I would not look back. And so I placed one foot in front of the other and headed towards an E4 sign that I had spotted running up a side street, parallel with Vasiliki's kafeneion. Rex is short and bearded. He is quite handsome in an elfish kind of way. There is something about him that the ladies like. Up until now, this had been lost on me. I looked back. Rex was standing there looking like a little-boy-lost and, as I waved a last goodbye, the horrible truth struck me. As we say in East Barnet "You're nothing without your 'elf".  Tears welled up and stung my eyes as I took a left turn and headed west, on a clearly marked footpath. I was upset. I was very upset. I wouldn't get over the loss of my best friend for days, perhaps weeks. Maybe I'd never get over this moment. Of course, I had no idea of what he'd be up to. I knew that he needed to return the car, and that he'd arranged to meet the extremely good people of Oleander Cars, who'd remarkably agreed to refund me €500 for its early return. Little did I know at the time, but this is how Rex spent the day before we left each other:

This Hrissopigi went to market
(OK, I could deliberately write a bit of story to justify this title but hey, what the heck.)

 

I have just reread everything to date. It has swept me back to Crete - was it only a year ago? - and tootling around on the roads less travelled, sun-roof off, windows open, snakes and lizards darting across the path before me. Up and down the Sitia Road, in and out of the kafeneion. 'Launderette', it says in my dictionary, is 'plintirio'. Sitia has a very convenient tourist advice office or 'touristiko graphio'. "Pou einai to plintirio?" I would have asked had I the incredible command of Greek that I have gathered in the last three terms at Bromley Adult Education Centre. As it was, a man came to the window and I simply said 'plintirio' in a questioning sort of way. He knew I was English but decided to either ignore it or he spoke only Greek. He pointed across the road and said something in a tone of voice that suggested an answer along the lines of "Are you blind or what? It's right there you stupid prat!" "No, that's a car wash. I want a launderette" (waving handfuls of grubby white T-shirts).  "Nai, ekino einai,"  he probably said. 'Yes, it's there.' It wasn't. Once again, I walked all round the car wash and there was no sign of so much as a packet of Bold.

 

Rereading the boy Stelios's absorbing prose, as I say, brings it all back as though it were yesterday. But it also enables me to find out where you are, dear reader. We've struggled a long way together and the walk proper has only just begun. By now you will have some inkling of just what kind of chap this so-called Tsaksonakis really is. Rugged, determined, mildly paranoid, wary of Greeks proffering lifts, scatterbrained even. This last ('scatterbrained' that is, there is nothing wrong with 'even') is totally the wrong word. Hyperactive comes closer to the mark. Even when he complains of being exhausted, he has such boundless energy that he can still leave his seat to become involved in a conversation at the other end of the bar, and then be drawn in to yet a third group of people at a different table. Each time he moves he leaves something of his on the way: a drink, a book, a camera...; you see where I'm going with this? This often results in his picking up other people's property by mistake. If the lad had a motto it would be "See a lighter, pick it up and all the day you'll have (Jeremy Clarkson pause) a lighter - or, in fact, several lighters." What he didn't tell is that, when searching for the camera, apart from the sweets he found various other items that he had deposited on the side of that mountain; such as my lighter!

 

So far on this trip he has lost a notebook containing at least one important 'phone number, a torch, a personal dictating machine, several hundred quids worth of camera, a packet of sweets, and broken his compass. OK, he found the sweets and he squashed the compass and I'm glossing over the mobile phone incident because we have totally different memories of who actually drowned the thing. But you need to understand that this is a man of considerable intellect, whose concentration simply cannot keep up with his fidgeting. A warm, kind hearted, adventurous soul with a tendency to act on impulse and leave something behind when he does so. He has the heart of a lion and the constitution of a vegetarian. You may think his self deprecating prose makes him look a bit of a plonker. Read on. If that's true, he's not the only plonker on this odyssey. Incidentally, we need to get something straight. There is nothing wrong with these docksiders as hiking boots. They give no ankle support, certainly, but they have a good grip and they go up and down mountainsides with alacrity. Unfortunately that cannot be said for the legs attached to them. They still do a lot of walking but for some reason they do not like going up. 'Up' was something I did a lot of that day on the camera search. After I left the sad but intrepid hiker making his way on the right road to Chrisopigi, I sauntered back into the valley and began the walk up the other side to where we had left to aftokinito mas. It took me something like 15 minutes to reach the valley floor and another hour and a half to climb up the other side. Much as I love Crete for rambling about on, there is definitely far too much 'up'.

The day I dropped Stelios at Chrisopigi, I made one of those rash decisions that I had been secretly laughing behind my hand at whenever the lad recounted one of his tales of 'Why doesn't the E4 have a white line running up the middle of it?' Above, is a little map to demonstrate my stupidity.As I hope you can see from this, Happy Legs is sauntering off towards Vassiliki while I am faced with a choice of three roads. On closer examination, you will see that the good road runs all the way back to Sitia, more or less, before I can turn back towards Agios Nikolaos. There is another road that comes out at Messa Mouliana, but the most direct route is obviously the one that comes out just west of Lastros. I have to commend this last, the one I took, to all of you who want to see the real Crete. Straight enough though it appears on the map, it winds along the sides of narrow gorges with magnificent views, occasional glimpses of sea, fascinating wild life and narry a soul on it but the traveller. Please, get yourself to Hrissopigi and aim yourself at Lastros. You won't regret it.Don't do it in a car. Really. Don't even attempt it in a four-wheel-drive, off-road vehicle with extra large tyres. You could probably do it happily on foot or in something with tracks on, a small tank or farm vehicle, but not in a small Citroen "not insured for it's undersides."  The problem is that the road starts off like any good road, room for two to pass and properly metalled. Then it deteriorates into a sort of badly laid concrete, but still quite wide. Then you reach a point which, it transpires, is the last possible opportunity to turn round. After that the road is usable, though you don't want to meet anybody coming the other way, for quite a distance before the concrete turns first to gravel and then to small boulders about the size of two fists.

 These rocks are scattered all over the back roads of Crete and, for that matter, most of this part of the world. Generally there are two ruts that mostly avoid them. Here there is nothing. It's a road for goats and nothing else. Dropping into first gear I was bounced down the gorges for 40 minutes, stopping occasionally to go: 'Oh what a lovely view.' At first, a cautionary little voice in my head said: 'Stop now! Go back. Go back.' But it was interrupted by another little voice saying, 'What? You think I'm going to reverse up that thing!' About two thirds of the way down, the road improves briefly as you pass through what us Londoners recognise as stock-broker belt. This is where the rich people live, hidden away up some rarely travelled valley in their big houses with barb-wire fences 20-foot high. After that the road never gets quite as bad until, perhaps 200 yards from the junction at Lastros it becomes a perfectly good surface again. This was where I hit the rock. OK, I was suffering from repetitive whiplash from all the bouncing and I relaxed. The rock was no bigger that any of the ones I had been bouncing over for the past 40 minutes, but it was unexpected and it was right under the front offside wheel and it had a deflating effect on the tyre. 'Bang!' it said to me. By this time was around noon and "damn hot, Caruthers". I found a jack, a serviceable spare wheel and a brace. All was not lost. However, the four wheel nuts might have been tightened by Archemedes having found a place to stand and attempting to move the world. Worse, the brace has no great affinity with the wheel nuts. Stamping on it to free them just causes it to fall off every time. I find a large stone. After several attempts I finally hear a tiny noise. The first nut is beginning to give. I embark upon the following procedure: place brace on nut, hit brace with rock, brace falls off, place brace on nut, hit brace with rock, brace falls off. Repeat about 10 times until a slight give can be heard. It took 20 minutes to remove the first nut and about the same on each of the others.

 

I was fortunate in that the puncture had happened in the middle of an olive grove. Right beside me was a hose that was gushing water into the ground. Every 15 minutes or so I stopped and ran this over my stinging hands and enjoyed a few sips. When the job was finally complete I would be able to wash my hands before setting off again. I had just loosened the final nut when a car drew up just below me and an elderly gentleman got out. 'Kalimera,' I said, thinking, 'Typical. Just when I no longer need any help, somebody turns up.' 'Yiasou,' he said. But he didn't say anything about help. Instead, he inspected his olive trees, got back in his car and left. But not before he had produced a large, official-looking key and turned the water off.

Rex Anderson.

Here we lose Rex, for good. Well, at least for the next three weeks. I can do no more than thank him for his flowing prose and forever flowering friendship. Cheers blossom! SJ



Pro Mythos Unbound

As I say, I knew that I would never get over this loss of my friend. Two minutes after I had reached that conclusion, I had forgotten all about old "what's his name?"; a new dawn had broken; one where I wasn't reliant on anybody other than myself. One where I could head for wherever I chose. Stop anywhere; the chains of having to reach a certain place by a certain time had been released, and whilst I wanted to arrive in Prina, this evening, there was nothing to stop me heading for Aghios Nikolaos and shacking up there for the next three weeks. I felt a beer coming on, but the bars around this area are well camouflaged. Should I go back to Vasiliki? No. It was already getting on in time, and whilst the walk today was a mere 19KMs (presumably as the crow flies), I couldn't afford to dilly-dally on my way. I took off my bag and surveyed the landscape. The kalderimi (old mule track) that I had found myself on was all but deserted. It stretched into the distance, where I could just make out a shepherds four wheel drive truck. Another E4 sign marked my way and picking my bag from where it lay, placing it on my back, and feeling suddenly, remarkably cheerful, I headed west, to discover what lay ahead for both me and the landscape. What lay ahead, was much more of the same. This is fabulous walking territory. Vasiliki has an altitude of about 100 metres, making it one of the lowest, non-coastal places on the island; Crete just doesn't do "flat"! Over the next two days, I would need to climb to over 1000 metres, before I tackled the Dikteian range. This meant that my path would be in a mostly upward direction and, at times, I would know it!

I arrived at a village. Well, more of a hamlet really. One without even a kafeneion to its name: which was Asari; The Happy Walker website, calls this village "deserted"; "desolate" would be my description. I had a look around the place in case it revealed a hidden E4 sign in a place where one wouldn't suspect. It didn't. Another hour or so of carefree walking later, and the village of  Meseleri (ancient Oleros) was approaching fast;  I could see a village to my right (north) and wondered whether I should head for it. I could just about make out a road leading from that village in the direction that I would want to travel. I decided against this as a plan. No, I would head west, directly towards Meseleri . This I did and before long I came to a landmark that was on my maps. The beautifully positioned monastery of Panaghias Vryomenis (pictured), dating back to 1577,  was deserted. Up until this point, my path had been mostly uphill, now it headed downwards. All of the benefit I had gained in altitude would be undone, and tomorrow's walk to Selakano, would, once again, be in an upwardly mobile direction. Arriving at Meseleri (altitude: 360 metres above sea level), I headed straight out and followed the road towards Prina. This is where I was stopped by a truck driver. He was trying to get to Aghios Nikolaos. And he was asking me? I sent him on his way, and towards where I expected the town I had awoken in, this morning, to be. At least I hope I did. For all I know he may still be trying to find the place, given my directional skills.

The bridge over the road, leading to Prina was not in a great state of repair. Put it this way, there was not much of the bridge left. Traffic cones warned drivers to steer clear of its more easterly side, unless one wanted a close encounter with a 50 metre drop. Single lane traffic was now all the bridge could take. I needed something to eat. I also needed somewhere to stay. I spied a taverna on the main road out of Prina, and believed I could kill two birds with a single stone here. The village itself is situated high above the road I was on, and rather rashly I decided to ignore its existence. Dimitris Pitopoulis is the owner of the Prina taverna, and a very fine place he has too. On entering the taverna I entered into a conversation with the lady running it. I didn't catch her name, but she hailed from Bulgaria and spoke very good Greek. Was there anywhere to stay in the village itself? I asked her. Apparently there wasn't; at least not for the short-term stay of one night that I had planned. The villa I had passed, a few metres down the road, with the swimming pool, was rented out from abroad, on a weekly basis. I knew that I would be out for the night, and somehow, that really excited me. I sat at a table and ordered a spaghetti and a Greek salad, a bottle of Retsina and a beer and lemonita as an aperitif. 7PM. It would be dark in an couple of hours or so, and I needed to have set up camp by then. For now, however, I eavesdropped on a conversation from the only other taken table, with a British couple sitting at it, and read a few pages from one of the novels that lived in my bag.  I looked at my map. Tomorrow I was hoping to get to Selakano. I would find no accommodation there for sure. From Selakano, I would attempt to cross the Dikteian range and was certain that this would take me a further two days, with the first of these being under cover of darkness. I have no idea why I believed Dikteian range would blot the sun, I just did. Mountains scare me. They are remote and tend not to have the best hotels. My excitement of spending tonight beneath the stars was somewhat tempered by the  realisation, that in all likelihood, I'd be sleeping al fresco for the next thee nights. Well, I'd find that out soon enough; for now, I had to find somewhere to lay my head. I left the taverna, thanking my Bulgarian friend for her help and her food, and walked away from Prina. On the side of the road, I found a clearing, partially obscured from the glare of occasional headlamps of cars as they  flashed past.

Tuesday the 20th of May

Up, Up and away.

I awoke early, but decided to read for a while. I had my own little clearing here, obscured from the side of the road, some 5 metres away, and intended to squat here. No! "Squatters rights" and all that. Pay attention now! My original plan had been to walk from Vasiliki to Selakano (or perhaps Mires) in a single day. Now I only had half of that walk to do, so I wasn't in any particular hurry. This walk was supposedly no longer than 18KMs, but a lot of that would be uphill and knowing me, I'd get lost somewhere en-route, doubling that length. I didn't want to arrive at my destination too early. I had found out precisely nothing about the village I was heading for, and was pretty sure that there would be nothing there to entertain the lone walkers of this world. I had already resigned myself to sleeping out for the night and was looking forward to a culinary feast of tinned dolmadakia and raw onion that evening. I set off for Selakano at around 10.30AM, confident that I could get there in six hours. I would have too, had I only not got hopelessly lost en-route. But again I get ahead of myself. The E4 trail cuts off at a right angle to the road I had almost slept on. From there, there is a sudden right turn, and a stiff climb around a hill. Once again I was alone. Not a soul to be seen. I played a cd and sang at the top of my voice, until I noticed a bee-keeper doing his best to ignore me; and my voice. I waved at the chap and he waved back, more in dismissal than any fond affection, but it was a wave and that would do me. I felt extremely cheery as I reached the other side of the hill I had climbed, and began an ascent to the next one. I heard the motorbike about ten minutes before I saw it. Harry? No, this bike had a far larger engine than Harry's whining Vespa. A German chap - and his Yamaha 250 - caught up with me and asked me directions to somewhere well beyond the scope of my walking boots. For a fleeting moment I was jealous. Jealous of his ability to be wherever he wished this evening. Envious of the certainty the he could sleep wherever he desired this evening in a bed with a fluffy pillow. There were very few places on the island outside the range of his bike. I informed him that this road should take him to wherever he was going, and with a cheery wave he left me. I didn't remain jealous for long. No, I was doing what I wished to do, as was he. We were both happy, it was just that I worried for a living and he had not a care in the world. Would I be any less worried if I was biking my way across Crete? Absolutely not, I decided. We were a long way from civilisation up here and things can go wrong on a bike too. Flat tyres(!), engine failure. Then what would one do? One would be up the side of a mountain with a machine weighing half a ton, with creaking bones and paddleless! That's where one would be. I continued my walk on the winding road.


Wild Paths

About an hour later and the road had straightened out both in direction and altitude. I could clearly see the Dikteian range and  knew that below its mastiffs lay Selakano. It was 2.30 PM as I came to a path on my left that looked a likely candidate for getting me to my chosen destination. I could see a village in the distance and decided that it was probably Males. I could also see, directly in front of me, an E4 sign, suggesting that I should continue on the road I was on. I continued on the road I was on. My map told me that there should be a right turn within a KM or so from where the E4 sign was. After that, I should continue heading west and leave the road as it began to swing right towards the Katharo plateau. I never did see first that right turn. Or at least I don't think I did. At the bottom of the road I was on, it just petered out in a westerly direction and started to point me north. Again I looked at my map. Well, there could be a northerly turn here, if one used their imagination,  but it would then have to veer back west before going south west and into Mathokotsana and a KM or so later, Selakano. Ten minutes later I came to a river running beneath the road. It had only just gone 3PM and I was making good time. I rested my legs and had a paddle in the river which was icy cold. I would spend half an hour here, enjoying the moment. Again I looked at my map. The road I was on, definitely headed in a northerly direction. Could I have missed the path into Selakano? The more I fiddled with compasses and maps and the more I looked at the road I was on, the more I realised that I had to be on the wrong path. I decided to head back the way I had come. At around quarter to four I found myself at the point where the road had taken me north. According to my map, and if I were where I believed I was, there should be a road of sorts heading west. There wasn't. I could just make out a path. I followed it for 5 minutes before it appeared to disappear  into nothingness. This was daft. Looking back, this had to be the path leading into Selakano, but it just didn't feel right at the time. There were a couple of houses here and out of one appeared a young chap with muscles where I haven't got places. I called to him if he knew where Selakano may be lurking. He did. He pointed me in the direction that I had come, an hour or so ago and told me that I should take the path by the second house I came to. I thanked him and as I headed back he called after me. "To trito spiti" (the third house) he corrected himself. "Efharisto Poli" (thank you very much), I called back. I would now spend the best part of two hours looking for "to trito spiti". I reached the E4 sign that I had seen an hour or so ago. I knew that 100 metres or so beyond this I would come across the road which - I'd believed - led to Males. The E4 sign was nailed to a tree and was far enough away from the junction of the road, to indicate that one should head for it rather than take the low road. I found a path heading south. In fact I found two or three paths heading south. The most likely suspect was a road running down into a wooded area, which ran slightly below the main - and well trodden - path I was on. This I took. It ended at a group of beehives. I frolicked with a swarm of bees for a while. I left my bag wherever I could to get a less burdened idea of where the paths led. They all led to bee-city!  I sat down and drank some water. Once again I looked at my map. I had three options: Firstly, I could go back to the point where the road had swung north and have a better look at that path I had merely played with before. If that failed to lead me in the direction I wanted, I could easily continue up the road and head for the Katharo plateau.  The third option was to take the road that I had passed over two hours ago, the other side of that E4 sign. I compromised and did all three of these things. Firstly, I checked out the westerly path. It still didn't look right. Surely there would be some sort of indication that this was the E4, if it were. Sitting now, attached to a computer, in East Barnet, I am convinced that this is the path I should have taken, but en-hoof, just over a year ago, I had been convinced that it wasn't! The northerly road leading to the river, I had already tried. This was definitely the road to Katharo. It was 6PM! Time flies when you are having fun, allegedly! I trundled back to the E4 sign, taking one last bemused look at my environs and headed south on the path I had passed. A quick descent later and I came to a small house. I had seen this house from some way above, and as I closed in on it, a couple of rabid hounds turned their attention to me. They were chained, but their chains gave them the scope to reach the road I was on, should they wish. From the sound of them, they wished. I had no other option than to brave it out. A man was clearing out the yard of the house, and as I drew level with it, I called to him. He didn't hear me. His hounds drowned out my plaintive cries. Against my own best advise I drew closer to the house. "Thelo na pao sto Selakano", ( I rather wish to get to Selakano), I yelled. The man looked up from his work. He looked startled to see me. "Ti lete;" (what that's you say?), he called. I repeated my statement. He came closer, removing one of the dogs which had blocked his path, with his boot and pointed me toward where he believed Selakano lay. I thanked him, but wasn't at all sure that he was leading me in the direction I wished. Well, what the hell. I'd give it a go. Beautiful, handmade wooden signs informed me that I was in the Katharo forest. Surely I wasn't. I had spent the best part of this afternoon trying to avoid Katharo. The overwhelming feeling that I was utterly clueless to where I was struck me. All I could say for certain was that I was still on Crete; I hadn't crossed any large oceans today; not that I could remember anyway! I was still trying to convince myself of at least this comforting fact, when I spotted another hand made sign. It was pointing  in the direction I was travelling in. What's that it said? "SELAKANO". Oh joy! I trundled on and within half an hour had reached the outskirts of Mathokotsana, which, in turn, borders Selakano. I had made it; well almost.

Selakano

This was beautiful. Truly beautiful. A river ran beneath the road and - for the second time today  - I took the opportunity of polluting Cretan waters with my naked feet. The gushing torrent massaged my toes and raised my spirits. I prepared myself for the coming evening. I was beginning to regret not having brought my radio with me. The torch that I had bought in Ierapetra, was not powerful enough to allow for nocturnal reading, so my resting hours would be dictated by the darkness that would soon surround me. I decided that my best bet would be to get to the other side of Selakano. Maybe there was a room with my name on it there. Maybe even a taverna. In truth, I knew that neither of these luxuries would be forthcoming. I climbed the hill and swung myself into the village of Selakano. After passing a few houses, I came to a taverna. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was shut! Oh well, it would be tinned dolmadakia for me this evening. A few metres further on, I passed what I assumed to be a school building. It was only small, but the chances were that the kids here wouldn't be of any great height...or quantity! It was here that I saw the kafeneion 'Stella'. I had just decided that this would be shut too, when I noticed a couple of people in its courtyard. I asked if they would be so kind as to bring me a beer. They would. And a lemonita? "Malista" (certainly). Well, this was a bit of a result. A nagging thought struck me. It was already beginning to grow dark and unless I set up camp quickly, I would be in no position to do so at all. I also needed to eat. I needed a plan. I hatched a plan. The plan was something along these lines: I would find a clearing where I could lay my bag. Come back to the kafeneion 'Stella', and enjoy a beer and a couple of chapters of my novel, before heading back to camp and treating myself to dolmadakia under torchlight. It was a cunning plan. A best laid one. It was about to gang aglay, big time. For once, this would be somewhat on the positive side. "Tha yarizo se ena tetarto", (I'll be back in 15 minutes) I told the chap who'd opened a Mythos beer and a bottle of lemonita for me. I wondered whether I should pay for the drinks from now. "Otan yereises" (when you return), I was told. I felt guilty. OK, it would probably not bankrupt the place should I fail to return, leaving them with the constituent  ingredients of a shandy; besides, there were three or four elderly gents inside who looked as if they could easily down my drinks if I failed to return. I just didn't want to appear rude. And I did - most definitely - want to reappear, as soon as humanly possible. I had the constituent ingredients of a shandy to drink, after all!

Sleeping with the Enemy

I found a wooded area, within which I found a clearing in a wooded area. The flattest place was marred by a protruding rock, about the size of one of my boots. It was also about 100 times the weight of one of my boots. I know this because I made the somewhat rash decision to remove the rock from where it had probably lived for the past couple of millennia. Underneath, lay a thriving community of insects mostly of the centipede/millipede (I wasn't counting legs!) variety. It was just light enough to see their scurrying movements. I decided that this wasn't quite enough to give me the horrors, so removed my torch from my rucksack and shone it at the hole where the rock had once been. Now, I really wish I hadn't done that! My torch, whilst hardly the power of a car's sidelight, still showed me that tonight I would share a bed  with a million creepy crawlies, of mind bogglingly differing species and sizes. I found a few leaves for them to munch on, in case they munched on me later - also it aided in making the ground somewhat flatter than it had been - removed the inflatable mattress from my from my rucksack, and blew into its small aperture. The mattress expanded, just enough for me to feel that I may be almost comfortable this evening and after taking my sleeping bag - as well as a silk body cover, bearing the legend "Mummy" (!) and the dinky pillow(!) I had brought with me-  from my bag, I surveyed my bedroom for this evening. I was somewhat less happy than I had been upon my arrival in the beautiful village, and the close encounter with the creepy crawlies had somehow, made me lose my appetite. The local mosquitoes had got wind of whom was on the menu for the night and hummed their intention to enjoy me. And so, with these pleasant thoughts, I made my way back to the kafeneion, making sure that I could find my way back to my bedbugs, when necessary. It was 8.30 PM and almost dark. I had no idea at what time the kafeneion would close, but I'd be there when it did. I could cope better with my forthcoming close encounter with the leggy ones, and their flighty friends, after I had drunk the beer that waited for me at Stella's.

 

Pro Mythos Bound

A sudden sense of panic swept over me. What if the kafeneion's opening hours were dictated by sunlight hours? I hurried back. I needed that beer. I needed more than that beer. I needed three, maybe four beers and a tsikoudhia or eight. I was relieved to find Stella's kafeneion just as I had left it, though somewhat less well illuminated by external sources, such as sunlight. I sat at my table and apologised for my prolonged absence. Nobody cared. I drank my Mythos, greedily. I believe that my host's name was Christos, though I could  be wrong here. He was the son of the eponymous owner, Kyria Stella, so henceforth he shall be known as Stella's son (sorry Christos, or whatever your real name is, I appreciate all your help). I asked about the taverna I had passed and was told that the season had yet to start as far as its owners were concerned. Selakano is a quintessentially Greek village. All of the signs and postings on trees, were in Greek. Greeks from the mainland visited the place, I was told.  This comforted me. I was sure that this must have been a place which attracted its fair share of tourists. It is, after all, on the E4 route, and perched beneath one of Crete's better example of mountain ranges. I wondered where the mainland Greeks spent the night. I had read rumours of a mountain hut up here, but even if I knew where this was, I would have absolutely no idea how to get into it. Whilst still in England, I had 'phoned the Chania Mountaineering Club, in an effort to find out how I could obtain the key, for what was one of my projected walks, later, in the white mountains. I had been told that I needed to give a date and time, in writing, at least a month before I arrived, and they would come up and meet me. This had struck me as somewhat odd. The chances of me getting to the Katsiveli hut, dead centre of the White Mountains, at exactly the date and time that I had planned, were slim, bordering on the impossible. I had not taken up this offer. Once there, I would sleep out for the night. Now, I was here.The White Mountains, a million miles away. Perhaps further. Stella's son asked me if I were hungry. I told him not to worry. I had my dolmadakia and a million insect friends to share it with me. Besides, "distichos, eimai hortofagos" (unfortunately, I am a vegetarian), I informed him, with a look of utter resignation. "Poro na sas ftiaxo mia salata;" (May I prepare you a salad?), he asked. Now, that was a plan I liked. "Poreite;" (Can you?), I asked. "Malista!" (certainly) he responded. A Christos by any other name, is still and absolute treasure to behold. What a fabulous guy! I was soon to discover that this was a family trait.

Wide Eyed and Legless

The salad that Stella's son brought me, was enormous. At least a dozen olive trees had given up their fruit for the sake of my appetite, which suddenly returned, despite my recent encounter with the wee beasties. Various other ingredients made up the rest of the meal, but one can have too many olives, and on the evening of Tuesday the 20th of May 2003, 'Tsaksonakis' had too many olives. Not that this was a bad thing, necessarily. No, when a Greek bears a gift, one should bite first and ask about the state of the donor's teeth later. I chewed at olives for an hour or so. Just as I was about to leave the Kafeneion Stella, I struck up a conversation - of sorts - with the eponymous owner. Kyria Stella was a cracking lady. I bought myself a beer and offered her - and a friend of hers - a coffee. Or anything else that their hearts desired. Their hearts desired to get me embroiled in a conversation about myself, themselves, and Selakano. I was told, at length, of all the most intimate secrets that this village had to offer, and can assure you that I can't remember one of these details. It just wasn't that sort of night. Not that what they were saying was uninteresting. Far from it. Kyria Stella could make a Cheshire cat look challenged in the "grin" department. No, I had decided that these two ladies were better company than this evening's bedfellows, by some distance, before I had even spoken to them. Once embroiled in conversation, I realised that I had fallen in love with a woman old enough to be my grandmother. Well, not quite, but you get the gist. It may have had a little do with the alcohol, that was now flowing freely. The original beer had been replaced with another, and as son of Stella had left, I had been panicked into buying two more beers. I was offered a complimentary tsikoudhia. I had refused. I was asked whether I was sure. Once smitten, twice...well, once again, you get the gist. My abstinent evening now found me quaffing my fourth beer and third raki. Any insect, brave enough to suck my blood that evening, had better have a decent supply of hangover pills!

It was at this point that Stella asked me a perfectly innocent question. "Pou tha meneis, apopsi;" (where are you staying tonight). I didn't have the heart or the courage to admit that I had taken over a small piece of Selakano for myself, so instead, pointed, vaguely and guiltily. "Apexo;" (outside?), I was asked. I nodded. Why don't you stay in the mountain hut?, she asked. Because..."Yiati...den eho to klidi" (Because...I don't have the key), I replied. "Ego to echo!" ( I do!), my new girlfriend winked back. I gazed into Stella's eyes. "Ti lete?" (what did you say), I asked. No, I hadn't heard incorrectly. Stella was one of the keyholders to the mountain hut. I was offered a bed for the night for the princely sum of €10. I would happily have paid ten times that amount; just to avoid the bugs that were no doubt settling down for a comfortable evening within my sleeping bag. Stella told me to fetch my rucksack, and liaise with her, back here, in 10 minutes. And off I rushed. I fell over myself in my attempt to retrieve my rucksack. My torch struggled to pick out the exact spot at first, and I made a point of returning to this spot  tomorrow. Heaven knows what I'd find.

I was a couple of minutes late for my rendezvous with the beautiful Stella. My heart pounded as if on a first date. Stella had taken the key from wherever it lived, and together we walked back down the road, the way I had first arrived in this fabulous village. On the way there, Stella informed me that there had been a dozen Austrian hikers staying there the previous night. We passed the 'school' I had encountered on my way in. Well, I did anyhow. Stella used one of the two keys on her keychain and threw open the door. So, that's what that building was! Not a school at all, but the mountain hut. Austrian hikers are not the best at tidying up behind themselves; evidently! Not that I have a particularly huge frame of reference; this being my first encounter with their aftermath, but I didn't care a jot. I was offered both keys. The second of these was for access to the bathroom, housed in another building, diametrically opposite the 'hut'. I can't remember ever being so happy. And I mean, ever! This feeling lasted approximately ten seconds, before I realised I hadn't paid for the meal or the room that night. Stella didn't seem to care, but I wanted all financial transactions to be cleared as soon as possible. We locked the door of the hut and trundled back to the kafeneion. Now, if I believed I had been happy a couple of minutes ago, the charge for the four beers, three tsikoudhias and the salad was €8.50. I asked if I could have another beer to take away, and the bill was rounded up (or down, who knows?), to an even tenner. As Stella slipped the €20 bill I had offered her, for both a truly wonderful evening and a restful night,  I hid another €10 bill, beneath an ashtray. She'd find it tomorrow, by which time I'd be far away and over that hill that towered above this fantastic village. I was alone in the hut; a car battery was the only form of internal light, but its light was only just powerful enough to catch a glimpse of the wings of a couple of mossies in flight, as they whistled a happy tune somewhere betwixt my nose and my ears.  Sadly for them, they shall not be waking up any time soon, and are now a semi-permanent feature of the Alms Selakano's whitewashed walls.

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