We were thankful for the shelter of our tiki hut this morning when we discovered it had rained in the night. We really and truly no longer take having a roof over our heads for granted! Since the area was rather deserted, and we rarely concern ourselves with leaving a stealth camp early these days, we decided it was time for banana pancakes.
While Tara prepared breakfast, I slowly organized the things in our tent. With nearly eleven months of nomadic life under our belts, the act of packing has become a fully automatic affair. As I was absentmindedly shuffling our things into their various backpacks, stuff-sacks and nettings, Tara called me over to point out our new furry friend.
While she was mixing the pancake batter, this little guy was ever so slowly inching his way along the beach towards our camp. So, I took our camera and went out to make first contact with the scraggly, dread-locked pup.
Normally stray dogs are an annoyance, all sound and fury with their silly barking and pointless chasing. This quiet character was dead silent the entire morning, and downright timid, actually. It was very endearing, and a little sad too.
After a brief photo session, I returned to camp to enjoy the scrumptious breakfast that awaited. As we ate, our onlooker continued his slow-as-molasses approach. Of course, his cuteness won us over and we offered him some food. As expected, this hastened his pace considerably!
Even after we fed him, he still sat patiently beside us, quietly watching. After a bit, I dug out our leftover chicken and fed him a few pieces which he gulped down whole. After we'd all had our fill, I took our dishes out to the ocean to clean them. I didn't notice it until I heard Tara's "awwwwing" in the distance; he had trotted right along with me!
When I returned to finish breaking camp, he still followed, this time settling in on the deck to watch us quietly. We then both entertained ideas of somehow carrying him along with us, as we often do with animals who befriend us.
We were a little sad to leave our doggie pal behind, but just as we pulled away, another stray bounded up and the two began tussling in the sand. This made us feel better about the lonely fellow, and we set off with a smile.
Having reached the other side of Crete in only a day, we were feeling a bit like our intended loop back to Chania (on the north shore where we catch a ferry to the mainland) was for naught. Most of the cities on the southwestern coast require a boat to reach and they don't run in the winter. It looked to be more or less straight over the mountains and back again.
When we arrived at the point where we were supposed to head inland, I noticed a tiny dirt road that appeared to head along the coast. With a feeling similar to one I had back in England when I wondered "what was up there (a dirt road in the middle of nowhere)" we decided to take a short detour. Immediately after, any thoughts about the ride being pointless faded away. The views were easily among the best of our trip.
The path ended at a picturesque beach in a village that seemed to feature nothing but one tiny hotel. We decided that someday, after all we've seen, we'd choose to come here for vacation. With a sum total of four kilometers completed, we decided it was time for a break.
Again faced with heading inland, we opted instead for the incredibly steep-looking route that continued along the coast, hoping for more breathtaking vistas. As the roads slowly deteriorated into rocky paths, we got our views, and then some.
Now, fully in the middle of nowhere on a Greek island among fields and farms and sheep, we stopped to watch a father and son far below, herding their flock. It has been a constant struggle to capture the easily spooked lambs and sheep we see everywhere with the dinky zoom on our camera, but I managed to snap this through a fence as some ran by!
A bit further on, we passed some abandoned farm equipment. For reasons I can't explain, there is something very compelling about the colors of rusting, painted metal to me. I spent a lot of time snapping photos from various angles, trying to document the scene. While I did, Tara sat in the grass, staring off in the distance, marveling at our surroundings.
As the day went on, the scenery continued to amaze. At many points we were literally agog, continuously muttering or shouting to one another in mono-syllabic exclamations of joy.
By the time we reached our next opportunity to turn inland, we were fully committed to whatever lay before us on the increasingly craggy coastal road. What followed was some of the most exhilarating riding of our trip, and we spent much of it out of the saddle! Often we had to push our bikes together, heaving them one by one up the difficult off-road ascents.
At the base of one rocky climb, I decided to give riding it a shot. Sitting at the bottom, one foot on my pedal, the other on the ground, I wondered briefly if it was a terrible idea. Tara grabbed the camera, at the ready to document whatever occurred, and shouted "GO SWEETIE!" as I set off. To our combined surprise, I managed to heave my 130 pound bicycle up the rutted path in a flurry of spinning legs, rear wheel breaking lose the entire way.
I was so thrilled, I ran down and did the same with Tara's bike! At the top, I joked that this was our taste of riding the spine and we continued on.
A bit further ahead, we stopped to enjoy the surroundings once again. While I tried in vain to record the crashing of the ocean combined with the sounds of wildlife (there was too much wind), Tara got lost in the flowers with our camera, as she so often does.
The rest of the day continued much in this fashion. There was plenty of sweating and hard work, but Crete seemed to have no end of remarkable sights with which to reward us. Around 4PM, having covered less than fifteen kilometers, we came upon a clearing and a church where we decided it was simply too beautiful to continue.
We were both very surprised when we found the door unlocked, and eagerly went in to explore. We lit a few candles solely to light the scene for photos. Hopefully that isn't too sacrilegious!
Under the boughs of an ancient tree, near a small but potent collection of nettles, we parked our bikes and set down our tent, just a hundred meters or so from the sea. While Tara busily prepared our home, I ran around the shoreline gathering large rocks for a sizable fire pit and wood to burn in it.
As I did this, I suddenly felt very much like my father. When I was a kid and we would go camping, he would often crack jokes in gruff tones about being "The Provider" as he hacked away at firewood. As I broke a particularly difficult log in half by throwing a massive boulder on it, I flexed like my dad at Tara and declared with a grunt, "look a these pipes!"
Fire pit made, I managed to start my first ever fire using only flint, steel and natural kindling. I've made plenty of them with dryer lint, but never completely without some form of prepared assistance. Pleased with my creation, I sat back to eat an apple, feeling like a mountain man.
With the fire heartily roaring, I roasted a sandwich for Tara and as I did so, a farmer appeared in a Toyota Hilux, all smiles, asking us if we wanted fresh sheep's milk! We agreed to his offer immediately, and he introduced himself as Pietro.
He then hopped into the bed of his truck where a large milk can was sitting and dipped a clean plastic bottle into it with his bare hands. Filled to the brim with fresh, warm milk, he poured the earthy smelling beverage into our water bottles. As he cleaned his hands on a towel that Tara fetched for him, he explained in broken English that he was going to head to a pizzeria several kilometers away and return with a pizza using cheese from his sheep's milk!
Sure enough, Pietro returned about 45 minutes later and we got to know one another over a delicious pizza and several glasses of locally made Cretan wine. While we both look forward to having a small farm someday, neither of us envied his appointment to milk 100+ sheep every sunrise and sunset until the day he shuffles off this mortal coil. If forced to do so, I suppose here in this Cretan paradise would be the place for it. Thank you so much for your kindness, Pietro!
After our chat, Pietro returned to his farm, and we returned to our fire, burning through the last of our firewood as we stared quietly into the hypnotic flames, listening to the rhythmic waves crashing into the shore. Thoroughly exhausted and moved beyond words by the experiences of the day, we retired to our tent for a heavy, much needed sleep.