Although I travel a lot for my job it is very rare that I have the time or possibility to just go somewhere on holiday; to relax and be a tourist. This week was the exception that proves the rule. Sophie an I set off to Matala on the Greek island of Crete and with a few exceptions all we did was indulge in the three “S’s” of sun, sea and sex.
Matala is a small town on the south coast of Crete. It is very compact, built around a natural harbour in a cove and it’s famous for caves built into the mountain which slopes down into the sea along one side of the cove. Nobody seems to quite know exactly when the caves were first built or why, but it was probably thousands of years ago and since then they have been used as everything from tombs, to smugglers dens and more recently as hangouts for hippies in the 1960s and 70s. I could imagine me and Sophie fitting quite well into that scene if we’d have been born a generation or two earlier!
It was fairly busy while we were there but much less crowded and “touristy” than a lot of other Creten resorts. Although there were a couple of dramatic thunder storms and one day that was hazy and occasionally cloudy, the whether while we were there was mostly very bright and sunny and sometimes very, very hot. My skin is now the darkest shade I ever remember it being!
There are many strange and self contradictory things about the Greeks. On the one hand they seem quite conservative and deeply religious. On the other hand they don’t seem to object to topless sunbathing on virtually every beach. And in the souvenir shops you can find playing cards decorated with religious icons lying next to playing cards with hard pornographic images that would be banned from the top shelves of most European magazine shops. (Sophie and I bought some of each)!
In the evenings you can eat traditional foods while being serenaded by traditional musicians and music as old as the hills in one bar while the latest Euro-Techno hit blasts out of the Taverna across the street.
The Greeks are proud of their ancient culture and yet mortified by the economic crisis which is wreaking havoc in their lives. There is a palpable sense of sadness and decay; not only in the ancient monuments but also in the supermarkets and in the eyes of the locals.
But to a degree Sophie and I went around deliberately blinkered to the plight of the Greeks. We consoled ourselves in the knowledge that the Euros that we and other tourists were spending would in some way help the people who were serving our drinks and making our beds. The locals don’t want our pity, they want our business.
And so we confined our thoughts to the three “S’s”. And Ouso… And Raki!
Well actually we did do some sightseeing. We visited the nearby Bronze Age archaeological site at Faistos which was quite impressive and we hired a car to go sightseeing further afield one day (which was an adventure in itself).
But it was the simple things we enjoyed the most…
Wading into the clear turquoise sea after spending hours laying under the bright hot sun was blissful. Having nothing in particular to do was very satisfying. Sipping the local alcoholic specialities while being waited on in the Tavernas at night was delicious. Sometimes it was even nice to dance and flirt in the discos just to prove to ourselves that we can still turn a few heads when we choose to (and even when we don’t)! And then home to bed to do things that even Greek playing cards don’t show!
I feel that a bit of the Greek culture and mentality crept into my skin along with the sunshine and the sand. I feel grateful to Crete and it’s people for allowing me to relax there and let my worries and daily cares evaporate. I feel refreshed and rejuvenated and I hope and pray that the Greek people will soon recover from the troubles that have beset their country. They have immense natural beauty and a rich history and culture to be proud of.