November 20, 2004

Crossing Crete: Shepherds and squid

From our base in Hania on Crete's north coast, we drove through and over the island’s towering White Mountains to visit Frangokastello, a 14th-century Venetian castle that sits on the Libyan Sea on Crete’s southwest coast.

As we wound along the high mountain road, passing dusty villages with ornately tiled and painted Orthodox churches, we’d pull over to allow the occasional shepherd and his flock to pass. Sheep walk slowly, so we’d get out of the car, admire the view, soak up the sun, and nod and smile to the shepherds. As one shepherd rounded a bend toward us, his woolly charges looking like a huge, dirty cotton ball spread across the road, Mike decided to get verbal. “Calamari,” he said to the shepherd. The old man grinned.

“Squid,” I said.


“Squid. You just said ‘squid’ to the shepherd.”

“I did not. I said hello.”

“Hello is ‘kalimera.’ You said ‘calamari.’ Squid.”

“Well, he smiled, so he knew what I was trying to say...”

We got back in the car and drove on to Samaria Gorge, where we hiked a few hundred yards down the trail and bid “kalimera” to the mostly-European trekkers who were walking the 16-kilometer route through the gorge to Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea. After Mike or I proferred a “kalimera,” one or both of the kids would grin at the hikers and say, “squid.”

We came down out of the mountains onto the arid coastal plain that hosts Frangokastello, said to be haunted by the ghosts of 600 Cretan soldiers and their leader, Dalianis, killed in an 1828 battle against the Ottoman Turks. We splashed and floated in the warm, shallow waters below the crumbling ramparts, then headed back into the mountains to recross Crete and make it back to Hania before nightfall. Like the trip south, the return would be slow, speed tempered by cliff-hugging twists and turns, sheer drop-offs and intermittent sheep.