From Houdetsi to Pyrgos

April 10, 2014

After the last lesson I spent some time on the internet to book my way back flight, there were many choices; on some of the Greek Islands, Cyprus, Thessalonika, Istanbul… I thought of going to Antalya to walk the Lycian way but I am not carrying the right thing to I decided to go back to Istanbul. For the 9th of April my plan at that point was to go back to Heraklion by bus. I was told there was a bus at 9 AM so I was ready to do that. But while on the internet I asked a Greek friend if I should go North back to Heraklion or South towards the unknown. He said:

“ Go south”

Ah… that one again… “Go South…”

I pondered the thought while going back to my room. My roommate was gone, she had left a beautiful note for me and some biscottes and cheese. I dropped my bağlama off and returned to the Taverna. Everyone was to meet there for one last feast. I felt tired. Overwhelmed by this whole week of intense learning. I realized that I know absolutely nothing about bağlama. I also realized, once more, how much I love it and how much I desire to learn it. And I now see that it is a very steep mountain to climb. Not hill. Mountain. But you know, I don’t care. I have nothing to prove, I have no targets for accomplishing this, it is a love thing, a thing of the heart. A thing that took me all the way across the planet to Istanbul and now Greece…

At the taverna there was one seat left at the table for meI was the last in. We had about 10 people at the table. Maria, the taverna owner cooked pilav, eggplant, greens and meat, there was cheese made fresh that same day… which took me way back home when my mother used to make fresh cheese and yoghurt from goat milk… there was also home made wine… I don’t normally like wine… but I like this! There were many cheers and toasts, a clink of the glass on the table and down goes the raki. It’s not like the Turkish raki, it is this strong stuff… We eat merrily. At some point someone tabulated that there was 10 languages around the table.. Babel.

English, Greek, French, Italian, Persian, Iranian, Turkish, Quebecois (they consider French from Quebec another language!) Spanish, and Catalan…

The food was divine… the company so good. We laughed much. At some point Cihan took his saz, Fadih his lyra and the man from Israel his flute and they played. Maria then showed up with hot, freshly made apple dumplings dripping with honey, cinnamon and sesame seeds. We got high on that sugar. Have you ever dipped fresh made cheese into honey and cinnamon-sesame seeds syrup? It will make you high.

Maria was so tired, so we left to let her sleep. Outside there was more laughter. All the other tavernas were closing, some of us wanted to keep drinking but I had this plan of taking the bus at 8:30 so I said my goodbyes. I walked back to the room a smile on my face, the half moon glowing above, the stars have colors here, rosy, golden… I had not seen the colors of the stars in ages it seems. North or South… North or South… I keep asking myself that question. I took a shower. Then, I decided : South it will be. No need to run for the bus so I set up my alarm a bit later, 9:30. I feel asleep fast.

Morning. Pack up. Go for breakfast. Say my “Adio” to Maria. Stop to get a bottle of water. A man with a child walks by… we strike a conversation.

“You have time?”

“Yeah”

“You want a çay? »

« Yeah, I have time for tea”

We went to the taverna next to the Labyrinth, To Steki. That was funny to me as I had a thought to get a last cappuccino there, they have the best espresso in Houdetsi… so it was easy to say yes. We talked a bit. I said something about trying to learn Turkish and he said :

“Now, I’m trying to lose my Greek.” (he is Greek) I burst out laughing as I loved the philosophy behind this. He said:

“You’re laughing but I am serious. Words are too small to tell the truth. Like if you try to explain honey to someone… the only way they will know what you are talking about is if you let them taste it. Words are used to make lies… Like politicians and lawyers, how they use words to lie, hide the truth. I am looking for truth.”

Beautiful.

A girl at the table, Helen, was here for the Labyrinth. She plays oud. As we talk I tell her I live in Istanbul.

“Oh yeah! My sister lives there… In Tarbabaşı…

“Really!! that is where I live!”

We exchanged emails maybe I’ll see her when she comes to visit her sister in Istanbul… small world.

The two Italian siblings, Bernardo and Camilla show up. They were some of those who wanted to stay up and drink. They look like they did just that. Then two more of the students show up.

“So you’re going to Heraklion?”

“No, I changed my mind. I am going South.”

“Where?”

“I dunno, I’ll see as I go.”

“You have a map?”

“No, I’ll find one on the way.”

I said my goodbyes, picked up the now very heavy backpack and the two instruments and South I headed to.

The day is gorgeous. Sunny with a cool breeze. I walk. Listen. Feel my body. The weight of the bag. Guitar on my left shoulder and bağlama in my right hand. I wish I took less stuff… I could have left the guitar… but… in the end there isn’t much I could really spare. Maybe a pound or two. I have this brick of a book and I’m thinking that I should maybe split it where I’m done reading to lighten up the load…

Soon, the village ends. It’s the road. Oh yeah. The road. I have this strange feeling of riding a motorcycle, but I’m on foot. All these long miles I rode on a bike… and in a way it’s the same now… except that I am carrying everything on my back and there is no motor, no noise.

There are so many flowers, I started to go gaga and stop every 20 feet to take photos… and oh the scenery…

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I walk. A song in my mind from the seminar… mi fa mi re do si(double flat) la… I want to sweat, tire out my body physically. I walk. I see a man coming out of an orchard walking on to the road… he slows down so I come to his level. He is obviously a man of the earth… he says something in Greek. I smile. He gestures ahead and look at me questioningly.

“South.. Going South..”

He moves as to ask where..

“Bilmiyorum.” When they speak Greek to me I often end up answering in Turkish… as if it would help.

“Cafe?” There was a cafe coming up, the sign said 100 meters a few steps before.

“NO.” I make my fingers walk in the air… “I must keep going, ef karisto!” (dunno how to write this in Greek but it means thank you.)

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I continue. Hills up and down. Olive trees. Grapes… goats, sheep. Not many cars. I walk. At one point I see this sort of box with a religious image… a few steps down a very old church… I go down some stone steps and see this…

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the door is open… as if it has been opened for millenia… I genuflect… respectfully come out and keep walking.

After a long uphill, I realize my shoes will not do the job… I will have blisters if I go too much longer… they are these Converse runners and there are holes in the sides and the soles are about to give out… Shoes, I will need shoes…

one more hill. The clouds start to hide the sun and it feels good. The scenery is so beautiful. There is a road sign, intersection… should I turn… no. South I go.

I was thinking:

“well… I could walk some more, my feet are going to get blistered… next town is in 10 km. Maybe I shouldn’t push too hard for the first day… I’ve been walking for about 3 hours…” and as that thought ended about half way up the hill a car gently stops by. A man in his 60’s in a Toyota. Come in, he gestures. He smiles… it seems everyone smiles… He asks me questions in Greek with one or two English words in the mix.

“Houdetsi, I was in Houdetsi, bağlama seminario.” I say

“Ah muzik!”

He drops me off 4 KM from Pyrgos. The town I had decided to stop at. Why? Just because the name was on the sign… I reload the backpack… yowza… I will have to build strength…

I walk about 1 KM. Another car stops by. I’m tempted to wave him off… walk some more… but I approach and decide to go in.

“Pyrgos” I say.

He rattles a fast sentence in Greek. I smile

“Anlamadim…” (I don’t understand)

We try to talk, it’s hard. “Cafe” I say, then : “internet.” That made it clear. He drives up the hill into town. I think how sore my feet would have been… I’m thankful. He drops me off at a cafe and comes with me. He buys me a Greek cafe. Again we try to talk without much success. I try to get online and see if I can find a translating gizmo but it’s useless as we don’t have a Greek character keyboard. He asks about drinking and I say I don’t drink.. I am wondering if this dude is ok… he does smell of alchool, but i’ve met plenty of very nice alcoholics… so lets not judge.

I look for a hostel but cannot find one in town. I tell him “Hotel?” he says OK and calls a friend on the phone, a German woman.

“Hi, my friend called me and asked to tell you that he is a friend. That there is no problem.”

“OK, thank you.”

“what are you looking for?”

“I am trying to find a cheap room for tonight. I am traveling in Crete for 10 days.”

“OK put him back on the phone.”

They talk. He hangs up.

“Friend, no problem.” He says. I smiled and answered: “No problem.” We get back in the car, he goes to the gas station and fills up, it’s his uncle’s station, they look at me, point at the instruments on the back seat: Louto?”

“No bağlama, Turk bağlama and guitar” they laugh make gestures of playing. We get back on the road and he calls his friend again and gives me the phone.

“My friend wants to take you to the tallest waterfall in Europe, then he’ll take you to the hotel, no problem?”

“No problem”

So we drive for one of the most scenic routes I’ve ever taken…

Up a mountain. To the waterfall, but the first thing I see is the sea…

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It’s breathtaking… everywhere I look. the photos do not pay justice. facing the sea, the water fall comes down a steep mountain side it’s dizzyingly high. We look for a while then walk back. Manolis then shows me many plants that can be eaten. We find green almonds, mint, some thing that has all these thorns but you take that off and eat the inside, he finds an artichoke, I eat a fresh artichoke off the land… He knows much about this land and he obviously loves it. He belongs to this earth, it’s clear.

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To the beach and caverns… to the 3 stones town which is empty then back to Pyrgos. It is unbelievably beautiful. I feel so incredibly lucky. Here I am exactly where I wanted to be…

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he asks my name again. He keeps calling me Diana… Daniella… his name is Manolis. As we drive back up the mountain we get to a village that has been here for ages… “My friend” he says. “one minute. No problem?”

“No problem”

We stop. The friend’s name is Manolis too. Manolis number 02. He is a grizzled man. The house… everything is so… Greek. The place is ancient. There is a carbine, a cat on a strange carpet made of leather strips. There is a wooden cane hung up on the wall. White walls, blue doors and ancient table…and the blaring TV… they talk… I can’t understand… they offer me wine but I don’t want to drink. Clear head is always a plus. I go outside and see this…

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We leave. It’s getting really cold again. Cretan nights are cold. Up and down… the sun sets…

“My other friend… Manolis..”

“Manolis number 03!” I say.

“My friend.. no problem? Daxi?”

“Daxi.” I say (all is in order I was told that it means)

we climb a steep hill to a single house built on the hill overlooking the whole town. I had noticed that place before I knew we were to go there because it was peculiar. It had personality…

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Up there we meet Manolis #3. He built the place, it’s gorgeous. The whole thing has a glass ceiling. Stone walls a gorgeous hand made wooden stairs.. we walk up to a greenhouse, he grows vegetables. Actually he collects seeds. Organic, non-GMO seeds. It’s just amazing. He offers me oranges and tangerinas, I was actually really hungry, I had not had any food since 9 in the morning and it’s at least 8 PM by now. The oranges are incredible. He hands me some thick, meaty brown bread. It’s heavenly. They talk for a bit, then Manolis #3 makes a salad. He shares it with us. It’s heavenly… he says something about instruments, ask if I would play. Yes I would.

So I kind of played for my dinner in this incredible hand made house, with these two Manolis watching. Manolis #3 calls his wife and puts her on speaker phone so she can hear and be part of this…

After a while, they ask me to play saz. I do warning them that I am learning… Then it’s time to go. I tell him I would like to take a picture of him in shis kitchen, when I take a photo of the spice rack he shows me this jar, opens it and lets me smell the aroma. It is olive oil with herbs. He says it’s really good for the skin, that it heals cuts, everything. So he looks around and finds a small jar and gives me some. Then he gives me a bag of fresh oranges.

“Tomorrow they will be perfect!” he says. We finally leave, roll down the hill into town. In town, Manolis talks from the street to a woman up in a balcony… we leave again, drive up to the back of a building, walk up the stairs.. the hotel. They show me the room.

“Daxi?” He asks me worried that I would not like the room.

“Daxi.”

Beautiful clean room… Before he leaves he says:

“No money… it’s on me.. Come for cafe tomorrow.” he had showed me his cafe on the way into town.

Wow… I am incredulous. I can see what people say about Crete. It’s going to be hard to leave…

Day one of this adventure and I am changed. Walking will be good. The earth, the humans and their hearts, nature, life human size.

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