Sep 25 2007

Road Trip: Part 2

Published by at 8:36 am under Crete,Greece

Typically, I spend mountain drives in a panicked state: clutching my seat, refusing to look out of the window, and desperately trying to prevent any unnecessary gasping/screaming so as not to scare the dickens out of Ben. Despite my instincts, I couldn’t not stare out of the window when driving through the Lefka Ori — the scenery was truly awesome, and something I don’t think can be captured in photos. What most baffled and amazed me were the tiny villages and olive groves clinging to the sides of enormous mountains. I can’t comprehend how people live in such surroundings, where the next door neighbor’s roof is 50 feet below your patio. But the harsh landscape does not seem to phase the villagers. Farmers swerved down unpaved, treacherous mountain roads in their Toyota pick-ups, laden with crates of olives and grapes, speeding around Ben and I as we crept along at 20 kilometers per hour.

One such village was the next detour on our agenda. The village of Milia is so isolated (a 20-minute steep climb up a mountain on a terrifying dirt road), that the original farmers and shepherds abandoned the town nearly a century ago. Descendants have since returned and converted the place into a self-sufficient “eco-tourist” village touted in our guidebook as a place where you can participate in the farming, harvesting, and raki making. Although it wasn’t an “authentic” Cretan experience, it sounded fun enough to make the trek.

We arrived in Milia with high hopes, light headed from the altitude. After wandering around for a bit, not finding anyone to talk to and unnerved by the eerie silence, we stumbled upon a place labeled “reception.” Relieved, we approached a man inside the taverna, hoping to receive the hearty welcome our book had promised us. Instead, we received: “Yays, walk where you want. The farm, the houses, whatayver.” When we asked where these things were located, we got a grunt and a head nod in a vague direction as he continued to go about his work.

Thumbs down for Milia, Crete
Milia gets a thumbs down.

As we aimlessly walked around Milia, the few residents that were sitting outside looked up and stared as we passed. While I was warned that we might receive such stares as tourists in remote Cretan villages, I was not expecting creepy looks from residents of a place that operates as a tourist destination. After wandering around for a long time with the distinct impression that we must be missing something, we came across a place in the middle of the woods with shovels and pick axes strewn around. Between the strange stares and what looked like a makeshift burial ground, I was sufficiently disturbed enough to give up. Back in the car, we tried to figure out what in the world went wrong. I suggested that maybe, having come in the evening, we’d missed the majority of the tourist activities and everyone had turned in for the day.

“Yeah, that, or it’s the village of the damned,” Ben replied.

I’ll give Milia this: the place is extremely picturesque, with quaint stone houses overlooking a green valley. Otherwise, Milia gets a thumbs down.

The detour wasn’t all for naught. In fact, what may have been the highlight of the road trip came as we ascended the mountain: we spotted a kri-kri. That’s right, the rare and elusive wild mountain goat of Crete revealed himself to Ben and me. Despite telling Ben repeatedly that the existence of the kri-kri is fact, not fiction, he had it in his head that the kri-kri is thought by science to be a mythical creature and it was his job to prove its existence. We excitedly pulled over and took lots of pictures, while the kri-kri dumbly stared at us. I’m honestly surprised the kri-kri spotting wasn’t the first item Ben mentioned in his blog as he’s now billed his “discovery” as “100 times more rewarding than finding Nessie.” We also took a video:

Back on the road, we realized that we were, slowly but surely, descending out of the mountains. The only notable event that happened before arriving at Elafonisi was when we stopped at a taverna in the small town of Elos. At the end of the meal, the waitress brought over a small jar of raki and two shot glasses, and we were able to have our first taste of the infamous Cretan drink. Raki is a strong, clear liquor made in Crete from the grape skins leftover from wine making. It is the drink of choice among all Cretans, who pretty much drink it non-stop starting at 11:00 in the morning. Apparently, you do not refuse raki when it is offered to you. It tasted kind of like wine, but mostly like burning.

elafonisi beach creteThe next day was spent lazing in the Caribbean-esque paradise of Elafonisi. The waters are turquoise and crystal clear, the beach is long and wide, and, oddly enough, the sand is pink! I am not sure how this happens, but, according to the posted sign, the pink-tinted sand is one of the “specificities which compose the natural miracle” of Elafonisi and taking “the minimum amount of sand in your pockets” is a “disbain of this uniqueness.” Elafonisi gets four enthusiastic thumbs up from Ben and me; be sure to include it on your agenda if you’re ever on Crete. One final and hilarious detail I’d like to point out is that all European men wear speedos.

(PS: We uploaded additional videos of our mountain drive and Elafonisi to our YouTube channel!)

NEXT: The 5 Immutable Laws of Greek City Driving »



8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Road Trip: Part 2”

  1. Nathanon 25 Sep 2007 at 1:04 pm

    As part of the “not looking like an American tourist,” why wasn’t ben in his own speedo?

  2. Abbyon 25 Sep 2007 at 8:56 pm


    That’s great that YOU want to see Ben in a speedo, but I’m pretty sure that the rest of us don’t. :)

  3. Benon 26 Sep 2007 at 6:41 am


  4. Laurieon 26 Sep 2007 at 7:20 am

    We certainly are enjoying visiting Crete vicariously through you two! I am glad the European men do wear some kind of swim covering. Here are a few American nicknames for Speedos besides—Eww Gross!
    Nutcrackers, budgie smugglers, banana hammock, dong-thong-alongs and slug huggers!
    Best Wishes from the over 50 gang in Richmond!

    Have you tried Retsina yet? Brad says it tastes like PineSol.

  5. Ginaon 26 Sep 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Like Laurie said, I’m living vicariously through you two on this trip. As for the speedo psuedonyms…*gags.* GAWD Ben, don’t wear them!!! They just may be the end of you being able to father ankle-biters!!!! *RUN AWAY!!!*

    And that village you visited…sounded like Dawn of the Dead.

    Ben can now be called “Mr. Livingston” (I presume) for his discovery of the rare kri-kri. (We just know it’s a jackalope in Greece.) ;0)

  6. Laurieon 26 Sep 2007 at 3:51 pm

    Kelly has a collection of exotic sand. Maybe you can find a ziploc baggie or mini-jelly jar and save some of the pink sand for a rainy day back in the states. It’s not a gel/liquid- it should get through customs? The water looks beautiful!

  7. Brittanyon 27 Sep 2007 at 5:42 am

    Hey Laurie! Your list of speedo names cracked us up. I wish I’d known about Kelly’s collection when I was visiting Elafonisi! We’re back in Hania now, and don’t think we’ll be down there again. If I spot any pink (or other exotic) sands, I’ll definitely grab a handful!

  8. Hollyon 27 Sep 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks for beach pics, they were awesome! Glad you made it through drive in one piece!! Love, Holly

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