Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grecian Formula Part 4 & 5


Before the 4:45AM wake up call we were awake and half packed. Even though our ferry boat wasn’t scheduled to leave until 7AM we needed to get a cab (arranged the night before) , get to the port , find the ticket office, find out what boat we could take, board the boat and then set down in our assigned seats for the two hour sail to Ios, the infamous island I escaped from Athens to in 1972 after being without money for three weeks.

Communication to the United States in those days via Aerogram was slow. Sending a message to my parents via Western Union Telegram was at least a day and expensive especially for me who was living on two dollars a day or less. My money was running short in Rome when I sent my first note to my parents in Phoenix but I thought it best for them to send a portion of my money to Athens. I had just enough funds left to get me across the Italian boot to the port of Brindisi, board a ferry boat to the Greek island of Corfu, hitch hike through Delphi to Athens and hang out at the American Express office for a day to retrieve my funds. Communication was slow  and as I, a poor draft-dodging lad, found out, not reliable. No money waiting for me, remember this is 1972…before the computer.
Lunch at the hotel with view of the port
The port view from our hotel

So, I arrived in Athens with some friends, found a cheap hostel in the basement of a three star hotel and waited. The friends left after a week leaving me their change. I was now completely out of money in Athens, Greece. After two weeks the hotel owner tracked me down and wanted me to pay up for my stay. I came clean and told him my story. He invited me upstairs for a game of chess (his skills were horrible) and some fruit. I let him win which I was awarded a bowl of ridicule and more fruit. He told me I could stay and run up a bill but everyday I must go to the train station in the afternoon to meet other travelers, hand out brochures to his hotel, and lead students to the hostel. I also had to make sure no one was using drugs and not fighting in the basement refuge for the economically deprived. The running up my room bill didn’t provide anything for my raging hunger so I had a number of things I did for very little money such as play harmonica near the American Express office each day after checking for my funds arrival. Offering bogus tours about the city directing young travelers to all the sights, sitting down at a table at the YWCA cafeteria with a cup of coffee watching skinny young girls leave their half finished plates of food then smoothly slide over and finish up for them. One day I heard you could sell your blood for eight dollars and get a cheese sandwich with a cup of orange juice. What a deal for a guy like me. I lined up at the blood bank, gave a pint of my best, enjoyed the treats and skipped out the door with coins in my pocket and a snap to my step. I stopped at a kiosk, bought a pack of smokes, went back to my hostel only to be met at the door by my landlord with his hand out saying I had money and I must pay on my bill. How did this guy know I got money? Never found that one out. Within a week I got my money from American Express and decided to escape from this big city to some peace and quiet on an island and the one I choose was Ios…. Back to the present….
My Cave with skylight 39 years latert
The ferry docked at the port, we grabbed our bags and went directly to the ferry booking office to get a reservation for the next day to Crete. Our reason for coming to Ios is to rediscover the infamous cave I lived in and told of in my stories to my children about their father’s young adventuresome life.

The charming woman at the counter booked our late afternoon ticket and promised us an incredible hotel deal at a new place overlooking the inlet and within two minute walk of Chora, the main village of Ios. After our transaction and bookings I asked her about the caves. I couldn’t quite remember where it was other than it was a large beach on an inlet over from the main port. She said it was most likely Milaposta Beach. The name didn’t ring a bell but I knew it was a short hike away no matter where we were. The van for the hotel picked us up. This was very different than the Ios I remembered because when I was here thirty-nine years ago, there were no roads or cars on the island but…things change and considering the steep climb up from the port I was happy with the improvement. The van pulled into to a new wonderfully designed hotel with our room overlooking the pool and the beautiful mountains and clear bright blue waters of Ios. After lunch, poolside, we thought it would be best we began our search for the cave since we only had one day to find our grail. We asked the woman at the front desk about the caves but she didn’t really know though she told us how to get to the beach the ticket counter person told us.  We followed the directions and soon we were hiking high on a mountainside looking down on the very familiar beach.  Though a lot more buildings are there, the taverna at the far end of the beach confirmed this was the place. We walked down the mountainside to the beach, shuffled through the sand allowing the occasional wave to wet our feet and reached the other side within 20 minutes. The closer I got the more excited I became because none of the new development encroached into the steep path leading up to my cave. I started up the path and gave a description to Sharon of the neighbors I had at the time. I walked up quite away but I didn’t see my very distinctive cave with a skylight. I stopped looked up once again and saw it…the skylight was still there. I called out to Sharon and we reveled at the rediscovery.

We hiked down from the mountain to the beach, stopped at the nearest taverna, ordered a Fix Beer and talked with the bartender who had a great amount of local social knowledge, enough to direct us to others and others and others and then it was time to leave. We really didn’t want to leave. We couldn’t see how Crete could top this incredibly beautiful spot with such friendly wonderful people. I will return to Ios and this time I won’t wait so long.


The morning and afternoon on Ios went quickly and soon we were at the port waiting for the boat to Crete. The ferry to Crete is a four hour crossing and the winds were very strong creating very prominent white caps on the sea. Since Sharon has a strong propensity for seasickness, I suggested she get some pills before departing. Nothing in the port is open until a boat arrives so we had to wait until the ferry entered the inlet before the little kiosk that has the concession for the pills opened. Funny to find out the old man behind the counter sells them one at a time. I guess he knows his market. The boat was a passenger ferry only so it was a bit smaller and a little faster. These boats have assigned seating like airplanes but you can get up and walk about, go to the bar, or just have a something from the coffee stand.
Main town in Ios

We pulled into the Crete port of Iraklion about 7:30PM and once we disembarked, a taxi gave a free lift to a rental car agency. We planned to rent a car for a ten days, meet up with our Bisbee friends Kim and Gordon, the famous chocolate makers, stay at a restored mountain village for two days then move down the mountain to a seaside fishing village of Paleochoro.

The car rental went quickly but I was a bit alarmed when I asked how far our first destination was and the clerk said two hours. By now it was past eight , which meant I had to drive in a new country, find the highway in a large port city, on a island, all in the dark. After that find a hotel room when we arrive in Chania.  Hey, this is what makes an adventure.

As usual, the rental clerk said we better get to a gas station quickly before going to Chania. We quickly found fuel and began following signs to Chania that lead us for an hour in a circular fashion (maybe a couple times) around Iraklion before we began our drive on the correct highway to our first stop. Now its really dark and what could have been a very picturesque drive was now a video game of blind driver.  At close to midnight we see a couple signs for Chania but nothing to signify the “centro” area so we continued on the highway until both of us were satisfied we were leaving the Chania area. Turning around we pulled into the first exit for Chania and with in 4km narrow streets seemed to be the downtown area. Now past midnight I pulled into a quaint neighborhood that might have small inns. Sharon spotted one so I dropped her off and had to continue down the one way lanes driving further away, having to make turns and soon I started to be concerned that I couldn’t find my way back because I was only stopped for thirty seconds and didn’t get to have a good look before having to move.

Driving these crowded very narrow roadways with bars and cafes overflowing with raucous activity only added to my confusion but I kept my cool and within 30 minutes was back at her drop off spot only this time she had a gentleman with her. I pulled up and they told me to park down the street. Ten minutes later I wonder back up the street after find a quasi parking spot next to a dumpster. Tired and road weary the gentleman was quite kind in trying to get us a room but nothing was open or if it was it was full so we thanked the man, returned to our car and ventured out of the old town area and began our quest a little further out. Within minutes I spotted a large blue and white sign of Archcontiki Hotel. We made the quick left and pulled up front of the hotel. Sharon went inside and soon her voice echoed through the streets from a balcony three floors above. Again the travel gods found us a good home even after closing hours.

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