There is a very fitting word for the Greek attitude toward
foreign visitors: filoxenia (hospitality). Throughout history,
hospitality has been a typical virtue of the Greeks. In the
Homeric epics there are scenes where a foreign visitor shows
up at the door, receives the warmest welcome, and is treated
like a “sacred person.” The Greek gods (and especially
Zeus) would frequently take the human form and show up at people’s
doors either to help them with some important matter or to take
care of their own business (which was frequently of an amorous
nature). The ancient Greeks knew that, so whenever a visitor
knocked on their door they received him with the greatest honours
and treated him with utter respect. They invited him to dine
with them, filled his glass with exquisite wine, offered him
a place to rest, and only when the stranger was well fed and
rested did they dare to question him about his name and business.
Modern Greeks are quite different. Some of those who live and
work in very touristy areas and who are proud of their glorious
past are in fact totally ignorant of what hospitality means.
The truth is, of course, that there aren’t many Greeks
working as waiters, receptionists etc in the first place! Blond
tourist girls, who found a clever way to have a free or even
lucrative holiday, serve you non-Greek drinks, which you enjoy
while listening to non-Greek music along with many other non-Greeks.
Foreign waiters hand you menus without a word of Greek in them,
so that you can decide which non-Greek specialty to order. Foreign
receptionists answer your questions in your own language, so
that you can have an unforgettable stay at a non-Greek environment
with all the comforts you would expect to find in your own country.
In the midst of all this, the large poster on the wall of your
room (which shows one of those delightful empty beaches nobody
can exactly direct you to and has a huge GREECE on the bottom)
may vaguely remind you of the country you are in...
Greece is not only sea and sunshine and gorgeous post-card
landscapes; it is also the people who live here. And it is worth
visiting it to find both, and perhaps even more for its people.
But if it is difficult to find pure, unspoiled landscapes, it
is twice as difficult to find pure, unspoiled Greeks. Look for
them away from the much visited tourist places.
Cretans are particularly fond of motorcyclists. Children in
villages will generally gather around you and cheer and gesture
and ask you to do a tail spin (soùza) for them. They
will look at your bike with admiration, observe your outfit,
helmet and gear, marvel at the speedometer, and ask you what’s
the maximum speed you can reach (pòsa piàni).
Let them touch their dream and give them food for endless talks
with their friends. All it takes is sitting them in front of
you on the bike and letting them touch the bars, press the starter
or even turn on the gas. Needless to say, all this must be done
when the bike is not in motion; avoid taking them on a ride,
because you are assuming a serious responsibility.
Young boys and girls, on the other hand, will more likely stare
at you from a distance, but they will have a more proud and
reserved attitude. This doesn’t mean you cannot approach
them, though, and start a conversation yourself; in fact, they
are your best sources of information on local hang-outs and
can help you to find your way around. If country youths are
hesitant or even frightened at first, it is probably because
they are afraid of seeming inferior in your eyes, so talk to
them as an equal and do not try to impress them (they’re
already quite impressed with the fact you travel on a bike).
Ask them about their life and plans, and let them reveal to
you a side of modern Greece.
Unlike the reserved teenagers, the local motorcyclists are
certain to approach you and to invite you to join them at their
table, or they will come and sit at your own table taking it
for granted that they are welcome. Do not be offended if they
seem a little proud; this only means they feel they know the
ropes in their own area. In fact, their forward behaviour is
nothing more than the expression of a friendly spirit, which
is quite strong among motorcyclists in Greece and extends to
all of “our own.”
Finally, the old men in villages will be glad to see you,
and they may get a bit nostalgic too. This may be because you
remind them of their youth, when they would ride their horse
and go work in the fields, or would travel on business or take
part in war expeditions... Park your bike in front of the kafenìo
(traditional café) at the centre of the village, greet
them with a loud “hi” (yàsas), and sit at
a table next to them. Before taking the first sip of coffee
(or kafè) - which, by the way, they will most probably
not let you pay for anyway - lift the cup and say “stin
ighià sas” (“to your health”). If you
like, you can do the same with water. This is enough to show
that the sympathy is mutual and to establish a friendly ambience.
One of them is likely to know some English or German and try
to chat with you, but it would be very useful for you to know
some Greek words or phrases too. In any case, wherever there
is a friendly climate you are bound to find some way of communicating,
even without too many words. A warm smile or handshake, a friendly
gesture and an easy-going attitude will go a long way toward
unlocking this special world - a world that is full of genuine
feelings, traditional values and truly charming stories... a
neglected world, too, which vanishes little by little.
Even the most out-of-the-way places are not totally deserted;
some old man or woman is bound to have stayed behind at every
abandoned village. The mountain dirtroad you took, which seems
to be in the middle of nowhere, may in fact take you to a shepherd’s
sheepfold (or you may drive by one as you continue your exploration).
The empty beach where you’ve set up your tent may be visited
by a passing fisherman who leaves his boat and fishing nets
and lays back waiting for his catch. The folks you’ll
meet are hospitable and warm, and they’re always ready
to give you something. They may offer you a glass of raki and
a nice snack, or they may take you to their home and offer you
a sumptuous meal. Be prepared, then, to give them some little
thing in return, because you may never have a chance to visit
them again and they will never visit your homeland. A bottle
of wine or a nice dessert would be a small but symbolic contribution
to their table. If, of course, after the first glass of raki
you end up staying in their home for a day of two, enjoying
delicious home-cooked meals and an experience to share with
your grandchildren, you must think of something more suitable
to thank them for their hospitality. If you are not prepared
for this, do not hesitate to offer them something from your
personal possessions; a small portable radio or a knife would
make very welcome gifts. As for shepherds, a pair of binoculars
is the most precious gift they could hope for. If you have a
camera with you, take a few pictures of them and send them by
mail. Whatever you do, do not offer them money. They may be
gravely offended and consider your gesture as an act of charity.
Visiting an unspoiled landscape or a remote village is, by definition,
a kind of intrusion into a place with a delicate balance.
To savour the beauty of the experience to its full extent, you
must take care to approach the place as quietly and discreetly
as possible and show great consideration. As far as driving
is concerned, keep in mind that the most annoying form of pollution
your bike can cause is noise pollution. This is why before leaving
on your trip it is a good idea to check that the exhaust is
in good condition. Also make sure you pay attention to some
delicate situations such as the following:
When you drive on a dirt road and pass through an inhabited
area, go as slowly as you can to avoid raising a lot of dust.
Be especially careful when you see a peasant hanging her laundry
to dry, a villager whitewashing his walls, a shepherd milking
his sheep, or anyone sitting or walking by the side of the road.
When you see sheep or goats at the side of the road coming in
your direction, stop, and wait until they have all passed you.
Put 10-15 metres between you before you drive on to avoid scaring
them and creating problems for the shepherd.
When you pass through inhabited areas late at night or during
siesta time (that is, between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 p.m.),
drive as quietly as you can and avoid using the horn.
In remote villages and small places in general, traffic is so
limited that people will often use the streets as walk zones
and meeting places (and this is true even for the main street).
Old women sit in front of their doorstep and chat, old (or young)
men pull a table under the sun and play backgammon, farmers
load and unload farm products and tools, kids run around in
carefree play. The picture speaks for itself, so drive with
Little things you can do for tortured creatures
Shepherds, as you know, live on cream cheese, rusks and mountain
greens and drink plenty of milk. Naturally, they think nothing
is better for their dogs than what they eat themselves... On
top of that, they praise them for eating so little: “See,
I put all this bread and milk in his bowl and he just took a
couple of bites”(!) The poor dogs munch their food with
obvious resentment, eating hardly enough to survive. They drink
so much milk that they’ve almost grown wool on their bodies
and their barks start to sound like bleating... Keep that in
mind as you enjoy your steak or chicken at the tavern and do
not throw away the bones. It is so easy to give a hungry dog
a taste of paradise...
In Crete, more than anywhere else, dogs are often tied up at
some post in the middle of nowhere, guarding the sheepfolds,
fields or abandoned homes behind them. Their masters visit them
once a week and throw them some food, and they plant an iron
barrel next to them to protect them from the heat. (Naturally,
the poor dogs never use those barrel-shaped ovens). From the
day they are born, these dogs are chained to the same post,
wasting away in loneliness and misery and never knowing the
joy of a good, long run. If you run into one of them (and see
it can be approached), do something simple: give it the bones
you have saved, and when it’s fed untie it. It will run
around for a while, but it will soon return to its base.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.