Long Days and Pleasant Nights
At a height of 848m above sea level, Father Andreas’ Shepherd’s Shelter – known locally as a Mitato -sits on the slopes of Crete’s highest point, Mount Ida. Getting there with a hangover was not fun, and my drinking companions from the night before were feeling similarly delicate.
As the privately chartered minibus / coach thingy slowly wound its way through the villages and up the meandering roads, we sat quietly staring out the window at the passing scenery. Some places looked perfect for stopping off for some cool shots, but we were told there was not enough time to do so. One of the places mentioned was officially off the record, so I can’t say much more than that. Drugs, though. The one stop we did benefit from was right by the side of the road on a blind bend, where we got to witness hard-ass mountain goats hopping from rock to rock like they didn’t give a fuck. There was also yet another shrine dedicated to Jesus and his crew, which I thought was a bit odd this far up the mountain.
We arrived at the Shelter around two hours after leaving the villas and the crisp air was actually a welcome relief. The sun was starting to come out, too, and the view was pretty nice. The priest / shepherd came to greet us himself and led us straight to the barn where all the goats were chilling out with their bells round their necks.
There were some keen members of our little group who couldn’t wait to get stuck in, and soon enough a gaggle of writers had gathered over a bucket to watch an Israeli guy squeeze a teat or two. And just like the day before in the Olive Grove, I was more determined to get a good shot before the opportunity disappeared than I was to do the actual milking. I was starting to worry about my lack of getting involved, but I knew that getting a good picture was my priority. It was a challenge with all the others around, that’s for sure.
Back in the Mitato the goat’s cheese was boiling away and was almost ready to be tasted. We cut it with some vinegar and a bit of salt, and suddenly it was good to go. We each took it in turns to portion it out in to small cups before it was taken away to our al fresco dining area that was already overflowing with more Cretan dishes. The wine made a cheeky appearance again, as did the shots, and by the time the fried potatoes arrived I was back in some kind of semi-drunk state again. It was a perfect time for Gary and I to introduce the rest of the gang to good old Chip Butties, which totally horrified them all, especially the french girls. We wolfed it down with pride.
We’d spent most of the afternoon so far chasing the shepherd around the mountain – an act that had caused me to drop my camera, lens first, on to a rock. The bloody thing survived yet again, and it was only the lens hood that needed fixing / repairing. But the majority of us were quite tired when we found our seats in the bus and drove back down the mountain. But there were more items on the itinerary to get ticked off, so any thoughts of a bit of down-time to get pictures edited and blog posts written were quashed immediately.
Which is why we next found ourselves in an orange grove, helping to pick oranges from the trees. I was starting to feel a bit desperate for a decent picture at this point and became a little bit bossy with the rest of the group, as I tried to clear out the wandering bloggers from the background as promptly as possible. The owner of the orange grove, a woman named Eftychia Marathianaki, smiled and played nicely as I dragged her from one tree to the next, demanding that she stand “as natural as possible.” I later found out that she had recently been made a widow and had become the victim of jealous rivals who wanted her removed from the competition. Her tyres had been slashed and water supply cut, in an attempt to stop her from continuing with the business. How lonely that must feel in such an enclosed town, I thought.
Believe it or not, our next destination was yet more food, which consisted of bread, fried potatoes, sausages, olives, cheese, tomatoes, vegetables and more of the Connecting People liquid. Before I could get stuck in I decided to slip away from the group to see if I could find any interesting people or buildings to photograph. The best photo op came in the form of a little old lady with the best-kept hair, sitting outside her shop doing embroidery. The light was fading fast by now, as I danced around her like a leprechaun with a lens. She was more than happy to be photographed, and I wasn’t at all surprised when she then tried to sell me a couple of bags for €10 each. They were very nice bags, but not really something I could imagine walking around with on a daily basis. So I promised to return with the rest of the group and wished her a pleasant evening. True to my word, I never saw her again.
With the Cretan cuisine sitting heavily in our stomachs, we were all a little surprised and saddened when we were asked “What shall we buy for tonight’s barbecue?” Looking at my watch I could already see it had gone past 7pm, and food was the last thing on all of our minds. A few members of the group started to grumble quietly under their breaths as we continued to towards our next destination: The Distillery!
Now I can quite comfortably admit that I was indeed one of those moaning about the situation. I was tired; I had a lot of pics to upload and backup, and I just like the idea of sitting on the terrace with a few beers and having a laugh. But then something magical happened. As we entered the distillery we were watched by tables full of locals, and I remember thinking, “This is going to be a difficult night.” But, if there’s ONE thing I’ve learnt about being a photographer, is that holding a camera in your hands opens doors and channels of communication. So over I went to the grilling area and started chatting to the men who were preparing the food. Within minutes I was sitting with a small group of Cretans and being “forced” to drink wine and raki, whilst tasting their meat, so to speak. And for the third or fourth time in less than 48hrs, raki was connecting people once again.
The fun continued, as members of our group were invited on to the dance floor to learn some local moves. The music was turned all the way up to 11 and round and round we went, kicking our feet about in an uncontrolled and badly timed manner. The Greeks knew exactly what they were doing; the rest of us not so. Behind us on what appeared to be a stage used for making booze, a large man continued the process of distilling the raki, as steam bellowed out across the room. It looked like a scene from Dirty Dancing, but without any of the actual resemblances to the any parts of the film. Just steam and dancing really.
This went on for quite sometime, and our group had already shrunk to just a few. At least half the group had gone back to the villas to catch up on some work and rest, and I felt a little bit saddened for them. In my opinion they were missing out on the best part of the trip so far. But soon enough the rest of us were getting in to the bus and being driven back home for the night. Until my housemate, Gary, decided that he wanted to go and watch the Manchester United game in a pub somewhere, and there was no way he was going to watch it alone.
The bar was all but empty, but it gave us another chance to see how life was really like for the small population of Archanes. I also got the chance to talk candidly with our host, Victoria, who told me all about the Orange Grove widow. She shocked me further when she explained to me a so-called “Mafia Tax” that was applied to businesses who were doing “too well.” Apparently the owner of the distillery had taken quite some convincing to let us all in, as it could mean a hefty tax for him. Lots of stories, photos and articles about his business could effectively cause him to lose money, and he had been more than a little nervous at the sight of us all. It hadn’t shown. His warm, welcoming persona had made the night a complete success, and I tip my hat to the guy for making it so enjoyable.
This blog post first appeared over at photographybymatthewjames.com