I debated traveling to Elafonissi Beach for hours. The three-hour drive, crowds, and possibility of little to no pink sands weighed my decision. The road at 6:25a was quiet as made my way north watching the sunrise on my right. Forgetting where in the world I was geographically located, it threw me a second to see the sun coming up over the ocean. The scenery of this drive alone is worth it. I don’t remember ever seeing nature at sunrise before, but my soul could get used to it. I hook west, the town of Chiana in my review mirror. The roads wind deeper and deeper into the hills as I drive through dozens of small towns. Each town promising free parking, wifi and homemade goods for sale. A tunnel carved into the mountain with a one-way street intrigues me and I giggle like a school girl with a crush as I pass through. The darkness inviting me in the further I go, tempting to frighten me just before the light from the opposite end comes into view.I take the car out of gear and coast as I make turn after turn. Sharp left, sharp right. All the while praying that there are few people, plenty of parking and pink sand when I arrive. Time stretches on, matching the road and my bladder screams a little louder. The ocean comes into view on the last pass and I confirm out loud to the open space of the car that the drive was definitely worth it. My last right turn takes me into a dirt road. Slowly I advance until I can go no further.
Less than one hour after arriving at this beach is swarming with bodies. Every palapa is taken, people arguing over whose are whose and families yelling at each other about needing to be here sooner in order to sit together. In the water, beyond the chaos people snorkel, play volleyball and lounge on inflatables in the calm shallows. There are no waves here, just ripples on the surface that change with the direction of the wind. The air is dusty and I can feel it on my skin as it blows by. A flock of birds calls out overhead taking my line of sight to the heavens. I soak in the sun and argue with myself about which beach to see next!
An hour later and I’m making my way clear across the island, winding in between small towns littered with tourist traps and shopping. Hippie Beach is famous for its nudism and caves that cradle the shore. I bought two beers on the way in and was rewarded with a takeaway coffee cup full of bar snacks. I sit on my circular beach spread enjoying the scenery and the eclectic group of people on this beach. It’s refreshing really. A few topless old women, tons of artisans selling crafts, their hair knotted in dreadlocks. Families are blowing up floaters and the cliché beautiful girl with a matching body running her dog along the beaches edge.
Gortys is an important part of Grecian history. Not only for Grecian legends of Gods fornicating but for its role in judicial advancements for equality. The legend of the town, as it were, tells of Europa, the first Queen of Crete, originally admired the glory of the white-colored beast, which was Zeus in disguise among the herd in hopes of gaining closer access to the beauty that stole his heart. Europa mounted and rode the animal, but Zeus entranced by her beauty kept running. The story suggests that Zeus jumped into the ocean with Europa atop his back and swam to the island of Crete. It was on this island, in Gortys, that Zeus allegedly had sex with Europa under a tree after manifesting into human form from the bulls. The tale ends with Zeus painting the sky with the glorious form of the white bull that united their love in the stars. We know it today as the Taurus constellation.
Legendary loves aside, some of the first manmade laws regarding woman’s rights, such as the ability to divorce and work, were written here in Gortys. The whole island of Crete is covered with ruins of dozens upon dozens of civilizations, fortresses, temples. Whole mountainsides can begin to take shape into an ancient tower complete with a Greco-Roman guard on duty, staring at the sea if I let my imagination run wild. I drive past another monastery and recall being told about how the first Christian church on the entire island of Crete was also built right here in Gortys.
The parking lot for the archeological site is riddled with fallen structures, now only rubble, overtaken by nature. One could almost miss it hidden in the wild olive trees. The cicadas more than sing, they roar thunderously and in unison. The sound reminds me of thousands of Maracas shaking in the trees. The harder the wind blows the louder they play. Sun-scorched grasslands, massive boulders, vineyards and winding roads. Small villages appear behind old monasteries with one-way roads weaving like a snake from one end to the other. A five-minute drive (or less depending) puts us through each inhabited location and we’re on to the next making our way to Perevelli Beach. A hidden gem where the sea mixes with the runoff of a freshwater river that extraordinarily supports a palm tree oasis.
Twenty minutes driving on an unpaved, and equally uneven, road reveals the horizon levitating over the oceans end. Laughter fills the car as we bounce along like springs in a mattress as The Black Keys serenade the beginnings of the afternoon. Close to three hours on the road to reach this section of the island and we’re likely to stay for an hour if that. The exploration of our journey took the majority of what was slotted as “free time” for the day and we must leave ample time for our return. It’s worth it, though. Always worth it.
The gratitude I feel for the day, the opportunity, the courage, the health… The gusty winds begin as I stare out at the sea. A breeze catches my face making love to my bare lips. I squint, using my eyelashes to trap the dust that accompanies the rush of fever. My relationship with life and the experiences I dare to create within are blossoming into a full-fledged romance. Still, the experiences I have had become a catalyst for doubt-per usual-and I hesitate mid-thought. As hopelessly as I’d like to fall head first into this romance my quest is one of fulfillment and foundation. Both elements needing their own intrinsic and extrinsic balance.
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