12.05.2014 - 17.05.2014 24 °C
I’m sure you know someone who you wish would go away – a long way away. Well, there is a destination for them. The first thing I saw when I exited the terminal in Heraklion was a bus sign-written Cretin Holidays. The first thing I thought was, “I must have a word with our travel agent – sending us on a holiday for Cretins, indeed. When, full of indignation, I confronted Flypaper for an explanation, she pointed out that spelling was never my strong point but if that’s the way my brain leaned, so be it. Further research enlightened me to the difference between Cretin and Cretan. I’m still suspicious and wonder if our travel agent also has a spelling problem.
The second experience was collecting the Rental Car. I should never let Flypaper arrange these important matters. We were greeted outside the terminal by a beaming man with a lot of dark wavy hair, holding up a sign that, with some imagination could be interpreted as the name my parents bestowed on me. The Greek alphabet is a strange 24 letter system that was designed to be chiseled onto stone tablets – not airport greeting signs. The bearer of our welcome introduced himself as ‘George’. I suspect 68% of Greeks are named George. It means ‘farmer’. Our George was aptly named – he had been sowing his wild oats far and wide. When he told us he visited the back side of the world every year, I innocently asked why. After a little sparing he confessed. He has a wife in Thailand with 2 children – in addition to his wife in Crete with 3 children. He spends the summer in Crete fleecing suckers like us and the summer in Thailand confusing the gene pool of our Asian neighbours. He is obviously a wicked man. Flypaper liked him. She tried to convince me that he had a charming demeanor. Only 3 days before she relied on my ‘charm’ to extract her from a worrying situation and now she was comparing that serious and practical charm with one that was adding to international overcrowding. I suspect that her next demand will be I take up farming to feed Georges offspring.
Little did I know, that was the least of my worries. Flypaper and George had conspired to fit me into an ancient Suzuki Vitara. (She told me it was a ‘Jeep’.)These Suzuki’s are affectionately known as ‘Puddle-jumpers’. A 1600cc 4WD with which I was to do battle with the Cretins and Cretans. My first thought was, “Oh, a car with both maturity and experience – just like Flypaper”. However, my involuntary expression of concern prompted George to quickly tell me that his pride was a ‘Limited Edition’ model. Subsequent experience discovered that ‘Limited Edition’ offered no exclusivity in terms of up-market superiority but indicated it had the most limited of basic features. For example, I struggled to find both the power and brakes. Consequently we struggled to keep up with the pack on the uphill sections – but downhill was another story. I suspect the brake pads were glazed. They did improve after a couple of days frantic application. The off-road tyres were also very old and hard Chinese rubber – they had similar characteristics to Ben Hur’s chariot wheels. On one occasion, due to a combination of no brakes or grip, the car started to spin towards an abyss, Flypaper uttered a naughty word. Her subsequent comments hurt my feelings. I tried to explain that I had not only just saved her life, but given her a view of the valley no other traveler had ever experienced. I take these issues very seriously – otherwise it could affect my laundry service.
The Cretans have a policy of not wasting time on the roads. Notwithstanding the Police cruising around with their blue lights continuously flashing (I was told it was an ego thing), the pace of progress is pretty brisk. Some of the tourists hold things up a bit but generally the genre of tourist who hire cars are doing so for an experience they miss at home. I noticed many passengers travelled with their eyes closed – a pity as Crete is a spectacularly rugged island. There are thousands of kilometers of narrow winding roads all over Crete. There are also a few duel carriage highways and some very good two way roads. These generally have a double white line down the centre. Universally this is recognized as a no passing division – but given the lines have a 150mm (6”) gap, the locals consider them an additional lane. You may be horrified, and many new arrivals are. However, crowded communities the world over adapt as required and become very tolerant to each others actions. Rather than become indignant, toot their horn and dial the ‘dob a dope’ number, they simple move over and accommodate their fellow citizen. We have a lot to learn.
I suspect the best business in Crete is the supply of rear vision mirrors. The majority of vehicles have new exterior mirrors – as did our puddle-jumper. This is the consequence of the narrow roads. Few drivers have eyes far enough apart to see both sides of their car at the same time. Often a mirror is wiped off against the stone wall – sometimes the trader gets two sales as both cars simultaneously destroy each others mirror. Our puddle-jumper suffered new scratches on both mirrors but mercifully they remained intact. Flypaper considers the loss of a mirror on her side as a personal amputation. The resulting speech is far more memorable than the Gettysburg Address (that focused on the Declaration of Independence) and on a couple of occasions has suggested the future independence of the inadequate driver whose judgment was in error. I pleaded diminished responsibility due to a third world attitude of the other party.
We could also learn from developing nation’s attitude to cars. They know they are not about to go away any time soon. They appreciate that public transport is only practical in large, well planned cities, and even then the plumber is unlikely to take a bus to fix your blocked toilet. As a result the majority of the world is flat out building new highways to improve the efficiency of commerce – and subsequently lower emissions. Crete (and mother Greece) was also doing this until their source of Euro’s was recently turned off. The new highways come to a sudden premature end. One uncompleted viaduct we stopped to admire had a small sign saying ”Road Closed” about 200m from the abyss. Evel Knievel would have loved it. Evidently this sort of situation maintains a higher IQ among the population and ensures a few tourist leave more money on the island than they originally budgeted. Most highways degenerate into badly sealed goat tracks. These tracks are wonderful. They wind into and through the rugged mountains servicing countless small villages and bringing tourist Euros to those who are providing the necessities of life – food … and in Crete, homemade Raki (local Schnapps).
New Zealand is about 268,000 sqkm. We have 4.4m people. Crete has 625,000 people squeezed into 8,000 sqkm – about half the size of New Zealand’s Northland region – but its really mountainous. That’s a population density about 5 times that of NZ – mostly in incredibly steep and infertile places throughout rugged mountains. Surprisingly it snows in Crete because the mountains are up to 8,000 ft high. The roading network is an asset that provides employment where it is needed and increases productivity. Cities all over the world tend to generate service industries that simply suck off the group of people who keep them alive – the primary producers. Crete, like many emerging economies that have learned from the errors of the ‘developed’ nations, provides incentives to keep people on the land. Roading is a key element of this policy.
The world’s best olives and olive oil are reputed to come from Crete. 65% of the arable land is covered by 35 million olive trees. That’s a lot of olives. I do wonder about the first person who picked up a small, hard, black, bitter olive and said, “I wonder if I do this and this and this, if the result will make my goat and wild lettuce taste a bit better?” Olive culture is a long term, labour intensive industry. In future every time I see someone who thinks they may have James Bond syndrome drowning an olive in Vodka, I will give them the same look Flypaper gives me when she considers my underwear is overdue for change. Olives have sustained societies for 7,000 years and have considerably reduced the likely hood of heart attacks and other nasty life ending conditions – thus contributing to the current overcrowding. Opposing that, I did notice that those who have been scoffing olives all their life are very wrinkled. Perhaps they are even older than they look. It is said Olive oil assists weight reduction. I ask Flypaper to smear it all over me every night but she says I’m in pretty good shape so there is no need. I fear her eyesight is failing.
We are all aware of the fact Greece, and by association Crete, is bankrupt. They lived beyond their means and have paid a terrible price. Virtually everyone has suffered beyond our comprehension. In Crete the biggest problem was the construction industry that borrowed excessively to build new homes, commercial buildings and tourist resorts. When the financiers went bust they gobbled up all the invested savings of everyone. Today there are thousands of partially completed buildings dotting the landscape. Many tragic stories are attached to them. Reckless development ruined countless lives around the Mediterranean – and could do so in our societies if we fail to learn from the experience of others.
Since the financial crash, the churches have been filled – and many have been renovated due to a huge influx of regular tithing by their growing congregations. It seems there is nothing better than divine intervention in difficult times. The lotteries are also doing well and there is a connection. Many pray fervently that they will be the next big winner. It is reported that 98% of Cretans are practicing Greek Orthodox Christians. The Priests look very content and some appear to have put on weight. Someone should talk to them about the benefits of olive oil – I suspect they waste it on their food.
Almost all buildings in Greece (and many other Mediterranean countries) appear to have been in use for many years but have an unfinished appearance. They all have exposed reinforcing steel sprouting from the roof. The rule is that if one leaves structural provision for another story then they retain their building permit forever. In some countries (like Egypt) they are also exempt paying tax’s and development fees until the structure is complete. Some new home owners have the best of intentions and temporarily put their future top story building materials on the roof to hold it down. After about 20 years when the chickens have flown the coup and the materials are deteriorated, they just give up and live like that forever. It looks like living under a pile of garbage.
This is interesting. Statistically speaking, Crete has the highest ratio of guns per person in the whole European Union. Road signs looking like Swiss cheese are common because some Cretans consider they make excellent targets. (They do) Firearms and big celebrations go together like feta and olives in Crete. This tradition is called balothies. It is traditional for Cretans to fire their guns during weddings, baptisms, New Year, and even when their favorite soccer team wins! It concerned me that they may do the same when they experienced the loss of a rear vision mirror. The other thing that concerned me and has consumed a lot of my nervous energy is, where does one put ones olive stones? At the end of a meal the Cretins never seem to have any left over.