The plan was hatched and it was time to make an escape. Once the bags were packed and the car was loaded, it was decided that an indirect route was best. The plan was to make a short detour to Triopetra before heading back north and spending two nights in the city of Rethymno. The weather was a bit drizzly, but it seemed like it would be okay to spend some time outside to combat the possibility of cabin fever setting in.
Leaving Kerames, I drove in the opposite direction from previous excursions since GPS and Google Maps claimed this was the best/shortest way to reach Triopetra. The road was narrow and winding, but navigable and not really any worse than what I had already encountered elsewhere on the island. The funny thing about lines on a map though, is that they don’t always give you all the information you need.
After about 10 minutes on the asphalt, there was a lady walking her dog. I drove slowly past the pair only for the dog to begin barking and chasing after the car. Unbeknownst to me, the rambunctious beast was running right beside the passenger side door. Not being able to see the critter, but knowing it was somewhere nearby, I anxiously drove as straight as possible to avoid hitting it. Eventually the faithful guardian either tired out or was called back by their owner and I was able to focus again on the road ahead.
Looking back, I’ve come to the conclusion that the hound was not trying to chase the car, but rather warn me of what was in store. Shortly after passing the wandering pair, the asphalt gave way to gravel. Not a huge problem, I figured to was probably just a short stretch that would soon return to normal. After a few boulders and some sketching looking and unavoidable puddles, the “road” (I’m using that term as liberally as possible) did in fact change…for the worse. It felt very reminiscent of the backwoods trails I used to drive while hunting or stump jumping with an old friend in northern Wisconsin. Actually, I think it was very similar to those rock climbing Jeep videos.
Driving along those types of trails in a pickup truck is not really a huge thing. Driving along something like that in a subcompact car…a rented subcompact Peugeot 108 is a bit nerve-racking. Knowing that any damage to the undercarriage was not covered by the rental insurance if it happened off asphalt, I was anxious to avoid anything in my path, mortified whenever I hear something scrape along the bottom of the car, and desperate to get through this rough patch as soon as possible. After what seemed like 127 hours, it was clear that there was no turning back. Mostly because there wasn’t anywhere to turn the car around, but also because that meant driving through the same insane conditions again. And then, there was the slope.
I eventually arrived at an uphill slope riddled with large rocks and marred by draining ditches. I made an attempt to climb the hill, but the car simply didn’t have the clearance to reach the top. I assessed the situation and quickly came to the conclusion that I was f%&ked (I tend to be a bit emotional at times). There was no way that little car would make it to the top and turning around meant, again, driving back over an hour through extreme terrain. I walked to the top of the hill and was further frustrated by the sight of a much easier gravel road at the top. I also saw two pickup trucks parked just off the two trails and a house overlooking a small village nearby. The question was either to attempt to find a way through the unnavigable path alone or ask for help from whoever was in the house.
I cautiously approached the open door, called out “hello”, and knocked on the beam supporting the roof. A scruffy heavy set man emerged from the entrance. I timidly asked if he could speak English to which he gave the standard reply of, “a little.” Google Translate helped me relay the message of “car, stuck, help,” and he invited my traveling companion and myself inside. I honestly don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Iolaus, but I do recall that his friend’s name was Michael. It was actually Michael’s house we were invited into…if you can call it a house. The old shack had obviously been around for a while. Iolaus invited us to sit on a ratty old couch as he and Michael grilled what looked like fish on an open fire in the corner of the room. Michael spoke only Greek but was pleased to show us that his actual house was just behind the ratty old shack we were sitting in. The pair showed their hospitality by offering bread and meat. Through trial and error…and eventual taste…it was revealed that the meat was actually pork. The pair continually insisted that I eat more and more and Michael even poured glasses of homemade wine for everyone in attendance (luckily I was able to politely decline). Of course the toast was not “Opa!” (that’s more of a celebratory “hooray!”) but rather “segeia”. In this case it’s a colloquial Cretan equivalent to, “to health!”
While I eventually became a bit impatient waiting for the grill party to finish before we set out to rescue the stranded Frenchman, I am amazed at the hospitality Iolaus and Michael provided to two complete strangers. In a world increasingly strangled by fear and suspicion of outsiders and people we don’t know, it’s a testament to the perserverence on human kindness. I wonder if it’s a throwback to ancient times in Greece. In the old legends, people were expected to invite strangers into their homes. You were never certain if the visitor was one of the gods in disguise and you certainly didn’t want to invoke the ire of the gods so you let everyone in, just in case. It’s the complete opposite of whispers you hear today about shutting everyone out, just in case.
After a healthy portion of grilled pork, toast, and olive oil, the fire was stoked for the evening and we set out to retrieve the car. The initial plan was to use Michael’s winch and pull the car up the hill. However, upon closer inspection, it was evident that winching the car up the hill may not work for the same reasons that driving the short stretch was difficult (namely dragging the bottom of car along the gravel and rocks). Luckily, the two knew of another trail that connected with the asphalt a few hundred meters back the same way I had come from. Michael took the wheel of the Peugeot and drove nonchalantly over the rugged trail until we reached the pavement.
We quickly celebrated our victory and I gave a congratulatory bro-hug to my Greek heroes. I received a business card from Iolaus…although it’s all Greek and I can’t read it…and we all went our separate ways. I drove straight on to Rethymno and arrived in the evening, settling in well after dark.
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