Welcome to Crete! Welcome Home!
After a long day’s drive through the mountain ranges of Crete, we stopped at a small village cafe to grab a coffee before we made our way to our hotel. We could never have anticipated the experience that followed… the people we met, the bonds we made.
As we made our way to a table under a large shade tree, the cafe owner greeted us with a warm smile, a handshake and pat on the back, asking where we were from after he noticed the “rental” name on our car. Before we could finish explaining that we had come from Athens for a quick two-day tour of the island, we were suddenly sitting at a table with our host who was telling us the best places and villages to visit when we made our way back onto the road.
The conversation morphed from travel tips to family history, stories and tales that made us laugh. When language barriers might have tripped us up, we would find ways to “translate” what we meant, acting it out or searching for words in our Google translate app. The hours passed and suddenly, we were no longer sitting with a stranger, we were sitting with an old friend. Coffee and pites were cleared from the table, replaced with raki and wonderful mezes of cheeses, vegetables, and more pites.
The cafe started to get busy, but it did not pull our host away, instead, our little group seemed to grow. The regulars who came to his shop turned their chairs to join our conversation, filled us in on current events, their hopes and fears of the current political situation. They argued with one another, but in a manner of old friends, asking us which of them we thought was the more logical. They laughed and teased us when they saw we did not want to offend them by claiming one of them wise, the other a fool. We relaxed and laughed along when we realized this debate was most likely a daily event.
At some point, our host’s daughter joined us, she told us how she was preparing to study abroad in the fall and told us how much she would miss her island, that there could be no place else in the world like Crete. We agreed, there was not. She was young, idealistic. She hoped that she could gain valuable knowledge abroad so that she could come back and do something that could help her country. Despite the lack of opportunity and countless challenges she would face upon her return, there was nowhere else in the world she wanted to live except for beautiful Crete.
The sun had set; music was starting to fill the night’s air. We were dizzy from raki, from laughter, from the warmth shared by our new Cretan friends. Our afternoon started as two strangers walking into a cafe, our night ended surrounded by newfound friends and family. As we walked to our hotel, we realized that as beautiful as this island was, it paled in comparison to the beauty of the soul of Crete – its people.
We’d heard stories. “Filevw” (Φιλευω), it’s a commonly used term in Crete meaning to share a meal or drink with someone. Visitors invited to join a wedding celebration. Lost travelers who were invited to join family dinners. But until it happened to us, we did not fully understand that “Filevw” isn’t just about sharing a meal, it is about sharing the Cretan spirit.
In less than two days, we took more than 1300 photographs. Each capturing a moment, a monument, a place, a piece of history. But the greatest image we left with was the one emblazoned in our memories, not on our SD cards, it was that magical night in Crete.
As we walked to our car the next morning, preparing to leave, we walked by the cafe in the hopes of seeing our host once more, to say thank you, to say goodbye. He and his wife were there, bright and happy, as if they had been waiting for us to stop by. They had a small “care package” for our road trip back. Coffee, fruit, warm kalitsounakia, honey from their hives and a small bottle of raki. They told us to be sure to visit again on our next trip to Crete. As we hugged goodbye, I had this feeling that if we did indeed have the opportunity to return, they would be as gracious and happy to see us as we would be to once again see them. No matter how much time may pass, coming back here would be just like coming home.