Four days at the Beginning of May

by David Capon

Dawn arrived on May 1st and the day was bright and sunny and visibility was excellent – a perfect Bank Holiday day. For once I was able to join a trip organised by a local σύλλογος (cultural / community society), as usually these trips take place on a Sunday. So it was at 9:00 I waited for the coach to take us for a trip to the Omalos Plateau. I was picked up en route but was welcomed by everyone on board. I suppose there was a split of about 60/40 between local Greeks and other nationalities (including a few visitors) and everyone seemed happy. Yes there were problems with the language as any ‘narration’ was in Greek. I did my best to explain what I could to those next to me. But I think the majority of people worked out some of what was going on although not understanding the full significance of the localities or buildings.

Immediately I could tell this was going to be a fun day. Within ten minutes of sitting down and watching out of the window, cake was distributed to everyone. This was followed quickly by a tot of raki or honey raki – 9:30 in the morning! Yes, this was going to be a good day.

After a while we stopped at Prases. There we were able to look at the views, have refreshment and a walk around the village. The sun continued to shine and the mountains looked marvellous because of the clarity. Back on the coach and another raki was offered, but I, like most, declined. The coach climbed into the mountains but slowly. This enabled us to marvel at the scenery, despite the eventual intrusion of the wind turbines.

Slowly we dropped into the Omalos Plateau and I enjoyed seeing the many tulips in flower before we stopped again, this time at the top of the Samaria Gorge.

With the visibility so good the views were magnificent and I explained to a few of our party that it seemed strange seeing the entrance at midday as before then I had only ever been there early in the morning. We returned to the coach and travelled to the centre of the Plateau for lunch.

Here, the party split into different tavernas. I was with a group of about 17 or 18 Greeks and I was the only non-Greek among the group. I think some were worried that I would feel left out and also not understand anything. They need not have worried and I felt I was with old friends. There was a lot of banter (most of which I understood), chat and laughter over the excellent food and wine.

At the end of the meal there were cheese pies and honey and (“Oh yes!”) local raki.

Back on the coach, the views remained spectacular as we moved slowly downhill. In the main aisle of the coach a few were dancing. At one point the coach stopped and a snake of dancers exited through the doors to continue on the mountainside. This appeared to cause some confusion to a few tourists driving past (one could almost read the words on their lips “Mad Locals?”).

The slow journey provided splendid views before we made two final stops: one at Lake Agia and another on Akrotiri. The return home was ‘shortened’ by a draw before I heard over the coach’s speakers “David” with a very Cretan lilt. I had to go to the front of the coach and I explained in Greek and English about the students’ exhibition and my own exhibition.

I had a very enjoyable and memorable day and I urge people to support these community activities. As I saw on that day, the language barrier need not be a barrier to enjoyment and communication. I do hope that I may be able to join another trip during the year.

Two days later, I was up early again – this time to oversee my Art Groups members’ exhibition. The weather, again, was perfect and there were plenty of visitors. What is always pleasing is that both members and regular visitors notice the continual improvement in the art. As in previous years I gave members a theme in order that they could enter one anonymous painting into a competition.

The idea behind the anonymity is that visitors (who are invited to vote) vote for the painting and not the person. There are a few other general rules to ensure that everyone has an equal chance.

Last year we had a three-way tie for first place but this time there was one clear winner. Visitors voted for their preferred painting and their second choice. Seventy percent of visitors voted for Glyn Bryant’s painting under the theme of “Behind the Secret Door”. As always, this was a tiring day for me but a rewarding one for everyone.

Another two days later and I was again up early; and again, the weather was perfect with sun, clarity and no wind. My day this time was to be spent at the Orthodox Academy of Crete at the other side of Kolymbari. The day, arranged by Revd Canon Philip Lambert, the Anglican Chaplain for Crete, was to see how the Academy was working with the environment and Nature and I was pleased to receive an invitation. The Academy is a magnificent set up with a huge conference hall and museum.

After introductions and a summary of the plan for the day we saw a group from Scandinavia at the end of their holidays during which they were extending their knowledge of icon painting. As a professional artist, I was interested in seeing how they made some traditional colours from the rocks and soil.

After some information about how the Academy works with ecology and science we watched a video on the work of the “Green Patriarch” and his international work in trying to get the World and other faiths to understand the need for the protection of the Earth and Nature. Following this there was a discussion between the 18 or so members of our visiting group and the key personnel. I am an ecologist and conservationist, as regular readers of this newspaper will know, and the views of the Academy were interesting and I am sure that I may be able to assist in their environmental and educational aims.

Following a delicious lunch we then relocated to the Orthodox Community at Chrysopigi. Here we learned how the new Monastery was built using materials that were on site and how the Community is involved in environmental education and organic farming.

Before I moved to Crete I had been a contributor and editor of a conservation magazine. For one edition I asked members to advise me of their favourite five or ten birds. In order to help their thoughts I included a top ten of mine and for the top five the reasons why. In my list were birds such as the magnificent Osprey and the Buzzard. Top of my list was the Bee-eater, which is a very rare visitor to the UK, and I remember explaining that it was not just that it was a beautiful bird but also the wonderful cheery babbling that was unique. I regularly see bee-eaters on migration in April and September but I had not seen any until 3 days after my visit to Kolymbari. There were 9 and they were not around for long, presumably because they were late in their migration. I was alerted by the chattering between the birds so I stopped what I was doing in order to admire them.

I watched the bee-eaters sit on the electric cables across the valley and scan the area for flying insects. One would take off and then return to near enough the same position. The bird would then try to concuss the insect by thrashing it on the wire. This, in some instances, took almost a minute.

The insect, mainly bees, could then be swallowed head first without danger from the sting. I was amused by one bird that had caught a large white butterfly. Every time the bird tried to manoeuvre the butterfly in its mouth the insect would flap its wings m move in the opposite direction. Eventually the bird managed to turn the butterfly in its mouth so that it could bang the head on the wire.

I think this was quite a mouthful.

I now have to wait until September before I see more bee-eaters and I hope I see many and that they stay around for some time. I do hope that the lack of numbers this spring is not due to a large decline in populations.

I remember writing for a Nature magazine in the UK that my favourite month of the year there was May. Here, on Crete, I think my favourite is April but these four separate days in early May were special.

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