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A pretty village in the Cretan mountains

The sign that promises a "green" pharmacy accompanies me, curve after curve, for the 15 km that lead from Elafonissi to the village of Elos. On the barren mountain, speckled with the silvery ebenus bushes which the Cretans call poupoulo, the road proceeds over thrilling cliffs, often cluttered with stones that slide down from the heights.

At the entrance of the village, on a white terrace, in front of a huge chestnut tree laden with young curls of a beautiful bright green, an old woman dressed in black stares at the horizon. Before entering the village, at the umpteenth hut offering honey, olives and raki, the wrinkled faces of an elderly couple light up as I pass by, but only for a moment. In front of them a goat is intent on eating from a thorny bush, the milk-laden teats touch the ground. Everything appears suspended in this late morning, hot up here too.

I stop at the bakery at the entrance to the village, a huge oven where the smell of freshly baked cookies leaves me breathless: a woman is carefully removing them from the pan and hands me one. Absolute pleasure. I make a good supply of them, together with the sesame seed breadsticks, they are so good that I already know they won't last long. I joke with the baker who speaks only Greek, imitating the verse of the cow and the sheep and to ask him what kind of cheese was used for the magnificent kalitzuni on display. From that moment, the man shows me everything for sale by repeating muuuu and beeee, laughing heartily with me and a customer who has just entered. As I am going out, he says with a smile, in broken Italian: "Italians and Greeks, brothers!".

I pass the beating heart of Elos, the three taverns next to each other are still deserted and the waiters look on, chatting to each other. I go up a narrow, winding road that leads to somewhere I don’t know, sure that obtuse tourists will remain anchored to the first tavern as always. The reward comes with a formidable scenario, ancient arched walls frame a centuries-old platano tree, a source of water gushing next to the set tables of a small tavern, in the background, a bridge overhangs a tiny stream. Still, under one of the arches, a woman with a white apron nods to me as soon as I enter the incredible setting.

Her name is Sofia, she speaks only in Greek, but she manages to explain to me that the walls are from the year 1000 and to show me a small monastery behind the gigantic platano tree. As I set off, I raise my head to admire the immensity of the evergreen tree, sacred to the Cretans, because under its branches, Zeus conceived the three mythical kings of Crete with Princess Europa. After Greece’s European experience, it makes me smile a bit thinking that the Greek aristocratic dynasty is related to Europe.

The chapel appears golden among the branches of the trees that surround it, tiny and compact like a small fortress. Sofia told me that it is dedicated to Saint John the Theologian and dates back to the 14th century. Inside, some iconographies of the saint, the vault and an apse covered with frescoes, which despite the poor conditions demonstrate the importance of this jewel of Byzantine art.

The mysticism which impregnates the air together with the scent of wax, requires me to sit down and gather in myself. A little girl enters curious, makes the sign of the cross, kisses the image of St. John, lights a candle and asks me with her eyes where she should put it. I point out a golden support full of sand, where I too place a burning candle. Religion has no name or race boundaries, it is that feeling that makes one perceive in the real world the existence of a metaphysical dimension, which gives a sense of its limits in comparison to the grandeur of the universe.

On leaving, I am surprised by another green giant that I do not recognize, Sofia reappears, catches my eye and points to it > It is an avocado < and she also makes me understand by gestures that she planted it many years before.

A young brunette woman, beautiful, milky skin, dressed in black approaches, Sofia introduces her to me, she is Despina, her daughter and speaks English. These are the moments for which I travel, when two strangers meet and tell each other, like old friends, about life, aspirations and experiences. This is the sense of travel, so fertile in encounters when you travel alone.

A vital energy flows between us and the words flow with smiles and confidences, until a man calls her in an authoritative manner and indicates to her customers who are arriving at the tavern. We leave with the promise to meet again on Sunday after breakfast, when I will pass by there to go to Paleochora.

The famous Green pharmacy, whose road signs accompanied me up there, is right in front of the last tavern in the village; I enter and review the immense variety of cosmetic products, followed by the affable gaze of the pharmacist. I discover that he is a source of knowledge of herbs that he collects together with his mother and teacher. Together they make the beauty products on display. I buy a hair oil that will prove to be extraordinary and I understand why he gave me his business card "for whatever you need". He already knew that I would always need his magnificent oil. After many trips to Crete, I am passionate about the medicinal herbs that populate the island, including the more aromatic ones called Votana, because in addition to their medicinal efficiency they are said to have magical powers. In the herb shops, some with huge stills where they transform herbs into essential oils, I have always found, together with the products, stories of spells and compelling legends of Cretan popular medicine.

On the way back, I pass by the sculpture of a man with an incomprehensible plaque. Later, showing the picture to Jorgos I will find out that he is the great captain of the Greek army, Tzanakakis, born in Elos, who heroically fought the Germans in the last war. Jorgos also adds in a low voice, many of those who come here you could still say Nazi.

In a downhill curve towards Elafonissi, the bright gold of the dry grass floats in the wind, under olive trees laden with fruit, I stop. I will never cease photographing the olive trees of which I have hundreds of images, their beauty is irresistible. I often think of those simple intense words of Pessoa: "... the olive tree with a silvery volume, austere lineage, in its twisted earthly heart ..."

I enter the olive grove, walk on the golden carpet looking for a story in every trunk of each olive tree, at the end I find it, in the last picture. Did I tell you that there are trees with a face? If you look carefully at the expression, you will discover its history. This decades-old olive tree has the somewhat dismayed expression of someone who, with mouth wide open, witness the nonsense of life. I remember what a young sculptor I met in Sardinia, who used to sculpt old trunks of dead trees, told me > I do not create anything, I only reveal the presence that is in the tree <


All Images and Original Text copyright Solo Moles - Travel One 2019

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This can happen only in Crete😀Love Elos and your amazing story.


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