We parked on the edge of Kalamáki near the beachfront hotel that probably wouldn’t get planning permission anymore, and walked around it to get to Crystal Beach. Had the hotel taken its name from the beach, or vice versa? With the sun right in our faces, we tramped along the sand, appreciating the fact that there wasn’t a sinner, or a nudist, in sight. The sun had risen just over an hour ago, over that very hill, Mount Skopós. I had thought about taking my togs and having a quick dip, but at 8:15 in the morning it was still a bit fresh. No need to worry: we had all season. The darkness of the sand here reminded me of the beaches on Santorini. I took a photo of a small starfish. When was the last time I saw one of those? I’m not 100% sure I ever have before.
Tina had already found the ramp at the river bed, going up the slope towards the path we’d be taking overlooking the beach, and was looking down on me from on high. Scrambling up the slope, trying to avoid having my camera swing out from behind me and hit the rocks, I came across a plausible explanation for the mystery of the crystal. Razor-sharp, crystal-like flints of – I presume – quartz were embedded in huge numbers in the slope face, all aggregated together with such an even distribution that it made them look man-made. When I first saw this phenomenon on the seawall at Agios Sostis, I was convinced it was part of the anti-erosion buttressing, some weird new type of concrete they were using. Now I was sure it was natural, and furthermore, the answer to which came first: the beach with its quartz crystals, or the hotel.
Waist-high Galactites thistles surrounded me up top, on the day I’d chosen to wear shorts for the first time since arriving here. At least they had attractive pink flowers. As we made our way higher in tandem with the sun, the vista opened up, and we could see all the way back across Laganás Bay to turtle-shaped Marathonisi Island, and Marathiá headland at the opposite end of the bay. We zigzagged up the shoulder of Mt. Skopos on a rough road fringed with thistle and rock roses, with the turn-off for the town dump, looming like Mordor, as our next waypoint. Things had come to a bad pass here in Zakynthos, with the locals daily locking the gates of the dump, a disused quarry, to prevent more rubbish accumulating and blowing all over the mountainside. It’s illegal, and not just as far as Greece is concerned; it’s actually in breach of EU regulations. But so what? From what we could see, there was a constant rumble of rubbish trucks making a pilgrimage there, one of which undoubtedly contained the bodies of the protesting locals.
After about an hour we’d reached the zenith of our walk, in terms of height, and also of distance, a satisfying conjunction. On the plateau, we came across at a surprisingly clean and tidy καφενείο amongst the aloe vera and lemon trees. A couple of old boys, pleasingly bewhiskered, were sitting out on the deck. They both looked happy to be up high, far away from the chaos down in Laganas and Kalamaki. “Kaliméra!” “Kaliméra sas!” We sat down and took out the map. “Is the café open?” “Ναι, ναι.” Well, it was open, but that didn’t actually mean there was anyone there to make a coffee. One of the old guys shuffled off to get the barista, sending a Balkan wall lizard for cover. Another rubbish truck went past.
We had a good look at the map; the route was going to get a little complicated for a while. There were farms all around, and people were out working them, driving tractors through fields of thistles, ploughing up fields for planting. As well as making sure we were going in the right direction, we’d want to make sure we didn’t end up trespassing up someone’s private lane, making some tough, one-eyed farm dog’s day. The old guy came back with bad news. If we were prepared to wait till 10…, sorry. “Δεν πειράζει. Thanks anyway.” We set off down the road, triggering the dogs on either side of us, the stupid animals.
Yep, we got lost, briefly. Phased by losing a staring contest with a cockerel (you can see why), I led us down a lane the only available options from which were barred with rusty pieces of fencework. We spoke to a woman nearby who was marshallling the activities of a couple of guys in tractors. She soon set us back on the right road for Kalamáki with a friendly smile. “Bye. Thanks a lot.” “Παρακαλώ!” We took heart from a sign stuck on an olive tree: “Attention. Hunting prohibited.” We might have gotten lost, but at least we weren’t in bandit country. They need a few of those signs in Kerí; there’s a bit of a scofflaw problem there. The path we were on now placed us in worryingly intimate contact with farms on either side. We knew it was ok, because we hailed the farmer who waved us through, but we still felt the same unease you always have when you walk through a public road that wraps around someone’s kitchen and, right of way or not, the chickens, cats, and dogs all let you know who’s turf you’re on.
The livery of the plane at the airport in the sunshine in Kalamáki below us was the exact same colour as the mandarin in my hand, or so it seemed from the vantage point we’d stopped at, the last of our walk. Maybe I’ve just had too many of Yorgo’s delicious μανταρίνι lately. We dropped down to the main Zakynthos – Kalamáki road for the last leg. “Could still do with that coffee.” I said. At an improbably situated bakery we sat back on the dusty outside deck, in no hurry at all to get back to the car, and took in the view: taverna owners who came by to buy large quantities of bread, mainly. There was an old guy with a walking stick on the same deck as us, smoking, and looking back at me. I gave him a coffee-fuelled howareya. He grunted and bowed slightly; that’s what they do here: bow slightly. A frappé and an ellinikó came to €2.50. We’ve got to stop doing the sucker thing, drinking at Base on the square in town, where one of those alone would be €3. It’s not like we’re in Australia anymore.
An older woman, who because of her black attire was probably a goth, and apparently a friendly one, slowed her pace as she walked past us. “Kaliméra sas. Apó poú eíste?” “Kaliméra. Australia, but he’s from Ireland.” “But you’re Greek?” “Yes, my parents are from here. We’re here for the summer.” By Zeus, this is a good ellinikó, I thought, trying to follow the conversation. “Να περάσετε καλά. Have fun.” We will.