This third installment of my canyon narrative follows the post “Canyon and Portal (2)“, in case you missed my story of descent through Crete’s “Samaria” and wish to catch up. The fourth and final installment will appear shortly.
After my first good look at the Libyan Sea, that southern portion of the Mediterranean stretching out to Africa, the canyon trail brought me to a farmer sitting on a chair beside his gate. He looked affable, with tousled hair, a sandy-colored mustache, and a weather-beaten face that seemed to suggest a blend of harshness and a soft resignation to fate. His knee-high boots enclosed a pair of felt-like pants, as light green as the flowing Tarro. His sprawled figure was turned toward a long pathway lined with flowering oleander. What could he think about the hikers dropping into his sphere from another part of the world? Hopefully he viewed them as just the latest in a long line of invaders, more innocuous than their militarized predecessors. “Kalimera!” I exclaimed, and the old farmer shifted toward me with a nod and a smile.
The ancient port of Tarra with its ruined temples was located just upriver of contemporary Aghia Roumeli. Tarra was once a well-known sovereignty that minted a coin with an image of a chamois and an arrow on one side, and with a bee on the other. An earthquake destroyed the city in 66 A.D., and today there are several beehives on the site, a living tombstone.
Legend has it that Apollo, having sought the “navel of the earth,” decided that Tarra was the spot. Apollo fell in love with the nymph Akakalida and their passion was so all-consuming that Apollo neglected his duty of providing earth with light. According to the wise Pausanias, that’s why night comes so early to the canyon and why it departs from there so late.
Aghia Roumeli is the present manifestation of the port. It consists of a dozen homes, one school that serves a dozen kids, plus six or seven small hotels. In the closing hours of the weekend I was happy to be one of only a handful of foreigners in the village. Most of the hikers who’d come through the canyon ahead of me had sailed off on the evening’s six-thirty boat.
The pre-dawn winds shook me in and out of wine-soaked dreams. The fierce Mediterranean winds seemed to lift the hotel roof, clattering doorways, shutters and shingles. I was up before the sun cleared the eastern ridge. The wind had calmed and been replaced by the crowing of roosters and the shouts of a goat herder jangling his flock through an opening in a wall of stone.
The sun flooded an empty cafe with golden warmth. Greek coffee washed down bread and marmalade. A spectral ship hung on the horizon of the sea. The tiny village made an effort to contain me in a state of non-activity, but I pulled away and headed toward the ridge.
The climb to the Venetian fort was difficult. I looked out from the shadows of the fort and felt the vertigo of flight. Blue sea swept southward to the shores of Africa; contrary waves rushed inward to the island. Whitecaps shone above the dark shapes of coral off the fan-shaped estuary of the Tarro River. A donkey brayed; a sailing vessel beeped its horn. Kaleidoscopes of nature drew me from myself. The melancholic notes of a European cuckoo wrapped me in the body of a bird against the background of a snowcapped mountain.
[to be continued]