Ombros Giallos

The road to our favorite swimming hole starts out like this. With stone buildings on either side of a one-lane road, at every turn you think it's a dead end, but it's really just another sharp turn between buildings – a very tight squeeze. Cross your fingers no one else is coming the other way. 

 

 

And then, all of a sudden, the road opens up. So much so that you can literally see all the way to the horizon, almost 360 degrees around you. And you can see all the way above you and almost all the way below, too.

In fact, the road seems to just hover over the sea in the sky. Practically suspended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And suddenly that classic blue, blue sea color turns to a shocking, fluorescent turquoise. So bright it's practically offensive. It looks so... unnatural. So fake. So man-made. It's unbelievable.

 

 

 

 

It's the clearest, cleanest water I've ever swum in.

 

And no way in except to jump!

 

 

 

And it wouldn't be the world's best swimming hole if it didn't also have the world's best fish. And octopus. And salad. As we were trying to pay, a proprietor of the restaurant came over, poured us a few shots of Ρακή, sat down and chatted with us for what ended up being about an hour. We learned that this man, about 65 years old, despite his bypass surgery three years ago, every night around 2am, dons his flippers and jumps into the sea with nothing but a flashlight and a spear, and catches all the fish and octopus and squid served at the restaurant. He told us how the fishing isn't good when it's a full moon because the fish see you coming, so once a month he spends his time in the sea looking for stray goats on the mountain edge to spear and haul back in his boat after they fall down to the water below. He reminisced about when he was a child and there was no road, how he and his brother would scramble over the rocks across the punishing landscape to jump into the sea for a swim. How as a teenager they used to fill a watermelon with home made liquor, stick straws in it, climb up to the highest point and stay there until sunrise. He confessed that his best memory is when he swam with a sea turtle, holding onto its shell, his spear tucked into his shorts, flashlight in hand, moonlight hitting the water's surface 10' above him, their shadows projected on the sand 10' below them. He told us how he spent six months not drinking or smoking, eating right, and exercising in Athens with no effect on his cholesterol, but as long as he's in Crete drinking the mystically healing mountain mineral water and spearfishing at 2am he can drink all the Ρακή he wants and chain smoke and he maintains the perfect cholesterol level. And we talked about Brooklyn (where he lived for two years over thirty years ago) and the economy in Greece and politics and the wonder of Google Street View. And although I had never seen this man before and I knew I'd never see him again, something about the familiar ease of his laugh or the comforting tenor of his voice gave me a feeling of deja-vu – as if I was spending the afternoon with a beloved uncle, just as I'd done on summer afternoons for years.