It was just after Christmas. I had heard about travelers doing agricultural work on the Island of Crete in Greece. I had heard about orange picking, Olive harvesting, tomatoes and more. I decided to check it out. I took a boat from a port in Athens and went to the Island of Crete. I then traveled to the West end of the island to Hania and a small town called Drapanias. I got off the bus and there was a small café where I had a cup of typical Greek coffee….The Greeks would hate me saying it, but pretty much the same as Turkish coffee. Before traveling to both countries I was unaware of the intense hatred they have for each other. I imagine it still exists today. Children are taught very young to hate the other. I used to ask kids for fun and they invariably said they hated the other country. Unbelievable!
I asked about agricultural work and within a half hour I was being taken to a small house with an older couple that had an olive orchard. Eventually a Greek man, Yani and a Swiss lady….can’t remember her name now, came to join me for the harvest. The elderly couple spoke no English and I was just learning pieces of Greek, so Yani served as a go between. We spoke a lot of German as the Swiss lady knew German as did Yani and I. It was an incredible experience, but I only worked for nine days. In the early AM, we would go to the elderly couple’s home and have breakfast. I remember the plates full of olive oil and bread. It was truly delicious. We would pack a lunch with us, take our coffee making supplies and walk to the Olive orchard. The work is actually very strenuous. The way you harvested olives at that time was to lay a huge tarp under the tree, then climb up a ladder and beat the branches with sticks to make the olives fall to the ground. I believe they have machines that do that now. It was exhausting work. Once the olives had fallen to the tarp, we would sort out branches and leaves and then the olives would be placed in huge canvas sacks. Very, very heavy. A tractor would come by and take them away to the Factory, where they were used to produce oil. These were not of the eating variety.
The colors were brilliant. The Green tree leaves, the blue sky, the gorgeous waters of the sea and of course the dark hues of the olives that shined in the sunlight. Remarkably it actually snowed when I was there. It was cold. I vividly remember being at the top of the ladder one day and looking out to the sea. Breathtaking scenery really….How did I get there? For lunch each day, we would sit beneath the trees and heat up coffee with a Greek/Turkish coffee maker. Delicious. It is the type of coffee that leaves coffee grains at the bottom of the cup and your teeth serve as the filter. Sugar added of course.
I recall we made about seven dollars per day for this back breaking work. My hands were badly blistered from the tree-beating stick. The older couple was quite irrational and started to wear on us all. The lady in particular was very whiny and complaining a lot about anything and everything. At lunch one day we just decided to all quit together. Somehow it was amusing and sad at the same time. I remember walking by the window of the house with my pack on and the lady crying, “Jimmy, Ghiati?” I actually didn’t know what she was saying until we were down the road. She was saying, “Jimmy, Why?” It was a nice Little break in a 14 month long trip. Made a few dollars and had an interesting experience. I ended up spending a few more weeks traveling around Crete before I made my way back to Athens and then flying to Istanbul, Turkey. The flight was a budgetary splurge. I slept the night in the airport in Athens to save money. As we flew, the sun rose above the clouds and it was one of the more amazing views I have ever seen. I was exhausted when I arrived in Istanbul. I had been up close to 48 hours. I found a small hotel near the Galata Tower. I then bought some baklava and ate it all before falling asleep. I will write more about Istanbul at another time.