A farmer in Elounda

In Crete, the pace of life is far from what Alexis Zorbas enjoyed. Just 30 years ago, Elounda was a quiet farming and fishing community… perhaps the very reason why travelers were drawn to her.

The Transformation of Elounda: Bridging old and new worlds in Crete

Nestled in the heart of Crete, Elounda has undergone a transformation from a quiet fishing village to a bustling tourist resort. But amid the whirl of taxis and tour buses, remnants of its rustic heritage remain. The shift has been a double-edged sword – providing financial relief for locals, but dramatically altering the village’s landscape. Undeterred by the tides of change, however, there are those who cling to their roots.

Yiorgos, the farmer in a changing world

farmer in crete picking olives

Among the standard-bearers of tradition is Yiorgos, a local farmer who divides his time between farming and construction. His farm is a fortress of self-sufficiency, where every morsel consumed is homegrown. From seasoning his meals with homegrown salt to eating only chickens raised in his backyard, Yiorgos lives by the dictum: “The food on my table must first pass through my home.”

Kafenia: The Living Room of the Community

Yiorgos and I first crossed paths at the fabled kafeneio of Pano Elounda, a community cafe run by the 80-year-old Zambia. These establishments vary widely – some serve as men’s clubs, others as village centers. The common denominator is the simplicity of the fare: simple meze or snacks. If you want a heartier meal, the unwritten rule is to eat at home or go to a taverna.

The Culinary Bounty of Elounda

Kafeneia like Zambia’s offer more than food; they are a window into Crete’s rich culinary culture. On one occasion, a meal included everything from raw wild artichokes flavored with lemon to fava, a yellow split pea puree. The gastronomic possibilities are endless – fishing for fresh octopus or diving for mussels can make you the hero of the evening.

The challenges and triumphs of Cretan agriculture.

Life in Crete isn’t always sunshine. A case in point is the March weather disaster, when dust storms from Africa covered the land in a blanket of clay. Coupled with water shortages and rising costs, such natural phenomena are a reminder that farming here is a daily struggle, not a pastoral ideal.

Yiorgos’ farm, sheltered by the Neapolis mountain pass, demonstrates the adaptability of Cretan agriculture. Despite the arid soil, he cultivates a lush vegetable garden. His farming practices blend ancient wisdom with modern organic techniques – planting basil alongside tomatoes as a natural pest repellent, for example.

Uphill Faith: The Journey to Zoodohos Pigi

For the people of Crete, spirituality is often woven into the fabric of daily life. This is epitomized by the annual pilgrimage to Zoodohos Pigi Church on Mt. Oxa – a journey that is physically demanding but spiritually rejuvenating. Led by elders who have made the trek for decades, the hike is a testament to their perseverance.

Once at the summit, a feast awaits. Yiorgos was among those who unpacked a spread of roast pork, cheeses and, of course, his signature smooth raki. The event is short-lived, mainly because descending the steep slopes after feasting isn’t advisable. But the camaraderie and spiritual uplift make it all worthwhile.

The true taste of Crete

Elounda and its residents like Yiorgos embody the complexity of a Crete caught between past and future, tradition and modernity. In the face of such complexity, they have made peace with the coexistence of the two. And perhaps that is the lesson – to navigate through life’s complexities without losing sight of what really matters.

So the next time you find yourself in Crete, look beyond the tourist traps. Seek out the kafeneia, the farms, and the community gatherings that offer a true taste of Crete – an island not just of sun and sea, but of spirit and resilience.

Source: Yorgos , the farmer in Elounda in Crete

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