Just before the time that the CIA caused a coup in Greece, popularly known as “The Colonel’s Coup” I found myself wandering around in Crete – an amazingly wonderful and slightly alarming place in those days – about the mid-60’s. A lot of the men walked around with huge and highly decorated knives in their belts, which I gathered they were altogether prepared to use at the drop of a hat.
I got a lift across the island from the guy who was in charge of security at the huge American Airbase on the island, who told me that he had to regularly get airmen taken off the island with no warning as there were fathers, brothers and male cousins looking for them as they had spoken to local girls – a definite no-no.
Anyhow, all that aside, I was heading for a village called Matala which I had heard about – a place where a load of Travelers were living in what we thought were Roman Burial Caves (it turns out they were actually Neolithic living caves) and I thought that might be a pleasant way to spend some time.
So I duly arrived in the village of Matala, which in those days was more or less deserted, just a few houses were inhabited and I seem to recall there was one café and a bakers shop and a couple of inhabited houses. However, the caves, which were on the opposite side of the bay from the village was almost full of people who could be described as Hippies, though they were mostly part time Hippies, not the real thing. So I wandered along the beach to the caves and hunted for one that was empty, which I found on about the third level of the caves, so I moved into it and made it my temporary home.
General view of the caves – mine was in the top layer on its own.
It was in fact a very pleasant cave to live in, as it had a front door and a window that gave a view over the bay and to the – then tiny – and almost deserted village of Matala. It also had a bed, which was simply a flat area dug out of the wall of the cave which had obviously been intended ( we thought) for the dead Romans, but it now turns out was the original beds of the Neolithics who lived there and who had dug the caves out.
On a slightly gruesome note, during the war, the Cretan Resistance used the caves – we were told – to dump the dead bodies of the German soldiers they had killed, so there were quite a few human bones knocking around the caves, which the people living in the caves used as jewelry which was rather odd… Young girls wandering around with Human collar bones on string around their necks.
All that aside, the people who lived in the caves formed a friendly and close-knit group of people, much given to communal meals around bonfires to gaze at the stunning sunsets over the sea and I had no trouble fitting into the group.
So I spent a couple of months pleasantly in among these good souls, enjoying the peace and tranquility of living in the Cave Community and then headed out again to further explore Crete – An amazing island full of the most extra-ordinary people. I mean the actual Cretans here, they were still living in those days as they had for centuries. The film Zorba the Greek gave a very actual picture of how it was in those days – both the good and the bad aspects. Notably the police were all mainland Greeks, as the government in Greece knew damn well that when dealing with an “honour killing” or some similar, there was no way that a Cretan cop would deal with it as a crime. Odd folk I found.
They all had an enormous admiration for Australia as Australian soldiers had apparently had the same enthousiasm for killing German soldiers as the Cretans when Germany invaded Crete, so many an elderly Cretan villager expressed happily how Australian soldiers had killed German paratroopers with their knives – Gruesome!
Here is a video that I came across on Youtube of a bunch of elderly women describing how they passed their time on Matala in their youth. Altogether rather amazing – seeing how those Hippy like young girls I knew then had grown up into really rather reasonable adults…..
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