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There’s Usually Money in The Banana Stand: The Hidden Gem Near Vai Beach

I am not a person who usually craves bananas. Maybe I just tend to contain the recommended daily dose of potassium naturally, and have never needed to seek it out from an outside source. Or maybe I just don’t crave bananas. That’s not that weird. I enjoy a good banana milkshake every now and then, and those little fruit-shaped candies that come from vending machines that are shaped (but most certainly do not taste) like bananas are fine, and banana bread is great! But I don’t seek out bananas like I do other fruits, and I’m perfectly okay with that. This is just how my life is, I assumed. Some people are banana people, and some just aren’t. I fell into that latter category for no other reason than it just happened to be how life was.

My cousin said it was because I’d never had a decent banana.

“You have never tried bananas like the ones near Vai.”

“The beach?”

“Yes. There is a man who has a fruit stand, right before the turn to go to the beach. He sells the most delicious bananas in the world.”

“Those must be some bananas.”

“You have to taste it to believe it,” he said. “He always sells out early.”

“So, you’re saying that there’s always money in the banana stand?”

My cousin didn’t get the pop culture reference, but that was alright with me.  I wasn’t exactly foaming at the mouth for those curvy yellow fruits, but I didn’t mind taking fresh fruit to the beach. I was also very excited to visit Vai, which I had heard was an incredible beach, but is, alas, a story for another time. If you think I can’t tell an entire story about a banana stand and how the banana man thwarted me, you’d be wrong. So wrong.

The drive to Vai was about an hour and a half from where I was staying on the island of Crete, enough time for me to observe the beauty of the natural landscape of the place, and take some blurry photos on my phone. I slumped back into my seat after about fifteen minutes of failed photography, (though I guess, with the right filter, it could have been hipster-Instagram worthy), and closed my eyes. Car rides longer than 20 minutes will put me right to sleep, and the lull of the van as we rose and fell and curved with the land was the perfect sedative. I felt blissfully at peace, with the sunlight floating through the crack of the open window; if I had been a cat, I couldn’t have been happier.

The car eventually slowed, causing me to stir and look out the window, expecting to see palm trees and a wine-dark sea…and instead, saw a dirt road, and to the left of me, a shack. Or maybe a stand, but a stand that was larger than usual, of questionable structural integrity. It looked as if it had been painted at some point, but had definitely seen better days. Two or three different families were standing around, picking up fruit and asking an elderly man (who was sitting behind the stand) questions. My cousin, seeing I had arisen from my slumber, handed me some euros and told me to buy some of the bananas.

“Wait…why me? I don’t speak any Greek.”

“That’s okay, lots of tourists stop here. You’ll be fine.”

I looked around at the shabby stand and found myself doubting very highly that tourists frequented this place.

“But how many bananas should I get?”

“I don’t know. Try to get a kilo.”

“That sounds like…a lot of bananas…”

“It’s not really that much.”

“I think I should—”

“Just go get the bananas,” said my sister, who up until now had been quietly sitting in the back seat, minding her own business. She was in the part of the car that didn’t have quite as good air circulation as the rest of us, and was eager to get the bananas and get into the water. I felt like telling her to get out of the car and buy the bananas if she wanted them so quickly, but I sighed, put on my brave face, and approached.

The “conversation,” if you could call it that, was as awkward as I had expected it to be. I didn’t really know how to ask for a kilo of bananas with any fluency, as the Greek vocabulary in my arsenal consisted of “γεια σας”, “Καλημέρα”, and “κοτόπουλο” (due to me temporarily owning a pet chicken while on Crete, but that is a tale for another day). But the man running the stand knew enough to get my money, and I successfully made off with maybe 6 or 7 bananas, noticeably less than how many bananas made up a kilo in my mind. It was of no consequence: the fruit was purchased, the bananas were gained, and finally we could continue on to our beach day.

The beach was a wonderful time, with soft white sand, clear water, and sunshine galore, with a gorgeous palm forest stretched out behind me and to the left of me. I felt like I was becoming one with the beach as I let myself cook in the hot rays, and I wondered how feasible life would be as a tent-dwelling beach bum, when my musings were interrupted by my cousin handing me a banana. I was still skeptical of these bananas tasting anything other than how bananas normally taste, but I obliged him, and realized without question that I had tasted forbidden fruit. My cousin may have had a point when he told me I’d never had a decent one. These were sweeter than the bananas back home, so much so I’d almost classify them as being rich, and yet I felt refreshed after I ate them. They were the perfect complement to a day at the beach. They simply tasted like Summer.

I had to have more.

When we were packing up the car with our damp towels and beach covers, I asked my cousin if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to stop once more at the stand.

“I don’t know if he’ll have any left, it’s late in the day.”

I had not considered this, but by then my thoughts were consumed with the primal, caveman-like desire of “obtain more bananas.” I had to try, damn it. I had to try. My cousin shrugged, and two minutes later he once again pulled into the makeshift ‘parking lot’ of the fruit stand. I got out of the car with the desperation of someone trying to hurry up and abscond with the last bits of fruit in a shop’s possession while poorly disguising said desperation by trying and failing to check their speed. I glanced at the place where the bunches had been hanging before: success! There were two bunches left! I sped-walked over to the Banana Man, and asked him if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to buy his remaining stock.

“No, I can’t.”

I wondered if they had been sold, but the answer was…much more perplexing to me.

“I cannot sell them to other people if you buy. I lose money.”

In my mind came a flurry of thoughts that I had neither the ability or knowledge to convey. But if you sell all your bananas to me, you make the same amount of money that you were going to make if you sold them to other people. I just…I want to buy your bananas.

“Okay…can I have half of them?”

“Half?”

“Ah damn—can I take just these?” I said, gesturing to one bunch.

“No, I’m sorry. I need to sell to other people, or I make no money.”

But—but I’m still giving you the same—please just let me buy your bananas.

“Can I have three more bananas?”

He shook his head.

“Two more?”

He shook his head again, and I heard the desperation creep into my voice.

“One banana?”

You can probably guess how that ended. I looked around at the stretch of empty road, and at the only other people at the stand, a Dutch family that were examining some dragon fruit that quite frankly also looked just as good. But I couldn’t leave now. I couldn’t be thwarted by the Banana Man. How can you get a customer hooked on your product and then deny them another purchase? The gears in my head turned and clanked about as I tried desperately to string “γεια σας”, “Καλημέρα”, and “κοτόπουλο” into a sentence that would convey how badly I wanted, nay, needed, those bananas. But while I struggled and tried to make the pieces of this grammatical conundrum fit, the Dutch family glanced at, admired, and purchased the lovely bananas right out from under me, Banana Man smiling the entire time.

My eyes narrowed, my mouth opened just a tad, and in my mind, I could not help but wonder if it had indeed been personal. None of it mattered though. I was left banana-less, and, bereft, I turned back to the van, where my cousin looked at me, confused.

“I thought you were going to buy more?”

“I tried.”

“What do you mean?”

“He wouldn’t sell them to me. He said he would lose money if I bought them all because he couldn’t sell them to any other beach-goers.”

“Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”

I couldn’t do anything but gape at him, so I did for a brief time, wondering just whose side my cousin was on here. We could be eating bananas right now. Beautiful, sweet, magical bananas. The best damn bananas in the world. And yet…here we were…empty-handed. And empty in soul. Had I made some sort of pact with an otherworldly banana salesman who operated on rules based in a supernatural plane and not our own? Was I now paying for my pride, my belief that bananas were nothing special, until some Greek trickster banana god thought I should be punished for my folly? Maybe. Probably. I like to think so.

So, if you’re planning on taking a trip to Vai, and you come across a lonely looking fruit stand of questionable integrity, with maybe three other people clustered around some bananas…make a stop. Buy some bananas. Enjoy them. And don’t, whatever you do, take them for granted.

 

By Katarina Kapetanakis

The Sound of the Sea and Nothing Else: A Visit to Agia Pelagia

Many people come to Crete in search of the perfect beach experience, and they certainly will have no trouble finding options. That’s the beauty of an island vacation; every road leads to a cove, every path leads to a waterway, and every beach holds the promise of a good swim and plenty of sunshine. I’ve never been happier and more at peace than when I’m lying on the shores of a Cretan beach. The sound of the waves, the feeling of the sun baking my skin, the cool breeze that salves my budding sunburn, it all comes together to make up what is the highlight of my summers on the island. I’ve become something of a beach connoisseur during my time on Crete, and though there are almost too many beaches to choose as a favorite, Agia Pelagia has to be my number one pick.

Welcome to Agia Pelagia

There are other beaches on the island that travel magazines or shows will highlight as being the beach-to-see, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. As a visitor to Crete, you should experience all of the wondrous beaches to see there. But Agia Pelagia is so often overlooked, I felt that I should highlight the beach that has brought me some of my happiest days. (And, it helps that Agia Pelagia is located only about ten to fifteen minutes away from all of the Wine Dark Villas).  Agia Pelagia isn’t necessarily a small beach, but it certainly isn’t a large one. The beach is nestled in a semi-circle of cliff-side, where the sun shines perfectly down into the center. The ocean here is calm, with a blue that rivals the clearest of sapphires, with waters so cool you’ll have forgotten whatever discomfort the sun has brought you up to then. The water of Agia Pelagia is like glass, so clear and beautiful that you’ll see every strange and colorful fish as they come to say hello, or perhaps to give a tentative nibble. Don’t worry, though: all these fish are quite small and quite harmless, and many are a marvel to look at!

One of my favorite things to do is to dive and explore the many boulders, crevices, and small caverns that lie on the bottom of the ocean there. With a good pair of goggles and an average swimming ability, you can explore a whole new underwater paradise, watching the fish dart in and out between the rocks, seeking out the hidden places where the sea urchins lurk, imagining that this world is one that you can be a part of. It is a dream under that water, and one you can prolong by hopping on a charter and scuba diving into deeper parts. If you’re the daring sort who prefers thrills to relaxation, there is a short but steep path, for those who aren’t near-sighted or those not surefooted, that leads to a ledge where natives and tourists alike leap into the sea. When you feel like emerging from the depths of the ocean, you can relax on one of the lounge chairs that they have set up for rent along the sandy beach. From there you can relax, sunbathe, or take refuge from the hot Cretan sun in the shade of the umbrellas, sipping on drinks from the café behind you.

The path to the diving ledge

And speaking of that café, it’s worth noting that the taverna Almyra is the perfect place to get some lunch (or dinner) at Agia Pelagia. The taverna is split into two halves, the first half a sort of club where you can dance, drink, or lounge while you enjoy the day with your friends. The second half is an excellent taverna that is fairly quiet compared to the first half, with modern twists on Greek cuisine. From delicious freshly marinated anchovies mixed with fresh vegetables, tuna sashimi, unique takes on hummus and tzatziki alike, to traditional fare like lamb-chops and grilled salmon. Don’t let the twists on the cuisine fool you: the Cretan tradition of providing good food and hospitality runs strong in this little seaside taverna. But for all of this, my favorite thing about Almyra is how open this taverna is, and how all of the tables provide an excellent view of the beach. In fact, I highly recommend eating there come sundown; the sunsets at Agia Pelagia are so colorful and vibrant that they almost serve as a reminder to me of how rich and colorful life on the island of Crete can be, and how beautiful life can be all on its own.

Anchovies, anyone?

Coming to Agia Pelagia is the quintessential Cretan experience for me. It’s the escapism from the busy day-to-day, losing myself in the waves and the sand and the sun, letting nature work its healing wonders on my stressed mind. To be rejuvenated by the lovely Agia Pelagia is to be rejuvenated by the best of Crete, and I hope you take the time to experience this wonderful beach in all its glory. I will leave you with a thought by Cretan author Nikos Kazantzakis, who can sum up how I feel much more articulately than I: “I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.”

By Katarina Kapetanakis

On the Shores of Preveli

The quintessential element to summer holidays were always, at least to me, going to the beach. I adored the sun and sand, feeling the cool sea breeze on my face, enjoying the splashing of the waves as they playfully danced around me. I was always at home in the ocean. I always felt, therefore, that a summer without a trip to the beach was one that was wasted. Over the years, as I became more familiar with holidaying on Crete, I acquainted myself with many beautiful beaches, each a different experience, each new one more varied and wonderful than the last.

And then I visited Preveli.

A piece of Preveli

I had been to Preveli Beach once before, when I was very young. I remembered little, only that it had been a beautiful day and that I had not packed a swimsuit. I had walked around the area for a little while with my family before turning right around and leaving, promising one day to revisit it. I had only a faint impression of what the place looked like, and how to get there, but I longed to one day go back. Something about it called to me, perhaps that it was unfinished business, a beach I had left unexplored. Or maybe I was just restless in the villa and wanted to travel somewhere out of my comfort zone. I spoke about going with my family, and we made arrangements to visit the beach, though the discussion was met with some slight protest.

“Preveli? You really want to go to Preveli?”

“Yes. Why not?”

“Well…it’s not for the faint of heart.”

“I’ve been to a beach before. How bad can it be?”

“You’ll have to wear comfortable shoes, and pack water-“

“It’s settled then. We’ll be up by 9. See you then.”

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the tone of the discussion before embarking on this journey, but I was filled with the impetuousness of my youth. I had my sights set on this small adventure, and I would see this beach if my life depended on it.

The view on the road to Preveli

Getting to Preveli Beach is not, well, a day at the beach. Though it is a beautiful and popular destination for locals and tourists alike, is not easy to reach. It is a bit of a drive to the south side of the island, full of winding roads and looming cliffs. It is beautiful, however, and we stopped along the way to take pictures of these rockfaces. It seemed like a good start to the day, setting the tone for one of a peaceful, albeit long, drive. The parking lot is on a cliffside, and to reach the cove below one must traverse down a large flight of winding, stone cut, and often uneven stairs. They are carved from the side of the cliff and are lined not only with large pebbles but a blanket of brambles that blow onto it from the mountainside. It is advisable that one, before making this journey, wear thick walking shoes, as flimsy sandals or rubber flip-flops will not protect your feet very well. You can guess which shoes that I, in my infinite wisdom, wore.

The path narrowed and widened seemingly at random, and as the hot sun beat down upon our little band, some of our party questioned the worthiness of this hike in relation to the beach visit. The beauty of the sea below, however, could not be denied, and we hurried on with the hope that once we reached the bottom we would be refreshed by the sea air. I pretended I was like the old heroes I’d read about in myths, climbing down chasms to explore new worlds and face new gods or monsters, and it made the climb down much more exciting, (and distracted me from all the thorns my flip-flops had embedded in them, at any rate). Once we carefully rounded the last corner, and carefully maneuvered our way down to the shore, we all agreed it was worth the work. Here, in the shade of the palm forest, the Great River (or Megas Potamos) meets the Aegean. The river is cold and biting like ice, but you must cross the small tributary to get to the sea. The ocean isn’t much warmer, but from it you can look back onto the shore, marveling at the Theophrastus palm grove that makes you wonder if you haven’t stumbled upon the Nile River, and aren’t staying in Crete at all. In fact, once I worked up the nerve to submerge myself into that icy river and swim along its banks, I felt as if I had indeed traveled to another place, another time. I kept an eye out for crocodiles, though of course there were none. Around the bend, the river kept on flowing, but I did not follow it any farther. I climbed out onto the bank, shivering, and walked back to where my family had settled on the beach.

It was then that I noticed the geese.

How could you not notice?

I suppose I should have noticed them sooner, but I was enraptured with the water and didn’t think to look around the land any longer than it took me to lay my towel down. But the thing about geese is that they’ll get you to notice them eventually. Loud, honking, and larger than I expected geese to be, these wild birds roamed up and down the shore approaching anyone who looked remotely like they could have food on them. Most of these beachgoers did, in fact, as there was a convenient café located off to the side of the beach. The geese that frequented (or perhaps, haunted?) these shores were not afraid of anyone, as they seemed to have learned long ago that if they did not get what they wanted by begging and through their own admittedly cute appearance, they would get it by force. Perhaps the gaggle of geese worries you, potential beachgoer? Don’t be worried. These comical little mafiosos aren’t really any bother, and most people tend to ignore their honking.

On their way to steal some food

In a strange way, it seems to add to the charm of the liminal space that is Preveli Beach. It sits on the border of what you’d expect to see of Crete and what it would look like in a dreamscape, a land that isn’t entirely rooted in reality and yet you find your feet buried in its sand. And if you find that you’re ready and able to make the long climb back up the stairs, think of yourself as Orpheus, climbing the long and winding stairway to return to the real world, where reality and dream are divided in a way that you are used to. Only this time, I encourage you to turn around, to look back, to look behind at one of the most beautiful seascapes nature has dreamt up. Marvel at how far you’ve come. Then keep climbing. You only have a thousand more steps to go before you reach the top.

A view from the top

By Katarina Kapetanakis