“This is ‘Greek Firewater’, it is like Raki” says the lady behind the table. I watch her carefully place my glass under the huge bottle and slowly turn the small pewter faucet. The yellow liquid, looking disturbingly like urine, dribbles slowly into my glass, and reminds me that it is not a simple walk back to my apartment after this. I am, after all, in the middle of nowhere!
The Greek Islands are not isolated by any means, it sometimes just feel that way. After a multi-hour ferry, taxi rides down roads where you often fear for your very life and subsequent vehicle rentals in order to take you even further into the unknown, a traveler can be forgiven for feeling a little “off the grid”. Touring a distillery dedicated to the production of a Naxian alcoholic staple just serves to widen that gap a little more. Kitron is made by collecting the leaves of a citron tree, treating them by some time-tested method and producing a potent liqueur. It is an affirmation of my theory that any culture considered to be “significant” on the world stage will have, within its midst, an almost religious devotion to a form of unofficially produced “hooch”. This stuff was no exception and I hastily procured a bottle for my erudite buddy Dave, a “philosopher of the world’s bevies,” and beat a retreat, before being forced to sample a local version of their powerful Ouzo, as good as it might have been. It was, after all, 10:30 in the morning.
To visit Naxos is to directly confront Greek history. Upon arriving in the port of Hora, the first sight is an unfinished temple dedicated to Apollo, placed out on a protruding headland from the town and emblazoned with light each evening. It’s as if the Greeks are intent on reminding us, “Hey, you visitors, just remember, despite our current financial predicaments, we are descendants of a civilization that goes back to the 8th century BC!” The effect is striking.
Naxos, with its mountainous terrain and abundant rainfall, is more fertile that many of the other Greek Islands and therefore achieves a higher level of sustainability. Proud of this fact, as well as of the bounty of locally produced foodstuffs they have to offer, Naxos has claimed its place as one of the more visited islands. One of the most dominant features is the 1003 meter high Mt. Zeus. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, Mt. Zeus is the repository of the “cave of Zeus”, a mythical place where the young God was raised by a goat, slave, goat-slave or some other such combination. Finding this cave proved to be tricky for a former humanities major from Australia, his highly intelligent wife and their toddler. In addition, it turned out there was some difficulty obtaining any evidence linking Zeus’s youth to Naxos at all. It seems that the location of the Lord of Mt. Olympus’s adolescence was somewhere in Crete!
Absent-mindedly motoring through picturesque valleys, terraced fields and winding trails we would often unexpectedly come across an intimate mountain village. Unchanged, it seems, since the middle ages many of these villages maintain a strong local identity, unique character and (at least in my mind) vitriolic hatred of the village just up the valley. As we meandered, I drove Ashley mad with tales of blood feuds, grudges and rivalries generated more from my mind that truth. Sound-bites like, “Did you read that the citizens of Skardo are envious of resident of Koronida because of their advantageous altitude allowing them to grow larger tomatoes?” As well as, “We have to be careful with what we say here in Koronos, I hear that if they suspect you as being from Skardo they will pelt you with sheep shit.” In my mind if you were from Skardo you were little more than a resident of Paros (and if you have read my post on Antiparos you will understand that this is a fate worse than death).
This theory seemed to be affirmed when, at the edge of Koronos, we encountered… a shepherd and his flock! It was, in actuality, a couple of shepherds and a toothless crone. As sheep tottled about the road, shitting intermittently and providing Lily with conversation topics that would last through the following two days, one of the shepherds ran out and rebuked a sheep for the audacity of running out in front of such a nice hire car. Although he could only converse in heavily accented village Greek I stammered out an awkward ef-his-ta-ro, and I swear I heard him say, “No problem buddy… but if you are one of those shit-kickers from Skardo you can go fuck yourself.” Only kidding, Skardo is actually a lovely place.