he water was a mysterious effervescence of cerulean and aquamarine and indigo and turquoise, the air was dappled gold. A sheer cliff rose from a white sand beach; from far above, a tiny landslide of pebbles cascaded down. No one else seemed to notice. A slow scan of the hillside revealed first one, then two sets of tiny hooves picking their zig-zag path toward the ocean. I was sure that the angle was impossibly steep; no matter how sure-footed, these baby goats would certainly plummet to a premature death. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I exhaled in relief. They bleated and turned tail, trotting down the beach in unison, in search of what, I couldn’t imagine.
The cook — who’d also doubled as captain of the tiny boat that had brought a small group of us to this paradise — presented my cheese and tomato omelet with a flourish. I took a huge bite of buttery goodness, closed my eyes, and sighed. This was the life.
Without a perfectly timed mistake, I’d never have made it to that sublime moment in Sfakia. More than a decade later, I can recall that jewel of a day as clearly as if it were yesterday. But at the time, the comedy of errors that led me to that nearly deserted beach (save a few intrepid souls and a pair of baby goats) felt like one disaster after another.
I’d been traveling for weeks with an old friend, and frankly, we were getting on each other’s nerves. She was a frantic adherent of guidebooks. I was in the let’s-see-what-happens camp. She’d promised we would be free to split up whenever we liked on our month-long jaunt to Europe, but in truth, she never wanted to be alone. It seemed easiest to just submit to her iron will.
Next thing I knew, I’d been talked into buying a ticket to Sfakia, since that was where she wanted to go next. It was all fraught, especially because I had no real interest in schlepping all over Crete so that we could visit some obscure friend I’d never even met. Nonetheless, back then I preferred to avoid making waves at any cost, so there we were, cranky and tired, trying to decipher the Greek map and figure out when the next bus left.
Finally, through a series of notes, hand gestures and the annoying American habit of shouting English extremely slowly, we received assurance that our bus would be the next along. Hours of steep rutted roads later, we pulled into a tiny town with just one main street. She found a pay phone to call her friend to come collect us. It took a long time. While I waited, I watched the sun sink toward the horizon, while ridiculously charming fishing boats bobbed alongside a tiny dock. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
When she finally returned, she had a face that said bad news. “It’s a disaster,” she said, her voice funereal. “It turns out she lives in Sfaka.”
“So? That’s where we’re at, right?”
“No. This is Sfakia.”
Turns out that one little letter made a big difference. Since we never actually made it there, I’ll have to rely on the Internet, which tells me that Sfaka is a little mountain village between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. The good news is, as it turns out, that Sfakia — the place where I ate the best omelete of my life and watched those sure-footed goatlings — is paradise on earth. That’s where I said a relieved farewell to my traveling companion, electing to stay right where I was, in a little town of 400 inhabitants, a place where you could wake up and decide to hop on a boat and wind up on a beach with water so blue you think that it surely must be a dream.
It’s a memory that sometimes comes to mind on restless nights; a reminder that possibilities come to life when you finally give up the illusion that you’re in control of what happens next.
Whether by design or by accident, all of the intrepid travelers in this issue have stories to tell about their journeys. I hope you enjoy their tales as much as I have.
— Julene Snyder, Editor