Jack, November 2, 2011
In March 1968, when I was 23, the year I was an American student in Berlin, three friends and I drove to Athens, then took the cheap ferry over to Iraklion, Crete. The weather even there was still cold, so we went to a small travel agency, where the friendly agent recommended we go to Matala. We took a cheap bus across the mountains and the driver told us to get out at the Phaistos ruins and pointed down the hill the way to Matala. We paid about $1.00 a night to bed down on damp mattresses on the floor in a primitive ‘hotel’, hosted by a grizzled old man who lived just across the ally in an even more primitive little house, who also fed us for $1.00 a meal, but all he had to offer was avgolemono soup and egg and potato omelettes, which we lived off of for that week.
We met a number of the ‘hippie’ types staying in the caves, especially in the one taverna where everybody drank lots of rotgut red wine, or retsina. A nice local guy befriended us and invited us to walk back up the road and visit him in his town, the name of which I have forgotten. We actually did that, the walk taking an hour or more, and found him sitting in the town square. He was very surprised that we took him up on his invitation, but was cordial and hospitable, just as all Greeks seem to be. He gave us some ouzo, feta cheese and olives, and escorted us a little way out of town back to Matala. As we passed a citrus grove, he took us into the grove and loaded us down with oranges. How nice, we thought, but how can we carry all these the hour or so back to Matala, so we dropped most of them as soon as he was out of sight.
In Matala we spent some time on the stone-covered beach, though the water was still pretty cold; we also went up on the cliffs and relaxed in some of the pits that were full of water, which was warmer. At that time the town was very small and primitive, and there were a lot of young non-Greeks (the ‘hippies’, Americans and other nationalities) staying in the caves. We didn’t have sleeping bags so we stayed in our ‘hotel.’
I recall seeing the Life magazine article on Matala as a haven for wandering youth later that summer after I returned to the States, and felt proud to have been there. This is a very cherished memory in my life, even 43 years later.