Friday, September 14, 2012

Back to nature

I woke from an intermittent sleep; it was 6:30am so I expected we must be close, as I climbed the stairs to the deck the pre-dawn sky appeared luminous, a balmy breeze washed over me and the Minoan island of Crete emerged before me.

My adventure for the next couple weeks would be living and working at a Nature Farm, a great way for me to spend some time in the outdoors, getting back to the natural world and no doubt a stark contrast to my recent life of luxury. I was welcomed warmly by Susanne and Mihales, the creators of the park, along with a fellow Aussie; Laura, who was also volunteering.

Crete is home to one of the oldest human civilisations in the world, dating back over 130,000 years and it is also the home of extensive biodiversity, around 10% of the island plants are endemic. Biotopes Nature park was created to showcase the various botanical environments of the island and to conserve, create and share, encouraging a reconnection of adults and children to the natural world.

A typical day in the life of a volunteer is feeding and caring for the animals that live here; Chameleons, Snakes, Frogs, Geckos, Rabbits and Chickens and leading Guided Tours of the park for the visiting tourists. The lifestyle is typically Greek; relaxed and unhurried with a focus on delicious meals and peaceful mid afternoon siestas. We work in the mornings and evenings when its cooler, during the middle of the day the sun is intense and voracious. 

Biotopes Nature Park is perched high upon a hill above the city of Rethymno and overlooks a sandy coastline and a tepid cerulean sea. The walk to the water is a feast for the senses, fragrant jasmine and frangipani waft through the air, figs and grapes overhang fences, caper plants crawl along pathways and you are met with bright pink, white and blue flowers at every turn. An afternoon amble down the hill has become a regular occurrence, the sea is a salty, soothing, siesta delight and a welcome relief to the still scorching September sunshine that consumes the park. 

Another great escape from the heat of the day is the Myli Gorge, a lush and green abyss not too far from the park, although the walk there is slow and stalled as you can't help but to stop every 10 metres of so to smell another wild herb, look at the hundred year old olive trees, to search for a ripe fig or carob pod on the plentiful fruit trees, or just to admire the spectacular views.

A few days after I arrived we were joined by Sabrina, a shy but spirited German relative of Suzanne's. Incidentally, Laura and I have become informal English tutors, although often I can't help to laugh or just stare at her blankly, sometimes correcting her use of grammar and vocabulary and of course teaching her the odd piece of slang here and there.

A morning hill climb has become routine, running down the steep hill to the town and then back up, maybe stopping on the way to pick some of the last Blackberries of the season to top my breakfast of Greek yogurt and honey. I have become very good at catching Grasshoppers, the staple diet of Chameleons as well as becoming best of friends with our resident Australian Python who I pick up and show as part of the park tour. 

There is an abundance of edible plants and fruits strewn all over the island; wild mint, anise, oregano and Vlita grow on the side of the road, I ate walnuts straight from the tree in the Myli Gorge and plundered an orchard of Avocado trees at the bottom of a stoney gully.

Evenings are mere, existing of simple pleasures; jumping on the trampoline as the sun sinks into the incandescent sky, preparing a salad of flavoursome tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, splattered with fresh herbs and smothered with local olive oil, savouring a frosty Fix and enjoying good conversation, in several languages with new friends.

View from Biotopes Nature Park
Bougainvillea everywhere
Laura & Sabrina...sightseeing Rethymno
Old Town Port 
More cobblestone streets and terraces
We couldn't resist this unique bar
A refreshing Fix on another scorching day
A trail leading to siesta delight
One of the many park residents
Views on the way to Myli Gorge
 Myli Gorge Church 
Views from Myli Gorge Taverna 
Onion Flower and friend  
Rethymno Fortress 
My morning run... ok mostly walk
Dinner for rabbits

Our resident Indian Boa.... 5 metres, 50kg!

Biotopes Nature Park 
Baby Chameleon

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