Changing Waters by Rick Haynes
On the far side of Georgioupolis a fast running river brings ice cold melt from the majestic White Mountains. Legend has it all the waters flowing to the sea were nectar from the gods, blessing man with the gift of life. Poseidon would swim the depths, protecting the people and provide safe anchorage for their boats.
But nowadays the gods are unimportant, almost forgotten.
Fish and small mammals thrive along the lowest part of the river as the dense vegetation gives them cover from the prying eyes of man.
Near to the sea, the river widens and cuts in two a sandy beach stretching for miles. The mouth changes year on year, sometimes quite dramatically as huge sand bars appear, altering the flow. Offshore, but in shallow water, the seagulls flock in their hundreds to rest and squabble, their raucous voices never-ending. A seafront taverna has often had to rebuild its sea defences in the spring after the rushing waters had washed away the sand in winter. Otherwise, last year’s sunbeds would be covered in a meter of water.
Over the years we have often sought out a tiny café right by the water’s edge. It lay three hundred meters back from where the freshwater met the salt of the sea. Hidden by reeds it exuded a timeless feel as if waiting to be discovered. With seating for ten people, it was cosy and old fashioned but the salads and meats were excellent and the people as friendly as our own family. We could feed the ducks without moving from our seats and watch the small fish as they nibbled at the leftovers.
An old bridge from the main beach ran to the café in the reeds on the far side but most tourists ignored it, preferring the new one nearer to the river mouth. We always drove to the house adjacent to the café, parked and took the short walk to our little oasis. Unlike most visitors, we never needed to trudge through the soft sand on the far beach and cross the bridge, but their loss had been our gain. With expectations running high we made the journey, parked as usual and stopped.
The house was shut. We could see the wooden furniture rotting in the heat and the sunbeds rusting in the garden. We looked at an uninterrupted view of the river. Our little oasis of a café was no more. We later found out that it had been washed away in the winter storms, as had most of the bridge leading from the beach. Unable to afford the cost of insurance the owners could not find any spare funds to rebuild. Like so many Cretans the cost of austerity had cost them dearly and so another small family business had disappeared.
My wife wiped away a single tear and my eyes searched longingly for a return to yesteryear. We stood on all that remained of the small stone jetty and let our minds amble back, but no matter how hard we tried everything good about this small place had gone. Even the ducks and small fishes had vanished.
We shook our heads and sighed, knowing it was time to move on.
There was a small track leading from the garden which ran adjacent to the river and its journey to the sea. Rather than return to the main road, we decided to follow it. Within a couple of minutes, we emerged from a screen of thick bushes and into a small public car park. The view was superb. We were close to the freshwater shoreline and could see the new bridge to our left. Being six, perhaps seven meters higher we had a panoramic view in both directions. Only the locals and the previous owners of the house would know about this place. To the right, we espied the large taverna that had recovered its lost sand and their new and large notice. The nicely maintained car park was only available to guests using their sunbeds and facilities. Fair enough I thought, they have to recoup the winter storm costs somehow. Yet, even with our little café gone, we couldn’t visit another one so close. Our hearts were elsewhere and no matter what, we wouldn’t tarnish our wonderful memories.
But this small parking area was ours, so we walked to the beach and took off our shoes. The cold water took our breath away and I’m convinced my feet turned a pale shade of blue. But we kept going, determined to walk to the river mouth.
Ahead of us on the other bank a man in red shorts had removed his shoes. Holding them in one hand, and with a bag over his shoulder, he prepared to walk the ford at the conjunction of fresh and saltwater.
My wife looked at me and without thinking, we held our breath.
He strode in manfully and instantly realised that his route would be far more difficult than he had imagined. Every time I see a fast running river now, I remember the look on his face, that look of disbelief that asks whether anything could be that cold. But when you are walking in 30c heat and step into bitterly cold water, your body reacts badly as he had just found out.
Yet this man refused to give in. He gritted his teeth and walked forward, each step immersing his legs ever deeper into a world of cold. The further towards the middle he walked, the faster the river tried to wash him away. We were looking intently at him, praying for the best, preparing for the worst.
But when he waved and smiled at us, all our fears disappeared like smoke up a chimney. We urged him on and bit by bit his body rose from the waters on our side of the river. Wet but unscathed he looked triumphant.
Yet his gaze turned to the other side of the waters, for his partner had appeared and was now attempting to cross. A tall and muscular man braving the waters was one thing but a much shorter, less powerful woman was worrying. From the start, she struggled with the cold and the racing waters hit her hard as they threatened to wash her away.
Her partner shouted at her to go back and we joined in. She did not understand our words but all the actions were clear. The woman had been carved from the same stubborn stone as her man for she waved away our protests and continued to fight the current. The bottom rose up in the middle of the river and the waist-high waters had dropped to below her knees. Yet we could see her determination vanish as she viewed the second part of her trek for here the water was running even faster.
She yelled for help.
Her man slowly removed his rucksack and stepped once more into the turbulent waters. Like Poseidon, he surged through the waves determined to rescue his damsel in distress.
We were yelling encouragement. He slipped but recovered quickly. And then their hands met. She kissed him softly on the mouth and we felt as happy as they were. But what would he do now? Stranded as they both were in water over her knees it was decision time. Go back or go forward?
As if reading my mind he pointed to his back and she jumped up. He shouted to us in German, and we shouted back encouragingly in English. We were clapping with every step that he took.
He struggled with the extra weight on his back but his legs pumped forward creating a bow wave. By the time they had reached the shoreline water was dripping from both their bodies but joy and relief was written all over her face.
He bowed low and said, ‘Danke,’ many times to us, as did she.
We clapped once more. We watched them depart as they continued their trek along the long beach, still waving.
No one else saw the adventure so we felt that it was our special secret, along with two complete strangers.
The river had taken the café from us but now given us something back, a wonderful memory.
But my mind whirled with questions for I was utterly convinced that the water level dropped once the big man picked up his woman and took his first step into the abyss.
As if by magic the single thunderclap above made me look up to the White Mountains and the home of the gods.
Was Poseidon watching?
Did he possess the man?
I’d like to think he did at that.