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A True Fish Story -- Almost

Dear Rudy,

I was at my favorite taverna on the southwest tip of Crete enjoying some tsikoudia (local moonshine) on a balmy August night. The village, Loutro, consists of a row of whitewashed buildings, which are restaurants, small hotels, and a couple of bars with the Mediterranean in front and the mountains behind. It has a beautiful horseshoe harbor that looks southward towards Egypt and Libya. There are no roads going to it, you must get there by boat from the nearby town of Sfakia.

We had just finished another giant meal of fresh garden salad, fresh grouper, calamari, stuffed grape leaves, and oven-roasted lamb with potatoes. As if that wasn't enough, the local dessert was brought out afterwards: homemade cheese and honey. The idea is to dip a chunk of cheese in the honey and then eat it. After getting past the thought of it being a strange combination, it actually tastes quite good! Of course, the usual platter of chilled fresh fruit came out afterwards.

It was already evening, about 9:30 PM, when my friend Mike from the States came with his fishing boat so we could go out to bring in the "paragadi" (a fishing line with 200 hooks on it) that we had laid out a few hours earlier. This requires about 1 to 1 1/2 hours of work with usually very little to show for it. We were doing it more for sport than anything, so for us, it was worth it. Whenever we got a good catch, we noticed the local fishermen getting a little upset with us. It didn't look good that the two Americans were catching as much fish as the locals. There was plenty of jesting about that both ways, along with the typical fishermen's tales.

So off we went into the night looking for the styrofoam buoys we had left for markers. We found the buoy and started to pull the line in. Our first catch was a moray eel. It reared its head back as it came out of the water. These eels are deadly if they bite you, so we let him go. Next was a stingray with a two-foot wingspan. Stingrays are good eating, but they take a lot of time to prepare, and you only eat a small part of the wing.

As we pulled the line in, we found more eels and stingrays. As I later found out, this part of the coast was infested with these fish. The reason: The locals use dynamite in these waters to kill the fish so they can scoop them out of the water. The dynamite kills everything except eels and rays. After about an hour of hard work, we wound up with only two or three kilos of fish and one octopus.

But the REAL payoff - the best part of the boat ride -- was yet to come. As we headed back to the village, Mike steered so I got to lay back and watch the stars. We were away from any lights so the sky was a velvety pitch black. It dawned on me that this was one of the main reasons I keep coming back to this village. The stars are splattered across the sky like diamonds. You can actually see the Milky Way!

Being in such a remote place and seeing more of the universe than I could ever dream of made me feel small and insignificant. This humbling feeling is hard to describe, and I only feel it to this degree when I see the Cretan sky at night in this village. Truly a sight to behold!

When we pulled up to the dock, there were a couple of local fishermen waiting to see what we had caught. Of course, we had to make up a fish tale since we had so little to show for our efforts. We told them we caught a 100-kilo tuna that was so big, we couldn't even pull into the boat. We said that we tied it to the side, took it to the neighboring town and sold it to the fish market. No one believed us because tuna is rare in these waters, but it was great for a laugh.

After downing a few more tsikoudias with everyone to celebrate catching the tuna, we turned in. Morning comes early in this magical little village -- especially when you have to throw in the nets to go fishing!




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