Crete and the bucket list I never knew I had

07 Feb 2024 | Written by Marina O'Shea

The Joy Club member Elsa Browne shares her experience of the bucket list she never knew she had…

We had enjoyed a blissful week of early morning and sunset swims in the calm, clear water of the Mediterranean ocean at Agioi Apostoli, a wonderful, welcoming holiday resort near Chania on the island of Crete.

Now with the temperature displaying 42 degrees and too hot for daytime beach excursions, we decided to take a boat trip as advertised to explore three nearby islands. Approaching the boat moored on the old Venetian harbour, the tickets were clammy in my sweaty hand. The wind had come up.

In my mind’s eye whilst reading the glossy pamphlet that morning, I had dreamily imagined dropping my beach wrap onto the deck of the boat anchored by a Greek island and stepping daintily off with pointed coral tipped toes to plunge into the azure water. Now I looked with trepidation at the choppy water and clutched my wrap more tightly.

The official from the excursion company explained that the “three island trip” would be a “one island trip” today due to instructions from the Port Authority to not venture beyond a certain point. “Fine” our tourist group chirped in unison, no one wanting to be the first to make the call for a refund. I looked warily at the rather angry sea from under my peak and slathered on another round of SPF50.

As we set off, more information emerged from the tannoy: “If you don’t want to get seasick, don’t look at the water, look only at the horizon” (which proved to be necessary advice) and more importantly “Don’t worry, we will get you to the island”. The island in question was Lazaretta – from Lazarus, named for a sad past when it was a leper colony but where now the leaflet promised “a sandy beach and a wonderful ocean floor”.

Clearly operating on a need-to-know basis, what was not said was that once at anchor we were at least 50 metres from the island and getting to the island meant you had to swim there. Which was out of the question for me at 74, having learnt to swim at 70. “So is there a power boat?” I asked meekly, my hand raised. “No” came the reply. “How do you propose to get me to the island?” My voice had risen several decibels. A crew member appeared with a life jacket “You put this on and I swim out with you” he made a sweeping motion with one arm to illustrate. We sized each other up. He looked at me, searching for resolve. I looked at him and his muscular shoulders. He looked the part.
I have a tendency towards acceptance in times of difficulty, and this was to be no exception. So I inclined my head in surrender and received the blessed life jacket.

Without further introduction, he steered me towards the ladder fixed to the side of the boat. As I lowered myself into the enveloping swell, I had a quick look around. About fifteen of my fellow passengers were in the water with varying expressions of bravado or alarm. One passenger who had elected to stay on the boat was hanging over the railings, feeding the fish, fortunately away from where we were getting into the water.

“On your back” instructed my swimming guide “and hold the straps”. This I could do and so I let go of the ladder and launched myself backwards, salty seawater splashing my face. As I felt myself being pulled head first and backwards through the water, I looked up at the blue sky and thought “Would a tabloid headline a week from now read ELDERLY BRITISH TOURIST LOST AT SEA OFF CRETE”? I quickly deleted that thought and focussed. Were we even making progress? It was hard to tell. Employing the edge of my vision, I clocked that we had overtaken a few solo swimmers. “How much further?” I shouted into the wind. “About 20 metres” came the muffled reply. The current whipped me in a slalom as I kicked without effect.

Just as I my thoughts turned to “What the hell was I thinking?!” and “Why didn’t I bail on the quay?” my swimming saviour whipped me over to face him and with a necessary and firm push barked “Quickly, on to the sand” and “Be careful of the sharp rocks!” Little did he know, I would happily have shredded my feet and fingers to bits just to reconnect with terra firma.

Reader – an hour later, we did it in reverse. Luckily by then, the wind had calmed a bit and the swells were less intimidating.

That evening, once again on the beach to enjoy the magnificent sunset, I drifted lazily on my noodle in the shallow, calm water where the kiddies paddled. I chuckled quietly to myself about my experience that day of “the bucket list I never knew I had”.