Ted was a great travel companion. He regaled me with details of a trip taken to Israel the previous year during his summer break from uni. The bus journey was long and very rough, buses in those days on Crete were little more than a truck with wooden benches. He talked of tensions and a society that had adopted traditions from everywhere, of Bedouin settlements,  mesmerising cities such as Jerusalem, the Red Sea! Man it was gripping stuff and I just couldn’t wait to get there and see for myself. We stopped in Heraklion to visit Knossos. Walking through the town Ted bought us both a straw hat. A discussion followed about where the straw came from to make the hats, we both guessed wrong as it turned out. Somewhere I have a pic of me standing behind a part demolished red pillar at the Palace of Minos near the main entrance wearing my straw hat.

The Cretan countryside was ram jammed full of exotic looking plants and trees. As I was to learn later, many of these were found throughout the Sydney gardenscape. The towns and villages were bedecked with pots of brilliantly coloured flowers, most I didn’t know but the geraniums struck a chord, my mother always grew them in a big pot by the front door along with dark blue lobelia. A wonderful combination that I still use today for my clients.

Geraniums on every doorstep

We eventually arrived late at night at Lerapetra. With barely a light  in the town we bumbled our way to the sea and found a beach outside of town to bed down for the night. The following day we hiked out to a tiny cove where  travellers had been living in self-constructed shelters for some time. We got there and found all occupied so had to construct our own. We found some sheets of old plastic and driftwood but nothing was particularly long to raise the roof. A dried out wadi had a stand of bamboo and we decided to cut some to create a spectacular shelter. Another pic somewhere in the archives.

Have you ever tried to cut mature bamboo? It needs a diamond saw or anvil loppers to make any impression. A South African had a rusty machete which we eventually hacked out several pieces and used some old string to cobble things together. I never realised that bamboo was so robust, my only previous encounter with bamboo was in a Chinese restaurant.  This prompted a careful inspection of the thicket and I soon realised what a wonderful plant bamboo can be.

We pitched up there until Kevin finally arrived. He looked like he had been through the mangle, nasty cuts on his legs and arms where he had fallen constantly on the untreated roads, been knocked off his bike with a moped tractor! and found another outrageous traveller in the shape of a beautiful German girl attempting to ride her bike down the Cape Town…wow

Each day I spent hours in the pine woods on the headlands, wandering around appreciating all the shrubs and trees, nothing was planted by humans it was all natural and very, very scruffy. I loved it.

Swimming was incredible, crystal clear water with loads and loads of rocks to dive off…and that was where this trip ended. I dived off a rock and decided to swim down to the bottom, without a mask it was impossible to see clearly and as I pushed off the bottom I got a massive piercing stab in my foot. Sea urchin. The ball of my foot below the big toe was covered in needles. Most couldn’t be dug out and I had to make the decision to go home for treatment. When I got to the hospital in Lancaster it was a first for everyone there, nobody had been asked to remove embedded sea urchin spines before.

For months my mind mulled over the sights, the crazy people, but most of all I remember the scents and the smells from living for a few months in the bush and assimilating all that the magnificent plant world had to offer. I had no camera so no record remained to identify those plants but I couldn’t wait to go again with a Plant Finder in my bag.  Lovely green England had lost it’s appeal and I longed for the sun and harsh strange plants of the Mediterranean.