Crete: Hotel Spelunker
by Mark H. Bloom with Jason Scholder
When you want to get away from it all, sometimes the destination doesn’t matter as much as the distance from home. The farther away you go, the more relaxed you feel, as if you have to escape the very aura of your normal life as well as its material trappings. For times like this, I recommend the Greek Isles. Distant, warm, and inviting, the islands sprinkle the southern Aegean Sea like freckles across a sun-kissed beauty’s belly button.
Like all things, though, there’s a catch. Unless you can spend the Gross Domestic Product of Latvia, you might not be able to afford to go island-hopping on a private yacht with its full crew compliment. Heck, I couldn’t even afford the champagne. But I found a work-around.
Some years ago, I paid a visit to the big island of Crete. Not to northern Crete, home to the ruins of Knossos and the bustle of cities — worth a visit but not an extended stay — but to southern Crete, where small villages dot the coast like umbrellas at the beach.
In one such unpretentious dot on the map, several stores and one restaurant surround a main square. The bus, the only link to civilization, arrives just once a day. World news has no meaning when your biggest decision of the day is what to drink. And in Matala, everyone drinks, not because of the heat, but because of the lack of other options.
When I arrived, I found lodging easily. Not in the expensive adobe cabins by the beach. Not on the beach itself either—the Greeks frown on that kind of blatant bohemian behavior. Besides, my quarters were more comfortable than that.
Beyond a rise to the west of town — an easy hike — lay hills that hide spacious natural caverns. Students, budget travelers, and adventurous bums from many countries rolled out their sleeping bags next to one another. The prevailing attitude was one of friendly curiosity blended liberally with youthful exuberance. It was a world of sex and drugs and dirty socks. Well, not quite: drugs were rare, since few wanted to risk a date with the infamous Greek prison system.
Some caves were large enough to host nighttime parties, where flashlights and candles provided an exotic landscape of flickering shadows. My cave was wide and deep, but not very tall, so I returned only to sleep, crawling to my spot.
The camaraderie added an international flavor to the experience, creating instant friendships and lasting memories. Language barriers broke down along with personal barriers. I couldn’t speak Italian or German or French or Swedish, so I used my hands, my expressions, and my wits to communicate. It’s not as difficult as you might think; they were just as eager to communicate with me as I was with them.
The most pleasant surprise came soon after I arrived when I was led to a nude beach a short walk further away from town. The water was just as warm as the beach in town, the sand every bit as white. The nude beach was merely a little smaller and harder to get to, but well worth the extra effort, if you like that kind of thing … and what kind of international traveler would I be if I didn’t? Take my advice, though, and don’t fall asleep in the sun while nude sunbathing. I walked funny for a day and then … the peeling!
When you need to get away from it all, go the distance. Check out Matala on the southern coast of Crete and check in at Hotel Spelunker. You won’t be disappointed.
Lessons Learned: Matala offers the complete package: spacious accommodations, international clientele, and more memories than you’ll find at most five-star hotel chains back on the Continent. When you’re ready for a complete break from your everyday existence, pack light and go far.
Note: Staying in the caves may or may not be forbidden these days. I was there in 1980, but that was well after the hippies were kicked out back in the 1960s and ’70s.
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor originally from Salem, MA, aka The Witch City. Contrary to popular belief, he does not live in a cave; nor is he from Mars. Mark now lives in the mountain town of Asheville, NC. He entertains himself writing creatively and professionally while editing books and coaching writers. Get in touch with Mark a firstname.lastname@example.org and read his full bio below.