Marty’s Misadventures — A Sailor’s Favorite Pastime

Marty’s Misadventures began in 1989 and 1990 while stationed at Souda Bay, Crete, Greece, for the United States Navy. I had to find something other than beer drinking to occupy my off-work hours. Our schedule allowed for 4-day weekends every other week. Staying on the base meant drinking in the base club or being bored. Transportation was necessary to leave the base. Fortunately, rental cars were inexpensive, and I had an international driver’s license.

Where Do We Go?

Determining where to go once you have a rental vehicle didn’t seem huge. We were on an island. One of our first trips was from Souda Bay to the Air Force Base in Iraklion. This meant driving from one side of the island to the other. It wasn’t a large island, so the drive only took two hours. 

There was much to do on the base and local restaurants and shops to visit. However, after one trip, we did it all. Our next weekend trip was a long weekend at a local resort on the Mediterranean. The beach was grand, the hotel was beautiful, and we had many great memories. But again, once we did it all, there wasn’t much point in returning.

Marty’s Misadventures — the Early Days

On our third weekend outing, Marty’s Misadventures was born. We rented a car and just started driving. The goal was to hit the water (not literally) and use eeny-meeny-miney-moe to select whether we continued to the right or the left. Once a new direction was selected, we drove again until reaching the water.

Touring this way was fun and led us to discover many small towns. We would stop at an inn or hostel at twilight and start fresh the next day. What began as random silliness became a favorite activity for our four-member group. We shared expenses and laughter while exploring the entire island. Although we can’t say that we drove on every road, we hit many of the paved and unpaved surfaces on the island.

The Olive Grove

Now, between the four of us, we could speak about ten words of Greek. I could say hello (Yassou), green bean (fasolakia), and thank you (efharisto). We knew good morning (kali mera), good afternoon (kali spera), and good evening (kali nichta). If we agreed with a smile, we could say very nice (poli kala) and please (parakaló). Beyond that, we needed to find a child (they teach English in the schools) or resort to charades. More often than not, it was charades.

So one weekend, it was just me and two others haplessly driving along, and our road started winding up a mountain. On the island, high mountain passes used a switch-back method of hairpin turns zigging and zagging up the craggy side in a seemingly never-ending incline. Our little rental car struggled with the slope, causing me to downshift into first gear to continue progressing. After almost an hour of steady climbing, our paved road abruptly ended, and we found ourselves on a dirt road that continued upward. 

Image by kotkoa on Freepik

To go on or turn around and head back down? Press on! No great explorer ever discovered anything by turning around at the first sign of uncertainty. Olive trees appeared, sporadically growing in the otherwise barren landscape. The dirt road winnowed down until we drove along a dirt two-track path. We entered a grove of well-tended olive trees, aligned neatly in row after row of ancient glory.

The Old Lady on the Burro

As we got further into the olive grove, we worried we might need to turn around. Suddenly, the ground leveled, and before us sat an old, OLD lady riding a tiny burro sidesaddle. It was time to ask for directions, at the very least. The two passengers touched their noses to signal “not it,” and I lost. I shut off the tiny car and slowly stepped out, stretching before approaching the old lady on the donkey.

I said good afternoon in Greek, then spoke slowly, asking if she spoke English. “NO ENGLAIS,” she hollered as if she thought I might be deaf. Charades it is, then. “Amerikanika?” she inquired at a more reasonable volume, pointing toward the car. I nodded yes, pointed up the two-track, then made an “S” shape in the air going down. She seemed to understand, shaking her head no and pointing back the way we came from. She then pointed in our facing direction, held up one hand in a stop gesture, then slammed her other fist into it. We assumed that meant the path was a dead end. 

To ask if we needed to turn around to go down, I made an inverted cup shape with my hand, thumb and forefinger facing in our current direction, hoping that would indicate our vehicle. I slowly made the motions of a three-point turn, then moved my hand forward and down in an “S” pattern. She seemed to understand my pathetic charades, nodding yes vigorously. Then she began laughing hysterically, like a possessed banshee. I ran to the car and made a speedy retreat, careful not to drive into any of the olive trees as I maneuvered a turn and headed back the way we came.

And that is how Marty’s Misadventures came to be.

Featured Image: By Robin & Bazylek – originally posted to Flickr as The fortress of Souda, CC BY 2.0