May 31st (Balos) and June 2nd (Elafonisi) of 2022. The wind! It howls through everything, sending through the air whatever is not nailed down; has people fighting with their towels;

and the palm leaf umbrellas dancing in perfect unison, their whooshing chorus competing with the lapping of the waves.

We are being seared bone dry, body and soul. It’s exhilarating, liberating in a wild way, especially with the tide coming in and warm water sloshing around the metal supports of our loungers. It’s a wind so strong and hot that it blows right through you until there’s nothing left but inertia; we are scoured through and through.

But the day doesn’t begin this way. It begins back in Chania where we get the bus to Elafonisi Beach, famous for its shallow lagoon

and small patches of pink sand formed from minerals and crushed pink shells. Nobody mentions the wind. Or perhaps I just didn’t want to know.

A two hour, 75-kilometre journey, the bus takes us south-west through some of the most dramatic hills and gorges on the island; it’s worth going just for the drive there.

Elafonisi – beautiful soft golden sand surrounding sparkling turquoise lagoons, the sand dunes of Elafonisi Island bisecting the lagoons, and all backed by glorious mountains. We have come to paradise.

But first I want to back track to the bus station in Chania, because I like to tell all the stories. Every country I go to I learn five words: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and most importantly I’m sorry. From my notes: The previous evening I’d thought to ask J the Greek word to apologize. It’s signomi. In the washroom at the bus station the woman who went into the stall after me started shouting at another woman and pointing at the toilet. I have no idea what she was saying, but I’m guessing that either I’d put the paper in the toilet instead of the bin, and/or I’d forgotten to flush. I had a look in the stall, but couldn’t see anything, and don’t know what she was talking about. Then I spontaneously apologized. Signomi, signomi. She immediately softened, and said something that I thought sounded like That’s alright dear. I learned the hard way that knowing how to apologize in the local language is a small way to be a good ambassador for tourists.

Anyway, back to the beach. We are enchanted. On making our first steps down from the car park we survey our surroundings and talk about what we want to do. We have five hours before the return journey. Fun! A day at the beach. We are happy. At this point all is calm, not even a hint of the wind to come. We rent loungers and lounge in the shade, lulled by the luminous turquoise waters on either side of us.

I, of course, want to climb to the top of the hill on the island, which involves wading through the lagoon up to my waist. Don would come with me but he has bandages holding his body together and it’s not a good idea to get them wet. This works out well as he is quite happy to lie in the shade and ogle all the pretty girls in their bikinis.

Although there are a lot of people, the beach area doesn’t feel crowded because it is so huge, however most are concentrated near the lounge beds and snack bar.

The further I walk the fewer people there are, until I am quite alone; alone in the warmth of the day, enveloped by soft sand and blue sky and blue blue water. It all feels like a long mellow hug.

I carefully climb the sand dunes at the beginning of Elafonisi Island.

The island, easily reached by foot at lowest tide, or by wading a little when it’s a bit higher, creates a shallow lagoon on one side and a slightly less shallow bay on the other, and I climb high enough to see the whole panorama spread out before me.

Back on the beach I find Don, we buy drinks and snacks, we laze under the shelter of our palm leaf umbrella, watching the people and the wide expanse of welcoming water.

It’s so enticing, as if it’s calling to you to immerse yourself, but Don can’t, and I’m too interested in photographing the people.

There is no better place to take photos of people than at a beach. At the beach we strip down to almost nothing, bare our bodies for the world, and most importantly, lose most of the inhibitions we hold onto in normal life because it’s required of us. No wonder a huge majority of people think the ideal vacation is at a beach. Here we can be free; or at least more free than usual. Here there is room to play. Here we don’t need to be concerned with what anyone thinks about our body; we are all flawed except for the lucky few, and most children. Life is inevitably an aging body, and we’re told it is not something to be welcomed. Ah but at the beach on a hot day no one cares! There’s a sense of relaxation, of exhilaration, of freedom.

Five hours later, warmed by the sun, scoured and enervated by the wind, and lulled by the lapping water and the beauty of our surroundings, we make our way back up to the car park, collapse into the bus, and all but fall asleep on the journey back to Chania. It’s been a good day.


Through the bus window, as we travel west from Chania to Kissamos along the north coast of Crete, I see brown dry hillsides striped with olive groves, blue and white churches, and blooming pink and white oleander; and the gorse that grows wild and spreads over the hillsides at this time of the year, in the spring, is an exuberance of dazzling yellow flowers. But best of all, through the bus window in a small village, I find myself looking down into a school yard, and there they are, the children, all lined up, arms across each others’ shoulders, practising the Zorba dance. It’s such a delightful glimpse into the enduring Greek culture. For a brief second or two I feel like more than a tourist.

We are on a city bus, which wends its way through small coastal towns and then into the interior through more small towns, picking up and dropping off passengers along the route. It takes almost an hour and a half to reach Kissamos. From there we take a shuttle bus to the wharf,

and from there a boat, a very large boat that holds over 1000 passengers, though on this day there are only about 400 of us.

There’s plenty of room to hang out in the sun

as we pass the harsh and sere north coast of Crete.

Crete is a more-or-less oblong shape in an east-west orientation, but at the western end of the north coast there are two peninsulas that jut out into the Aegean Sea. And tucked down on the western side of the furthest one is magical Balos Lagoon.

Balos, with good reason, is probably the most photographed beach in Crete; it is no coincidence that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Balos in their private yacht many years ago. We’re not that fancy; we come on a very big yacht that’s decidedly not private, but this in no way alters what we see and experience when we get there.

As I walk towards the lagoon I look back at the boat waiting for us,

but soon forget about it as my eyes widen. This whole place is breathtaking; the warm and inviting water; the infinite blues of the Aegean; the surrounding Platiskinos Mountains. Wow! I say to myself. Wow and wow again. This wild natural beauty sings a song of peace and love without even trying.

There’s a narrow sandy isthmus that connects mainland Crete to tiny Cape Tigani. The isthmus divides the area into a warm, shallow lagoon on one side and a relatively sheltered bay on the other. Of course here too I want to climb up for the wide view.

And then I walk along the beach and over to Tigani and climb up there a way as well. There’s a tiny church part way up.

While Don is resting his sorry content ass on the boat, I am once again fascinated with all the people being their wonderful selves, from this group of well-covered ladies having a excellent time,

to the youthful bikini brigade parading in the lagoon,

and everything in between.

After nearly three hours we return to the boat for the journey to Imeri Gramvousa, a large uninhabited island north of Balos Lagoon. But look up, there’s a fortress at the top of it, a 16th century Venetian Castle, and one of the last forts to succumb to the Ottoman invaders in the 1800’s.

Of course we climb the steep trail and many steps to the top,

where there’s a substantial entrance gate,

a tiny crumbling church,

some enduring fortress walls,

and a fabulous view back towards Cape Tigani and the Platiskinos Mountains.

Ah, we are weary now, resting on the boat ride back to Kissamos, and then falling into the bus for the journey back to Chania. It’s been a day; a long sun-soaked, joy-filled day.

Next post: Canberra Coffee Culture! Well Australian coffee culture with an emphasis on Canberra. Melbourne is undoubtedly the coffee capital of the country, but Canberra holds its own.

Balos: Avoid going in July/August. I’d so glad we went in the spring when the crowds are manageable. It’s hard to get to, which is good because this means there are no hotel developments, or even snack bars. From Kissamos – by boat, with a tour like we did, or ferry; or by driving over a narrow difficult road that’s unpaved towards the end and then hiking down the trail from the car park at the top – I went part way up this trail to get the panorama shot. Whatever way you get there it’s worth it.

Disclaimer: As a general rule, if a photographer is shooting in a public space, such as a street or a park, s/he will usually have the right to do so without the consent of the subjects. Generally speaking if it is in the public domain, you can take a picture of it. Photojournalism and street photography would not exist if permission to take the photo was required. If anyone objects of course I don’t take the photo, or if it’s already done I have them witness me deleting it. In some countries, eg India, people love to have their photo taken, and frequently request it. I always try to be discreet. Quite frequently it creates lovely interactions between myself and the subject. I have found it to be an overwhelmingly positive experience.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted © Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2023.