We have enjoyed our home in Kritsa, Crete since 2001, and people often ask us what changes we have seen. The answer is not a village by-pass to make the high street safer, new paving in the main street, less tablecloth shops, less ‘corner shops’, less old folk near my house, or more pick up trucks. No, my answer to sum up the creeping change in lifestyle and aspirations is disappearing donkeys.
This was Dora, our next door neighbour for many years. The owner, an old lady, visited several times a day and always took the donkey out to graze. On their return the donkey was piled high with vegetation to eat through the night. When the owner was no longer able to walk up and down the steep Kritsa paths she’d sit in the shade chattering to Dora while she ate her own snack. Sadly, they died within months of each other
At that time, the dawn chorus included braying from donkeys in fields and stables throughout Kritsa. Fifteen years later I can’t think of one donkey actively working in our area. I guess teenagers stopped dreaming of the day they’d own their own donkey.
An Englishman in Kritsa had a beautiful donkey called Willow that he’d walk through the village, resplendent in a dark red, woven blanket under the wooden saddle. I loved seeing Willow tied up outside a taverna where anyone else would park their motorbike. The sanctuary Walk With Donkeys provided Willow with a ‘forever home’ when the man’s circumstances changed and he needed to leave Crete. This photo, reproduced by kind permission of Walk With Donkeys, shows Willow with his pals Zak and Sid.
I gave Willow a lead role in my novel, Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa, although I changed his name to Dove. This is how my heroine remembers her childhood with the donkey and her cousin, Manos:
“Manos and I were like twins. Despite our very different natures, we were inseparable – well, except when we were on different sides of the donkey!
Dove was a beautiful grey beast, with long, soft ears that wriggled and twitched to show how much he enjoyed us giving the patch between them a good scratch. On top of a once colourful handwoven woollen rug sat a hard wooden saddle that Great Grandma never rode. Hung from either side of the saddle, tied on with stout ropes, were two long panniers almost touching the ground. Grandpa had made these huge baskets the way his pa had taught him, using strong, young olive sticks for the frame, woven with whip like branches of mulberry.
Every morning, Great Grandma brought Dove down the narrow street, just wide enough for him and his panniers. She’d tap on the grille of the unglazed window of the house next door, and then repeat the action at our house, calling, ‘Free rides to Rabbitsville.’ Then we’d rush out of our respective doors, each wiping a milk moustache from our top lip with the back of our hand as we ran, vying to be the first to get a kiss as she swung us high into a pannier. What a way to view our world.”
Of course, keeping old donkeys safe and well takes an enormous amount of time, energy and money. Walk With Donkeys always appreciates donations. You can click on the link to find out more. They also have an interesting money raiser allowing you to buy Amazon products via a link on the Walk With Donkeys website. Products bought this way will not cost you any more, but a small commission goes to Walk With Donkeys. Why not click here then type in the word Kritsotopoula to see for yourself!
This photo shows Alan and I on holiday in Plakias, South Crete, researching donkey transport. I admit to being disappointed not to go side-saddle as that is how working donkeys are ridden. If you want to ride horses or donkeys contact the Plakias Horse Riding Center .
A key learning point was how donkeys need frequent rest stops, especially after going uphill. I made sure donkeys in my novel got their rest when they were with the ‘good guys’.
Although donkeys are scarce in Kritsa enough were found for the traditional wedding celebration in August 2015.
Here are some of the donkeys we’ve met over the years: