Running a wooden komboloi through his fingers, Pavlos Kriaras orders another round of tsikoudia, local Cretan moonshine, and offers a toast. Much like his friends in Anopoli, a tiny mountain village on the southern shore of Crete, Pavlos is a shepherd – one of the last true nomads in the Western world. Together with his brother, Pavlos is doing what his father, grandfather, and great grandfathers before them have been doing for thousands of years: herd their sheep in the mountains, moving freely with their animals wherever the pastures are greener.
But tonight, gathered in a small kafenio - a traditional shepherds’ coffee house sheltered against the foot of the mountain - Pavlos and his fellow shepherds are sharing food, wine, and gossip. It’s late October, and they have long come down from the summer grasslands in the mountains.
Most traditional Cretan shepherds will spend two to three months following their animals in utter solitude, carrying a shepherd’s staff and usually, a rifle, sleeping under the stars and in traditional mitatos - small stone houses scattered across the hills.
“The mountains season you”, - sighs Pavlos, and smiles.