Working Off the Farmers Tan
Story and Photos by Gary Singh
The colorful doors and windows of Chania
or what seemed like an epoch, the author was scared to take his shirt
off in public due to a noticeable farmers tan. He developed a
paranoid fear that everyone would point at him behind his back. Since
he walks quite a bit on the city streets of his hometown in Northern
California, often with a short-sleeved shirt in the blazing sun, the
farmers tan naturally developed. Even though a plethora of hi-tech
tanning salons populate his local landscape, he secretly longed for
a real tan instead.
When an old friend from Greece invited the author to
spend a week on the Isle of Crete during July, his eyes opened wide.
He envisioned white sandy shores, clear aquamarine water, blistering
sunrays and hordes of American tourists, all with farmers tans.
He would not be alone.
After an overnight ferry ride from Piraeus, a short
bus ride landed him in Chania, Crete's second largest city and
its former capital. Barely past seven in the morning, the temperature
already approached 100 and the sun beat down upon him with relentless
tenacity. He realized immediately that Crete was the ideal place
to work off his farmers tan.
Chania features numerous
narrow alleys for shopping
With his shirt off, he spent that entire morning
strolling through Chanias old Venetian quarter, where a
labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, colorful facades, and
crumbling ruins took him back to the 14th century. Many of these
older buildings had long since been renovated and converted into
pensions, restaurants, cybercafes or all of the above. In the
summertime, the neighborhood bubbled with energy. Children kicked
soccer balls in the streets, old men played backgammon at sidewalk
tables and sunburned tourists sauntered around snapping photographs
left and right.
Chanias old town is a labyrinth of crooked
The author acquired a slight tan that day, but nowhere
near enough, so a trip to the beach became a necessity. Cretes
beaches need no introduction, but those near Chania usually fill up
with tourists, so he opted to explore a much more remote location: the
southern coast of the island.
Which required a drive through the Lefka Ori (White
Mountains), a trip along a road that seemed to change, in every respect,
with the moods of the day. Sometimes paved and sometimes not, the mountain
road snaked its way through uncompromising peaks and tranquil valleys,
always distracting the driver with views of harrowing switchback paths
that were yet to come.
Driving through the Lefka Ori (White Mountains)
The drive provided a multitude of shifting scenarios.
One minute, overwhelming stenches of billy-goats dominated the scene,
while the next, aromas of thyme, sage and wildflowers took over. Talk
about local flavor. For a few miles the road bisected a plateau spotted
with dark green shrubs and then suddenly it moved along a steep precipice
of nothing but silvery gray rock, falling off the edge at a 100-metre
drop. For one mile, the driver scooted along a flank of mahogany brick
and within a second he suddenly reverberated from a colorful symphony
of floracherry, bright yellow and lavender. The smattering of
scenery robbed his attention and he almost drove over the cliff a couple
of times. The temperature fluctuated without any prior anticipation,
often dropping five degrees as the road merely turned a corner.
In the mountains, livestock roam freely
An obstinate herd of nomadic pigs even blocked the road
at one point, forcing the driver to stop until a man in a jeep approached
from the opposite direction. The man lowered his arm out the window
and banged his hand on the side of his vehicle a few times, urging the
pigs to meander away. And they did.
Obstinate pigs in the middle of the road
After going over the top of the White Mountains, the
narrow road eventually descended through more of the same and collapsed
at Sougia, an isolated beach town on the southern coast of Crete. Sougia
was the target destination: no tourists, no big hotels, no prearranged
rows of sun beds.
The beach at Sougia
Sougia temporarily satisfied the authors longing:
crystal-clear aquamarine water, half-pebbly white sand and tree-flanked
leisure paths beckoning one for a few beers at the beachfront taverns.
A few scattered umbrellas and dome tents dotted the sand where campers
had set up shop. An occasional mountain goat emerged from the nearby
hills and wandered down to the rocks. Since the beach was nearly empty,
he chose a roomy spot to work off his farmers tan. A glaring sign
cautioned that nudism wasnt allowed, but once he reached the far
end of the beach, he noticed almost everyone was indeed in the buff.
In spite of the rules, parts
of the beach are
Regardless of what dreck the dermatologists might spew,
there are only two ways to go about this tanning thing: (1) Spend many
days at the beach, about two hours a day, with adequate amounts of lotion,
and even out your farmers tan safely and gradually. This option
is suitable for sedentary types who go through life thriving on security
and predictability, and whose character traits include self-discipline
and rational consideration of the results of their actions ahead of
time. (2) Sit out in the blazing sun all day with no lotion and roast
yourself like a pig. You acquire your major tan in just one day, but
then you have to wait two weeks for the burns to go away and the dead
skin to fall off. This plan works for impulsive, spontaneous individuals
with restless brain chemistry, those who go high hog and take their
Naturally, the author chose the second option and wound
up with sunburns almost everywhere. His torso and legs were beet-red
by the time he left. The next morning, he could barely roll over in
bed because it hurt so much. About a week later, after he had returned
home, he shed flakes of dead skin all over his apartment for two weeks.
View of the water at Chania
Despite the extreme masochistic nature of this endeavor,
it did not ruin the rest of his trip in the slightest bit. He immersed
himself in the quality of Cretan life. That same night, he drank an
ocean of Tsikoudia and danced to Greek music on a rooftop amidst
crumbling ruins overlooking the harbor. And he gorged on enough lamb
chops and souvlaki to feed three people. His faith was back.
He knew he could return home and eventually parade around Northern California
with his shirt off. No one would laugh at his farmers tan anymore.
In Chania, homes are built amidst crumbling ruins