I lost my virginity in... Crete: Charles de Ledesma

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The Independent Travel
Late summer 1977 had been chaotic. After A-levels, most of my friends had holed-up in a squat in St John's Wood, London, experimenting with various drugs and sleeping on flea-ridden mattresses copped from the street. The only way to get Nicky out of this vice-ridden, public- schoolboy environment was to offer her a trip olive-picking on the Greek island of Crete - hitch-hiking there and back, of course. Once alone among the Hellenic sights and smells, romance would naturally bloom, or so I imagined.

Things went well at first. At Ostend we flagged down some Pakistanis going home, and after resisting the urge to sightsee Peshawar on the pounds 60 we had between us, we got out in Cold War Bulgaria - a land apparently overrun by the autumn cabbage and swede crop - and passed through Edirne in Turkey into Greece. But Nicky had grown moody on the diet of biscuits and water and I worried that this rough life might not be for her.

Piraeus passed in a flash, and Chania offered a welcome respite, its pretty harbour giving us a chance, after lathering off the grime accumulated by the week on the road, to hold hands among the boats and tourists.

Next day we headed west into Kissamos county; the real Crete, where, according to the guide book, the locals had been struggling against all invaders for millennia. It was hot and dry but the olives were thriving. It is said that there are 1.5 million olive trees in this county. It was time to get to work.

We were told that pickers were needed near Falassarna, the westernmost village in Crete, which has been settled since early Neolithic times. The village's name is derived from a nymph - an appropriate place then for our love to develop. Its peak had been during the Hellenistic period and at the time the place had had its own coin. But like much of the ancient world, it had fallen on hard times. Accommodation for the budget traveller was plentiful though, in the many caves located above the sprawling, rugged beach, which, these days, is quite a tourist draw.

Spoilt for choice, we settled into one in the basic, basic category and made it as homely as possible. Such exotic primitivism, however, didn't seem to shake Nicky out of her forlorn introspection, and my enquiries as to her condition fell on deaf ears. I began to think she was homesick - for the squat? This I found hard to believe.

The main bar in Falassarna, Anastasio's, provided some crumbs of comfort. The ouzo the ebullient owner kept feeding us revived our spirits somewhat. Breakfasting on warm bread, yoghurt and honey helped make light of our predicament. The problem was, we were down to only a few pounds and had, in fact, arrived too late for the olive-picking. Candlelit dinners perching at the front of the cave eating meagre rations of cheese and tomatoes didn't seem to inspire the romance I had fantasised about.

Then, at last, Anastasio said he'd found a farmer who could help. I was set to work picking cucumbers and Nicky got to do some olive-tree shaking, then loading the tough little nuggets into wicker baskets. We met again at the communal lunch, quite a banquet by our standards, with local Kissamos wine to wash down the vine leaves, fried fish and feta salad. The matriarch took a fancy to Nicky and she smiled back, laughing when the younger kids wrapped her long brown hair up in a peasant scarf. I realised then that, through my frustration, I hadn't noticed that, only 17, she was simply homesick for her family, missing her younger brother and sister enormously. This adventure had only exacerbated the sore feelings of separation she had been feeling - and hiding - in the squat.

That night we talked and she cried. Then we made love as the winds whistled into our cave and the waves crashed in unison below. After a few days on the farm, the season was over; autumn had well and truly arrived. We had just enough money for one of us to travel back from Piraeus by coach.

Nicky went, loaded down with local oil and some of Anastasio's ouzo. She headed straight back to her family. I hitched through Zagreb and over the new Swiss snows with just a tenner and a lot of cadging. We didn't see each other again that year.