One of Crete’s most visited tourist attractions – the Gorge of Samaria – is only a few kilometers to the west of Agios Ioannis. The three tourist centers in West Sfakia – Agia Roumeli, Loutron and Chora Sfakion – were already receiving a large number of visitors every day during the summer season.
A couple of hundred tourists visited Agios Ioannis every year which was more than we had expected. Only one tour operator that organized group tours to small out-of-the-way villages, included Agios Ioannis. Most people came as individuals or in small groups. We tried to keep statistics of visits and registered 120 tourists from 1. March and 1. September 1979. There were probably more, but the number was still not large. Some of them came to see the village, others made a stop on their way between Anopolis and Ayia Roumeli. Some where well-prepared hikers with boots, sleeping bags, food and water. Others wore sandals and carried what little they brought with them in plastic shopping bags. And some got lost and had be rescued by one of the villagers.
There were no tourist facilities in the village. One household would sometimes act as a kafenion and provide simple meals – if they were too busy no food was served at all. About one third of the tourists spent one or more nights in the village. Some of the houses would let people spend a night and sometime they were sent up to our house for help and accomodation.
The tourists made little impact on people’s daily life. The villagers did not pay much attention to the tourists but were curious about where they came from, critizised the way they dressed and took an occasional liking to some of them. One rather heavy set German who walked into the village dressed only in shorts, was talked about for several days. They found it incredible that a man could dress that way. If the tourists knew some Greek, people would talk to them, but the relationship with tourists was not important.
The tourists who visited the village would, on the other hand, tend to stress their good relations with the local people. Many would send pictures they had taken for the villagers, small gifts or stamps for the children’s collections. In one case an American had met a man from the village in Anopolis and had taken a picture of him. A few months later a package arrived containing a large, framed picture and a letter saying that if there was anything he wanted, please write and it would be sent. Some people thought the local should ask for a pair of binoculars or a watch, others a gun. Fortunately for the American, the whole thing was soon forgotten.
Most of the tourists regarded a small, isolated village like Agios Ioannis with a certain romanticism, as a place where the villagers lived a primitive but happy life. Since most of the villagers’ activites during the summer months are done outside, many tourists felt that they had been give access to the “real” village life. But since few spoke Greek and no one in the village spoke any foreign language, little contact was made. In addition, the behaviour of the tourists – and most of all the way they dressed – made any closer contact difficult.