‘THERE’S a cicada down my top.’ I say the words calmly, trying not to make a scene in front of the other passengers. But then it starts vibrating. ‘Get it out!’ I pull at my top, trying but failing to scoop it out.
The cicada vibrates even more, its noisy buzz getting louder. I pull my top lower, shove my chest towards my husband. ‘Help me!’ He looks startled, but reaches down and gently catches the insect, before redirecting it out of the window.
Everyone in the jeep is silent, watching as it flies off, still buzzing, probably just as flustered as I feel. It had happened quickly. One minute the guide was giving us a lesson about the insects living on the Cretan mountain, the next, one is flying in through the open window hitting my shoulder and falling into my top. Of all the dangers I was worried about on this trip (and there were many), a collision with a cicada was not one of them.
‘Sorry about that,’ I say, feeling calmer now that the cicada and I have gone our separate ways.
‘Don’t worry,’ the guide says. ‘We’re going higher than they go. They’ll not bother you again.’
The jeep is in first gear, jolting its way along the narrowing track inches from the mountain’s edge. ‘Exactly how high are we going?’
‘This is nothing yet.’ He eyes me through the rear-view mirror. ‘Are you sure you’re on the right trip?’
‘Yes,’ I say, a bit too quickly. ‘It’s for my fortieth…I wanted…adventure.’
In a moment of middle-aged madness, I’d signed up to this off-road escapade. I was turning forty in a few days and wanted to do something to challenge myself and prove that despite my advancing years, I was still fit and fearless. But now I’m halfway up the mountain facing hairpin bends and vertical drops with a driver who missed his Formula One calling, I’m beginning to think that a book by the pool would have been adventurous enough.
There’s no turning back though. I take a deep breath and grip my seat, determined to show forty-year-old nerves of steel. My knuckles are almost white when we reach the top. But as soon as I step out of the jeep, I know it’s been worth the worry.
The air is thinner and fresher and there’s a stillness to it that relaxes me straight away. I stand on the edge of the mountain, looking out over this quiet corner of Crete. To the north is Elounda, where we’re staying, and Agios Nikolaos with the Aegean Sea glittering beyond. To the south is the Libyan Sea, Ierapetra town and the island of Chrysi.
When I glance up vultures are circling overhead, their wings wide, soaring high on the thermals. Slowly, they start descending, coming closer, almost within touching distance. I step back, then head for the safety of the jeep. A collision with a cicada is one thing, a collision with a vulture another entirely.