Monday, 6 April 2015

Agia Marina Donkey Rescue - Καταφύγιο για Γαϊδουράκια Αγία Μαρίνα

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:
When fishes flew and forests walked    
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet. (G.K. Chesterton, 1927)

There were many things I didn't want to do on Palm Sunday (ie this year's Calendar Easter Sunday - Greek Easter is next week) - I didn't want to cook the traditional fish meal for the occasion, I didn't want to play host to my daughter's friend, I didn't want to go shopping among the hordes at the start of Holy Week, I didn't want to spend my time cleaning the house all over again, plus I didn't really feel like going to a blossom water distillation festival that I was invited to (been there, done that). 
Apollo - he was rescued after her owner could no longer afford to keep her.
I wanted a Mental Health day off, so I decided to accompany my son to his fencing competitions taking place in an area of Crete that I last visited 20 years ago: the Messara valley, in the Iraklio region. This way, I would have an excuse to read Captain Corelli's Mandolin during the 2.5 hour bus trip each way. When I looked up the journey on the map, I realised it would take me close to the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue, run by a Kiwi woman and her Cretan husband. My son did not really need me around to play well, so I decided that if I found a chance to get away, I would.
Areti - she was rescued when her 92 year old owner's family forbade him to ride her after suffering a heart attack while working in the fields. The old man was very happy that his beloved donkey was going to a great home.
The route took us from Hania onto the highway, leaving it just before Rethimno, where we turned into the historic village of Archanes, then right down to the south coast of Crete at the picturesque summer resort village of Agia Galini, continuing along the coast to the greenhouse area of Timbaki, and on to the south Cretan town of Moires where the competition was being held - the donkey sanctuary is located between the villages of Sivas and Petrokefali, just 5 minutes away from Moires. It's been a long time since I have been down here, so I stopped reading my book and just admired the scenery. The villages in this area are large, easily spotted on the hillsides, tucked neatly away below the mountain peaks. The fields of the Rethimno region, leading onto the Iraklio region, are more verdant than in Hania, and the rivers much wider. Given so much rain this winter, they were full and moving fast. (The one crossing Rethimno is actually called Platis Potamos - 'wide river' - and the one crossing Iraklio is Geropotamos - 'old river'.) The rivers both run into the Libyan Sea - the Liviko, as we know it - which looked very calm among the tranquil surroundings, while a light drizzle was falling at that moment. It's really the calm before the storm, as the tourist season is about the start, with its onslaught of rental cars jamming the narrow roads.
Iphigeneia - she arrived at the sanctuary in an emaciated state. No one realised she was pregnant. The next day, her foal, Ero was born.
The roads leading to the games after we got off the motorway were all ours. Few people were driving at that particular hour of the morning (we left Hania just before 7am), it was raining, and it was Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, when not much is happening. With the knowledge that there would be no buses running, once we passed Timbaki, I decided to ask the bus driver if we would be passing any of the above-mentioned villages. "Never heard of them," he said. I had looked up the google map for the area the night before, and knew the villages we should be passing (there was no GPS on the bus), yet the driver had no idea. We were now on the road towards the ancient palace of Phaistos (of Linear A disc fame). So when we passed a sign on the road pointing to Sivas (6km), I knew another sign would follow, pointing to Petrokefali (4km). As I passed those signs, I decided that the consequences of yelling 'STOP!!!!!!' to the driver might have deleterious effects. Plus, everyone would think I was mad, which is not a bad thing at all, but having lived in Crete for over two decades, I knew that it was not the right time for me to show this side of my personality since my 14-year old was on the bus with me. (I'm sure he knows I'm mad, but he wouldn't want me to advertise it.) Despondently, I let the bus carry on to our final destination, which I could discern before we got there: from google maps, I could see the red dome of the sports building among the valley's fields of olives and grapevines. 

Ero - this is the first donkey to be born at the sanctuary. She is Iphigeneia's daughter.
Once off the bus, I could see hillside villages dotted around the valley from the point where I was standing. They didn't look too far away to walk, but the light drizzle didn't make the walk look enticing. By chance, Dimitris, the fencing coach from the Messara team, had just come out of the stadium. "Is that Petrokefali?" I asked him, pointing to the cluster of white buildings in the distance. I was in fact looking at Pombia, a neighbouring village due west of Petrokefali.
Agapi - she was found tied to a tree without food or water. The owner had left both the donkey and the village. 

"Do you want to go there?" he asked me. "Do you know someone there? Who do you know? How do you know them? (etc) Hop in, I'm in a rush, but I can drop you off there." My husband often considers me to be very lucky, luckier than him. I agree, although my luck is usually a case of good planning. Dimitris dropped me off at the path that led to the donkey sanctuary. It was lined with redolent wild fennel, which I hoped I would remember to forage before I left the area. 
Phaedra - when she arrived at the sanctuary, she was old, very shy and frightened of humans.
I heard about the donkey sanctuary through facebook, so it was always on my mind to visit the sanctuary some time. Crete is a big island, and the distances seem even greater in bad weather. The roads of Crete are all in good shape now (in Greek terms), but they are all full of bends and slopes. In the winter, some landslides occur; between Agia Galini and Timbaki, we were diverted because the road had sunk from this year's unprecedented heavy winter storms. So it isn't that easy to simply go for a spin to the other side of the island. A distance of greater than half an hour on these kinds of road conditions saps away our energy. The bus ride gave me a chance to enjoy my Mental Health day with greater freedom. 
Talos - he gets a bit obnoxious. As I was saying hello to the other donkeys, he moved in and pushed my hand off them. Along with his name necklace, he also wears another one saying 'I may bite'.
At the gate of the sanctuary, the customary large guard dog met me, together with a couple of smaller doggies, all of whom bared their teeth to me and growled, as a way of saying hello. This was followed by a bray of unison from the 20 donkeys at the sanctuary as they saw me approaching. They had all lined up outside the fencing sectioning them off from the home of their carers, Kiwi Barbara and her Cretan husband Fanis. Barbara and I met on facebook: we are both New Zealanders, and we left New Zealand and came to live in Greece at about the same time, so we have a lot in common. 
Haritomeni (meaning sweet-joy) - she came to the sanctuary in April 2010, lying in the back of a truck crippled with arthritis. Her owner who loved her (she even had a name!) could do nothing to ease her pain so he brought Hari to Barbara and Fanis. Within a month after medication & therapy there was a big improvement in her mobility although she cannot get up on her own after lying down. Hari is old now and tires easily. She is always found lying down every morning and is helped up. Donkeys form lifelong friendships with other donkeys; Haritomeni is nearly always seen with Pandora (below). 
Barbara was very involved with horses during her New Zealand years, which is how she got the idea for a donkey sanctuary. Horses are uncommon in Crete - they are not suited to the mountainous terrain. They are mainly used in urban environments in the tourist trade, similar to other urban centres around the world. An example of their use is the horse and carriage rides around the Venetian port in Hania, and for weddings. But donkeys are perfect for village work. The only problem is that nowadays, cars are more readily available and their maintenance is cheaper and less time consuming than the needs of a donkey. Donkey milk farms have opened up and closed down in very little times; such business ventures easily go bust because the business people don't realise how much work is involved in such a business. Donkeys are now mainly used as fairground material, while the (recently impoverished) owners of the working village donkeys are getting too old to care for them.
Afroditi - her owner was abusive and beat and neglected her. Eventually he left her tied to a tree without food or water, but a villager took care of her. When he was no longer able to due to work commitments, he asked the sanctuary to take her. This is their morning feed: the local mills grind a mixture of grains for their breakfast. This 'muesli' has a very sweet natural smell. They eat hay in the afternoon.

What do you do with a donkey you no longer want or need? You can give it away, or sell it, but this is difficult in our times, when the traditional use for donkeys is no longer needed. Some people set them free to roam, which sounds kind, but this is not really the case. A donkey that is set free by its owners will wander away and run into trouble. While it may find enough food to eat, it will probably not find enough water, so in the summer, it will die of thirst. They may also be run over by cars on the road: if they were used to being led by their owner, they will not sense the danger of passing vehicles. Other owners just tie them up to a pole and leave them to their own fate, which is certain death.
Kassandra - she's had a very sad life... You can read about it here: 
Donkeys often arrive in emaciated states. Once a donkey arrives at the sanctuary, it is given a beautiful ancient Greek name, All the donkeys have their own personal history. Some tales are sad, but many also resemble the human side of life: birth, work, retirement, and eventual death from natural causes. One thing is sure at the sanctuary - the donkeys are cared for by Barbara, Fanis and their growing family of children and grandchildren. They receive a lot of attention from the many visitors that come to see them throughout the year. While I was there, various tourists visiting Crete during the Easter break came to the sanctuary - for some, it is not their first time. 
Persefoni - she has also had a sad life:
During my visit, Barbara and I had a good strong cuppa tea together, and reminisced our Kiwi life, which for both of us, forms our irrevocable history. It's a part of our life that has finished now, because now that we live in Crete, we are here to stay, a bit like the donkeys at the Agia Marina Donkey Sanctuary. It's most likely our last stop. It's so nice here, we really don't want to leave.
Achilleas - originally from the island of Patmos, he lost his hoof due to being tied up by his leg with wire. Donations have saved his leg and helped him to regrow a hoof.  Although Achilleas' health was improving, he suddenly crossed the rainbow bridge on 27 April. I was very lucky to have met him during his short stay at the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue. 
The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:

Bonus photo: This is Mr Prickles, a cat that a tourist brought to the sanctuary because he felt that it would be mistreated if left to survive on its own. Mr Prickles has cerebral palsy. Now two years old, it took him a while to learn to walk, as he kept falling down.
Mr Prickles
He walks just like a human being who has cerebral palsy. He reminds me of Beri, our lame cat, who adopted us six or so years ago (Beri still walks with a limp). Mr Prickles also reminds me of the disabled people I see living among us. Apart from a modest pension payment, they don't get other help from the Greek state, ie there is little in the way of assisted housing, so they are generally allowed to live a normal life among the people they have grown up with and are accustomed to seeing. Mr Prickles and Beri are no different. They just plod on stoically.

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:

You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.