Our car pulled up a dusty track next to a grove of olive trees. My guide, Stelios Tripalitakis, got out and started briskly walking in between their gnarled trunks, stopping every couple of metres to investigate objects he spotted on the ground. I followed, desperately trying to keep up in the heavy Cretan heat.
“Ahhh, that’s just a bit of fence,” he said, disappointedly examining a piece of rusting metal.
Tripalitakis, 35, is one of Crete’s many wartime treasure hunters, devoting hours of his life to combing the island for military relics left behind when Nazis invaded the island during World War Two. Over the past two decades he’s managed to amass a collection of more than 40,000 items, transforming his living room into a makeshift museum.
As we hunted for items to add to his collection, Tripalitakis told me that around 70 German paratroopers killed by local villagers were buried on this unremarkable-looking piece of farmland. Although their bodies were transferred to an official cemetery in the nearby village of Malame in the 1960s, many personal items, such as helmets or gravity knives, were left behind. “This land has been cleaned by the farmer recently,” Tripalitakis said. “So perhaps I might find something new.”