The Gorge Walk.
To come to Crete and not walk through a gorge or ten would be to miss out on an important part of the island’s physical make up.
Although the island is only 35 miles across at its widest point, its mountains are high with many peaks over 2000m.
Deep gorges lead down from the mountain ridges. The majority of the stone is porous grey limestone so there’s no water unless it has rained recently, or the snow is melting.
This makes for great walking. Blinking hard going, but worth it.
In the last few months we have taken on many gorges. We’ve seen flowers we’ve not seen elsewhere. We’ve had eagles and vultures wheeling above us. And once we were accompanied for a few miles by a large herd of goats.
On Saturday 30 May we woke at Votomos Lake above the spring water town of Zaros. It’s a peaceful haven of green. Huge carp nudge terrapins in the spring fed water and day trippers come for the café and a few photos.
Few of them venture to the Rouvas Gorge.
Up to the edge of the café all is calm, there’s well watered grass, comfortable outdoor furniture, a smiling waiter waiting to tend to your every need.
Immediately beyond the café there is a steep shale path that promises sweat, scratches, aching muscles, vertiginous drops and utterly stunning views that will be hidden from everyone else.
The trek up to the little church of Agois Ioannis is only 10kms. That doesn’t sound bad, but there’s a warning hidden in the expected time required – 4.5hrs. We had no illusions about making it to the church.
We set out planning to get to a look out point a couple of kms from the top, and by then the way was very hard going.
At times the path is extremely narrow, with loose shale under foot and a drop of a hundred metres or more. You daren’t look down. There are occasional safety barriers that are worse than useless. They’re completely rotten and likely to snag you with a rusty nail. Yet somehow you feel better with one between you and the drop.
On a stronger day I’d like to do the full walk. Today though we were delighted with what we did. In the afternoon we were happier still to join those civilised folk at the café for fava, Greek salad and the best chips we’ve had in ages.
Half an hour of continuous descent later we were parked up harbour side at Kokkinos Pirgos and strolling among the beautiful and carefree youth on the beach.
We had promised to eat in the van. That’s hard when the sun’s shining and the cafés are luring us in.
A week before lockdown two tired and hungry Wanderers arrived in the port of Agia Galini to eat a superb Sunday lunch. The La Strada restaurant looked like it hadn’t changed in decades and the old boys who run it were happy for us to move our table into the street to follow the sun. There were few cars, and when one came along we simply carried the table out of the way, then back into place.
We wanted to go back there. We could see the town along the coast from our spot in Kokkinos Pirgos and the drive took less than half an hour, but alas La Strada hasn’t emerged from lockdown. We hope the old men are OK.
Kostas on the seafront was busy with locals and served us well.
The evening was made by an hour or so at a true local’s backstreet hangout with beer, raki and a meze of boiled eggs, cucumber, strong little olives and a fava like paste.
“€10 please.” “Are you sure that’s enough?”
Last winter I ranted often about the littered state of the Peloponnese beaches, and the Greek attitude to finishing whatever and leaving the packaging right where the last mouthful was taken. We did what we could to clean up, often filling a large bin bag and taking it to a skip.
It has been better this year. It feels like there has been a majority shift in attitude, but litter is still a huge problem.
This week the government has announced that it will do something about it.
In twelve months it will ban all single use plastics, starting at its own facilities.
That is a huge step!
The Greeks put every item they buy into a plastic bag, then put that plastic bag into a plastic bag.
Plastic bags will go.
The Greeks are mad for coffee. The shift from the old style cup of sludge to the modern frappé is almost complete. Many Greeks seem unable to drive without a takeout frappé in one hand and a phone in the other. They have even reduced their smoking because they don’t have enough hands.
Coffee cups litter for miles around every urban centre.
Coffee cups will go.
So too will plastic food packaging. It’ll be a challenge for the food producers, but one that they know is coming and will help prepare them for other countries.
Water bottles. Water bottles will be interesting. You see many people wheeling trollies from supermarkets piled high with nothing but bottled water. I can’t think what the bottling plants will do, but as many are owned by Pepsico and Nestlé I’m sure they’ll find a way.
This is a grand gesture, and after the success in containing corona we have to hope that it might just work, and catch on across Europe.
As I write.
Suddenly I’m surrounded by nervous tinkling sheep. A flock of several hundred are being moved from their night time safety to their grazing on the hills. They stink, but they’re lovely and their music is the soundtrack of the Greek countryside.
Low coastal roads are lined with gaudy oleanders, mostly pink, occasionally white.
In the mountains broom holds sway, its yellow flowers bright against the fresh green rain washed stems.
There’s often an overlap. A riot of colour against the dull greens of the drought tolerant olives and carob.
In the hedgerows it’s the turn of the taller plants, and most are shades of mauve and purple.
Jasmine and honeysuckle sweeten the air.
Right now we’re pretty central in the country. High in the mountains where those dull greens have given away to brighter vines, and a number of potato fields.
Our views reach for miles, including to the sea, and this would be a paradise were it not for the flies. Thousands land on you when you stop moving.
I can write outside now because a strong wind has got up, it’s a tad chilly, but that’s better than being buzzed off.
During lockdown we cycled everywhere unless the crazy mountain winds were howling.
I filled the van with diesel in early March and then hardly used it for ten weeks. I haven’t gone so long without buying fuel for any of the years that I’ve owned a car. How ironic then that the price should drop to a level we haven’t seen in decades. It’s less than a pound a litre most places, so when more was needed we filled ArchieVan with Shell Super V Power Angry diesel in the hope that there’s a grain of truth in the advertising claims about its engine cleaning abilities. I feel proud of our incredibly low resource consumption.
Kalyves. O Mitsos.
In January and February Kalyves became our unofficial base. The place we’d come back to. We ate out a bit. There was a call to arms in a restaurant and every man ran out into the street grabbing chairs, bottles and other available weapons. They ambled back in, there was no fight.
We stocked up on more unusual requirements (fennel seeds, mustard too). We swam. We showered. There was even a decent loo.
So yesterday returning to Kalyves felt a bit like coming home.
Thanks to a recommendation from a friend we went to a chicken grill place that has tempted me every time I walked past.
O Mitsos is basic, really basic. They sell grilled meat, great chips, beer and not much else. And it’s fantastic. Two of the staff are stick thin, the rest enjoy the product too much, all are fuelled by nips of Raki each time they pass the bottle.
Two dinners, two beers, €12.
We’ll be back.
You could just sit on the beach…
This first full week back on the road has brought home the incredible variety available on Crete.
In seven days we have travelled less than 150 miles. We started at a mountain lake, walked a gorge, then drove down the road to sample beach life. We had a night in port, spent another on a central mountain with incredible views untroubled by anything but flies, then returned to quaint Vamos. By then it was only Tuesday. We visited old friends in Kalyves and lay on the beach, we finished up hot in beautiful Chania.