It’s so good to be able to leave the campsite without feeling like fugitives.
We retraced a few of my cycle rides and gradually extended our leash.
Dasaki Farangi – Butterfly Gorge.
Eco projects in Greece are few and far between, so it was a welcome change to begin this stank walking through a recent pine plantation. There was one of the country’s terrifying wild fires here in the 1990s but the trees are re-establishing fast.
The two and a half hour scramble took us up the riverbed to the sweet little chapel of Agios Dimitrios, far enough for beginners. Had we been equipped with a few extra litres of water, rations, young legs and a marine’s hunger for effort we could have forged on to the mountain village of Orinio. The sign at the bottom suggests it’s a 4 hour hike. Each way. That was enough to convince us that we’d be better off taking the van.
Oh, and butterflies? Well, there were a few, but no more than anywhere else. There are 50 kinds of butterfly on the island, many of which are big and beautiful, and most are shy when approached with a camera.
Off the bike.
On several occasions I rode up to Agios Ioannis high above us in the hills.
The last time I took a longer route encompassing Schinokapsala, adding 10kms and few hundred metres of extra climbing. It was hot, it was hard, but it felt fantastic. The views down through valleys to the sea were almost good enough to stop for.
No one ought to go from not riding to taking on such challenges without a long slow build up, and this was too much too soon. I aggravated a groin strain that hasn’t bothered me for years and now the bike lies idle again.
Bugger. I love cycling and I was getting a lot from those rides. I could start with a black dog, but end euphoric and ready for anything.
Three mountain villages. Three hundred bends.
I can’t cycle to the villages, and Minty is too sensible to try, so let’s drive.
Agios Ioannis. I had been carried away by the romance of Agios Ioannis. The view. The isolation. The dilapidation.
Dilapidation yes, but with life coming back through the projects and deep pockets of similarly romantic foreigners.
I envisaged days cut off by the winter snow.
Days when the crazy winds prevented you from stepping outside.
A community brought together by challenges they’d chosen to live with.
And somehow this all seemed so good.
Minty walked around with realistic eyes and pointed out that over half of the village was falling down and the twists and turns getting there were enough to make anyone sick. If they survived that then their knees better be special as there were more steps and overly steep slopes than in her gran’s home of Robin Hoods Bay.
Should I ask for my deposit back?
Schinokapsala has the height, the view, and the knackered houses but somehow lacks the romance (even for me) of its neighbour, and so you can buy a place here for less than £20k, but few people want to.
The narrow road winds up and on.
In the heat the scent of the pines is glorious even in the van. The rock formations create a wild and contorted landscape where occasionally an eagle soars. And while the best of the flowers are gone at sea level there are plenty still in the mountains.
By the third village of Orino the roads were getting silly.
I felt refreshed after weeks without driving, and ready to take on a challenge, but when there’s a huge drop on one side, and the road is fast crumbling into that drop, it can put your nerves on edge. That joy coupled with gradients and switchbacks that demanded long periods in first gear, and miles without getting beyond second, meant that I spent less time gazing at the truly wonderful view than I might have liked.
The view, the incredible display of wild flowers, and the coconut sweet scent of furze were a good distraction for a while, but suddenly I noticed that Minty’s heart was no longer in the journey.
The girl gets carsick much less often than she used to, but when it kicks in I can feel her tension.
What a shame it happened just as the road finally began to drop precipitously back down towards the sea. I knew from the map that there was hardly a straight 100m for the next 10kms or so. What I didn’t know was that the bends were only part of the challenge. To add to the fun the tarmac was about to run out.
Part of the reasons most Greeks drive pick-ups is that they are the antithesis of a status symbol. The other part is that many of their roads are bloody awful.
On a good day we might have gingerly made our way down the mountain on the rough track our road had degenerated into. But not this time. Although there was little of the track that was wider than ArchieVan I knew we had to turn around, and then proceed with the care of the Queen’s chauffeur to avoid an imminent chunder blunder.
It was a hellofa drive. No gentle reintroduction to the Hellenic motoring challenge. But we survived. And we had ice cream.
You’ll know by now that I like to portray Mr and Mrs Collins as healthy eaters. We take a light, but positive approach to meat, and we give the processed meal a wide berth. Occasionally we choose to slip and indulge wholeheartedly in a MaccyD, but hey, there’s none on Crete and so that hasn’t happened in months.
Here’s our current fall from grace.
Our second closest store has a fridge just for home made ice creams.
It’s stocked daily. And the kids make sure that it’s empty every night.
They’re all small ices, and they’re brilliant. Mini cornettos, baklava stuffed with ice cream, Oreo wafers, except that they’re not real Oreos. And they’re only 50p each.
They’ve been our lunch day after day. We earn our treat.
Our saving grace is that it is at least a 2km walk to the shop, each way.
Worth it. Photo next week.
Gorges two and three.
Every gorge is different, but if you don’t write up a walk before you tackle the next you’re unlikely to remember what makes it individual.
Scratches, aches, pain, joy. Enclosure, long views, hard climbs, steep drops. Heat. And the wondrous smell, always the smell.
Perivolakia Gorge has the distinction of the Kapsa Monastery clinging to the rocks at its entrance. It’s also the toughest we’ve tried.
We broke out of the campsite, drove east, and stayed over night on the roadside in Goudouras. At dusk the sun setting over the sea gave the soft light of a perfect Greek evening. At dawn Polly and I swam until our arms and legs could swim no more.
The little adventure broke through the complacent laziness of campsite life and reminded us that our journey is about far more than the ease of paid for luxury.
By 10am we were in the gorge.
It was relentless, multi layered and stunningly beautiful.
The smells were the best we’ve encountered so far. There have been very few people through here this year and the path was thick with sage, marjoram, thyme, bruised by our boots, the scent exaggerated by the heat.
Oleanders brought immodest bursts of colour, while along the way other flowers were so incredibly tiny I couldn’t get the iPhone to focus on them.
The sharp limestone is unforgiving. It demands extreme care.
We’d set ourselves a two-hour time limit. We often do. But they’re limits that we generally overrun. This gorge is tough though, and despite our early start it was hot already.
We’d only covered 5kms by the time we got back to the van, but that was enough.
On Monday we took on Pefki Gorge, particular for its rock formations, and memorable for its safety barriers which were both a novelty and utterly useless.
Tomorrow we’ll rest.
S is for sprickle.
Hairy paws attract sprickles.
These little sods are everywhere right now.
There are times when Polly appears to limp from all four paws.
We sit on the path and work it through.
They’re hard and sharp. They hurt us when we take them out and they hurt the dog when they’re in her paws.
She’ll often have five or more to a paw.
If she goes to bed with some still embedded she’ll manage to pull them from her paws, only to tangle them in her chops.
Timing is everything. The menagerie.
The cats and dog muddle along together.
The flying things that are pulled from the sky are played with by the cats until they stop providing fun, then left to die in the heat.
Every couple of days the cats cross a line and Polly leaps out after one and gives chase around the campsite, amusing the Germans, the dog and probably the cats too.
Just occasionally such a chase is fortuitous.
On Thursday evening as Polly sent MissC scarpering under the van and off down the gravel path there was a small plop sound where the cat had been lounging.
Minty explored and found this fledgling lying dazed and exhausted. It rested in shock for a few minutes before taking to the wing again.
Had it not been for Polly chasing the cat the chick would have been a toy.
I often talk of skeleton houses. This is what I mean. These may stay in this state for years, perhaps for ever.
One of the German vans left the campsite last weekend on the promise of being able to get off the island from Heraklion. He’s back today.
Greece’s borders remain closed, and are likely to until July.
Ferries are expected to start on Monday between Crete and the mainland. We’ll see.
There’s much speculation.
A scirocco is expected to drive temperatures into the 30s for a few days.
We’ll sit out the heatwave in the shade of our campsite before heading into the wild some time next week. After ten weeks the unknown campsite bill is mounting, but we’re hardly spending anything else so we should cope. Every time we ask we’re told “It’ll be a good price”. They’re good, hard working people. We believe them.