Crete, October 1997
Party members; Chrissy, Odette and Nicky
Package tour:- Cheepo one
Purpose of our trip:- Walk the Samaria Gorge, generally relax and have fun, and find a few minor caves.
Caves visited: Gerani (entrance)
Panagia Arkoudiotissa chapel cave
St. John the Hermits cave
Zoniana Cave (show cave)
After a three and a half hour flight from Bristol we arrived at Iraklion. We were staying at Gerani, 6km west of Rethymnon, where funnily enough, there was a cave marked on the map.
Our hotel/apartments (self catering, with a restaurant on site), were fairly isolated, 1km walk from the sea, and beside a small gorge. The village of Gerani was just a short walk on up the hill.
Day 1: Local exploring. Up at 8.30, bread and jam for breakfast (cheepo holiday), and then down to the beach to snorkel. Pretty fish. Watched a Kingfisher fly back and forth across the bay. Also watched Sandpiper and Ravens. Looked at Gerani Cave entrance, which was gated and locked. Evidently it had been vandalised a few years ago so was shut. Lit candles in tiny chapel near the beach.
Went back to hotel for the standard meeting with the 'Rep'. We were well plied with Ouzo, which of course was disguised as lemonade, so sadly for our bank balance and good for the 'reps', we gaily found ourselves not only booking the Samaria Gorge walk, but also Scuba diving and a Greek evening out. We also hired a car. Oh well.....roll on adventure!
Off we walked up to the village to buy our supplies. Then explored the village. There were plenty of small streets to wander around. An old lady was standing in a doorway and she invited us in. Even though we could not speak each others language we had a merry conversation and met the family. They fed us with cinnamon biscuits with holes in the middle. We admired the framed photographs of the family on the sideboard and asked if we could take a photo of them. The lady disappeared for a couple of minutes and came back with her address, written in Greek. Politely we said our goodbyes and said that we would send her a photo. On we walked up through the village and into terraced farmland. There were huge Oak trees with massive acorns. After collecting pocketfuls, we spied a cave, and clambered over a couple of fences and a wall to have a look. It was not much more than a rock shelter with a tiny phreatic grotto and a large skull. There was a concrete block wall around the entrance.
Day 2: Scuba Diving. 7am start. Bundled some egg sandwiches in a bag and Nicky and I went off to the diving centre in Rethymnon. A coach took us directly south to Skinaria on the Libyan Sea. The roads were very wiggly and remote.
Skinaria was a lovely small bay with a sand/shingle beach. After kitting up in our wetsuits it was snorkeling time. The Autumn weather was looming and although it was hot and sunny the waves were picking up for a storm. This made the water a bit murky, (the worst this season).....we then did our scuba training and with the help of an instructor...in my case holding his hand, (well he was rather scrummy!), I managed to get underwater with a few minutes of panic at the start. It was pretty good - he operated my boyancy belt, and I looked at the fish etc.
Later that day I had to go exploring to see if I could find a cave that I had seen from the coach, just up the road. Sneaking over farmland, just in case I was not welcome, I reached the large limestone rock with the cave. It was a big phreatic hole right through from one side to the other.
Back at hotel we picked up hire car and took it for a spin up to the village, to learn how to dodge lorries etc!
Day 3: Walking and caves. Drove to Akrotiri Peninsular, via Chania. In Chania we had difficulty finding the road to the peninsular, so we resorted to doing it in our own way - me driving - Odette doing hand signals - Nicky hiding with embarrassment. Big problem with old lady in black crossing the street - she froze to the spot - did we go through her bandy legs? - is she stuck to the grill on the front of the car? We were on the right road - no time to check!
On the peninsular waiting for us was a prickly pear cacti......we needed something to eat! After robbing the plant of fruit, we zoomed off into the distance chomping merrily (occasionally spitting out wiggling maggots) - we were hungry! - cheepo holiday remember!
Visited Agia Triada Monastery. We wrapped our sarongs round us to hide our legs - we forgot that we were buxom babes with walking boots! What a site - we took our teddies too! The monks loved the teddies. The Monastery was in the process of being renovated. Beautiful marble floors, blue ceilings with gold stars. Tasted some Raki that the monks had brewed and bought a bottle.
On we drove to the start of the walk at Moni Gouverneto. Had lunch (bread and sardines) - shared it with a few cats.
The walk follows an ancient path, originally made by a hermit in the 11th century. He founded the islands first monastery, Moni Katholikou. It is a steep path, of a mile and a half, passing caves, the monastery and then finally gets to the sea.
The first cave, about 10 minutes down the path, had a chapel in the entrance dedicated to Panagia Arkoudiotissa. It had a large chamber with a bear-shaped stalagmite in the centre. There was a small passage that went for 50ft at the back of the chamber. Nicky and I popped on our head-torches and grovelled through the low sections, dragging the teddies along for a photo shoot.
On we walked down to Moni Katholikou. To the side of the path was another cave. This one was where St. John the Hermit was buried and had a shrine on his grave at the end of the cave. On went our head-torches again. The cave must have been 300 feet (I'm not very good at measuring distances). There was a rope to help us up the very slippery, muddied stal slopes. There were wonderful stalactites and stalagmites etc., totally ruined by mud and smoke. We had a photo shoot with the teddies and slave units....strange things happened....the photos were spooky.....my teddy, (named Crete) went missing....we pretended to photograph the ghost of the hermit......and we got a strange blob on the photo!
After about 10 minutes Odette decided to go back, so we kept in contact by singing opera of a sort - totally unaware that there were a couple of Germans at the entrance. Nicky and I went on to the end of the cave where there was a cross on the grave and a little shrine with some fresh flowers.
Back we returned singing merrily, only to find that we were not singing to Odettes' light, but the Germans! Odette had lent them her torch! Mind you they soon gave up and came back out.....I expect that ghost spooked them!
The ruin of the monastery was the next thing to visit, just down the track. The colours of the stone and the limestone rock face were a beautiful hue of pinks, terracottas' and greys. There was a scramble down into the gorge below, which led on down to the sea and rocky coastline.
Day 4: Nidha Plateau and Idaean Cave. The weather was very windy and unsettled. We drove east through mountain villages towards the Nidah Plateau, stopping at Agios Mamas for a drink. Five old men saw us park and came across their garden offering us some Raki. We declined their kind offer, but one came over to us, and in his drunken stupor insisted that we tasted some of his lump of pork, lamb or goat that he had in his grubby hand. As he was wielding his knife in all directions, we tasted some. Thanking him, we thought that it would be better to escape the village and find somewhere else to get a drink. He obviously like our company, refusing to let us get into the car. Nicky and I zapped around the other side and leapt in, leaving Odette to politely remove the chap, (who was now almost stuck to her!) We zoomed off around the corner, leaving Odette to run like hell after us. (The chap was too old and too drunk to run!)
We spent the next half hour laughing till we cried, at the same time raiding another prickly pear bush.
By chance we passed a show cave - Zoniana Cave. It was very pretty. The guides gave us some posters and were very friendly.
On we drove through villages selling lace. Stopped at Anogia to have a good browse. We were getting nearer to the heart of the mountains. The weather was very cloudy and chilly. The drive was beautiful. The shrubs were turning red in the Autumn chill. There were beautiful rock formations as we wound around the now very stony track towards the Idaean Cave. We prayed our tyres would not get damaged as that was the only part of the car that was not insured.
It was so cold when we neared the cave and parked that we put on our thermal long-johns. (Just the thing every beach babe carries on her hols to the sun!) Well wrapped up, it was just a short walk to the cave entrance. It was just a huge mouth, 60m high. A broken fence with a locked gate, surrounded the top of the slope, so we climbed through and walked down the steps that led to the bottom. A large flat area at the bottom had been archaeologically dug, presumably to find relics from the time of Zeus, god of gods, who was raised in this cave from babyhood. Rhea, the mother of Zeus, had hidden him here to protect him from his father, Kronos, who seemed to have the habit of eating his children! The cave has had at least 3,000 years of people worshiping there.
Well cold, it was time to head back, retracing our drive. In one village an old lady held on to our car, and we all shook hands with her. Her face was so crinkled it could have been made into a jigsaw puzzle. Her hands were leathery. We chatted in our own languages about anything and everything and then happily parted.
That evening we walked down to the beach - there was a gale blowing!
Day 5: The Samaria Gorge? Gales all night......blowing rain into our rooms....assured the night before by the Rep that the Gorge walk was on.......
Got up early to leave a 7.45am.......It was absolutely chucking the rain down......the coach arrived late and we were TOLD that we could only do the Gorge the lazy way...from the bottom to the narrow part of the gorge. We were very disappointed, as, if the Rep had let us do the walk the day that we had wanted, when the weather was good, instead of telling lies that there was no public transport, so she would get commission for her coach trip, we would have achieved the aim of the holiday.
Any way off we went across the mountains to the south coast and the village of Hora Sfakion. The sea was calm this side of the island....a vast contrast to the north coast, with massive waves. It was still bucketing down so before boarding the ferry, so we decided to make ourselves more waterproof and bought black bin liners to wear as skirts over our thermal long johns....we looked great ....we thought!!! We sailed round to bottom of the gorge and the rain still pelted down. Our first stop was the Taverna, in the hope that the rain might stop before we walked up the gorge as far as we could.....and if it didn't....if we has plenty of Ouzo, we wouldn't notice!
It still rained, so off we sploshed alongside the roaring, angry river, listening to the boulders rumbling and scraping as they got dragged towards the sea. The huge cliffs of the gorge had loads of caves pockmarked in their sides, but they looked pretty inaccessible. Not far up the track a Ranger was guarding the entrance to the gorge.....nobody could go any further. It was far too dangerous.
We went back to the Taverna and worked some more Ouzo down......oh well, we did have a raucous time.....so did the teddies...they were glad to have their rain hats off and meet the other tourists!
Just to sober up a little before catching the ferry back, we wobbled to the river mouth, which was more and more angry, belching a huge brown trail far out into the sea. Climbing over the strange shaped sea defences was good fun.
Back on the ferry, we studied the coastal path that we would have walked along, on the second day of the walk, had we done it when we wanted to.
Day 7: Rethymnon and Greek night out! Today, needing some exercise rather than catching the bus, we walked to Rethymnon. Only trouble was - there were no footpaths to speak of......just a track for a mile and then dual carriageway. After a good start, with Nicky twisting her ankle, (just in site of the people who were catching the bus). We dragged her up off the ground and told her that she should try to walk normally (as we were walkers and ruffy tuffies and had to keep our street cred high!) Poor Nick, tried hard until we were out of sight.....then the ankle started swelling......tough we said, (as she had been warned about her footwear)!
We passed some small limestone rock faces and skanked about to find an interesting small stone to take back home. Then satisfied with our finds, we headed down the dual carriage way, teetering on the edge so as not to get flattened! After a few kilometers, with Rethymnon in view in the distance, we came across a small gorge by the traffic lights where the road left the dual carriage way, to Rethymnon. After watching some birds of prey circling over the gorge, we thought that we would see if the track down the side of the gorge would take us the quiet way to Rethymnon. It led to a chapel. What a find! The chapel was covering a cave entrance, and the back room of the chapel was the cave. Considering that we had just had a noisy hours walking along the busy road, this was a haven....magic.
Once we arrived in the town, we explored the old streets and stuffed our faces with pita bread kebabs.....yummy.
On finding the bus station to catch the 4pm bus that left at 4.30. We had to be ready at 5pm to catch the coach to Axos for our Greek Night Out.
Unsuitably dressed (as I was to find out later!), we arrived at Axos, walked up the road to the Taverna and were given a glass of Raki - sensibly we gave ours to the plants! There were quite a few coach loads of tourists, and we sat on long tables for our meal, which was good.
Then the music began....first with a couple of traditionally dressed Greeks playing bazookas - two girls and three men danced for a while and then dragged up members of the audience to join in. It was quite fun for a while as we danced, linking arms, in a large circle. I sat down for a bit of a quiet time...in fact I was making sure that I was well hidden from any of the Greek dancers, as I didn't want to be hauled up on stage like people before.........wrong move.....(should have hidden in the toilet!).......out of all those people in that room, a Greek male dancer came our way....I shrunk even smaller and felt sure he would grab Odette......but no!....he passed her and grabbed my hand.....eeek......thinking that there would be more people chosen, I trotted up obediently......and the music began.....eeek......where were all the others...oh no!....we were doing a duo!!!!!.......what the hell was I to do...copy him I suppose...so I did......ooooh errr.....I hoped it would be over soon......he then, as we were turning and wiggling, whispered to me to jump round his waist....what....I thought.....I whispered back that I would be far too heavy for him......he said...."get on with it"...so I did! With my legs wrapped round his waist, he started twirling round and round....I let go (he told me to), and before I knew it he was going so fast that I thought we were going to take off!.....my arms went back, couldn't do anything about it....and sadly my dress headed up past my waist....I wished I had put a better pair of knickers on!!!!!........
The dance ended with a twirl and the audience cheered and clapped like mad......I was their hero..... how awful!!!!..........Even though it was a night mare I at least thought there would be some photos......no chance...Odette an Nicky were laughing so much they forgot!!!!
This whole episode then fuelled the advances of a traditionally dressed Greek man of at least 80 years. I had to dance with him. His idea was to do the helicopter thing with me. Now in the swing of things I leap round his waist - sadly he was wearing his Greek knife in it's sheath.....I was well and truly stuck....hooked onto him.....I had to be rescued...Odette hauled me up and unhooked me. Even more sadly, he then decided it was his turn, and he leapt round my waist.....crunch....my back went but I could not get him to understand that I was in agony.....Odette to the rescue again!!!
The biggest disadvantage of the evening was that all the old men on the coach leered and winked at me all the way back to the Hotel...yuck!
Day 8: Our last day! We packed up and vacated the room....It was sunny! Nicky decided to be a babe at the pool.....Odette and I went for a walk. After asking at reception about footpaths up the adjacent gorge...and the receptionist not understanding why we even wanted to walk......we decided to navigate ourselves. If we walked up the hill to the village, perhaps there would be a way into the gorge from there. The road curved round and sure enough, through the Olive groves, it wound down to the gorge. After watching a beautiful green lizard for a while, the only way onto the dry river bed was to climb over a barbed wire fence. There was a footpath....well a goat track. Sometimes it was hard going through the thick, prickly scrub. The bird song was abundant. We were in the perfect, get away from it all place......not a soul about...well, I wonder why! We glugged the rest of our drinks down, and for a short moment wondered if it was even worthwhile taking our bottles back with us.....in front of us was a huge pile of rubbish, as there seems to be all over the island. Never have we been to such a filthy country! Any way sense prevailed and we packed the bottles away in our ruc-sacs.
When we were below the hotel, a hole, high in the limestone cliffs tempted us. We decided to climb up, as it looked easy. A few scrambles later, the holes revealed nothing more than a small rock shelter. Giggling, as we could see the unsuspecting "babes" enjoying the sun on the other side of the gorge. We climbed up the rest of the rocks.
Back at the hotel we were asked where we had been. "Up the rock face over there", we said...........they sank down into their sun beds and wondered if we would ever be serious!
With just a few hours left before flying home, it was time to explore the limestone cliffs down at the bay. There were a few phreatic holes and rock shelters - quite fun scrambling around looking.
The holiday was good fun, good value and Crete is a lovely island......but what a shame about the rubbish.......message to the Cretan Government......clean up please!