Explore
Navigate
Home
::Stelios Jackson's walks
interkriti:the E4 and other Mythical Trails-by Stelios Jackson
A diary of events of the trials and tribulations
of a lone walker, in his attempt to cross Crete
from Kato Zakros to Kissamos...
Home Chapters History Boxes
Chapter Two: The Prewalk.
Part Two: Kato Rodakino - Chora Sphakion
With additional material from Rex Anderson
With special thanks to Alexander Stepanenko for allowing me to use his wonderful pictures.

Sunday the 4th of May 2003
More rude beginnings
I lay there, eyes firmly closed, gently massaging a tender spot somewhere beneath my blanket. I opened an eye. Rex raised an eyebrow. Deciding not to ask, he instead headed for the bathroom. It was morning, but it had been when I had gone to bed! I had managed a little under six hours sleep since hitting the hay at 2.45AM.

"You alright mate?", Rex asked upon his return, eyeing me suspiciously. "Fine", I replied - perhaps a little too firmly - "just making sure that I still have legs, that's all!". I had awoken without any feeling of discomfort in my limbs. This had come as an extremely pleasant surprise, but my initial delight, had been replaced by the creeping fear that I may be paralysed from the waist down! These disporate emotions -within two seconds of each other - just about sum-up how my brain works!  It had been with mixed feelings therefore, that I discovered that a sharp poke in the thigh region had been greeted with an immediate knee-jerk reaction! "Ouch!" Yes, my kneecap still hurt a bit, though quite a bit less than I'd thought it would and that was the part of me that I had been gently and skilfully manipulating when I'd opened my eyes to the world and Rex. I swung myself off the bed and tested my abilities in the "walk across the bedroom" department! Well, I certainly knew that my legs had had a bit of exercise the previous day, but other than that I was feeling jolly well and, for some reason, ridiculously pleased with myself.

Rex had woken soon after my arrival at our room at around 02.30 that morning. I vaguely remember having tried to babble at him, but Rex had just been happy to see that I was still alive; any great detail of my day could wait until later that morning. It was now later that morning and I seized the opportunity, proceeding to tell the tale of the previous day's journey in gory detail. We set off for breakfast. No; Rex set off for breakfast. I had only got as far as Alones in the story as my friend silently slipped out of the room. I joined him at the breakfast table. He had ordered a mixed-plate of dead animals for two persons, one of whom was vegetarian! (Greek is not one of the languages in which the boy is proficient, so I immediately forgave him this oversight...well, after a few minutes anyway). I watched as he ate and resumed my traveller's tale. Poor Rex. On-and-on I rambled - much like the previous day's hike - before the realisation that I had been monopolising the conversation struck me momentarily dumb! "I'm sorry mate, how was your day?", I asked, magnanimously!

So, what had Rex been up to during the monumental calamity that had been my first walk? Well, I had been correct in thinking that he had been worried about me during my epic journey the previous day, but I'll let the boy type his experiences for himself:

Rex types his mind...

There can be few more pleasurable experiences on earth than driving in an open-top car along the back roads of Crete: the sun beating down, virtually no traffic, breathtaking scenery, no particular place to go. Not that I’ve got anything against walking. I love walking. What I don’t love is hills. That’s not strictly accurate. What I don’t love is hills going up. Even then, I’m not opposed to a little hill-walking, but the length of Crete and with Stelios? Whatever he may tell you, the lad is fit…and single! The last time I walked anywhere with the boy had been the day before when we had made our way back up from lunch in a taverna in lower Argyroupolis via a very circuitous route of his choosing to the main town. He does prefer the road less travelled. I had to take a 15-minute break, while my heart found some blood to pump back into my brain, before tackling the last couple of hundred yards to an early beer.

My two tasks that day were straightforward. Find an Internet Café in Plakias and then locate Vardis in Kato Rodakino. The first was simple enough. Plakias is a pleasant little resort to walk around and it has a bright bar with a couple of computers. A light lunch and a rapid perusal of my e-mail later, I was on my way again, sun still beating down, and by mid afternoon I was driving past the gates of what appeared to be a very classy hotel and down to the group of tavernas at the end of the coast road. I marched into the first one and made enquiries. A very healthy looking man with a shock of grey hair told me: “Is not this bitch. Is other bitch.”

Approaching the imposing gates from the other direction I saw that they led not to an hotel but a bar. Here I was informed that Vardis would be back shortly and would have a room for us. I settled down with a beer and a book to soak up some more sun. Vardis, a cheerful young chap, duly appeared and we were soon registered as guests. I moved some of the luggage and returned for another beer. It was by now about the time the Jackson should make an appearance. Instead a car drove up and out poured Adam, a friend, with a New Zealander and a couple of girls he had picked up on the way. We had some coffees and beers and I started checking my watch and the road in a more concerned manner. I had expected the walking half of my party to arrive around 4.00. It wasn’t that great a distance. Given the fellow’s propensity for exploring virgin terrain, I could stretch that to 6.00. It was now after 7.00. In an hour or so it would be dark.

I went and spoke to Vardis. He took me to the side of the bar where we could get a clear view of the mountain. He pointed. “My brother and I have ships in these hills,” he said, confusingly. I turned to the bay behind me. Surely a more appropriate place to keep ships. Then the coin dropped. Sheep. He meant sheep. He told me how they regularly walked the hills to round up their ships. They could walk the path from Velonado in four hours. Someone who did not know it would take six hours. It was very easy to follow and, at this time of year, there would be plenty of walkers. If my friend had fallen, he would soon be found. “But,” he said, “he should never have gone into the hills without a cell phone. Nobody walks in the hills without a cell phone.” I wondered how those English travellers, Pendlebury and the rest, had ever survived with only cleft sticks for sending messages.

Adam agreed that there was little we could do at this time. If we set out to find him, we would soon be lost in the dark. I got quite friendly with the New Zealander, a carpenter who was seeing Europe in the traditional Antipodean manner of drifting with the wind. They would rent a couple of rooms for the night then set out to find the wanderer first thing. Meanwhile, a conference was taking place around my friends hired car. My New Zealand friend went to find out what was ‘going down’. He returned. “Apparently we’re going to Plakias to find somewhere to stay there.” Without any further explanation, the party climbed back into their transport and drove off into the twilight. It must have been something I said!

Vardis had no food at his bar so I walked the mile or so up the coast road to the “other bitch” where I enjoyed a very good moussaka-like meal with a carafe of wine. I ambled back about 11.00, had a last beer and decided on an early night. I figured that if my missing friend had found a phone he would have called me. He may have fallen but there was nothing I could do about that until morning. More likely he had decided to camp out on the hillside. I collapsed. I didn’t know it then, but I was suffering the early stages of a mild sunstroke.

Sometime in the middle of the night there was a pounding on the door. There was Vardis with Lot’s wife, a pillar of salt, out of which emerged Stelios.
Rex Anderson.

Now, that's what I call writing!

Rex finished our breakfast and we bade a fond farewell to Vardis, thanking him for his wonderful hospitality. I promised to return one day and I shall! I can remember where the hotel is situated but can't share its name with you, as I once again failed to collect a business card. Rex was to drive me up the road to Kato Rodakino. Cheating? Perhaps, but I would gladly have stayed there the previous night if it hadn't been for the need to find my friend; so justifiable cheating. Rodakino is famed in Cretan memories as the place where the revolutionary flag of the Greek war of Independence had first been raised on the island, in 1821; but is perhaps better known for another - later - slice of history. My journey had only just begun, but before we left Koraka I looked seawards and paid silent homage to a group of extraordinary men; for somewhere along this stretch of coastline, the final leg of a hair-raising odyssey through Crete, had occured some 58 years earlier. A group of Cretans and Allied soldiers, accompanied by a single reluctant Nazi, would later be immortalised in the book and film 'Ill Met by Moonlight.'

History Box Nr 1 - Ill Met by Moonlight

"At times we almost ran, our route taking us up and down steep gradients like a madman's switchblade and before long we were feeling pretty exhausted...we were unfortunate to find no springs and streams in our path..."

W. Stanley Moss describing the journey to Rodakino from Vilandredo - not far from Velonado with General Kreipe a reluctant participant - in his book,  "Ill Met by Moonlight"
"Ill Met by Moonlight"
On the April 26th, 1944, the divisional commander of the Nazi regiments based in Herakleion - one General Heinrich Kreipe - was abducted by W. Stanley Moss, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Manolis Paterakis, Antonis Zoidakis among others. This was the propaganda story of the war, capturing the hearts of millions at the time and - thanks to the publication of Moss' diary of events 'Ill met by Moonlight' - millions since. First published in 1950 - and still available in a Cassell reprint, the book was later made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde as "Paddy" Leigh Fermor and directed by the wonderful team of Powell and Pressburger.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was already an expert in offering generals directions off the island! The year before the Kreipe abduction, he had managed to spirit-away the leader of the Italian forces on Crete. General Carta (pronounced with an Italian accent and not as in Jimmy Carter!), had been a willing party - the Italian forces having capitulated, he wanted to escape the island - and so this new operation was to be a whole different kettle of fish!

Kreipe had been abducted close to the Villa Ariadne - erstwhile home of Arthur Evans at Knossos - just outside Herakleion, where he had been living at the time. Now for the tricky part; Kreipe's abductors had to negotiate a dozen or so check-points - with Leigh Fermor wearing the General's hat! - before they could get their captive out of this sprawling city (nowadays Greece's fifth largest). There were to be a number of "close shaves", before this small band of brave men managed to escape Herakleion and with the General their prisoner, walked South-West across the island to the beach at Rodakino (Koraka bay) - via Anoghia (Anoyia) and Psiloritis (Mount Ida) - finally boarding a boat to Egypt on May the 15th, some 19 days after their journey had begun.

This is a truly wonderful story; full of tales of derring-do, but it was not to be without its repercussions. The plan - conceived the previous year - had been to abduct Kreipe's predecessor; the loathed General Muller (occ. Mueller). British Intelligence - The Special Operations Executive (SOE), based in Cairo - had reported that Muller had left the island for the Dodecanese. The SOE had been wrong! Muller had replaced General Brauer as Festung Commander of "Fortress Crete" (Nazi command); in other words, he was now the top Nazi on the island. Now based in Chania - merrily goosestepping around Venizelos former dwelling, which he now occupied - Muller had been responsible for killing 100s of innocent Cretans and sanctioning a policy which stated that for every Nazi soldier killed, 10 Cretans would lose their lives. Kreipe filled the vacancy left by Muller's promotion. "One General was as good a catch as any other", was Moss' viewpoint. Can't say that agree with that statement. All things being relative Kreipe had been a saint compared to his predecessor. Now back in Herakleion - the Nazi HQ for this region was at Archanes - Muller proceeded to do what he did best and what he did best was pure murder!.

The poster below, written in both German and Greek, was an attempt by the British to distance any Cretan involvement in the capture of General Kreipe, as they feared the reprisals that the Nazis were likely to carry out.
The text reads:
"General Heinrich Kreipe, was taken prisoner by British officers, without any assistance from the Cretans. General Kreipe is already safely away from Crete, held in security."
Ignoring allied claims that the Cretans had nothing to do with the operation to abduct Kreipe (see picture), Muller set-about executing villagers and destroying villages such as Anoghia. The destruction of villages such as Yerekari, Smiles, Vrises and Kerdaki, were also on Muller's "hit-list", though some believe that the later destruction of villages in the Amari valley came too late to be connected to this incident.

It's not for me to question the rights and wrongs of this operation, but I shall! Was it all worth it? Did the end justify the means?

Ample evidence was available at the time as to the atrocious lengths the Nazis would go to - by way of reprisals - but the British had gone out of their way to distance the Cretans from any involvement in the abduction. This didn't stop General Muller in exacting revenge in any way he saw fit, saving his worst atrocities for the people of Anoghia, as they had been, in his view: "...the centre of English espionage in Crete". Muller (in a leaflet to the people of Anoghia), makes it quite clear that at least some of the cause of his wrath was due to the Kreipe abduction: "...and since the abductors of General Kreipe passed through Anoyia, using Anoyia as a stopping place when transporting him, we order its razing to the ground and the execution of every male Anoyian who is found within the village and an area of one kilometre around it" (General Muller from "Crete: The Battle and the Resistance" (C:TBATR), by Antony Beevor, published by Penguin). So why does Beevor - in an earlier chapter - say of the reprisals: "...this is a canard"; apparently contradicting his own quote from Muller? 

For sheer propaganda purposes, the mission was a total success. Manoussos Manoussakis (an important member of the Allied intelligence operation, based in Chania): '"Everybody felt taller by 2 centimetres the next day... (the day after the Kreipe abduction) ...out of 450,000 Cretans, 449,000 claimed to have taken part in the Kreipe operation...", indicates the immense pride aroused' (Beevor, C:TBATR).

Whilst I have my reservations at the rationale behind the abduction, the operation was a success in exactly the area that it set-out to be, i.e. undermining Nazi (and therefore boosting Allied) morale; and this should be taken into consideration by those wholly against the operation. Also, both the Cretan and British participants were extremely honourable men. Moss had to be controlled in his over-enthusiasm - he later planned to abduct Muller in the same way, which would have been a somewhat madcap mission - Sandy Rendel (a radio operator when his radios' weren't being given the same treatment as my erstwhile mobile phone'!) and Leigh Fermor, all come-over as true British gents. Both Moss' and Beevor's books are essential reading.

Adam Hopkins in his excellent book - "Crete, its Past Present and People" (sadly out of print) - in the chapter 'The Pity of War', say's that the event  "... raises questions, which few cared to face clearly at the time...", though he also points out - quite rightly - that to show no resistance to the Nazis would have been untenable and most certainly against the character of this island nation. "If there was to be a resistance at all, its success would inevitably be measured in blood and flames. The Cretans have always known this...".

If the book Ill Met by Moonlight comes across as a touch "boys-own", it has to be remembered that this is a publication taken directly from Moss' diary and whilst there would have been some serious copy-editing, alterations and additions, it is still essentially just that: a diary of events as seen by Moss and not a misty-eyed reminiscence.

Kato Rodakino-Frangokastello.
My planning period had allowed me a couple of choices for the next trek. I had thought that I would easily be able to get to Chora Sphakion from Rodakino, though staying at the half-way-point of Frangokastello was a contingency that I had allowed for. The advantage of the Chora Sphakion option - via Frangokastello but not staying there - was that it would allow me an extra day to spend doing absolutely nothing. I had three such days planned for the walk proper (I called these 'Dopey days'; "Dopey" being one of the many - and one of the more polite - nicknames that I go by!), and I particularly liked the idea of an extra night in Loutro, a place where I always feel relaxed. Now, as I thought about the days ahead, the presupposition that I could "easily make" Chora Sphakion from Rodakino, had to be amended given my experiences thus far. Rex had already decided to stay with a couple of friends of his in Frangokastello. Silvia and Costas run an hotel just behind the Venetian castle. I had never been a great fan of Frangokastello, finding the place pretty one-dimensional, but I had never spent the night there, and if Rex was staying at Frangokastello, so was I; my decision had been reached.

The walk to Frangokastello from Kato Rodakino, is all a bit of a blur. I can remember arming myself with enough water to float a small boat and heading-off Westwards, but after that, very little else. I was later to drive the road I had walked and I was surprised at how long and winding it was. The later drive proved a couple of things to me. I already knew that I headed down to the coast at some stage, re-emerging onto the road at Skaloti - East of Frangokastello - but where had I taken this path? As the road heads Westwards and upwards from Rodakino and a couple of kilometres before you reach the village of Argoules, a track heads south and takes you down to the sea. I do remember thoroughly enjoying that particular part of the walk. I found a river, veritably gushing-forth and spent a great deal of time watching it do just that. There are a couple of nice stretches of sand along the coast down here; mostly secluded, though a few parked cars were to give away that these beaches are not entirely unknown. The river I had found crossed a road and formed a small waterfall (more of a "water-drop" of a couple of feet, if truth be told - caused by a rut in the path and gravity - but to me it was the Niagra Falls), within which I frolicked for another inordinate length of time. I had a sudden fascination with water, not entirely unconnected with the experiences of the previous day, methinks! All in all it took me four and a half hours to get to Frangokastello from Kato Rodakino, but at least half that time was spent idling in one way or other.

Frangokastello

Thanks to Alexander Stepanenko
for the picture of Frangokastello's castle.
It was 3.00PM when I reached the castle of Frangokastello.  Built in the 14th century by the Venetians in a fruitless attempt to quell the Sphaks (the people of the region of the "white mountains" known as Sphakia), this castle is well worth a visit.

Directly opposite the castle there is a taverna with a sprawling bar containing a  spread-eagled eagle - "taxidermed" with extreme prejudice - which, rather disturbingly, hovers within. I entered the taverna "Kriti" and ordered a Lemonita and then another. I watched as people ate and drank, and luxuriated in the thought of being able to join them in this nose-bagging (eating), if I wished. I did not wish. I wanted to find Rex, ensconce myself in the hotel and have a siesta.I had no trouble finding Rex's friends' place. The hotel Milos, is situated adjacent to a very nice sandy beach, just South-West of the castle. I was shown to our room and there was Rex, plucking! This is what he does in private moments, and sometimes in public too! Rex can play any number of stringed instruments and had brought a "travel guitar" with him. These small, classically strung guitars made by Martin and Co. in the USA, are the perfect answer for those travelling light who may wish to entertain themselves. I make very bad sounds indeed with guitars, whatever their spec. I learned this at an early stage of my musical development; people just leave the room as soon as I pick up - or even look at - a guitar. Rex on the other hand, can play rather well. "Rather well", wasn't how my friend looked, however. There was a sickly hue about him. "What's up, mate?", I asked. "Sunstroke", was the answer, albeit in a somewhat early stage. I informed Rex of my intention to have a kip and suggested he do the same. I am far too selfish to remember whether my friend took my advice, but I most certainly did. An hour of refreshing sleep later, I was fit enough to wander down to the beach and test the water. I always look forward to swimming in the deep-blue ocean until it comes to the time of putting thought into action! Whenever I get this close to sea-water an orchestra strikes-up in my head; crazed violinists screech-out refrains from John Williams' 'Jaws' and I more often than not, decide that my toes can be immersed, but no more of me than that. Pathetic? I know it!

History Box Nr 2: Frangokastello- "A bit of history"
Frangokastello - "A bit of history"
Two separate revolutions reached their sad conclusions here: In 1770 Yannis Vlachos - better known as "Daskaloyannis" or "teacher John" - started an uprising in the White Mountains. This was an area -and people - the Ottoman-Turks had never quite conquered. Wild goats, wilder mountains and even wilder men, were - and still are - the make-up of this inhospitable terrain. The Sphaks therefore, had a degree of autonomy, not afforded to other Christian Cretans. They also had their own ports - Loutro and Chora Sphakion, to name just two - and their own fleet. The Russians - who were helping the general Greek cause for independence in the Peloponnese at the time - now offered Daskaloyannis aid in the event of a Cretan insurrection. The uprising that followed was brutally quashed, leading to Daskaloyannis' surrender at Frangokastello castle. Despite pledges of amnesty from the Pasha of Herakleion (then 'Candia'), Daskaloyannis was put to death, the following year. I will not dwell on the details of his execution - there may be children reading - but needless to say, it was rather gruesome!

In 1828, another uprising against the Turks (there would be quite a number more before Crete - in 1898 - was "allowed" autonomy by the 'Great Powers' of the time - Russia, Britain and France - and even after that, further uprisings were necessary before union with Greece was finally achieved in 1913). This was part of the general war for Greek independence, led by Hadji Michaelis Dalianis - from Epirus in Northern Greece - and it was as a result of this revolution that the legend of the "drossoulites" (dew shades) emerged.

And "emerge" is exactly what these shadowy creatures do each year. Ghosts of the 385 men (mostly mainland Greeks), trapped within the castle and slaughtered by the Ottomans - themselves losing at least double that amount of men - walk around revelling in the pure joy of being dead. This happens every year; usually in May.

"Drossoulites", most certainly do exist, but these shadows of former selves, are nowadays more commonly thought of as mirages brought on by particular climatic conditions. These are scientific and unromantic times, and I would rather believe in the ghostly past, but sadly lack that most powerful of all deceivers; imagination!
Memories of things past:
As an eight years old, I'd swum off the coast of Tolon (then a small fishing village; it's a far bigger place now), on the Argolid; the thumb on the hand, that is the penisular of land known as the Peloponnese, in Southern Greece. I remember feeling a nick on my inner thigh. Ignoring it, I continued swimming for another hour or so. When I eventually surfaced beach-side, a little girl of about my age, pointed at me and screamed. I would grow quite accustomed to this response from females of all ages in later life, but this was before the onset of puberty - and the "ugly pills"  I insisted upon taking - took their hideous toll. I most certainly hadn't merited this response! "Typical girl!", I remember thinking. "You'd never see a boy behaving in this shameful manner". However, following the more specific direction that the girl's finger was pointing, I glanced down at my right leg which was bright red from the inner thigh down. A gaping hole three inches long and half an inch wide had replaced the bronzed skin that I had expected to see.  The girl's screaming ceased, or at least it had been replaced by a far louder and higher pitched variety of noise, which surrounded me and appeared to be coming from my mouth. My mother, whom had been sunbathing (it was good for you in those days!), now came over and tried - in vain - to console little Stelios. We were "too far from a hospital", according to my parents (wasn't there one in Nauplion, just up the coast?), so I couldn't get my wound stitched and I have still have a scar - three inches long and half an inch wide - on my right inner thigh to remind me of the experience. But why am I telling you this?

Well, my neurotic fear of sharks should never have been allowed to come about. The wound had been caused by an anchored boat that I had swum under; the propeller of the boat was turning ever-so-slightly, and I had just caught it with my leg. It had not been at-all painful, I remember; just a slight pinching feeling. I was to see the film 'Jaws' at the age of 13 or 14; some five or six years after the Tolon episode. Sharks can smell (so we're told!), blood from miles away, diluted to one part in millions (we're told this too!), and I had been pumping out a river of the stuff into the sea for an hour or so. If any animal in the water had fancied lunch I had been advertising my presence - much like the smell of frying onions attract football fans to a burger stall - for long enough to attract those swimming off the coast of Libya! No interest whatsoever from the finny ones, so why I feel that every shark in the Med will flap their dorsals in my general direction as soon as I immerse myself into its depths is beyond me, but I suppose it only goes to prove how illogical fear can be.

Anyhow...I returned from the beach and read my book. I tend to read factual material when I am at home, so whenever I go on holiday I take the novels that I had been meaning to read in the interim period. Having not been away for two years, I had a lot of literature to catch-up on, and our car had a small library - containing about 30 novels - in its boot. I always start-off with what I would call "unchallenging reading". Not Jeffrey Archer or the like - his novels are more unreadable than unchallenging - no, Ed McBain, James Herbert, that kind of thing; well written but formulaic stuff. This year I had regressed and decided to re-read a couple of novels from my childhood, so had taken two "Jennings and Darbishire" novels. For those of you that have not had the pleasure of Jennings' and Darbishire's company; you haven't lived! Written by Anthony Buckeridge, this is PG Wodehouse for children, or the child within us all. I know, you live in Outer-Postelthwaite and it's far too embarrassing to read a children's book on the tube, bus or train, isn't it? Well, just hide a copy of a Buckeridge novel in the latest 'Harry Potter' and other passengers will never guess that hidden within the paperboards of Rowling's latest deeply philosophical treatise, you are sneakily hiding a children's book!

Rex and I had decided to eat at the hotel taverna. Despite my siesta, I had wanted an early night, and so it was that we sat down by a seaside table at 7.30PM. A waiter came to our table presently and I asked for a litre of red wine, in Greek. ("Ena kilo kokkino krasi, se parakalo" were my very words.) "English!" our waiter said, in English. "Yes", I replied in Greek. ("Nai".) Our waiter gave me one of those looks! "I don't think he's asking your nationality", Rex said. Is my Greek that bad that I can't ask for a litre of wine in the language of my mother? Oh well! "A litre of red wine", I said in English. The waiter looked at me blankly and a silence followed. "Rot wein", proffered Rex, breaking the silence. The waiter looked at my friend blankly. "Kokkino Krasi" I tried my Greek again. Nope! Jesus! "Wine" I whined, no longer caring which colour or variety it appeared in. Blankness stared back at me! "Vin rouge", it was Rex's turn. Ah, that worked. Our waiter left us and returned five minutes later accompanied by a woman. Had we asked for a woman? (had the waiter read my mind?). We both had a desperate look about us - we usually do - but that was more due to me wanting a drink and Rex's sunstroke!  (No, if he could read my mind, then where was the wine? Phew!). "Sorry, what did you ask for?" the woman asked. Our waiter had needed an interpreter! Were Rex and I incapable of being understood by anybody other than each other? "Could we have a litre of village wine", I pleaded, choosing to forget that this particular tipple was on my "leave well alone" list. "Certainly", replied our interpreter and passed this information onto our waiter in a language that I didn't understand but later learned to be Bulgarian.

We should have ordered food there and then, but didn't! The wine came and the staff disappeared, evidently believing that this was all we had wanted. It was growing darker by the minute and becoming somewhat chilly down by the waterfront, so after 3/4 of an hour, Rex and I moved closer to the kitchen and tried to attract the attention of the staff within. The Mary-Celeste had been veritably over-populated when it had been found, compared to the current head-count within the kitchen. We sat and sipped;  I experienced the feeling of deja vu! A German chap sat at the table opposite ours. It was now 8.45PM and I was becoming irritable "No chance of him getting fed", I muttered to Rex, just as three waiters emerged from the kitchen. An opportunity to order. We seized it! We drew the same waiter as before out of this melee and he was still incapable of understanding a single word we uttered, but he was giving it a go and so was I. "Vegetarian", I said pointing at myself. "Hortofagos",  I said in Greek. Rex's German and French vocabulary weren't quite up to this word, which I doubt he'd ever use even if it were, so I attempted a mime; you try miming "vegetarian"! A new interpreter was found and he explained that my options were chips and a Greek salad. And so it was that I ate chips and Greek salad and watched Rex devour whole fish in one go. "Down in one, down in one", I would have said, but I was having a serious "sense of humour" failure, so I ate what was in front of me and headed to our room to sulk in private. Jennings and Darbishire cheered me up and I took the opportunity of an early night. It was 10.30PM.
Monday the 5th of May 2003
I awoke at 8.00 the next morning, feeling thoroughly rested and up for anything, especially as the "anything" I was "up for" that day, would be the short walk to Chora Sphakion. I like Chora Sphakion, but my opinion of Frangokastello had altered. Surprisingly, this was on the positive side (and that opinion would improve even more on my subsequent re-visit to the same hotel). I realised that our disastrous meal the previous evening, had most probably been a "one-off" and a great anecdote opportunity; I may even write about it one day!. The sun was shining brightly and I decided to take a trip to the beach and dip an ankle or two in the water. I was growing bolder by the day! I had finished both of my 'Jennings' novels so invaded my library, picking out "Gates of Fire"  - a novel about the battle of Thermopylae - by Stephen Pressfield and "Noughts and Crosses" by Ian Rankin (both of which I'd recommend). I would need a couple of novels as Rex wasn't coming with me to Chora Sphakion, or for that matter to Loutro, or even Aghia Roumelli; my next ports of call. Rex's friend Virginia was coming to meet him in Frangokastello that evening, and the plan was to team-up again at Soughia, in three days time. Virginia lives just West of Chania, which would take her a couple of hours to drive from, and seeing that she hadn't started her journey yet I decided I couldn't wait-around for her arrival. Impatient I am, I know it. Bad trait, I know that too!
Frangokastello-Chora Sphakion
I said "chin-chin" to Rex - who looked at me, baffled! - "So-long", I translated, promising him that we would share special moments soon. This was another walk with very little to report. Not the "blur" of the Rodakino-Frangokastello trek, more of a "nothing really happened" type of walking experience. By now I had fully expected to be struck by meteorites or lightning or...well, I am sure you get the gist! I followed the coastal road West out of Frangokastello and after about a quarter of an hour, the road veers North. No surprise there. According to the maps, there was a path - the E4 - to the West (left),  before I reached a junction in the road. So, keep it nice and steady, look out for this path, and don't reach a junction in the road. I reached a junction in the road! Doh! Never mind, at least I knew where I was going; a signpost clearly pointed in the direction of Chora Sphakion and so I decided to stay on this, the main road linking Frangokastello with Chora Sphakion...

There are some marvellous villages on this particular stretch of road, which climbs inland before hugging the coast at a considerable height. The locals were friendly too. Say what you wish about Greek xenophilia (friendship to foreigners), but when have you ever passed a pub in England - or anywhere else in the world for that matter - with a group of 20 men of varying ages sitting outside, all wishing you a good journey? This happened to me at two kafeneia along that stretch. Firstly in Aghios Nektarios and again (though with fewer people) at Vouvas. A simple "Ghiasas" ("hello") was all it took to illicit such response, which was a unanimous "kalo dromo" ("good road", or "good journey"). I didn't stop at either place, despite the offer of a coffee from one of those gathered at the first kafeneion; I'm a touch shy I am afraid and I was already looking forward to reaching Chora Sphakion - a place I knew well.
Approaching Chora Sphakion
This would be my eighth visit to Chora Sphakion. Six of these visits had been as a direct result of walking down the Samarian gorge and once - two years before - when I had attempted to walk up and down the gorge in a day. I failed in that attempt as I just didn't have the time to get much further than Aghios Nikolaos (a deserted village an hour or so walk from the top of the gorge), and return between the first and last boats to Chora Sphakion. If truth be told, by the time I had reached the bottom of the gorge again, I was more than a touch exhausted and doubt if I could have struggled up - and then down - the wooden stairs that for most walkers signal the start of their great descent, down the longest gorge in Europe.

Another reason for looking forward to reaching Chora Sphakion, was that I would now be in familiar walking territory. Back in 1987 I had decided, that having descended the Samarian gorge, I would continue to walk from Aghia Roumelli to Chora Sphakion. To that end I took an early bus to Omalos in the white mountains, booked a night at one of the hotels there (the "Nea Omalos" I think, but I could be wrong), and walked up Mt Gingilos that day. The following day I awoke early, heading down the gorge in what surely was record time (why I felt the need to break records is now beyond me and I am assured that my time of three hours and a bit would not have placed me in top ten-thousand that year!), with not a soul in sight. Staying at Aghia Roumelli - where the gorge ends - that evening, the following day I headed for Loutro, spending the night there, and on to Chora Sphakion the next day. This had been a superb walk and one that I would highly recommend. The gorge itself had been reasonably straightforward, do not underestimate it though; the walk from Aghia Roumelli to Loutro relatively tough (though reaching and spending the night at Loutro had been a delight), and the final walk to Chora Sphakion had been very easy. Now I was to repeat this walk, albeit in the reverse direction and slightly more weighed-down in the rucksack department.

As I neared Chora Sphakion, I was a happy-bunny. Just before Komitades (where the allied troops were brought during their evacuation in W.W.II before heading down to Chora Sphakion, where some of them would manage to escape the island), I looked Northwards and remembered the time I had walked the gorge which ends here. The Imbros gorge, is an easier walk than the Samarian gorge, but attracts far fewer than the 3,000 visitors a day who walk the latter during the "high season" and it's a very pleasant walk. Komitades survives - at least as far as tourism is concerned - because of the gorge, and a host of new hotels and eateries have sprung-up to feed and accommodate the people who walk this gorge (there is also a place to stay at Imbros where the gorge starts if you fancy making this walk more than just a day-out (follow above link); alternatively you can get a cab from Komitades up to Imbros, before walking back down). Another recommendation would be to ignore these new glossy hotels and eateries and stay and/or eat in the village itself - a couple of hundred metres further West - which has some lovely-looking, traditional places.

There is supposed to be a track taking you off the road and into Chora Sphakion. This is marked on maps as part of the E4, but if it exists at all, I failed to find it; though I can't say I made a tremendous effort to do so. A further forty minutes walk took me into the heart of Chora Sphakion, making this walk a three hour one in total. For the capital of the region of Sphakia, this small town is just that; small! It's also somewhat reliant on the traffic created by the Samarian gorge walk, with many people choosing to stay the night there and get the bus back to wherever they were stationed on the island, the following day. A fine idea.
Chora Sphakion

Thanks to Alexander Stepanenko
for the picture of Chora Sphakion, taken from the West.
This is Erno territory. Erno is the webmaster of www.sfakia-crete.com, which is the best area-specific website that I have seen to any area of Greece; and that area is Chora Sphakion. I had met up with Erno - after a long period of communication - a couple of years before this trek and after the two-way attempt on the Samarian gorge. Sadly Erno wouldn't be in Crete for another week or so; so a meeting wasn't possible (no flies on me, eh?). I would be alone, but that suited me. I am a loner by nature. Erno had recommended a hotel and I was tempted, but knowing me, I would choose that night to wet the bed or set fire to the place - or both; one possibly counteracting the affects of the other? - so I decided to stay elsewhere; somewhere I could make a fool of myself anonymously. My choice was the hotel 'Samaria'; A thoroughly nice place to spend a couple of days this, right in the heart of Chora Sphakion.

I enjoyed a beer (Mythos), at the hotel's restaurant - or the one next to it - and decided that I may as well eat there that evening too. Rex and I had enjoyed a meal at this very nice taverna two years before and again I wasn't disappointed. The waiter (Stelios!), was a fabulous chap (as are all we Stelioi!). Hailing from Bulgaria, we spoke a mixture of English (of which he was fluent) and Greek (of which he was fluent!), a far cry from my previous experience of Bulgarian waiters' linguistic skills! As I was about to head back to my room, I spotted a short bearded type. Spitting-image of Rex was this chap. There was a woman with the hirsute one. Spitting-image of Virginia was this woman. Coincidence? Surely not. I wandered over to where they were seated and peered into the face of the hairier of the two. Thankfully it was Rex; had it not been I would have been greatly embarrassed, as before being 100% certain, I had planted a kiss on the man's beard and was closing-in on the woman with lips puckered. Rex and Virginia, for reasons I still haven't quite worked-out, had decided that they too would eat in Chora Sphakion that evening. As Rex was to be the designated driver for the evening (an evening-off the hooch was necessary thanks to his sunstroke and he would be driving back to Frangokastello),  he was forced to watch as Virginia and I drank raki to his health; to Virginia's  health; to my walk; to our waiter Stelios; to Rex again - "my bestest friend; to "Daskaloyannis" (the person); to "Daskaloyannis" (the ship which shuttles her way between here and Aghia Roumelli); to Rex again, by now "zer beshtish fwriend a man could 'ave."

Rex and Virginia left me to my own devises. It had been great to see them; to know that somebody cared for me. Life was great and I was in love...with everybody. I found my room - after a lengthy period of confusion as to exactly where it was - placed a box of matches safely out of reach of idiots, and spent a very long time "powdering my nose", before I went to bed!



Stelios Jackson's sponsor :
The Hellenic Bookservice - Britain's Greek (and Latin) bookshop. Est. 1966
© Stelios Jackson & interkriti

CityCar Rent A Car
^TOP







Navigate | Explore
Contact Us
Your gateway to Crete
©interkriti.org 1996-2017
Top