Chapter Two: The Prewalk.
Part Three: Chora Sphakion to Aghia Roumelli.
With special thanks to Alexander Stepanenko for allowing me to use his wonderful
You know how it is. Plan for something for too long and when the time comes to swing into action, you realise that you're an expert in planning, but your swing ain't what it ought to be! The next couple of days would prove just how daft I can be. That I had walked from Aghia Roumelli to Chora Sphakion before, had been enough to convince me that all I needed to do was turn up at the starting point, to be magically transported to my destination. The fact that I had been a fit 24-year-old when last attempting this walk (in the opposite direction from the one I was about to tread), and had treated my body and mind with far more respect than I was about to show it 16 years later, didn't for one moment occur to me. Whilst the following two days doesn't have any of the drama of the Velonado walk - or indeed the next instalment of this chapter, where a minor disaster was to strike - it was during this time that I learned, if I continued to treat myself to as many alcoholic drinks as I could swallow at night, I may as well forget the walk proper. Sobering thoughts, but in the meantime let the revelry recommence.
Tuesday the 6th of May 2003
This day was one that I had looked forward to for a considerable time. I
awoke in Chora Sphakion and on the agenda was the short walk to Loutro. I was up, washed,
dressed and raring to go, before 9AM; quite an early start for me. My head hurt, but I was
used to that, besides I was on familiar territory and this would be a dawdle, wouldn't it?
As I said in the previous part
of this chapter, Chora Sphakion is a rather small place, which surprises a lot of
people, as it is the capital of the whole region of Sphakia.
Not much of this town is that old either. Nazi bombing raids in 1941 didn't help, but the
area was seriously depopulated after the doomed uprising of 1866, when most of its
population of 3,000, abandoned their homes and headed for the Greek island of Milos, to
escape the wrath of the Ottomans. As a result, the town inevitably fell into
rack-and-ruin. Depopulation was a problem on Crete, generally, between 1830 (when Greece
obtained independence from the Ottoman empire, and the "Great Powers" ceded
Crete to Egypt!), and 1898 when autonomy was achieved. According to Xan Fielding in his
magical book - 'The Stronghold: an account of the four seasons in the White
Mountains of Crete' (Secker and Warburg 1953 OP), by 1900 "...Sphakia
was reduced to a mixed community of 500 fishermen and shepherds..." Over 100
churches were known to exist in the 19th century, giving the inhabitants the excuse for
"idle merry-making", once every three days, though it is
somewhat larger than the "one street" town that Fielding
encountered in 1952, and nowadays tourists can merry-make whenever they wish.
I looked across the bay to the kiosk which sells tickets for the boats
that plough their way to and from Loutro and Aghia Roumelli. I had never quite understood
why the West end of the bay had been chosen for the selling of these tickets when the
boats arrive and leave from the East end of the same bay. It's not a particularly long
walk between the two places, but if you are in a hurry, it doesn't help that you have to
walk the two or three hundred yards from here to get to the boat, especially if your
starting point is dock/car-park /bus-stop side, in the first place (somewhat likely!), as
you then have to walk it twice! It is not possible to buy tickets for the
boat, on the boat. Many a time I have watched this scenario
unfold; unsuspecting would-be passengers, act out a scene, seemingly taken from
Jacques Tati's sublime comedy, "Mister Hurlot's Holiday";
rushing to board the boat, then rushing to the kiosk, before finally back to the boat
again; occasionally, its wake! Fun to watch, less so to participate in! Thankfully the
majority of passengers disembark here, having walked the Samarian gorge,
but whenever a boat is about to leave, you'll see a fair few people dashing between these
two - too-far-away - places.
I made the decision to include - in my somewhat empty agenda - a long
and lingering breakfast. This decision had been made upon the discovery that I could read
the football results from the previous Saturday, whilst chewing the cud, coupled with the
knowledge that I could be in Loutro, well-within three hours after setting-off. I had
bought The Observer and settled down
with a fresh orange juice, a Greek coffee, a nes (a bitter way to start
the day), and an omelette. Problem was, there was only one thing that I wanted more than
to learn the football results and that was not to learn them; one result
in particular, scared the living daylights out of me! "My team" - West Ham
United - had been languishing in the nether-regions of the English
"Premiership", for much of the season, and now under the temporary stewardship
of Trevor Brooking (manager Glen Roeder had sadly suffered a brain tumour, a couple
of weeks before I left for Crete), had faced my least favourite team - Chelsea - the
previous weekend, in an absolutely "must win" match. So, I avoided for as long
as possible, the very section of this sizeable newspaper, I had purchased it for.
The news was stagnant; very little had changed since the previous week,
the last time I had bought this most excellent of newspapers; had I really been in Crete,
for only a week? I couldn't avoid the news from Iraq. I desperately tried to, but
couldn't. Besides, I was already avoiding the sports pages and had finished the crossword,
so I read the "news". I am reluctant to bring political opinion into my
travails. However, the ongoing situation in Iraq - the way that made me feel and the way I
was treated, as a British national, in a country wholly against the "war" -
deserves a few lines. You know me! Why write a few lines, when paragraphs are available?
I was to hear the words: "Doh-knee Mplaiyer einai malaga!"
("Tony Blair is a Spanish island!"), throughout the walk. Somehow this made
sense. Crete has a traditional left-wing leaning, and I was to try - in vain - to convince
any inquisitors that "Mplaiyer" is the leader of the Socialist
party of Britain. My tongue took on the shape of a fork and my nose grew to unprecedented
lengths during these attempts. Whenever I closed my eyes and thought of England, an image
of 10 Downing Street as a giant poodle-parlour, would spring to mind. A sure-fire way to
get the subject off "Mplaiyer", was to mention his master, the
'boy George' ("Enas para poli megalos malagas").
"Victory", professed George W to anybody who'd listen; and what a victory! How
the "coalition" had managed to defeat the Iraqi airforce - with its three
Sopwith Camels and a homing pigeon called Mustafa - with only the USAF, the RAF, Polaris
submarines and warships firing cruise missiles from the gulf, will forever be remembered
as one of the great feats of modern warfare. Rejoice!
It could be argued that the removal of Saddam Hussein had justified the
latest in a long line of campaigns to create a "new world order". There is
little doubt that absolute power had currupted Saddam, absolutely, but I was suspicious of
the motive and the means. Surely we can't be allowed to remove countries' leaders as we
wish, however despotic they may appear. This "war", had allegedly been about
ridding Iraq of "weapons of mass destruction" and not ridding
the country of its tyrant! The past year had seen the United Nations weapons inspectors
search in vain for signs of biological, nuclear or chemical weapons. None had been found,
despite a rather dodgy tape recording, produced(!) by Colin Powell, wherin a couple of
"Iraqi's" were heard to say such things as: "Oh no, here come the weapons
inspectors; we'd better move these weapons of mass destruction to a safer hiding
place". Yes Co-Lynn. Soon, you'll be telling us that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be
the next governor of California! No, that's just too ridiculous!
Tony Blair's involvement was somewhat double-edged. Some believed that
without his lip-service, Bush would have gone further than he actually did; that his
support for the campaign was essential to dampen the gung-ho attitude of Bush. Others -
including myself - took the opposite view. Had Blair not supported the invasion, Bush
would have been out on a limb and might not have gone ahead at all. There is no doubt that
Blair can give a passionate speech; the American President on the other hand can hardly
string two words together. "Human Iraqis" was the latest Bushism! It shouldn't
have been funny, but it was. That no "weapons of mass destruction" had been
found, had come as a huge surprise to me. Not that Iraq necessarily possessed any; the
"coalition" were duty bound to find some; wherever they came from. I remember
reading this article from the Observer, with a mixture of
merriment and cynical belief in its underlying message: Observer Comment Extra
look into the crystal ball? by Terry Jones. So far my cynicism has been
unfounded...so far. The UN had been circumvented and that sets a scary precedent; talking
of scary presidents, George W Bush has an IQ,
three points lower than a gorilla named Koko. Yes, I was surprised by that too, but maybe
Koko was having an off day!
Clarets and Blues
Serious issues such as these, were eventually put-aside, as I managed to
face the sports pages. Plymouth Argyle and Ayr United were the other teams that my father
had burderned me with, though I cared not a jot for their results that Saturday; they
would remain in their respective divisions regardless. I read the pro-celebrity golf
scores, followed by the fifth division Argentinian polo results (Boco Senoirs had beaten
Flamenco by a chukka or ten!), and studied the form at Ascot, before I could brave the
football results. Even then I worked my backwards through the Welsh (Porthmadog, TNS
Llansantffraid, not to mention Newi Cefn Druids) and Scottish leagues (Ayr United had lost
again...East Fife, Four - Forfar, Five? Not this time!), before arriving at Nationwide
Division Three...Two (go on you greens!)...One, and with eyes-a-squinty...the Premiership.
Yeahhhhhhhsssss! A loud shout burst forth, as I learned that my favourite
team had beaten my least favourite team, 1-0. A double whammy (we'd also beaten Chelsea
away from home earlier in the season, so a double-double whammy!). Oh joy! Football should
not have this effect on a 40 year old man; but it does on this one! My weekends are
regularly and ritually ruined by my team in claret and blue, and it is
rare moments such as that morning's experience that make supporting West Ham United all
worth the pure hell of it. The following Sunday would see me in Malia, watching West Ham's
final game of the season, live on television. Would we survive? Though the tension may be
too much to bear, you'll just have to wait; all will be revealed when I write up that
SJ's on the road again
I eventually gathered up my goods and chattels, and had a last wander
around Chora Sphakion. I wished I could have stayed an extra day here, but I had a
rendezvous in Soughia with Rex, on Thursday evening, and an hotel booked in Chania the day after that,
so I had to stick to my schedule. Besides, Loutro is another place
I really like and that was where I would be heading today. I looked up towards the road
that winds its way to Anopolis and smiled superciliously. I knew all the answers to the
questions that this walk posed; short, scenic and one that I had previously trodden,
arriving at a place I adored. Now, that's what I call fun! It was 11AM, so hardly
crack-of-dawn, but I wanted to get to Loutro for lunch-time and a Greek salad. I hadn't
yet decided where to stay, I would do that upon arrival, though The Blue House had
always been a favourite of mine. I had three litres of water in my bag, and my flask
contained a further 75cls, but I bought another litre and a half, determined not to be
caught short again.
There are some stairs on the North-West side of Chora Sphakion, leading
to the road. I climbed these and took a short break at the top. My body still wasn't used
to this vertical kind of walking, and I was a little out of breath. It's no more than a
twenty minute walk to the sign that takes you to down to Sweetwater beach
and another ten minute descent down to the coast. This is a nice pebbly beach. The name
"Sweetwater" derives from the fact that there are subterranean springs along the
beach which dilute the saltiness of the sea; if you dig below the pebbles, it is possible
to find little pools of fresh water. There are always a few naturists here and today was
no exception, with a couple lying in the buff, outside their tent. I made a point of
looking towards Libya. Why am I embarrassed by naturists? Surely they have more to be
embarrassed about...yes, maybe that's why! At the far side (West) of the beach, there is a
taverna of sorts, protruding from the sea. The taverna wasn't open, but I set up camp
there for a few sips of water and a few minutes of navel contemplation. Sitting on a rock,
I removed my rucksack and t-shirt, took my boots off and dangled my legs into the sea, all
the way up to my knees, keeping a close look-out for dorsal fins! I was wearing tracksuit
bottoms and had pulled these up, when it occurred to me that I could take them off. I had
pants on, which was more than I could say for the couple sharing the beach with me! With
extreme daring I stripped down to just these. Dangerous! I felt like a exhibitionist;
my heart was racing with this wanton show of bare thigh! The two nudists, some 100 yards
away, took no notice! I relaxed and thought about the day ahead. There was a sudden noise
behind me. Somebody was approaching! Panic! How had I not seen them? The path that I was
to walk was clearly visible. I couldn't be seen like this. It could be the police and here
I was, wearing just a pair of knickers! The noise got louder, someone was approaching
fast! The nudists took no notice. I scrambled for my tracksuit bottoms, pulling them up to
my knees, when I found myself staring into the face of a red-head with mad, staring eyes.
Rex? No, he doesn't have red hair! "Bahhh", said the red-head!
"Bahhh" agreed a dark-haired friend of his from just behind. I was nose-to-nose
with a goat or two. Goats usually run a mile from anybody other than their shepherd
friends. Not these two. I knew that they weren't sticking around for my charm and wit;
they wanted feeding. "Den eho tipota na faghei" ("I have
no food", I explained, in bad Greek). They ignored my protestations; once again my
Greek had let me down. My bag was open and one of my new found friends stuck his head
inside, whilst the other decided that my boots could be hiding something edible. Bad move
kid! If you can imagine a disgusted bleat, this is what the red-head now emitted, and off
they both shot, to frolic with the naturists, who took no notice.
The walk to Loutro takes around an hour and a half from Sweetwater
beach, and is a particularly enjoyable stroll. I met a dozen or so walkers heading in the
opposite direction; one of only three occasions, during the whole walk that this number
would be in double figures (the other two would be tomorrow's walk and the walk up the
Zakros "valley of the dead" gorge). The only incident worth reporting during
this period was that my 'phone rang.
"Hang on a second"!
"I don't have a 'phone!"
I had a lump of bakelite which used to have the facility to take and
make calls, but that was in my suitcase, and the suitcase was in a car some 25KMs
from here. It all came back to me. Just before Rex had become "zer beshtish fwriend a
man could 'ave", the previous night, Virginia had suggested that I take Rex's mobile.
I had placed his 'phone in my "bum-bag" and miraculously it was still there,
along with the recharge cable. "Rex's phone", I said. "Rex", said Rex.
"Just phoning to see how you're doing". Likely story; he was ringing to find out
whether or not I had taken his 'phone for a swim. "Fine mate", I replied.
"Glad to hear it", said Rex, "please look after my mobile" he added,
as if this were an afterthought. I carefully placed the 'phone back where I had found it,
and zipped the bag shut, patting the other side where my camera should be situated. The
camera was still there; even I am not that stupid, you'll be happy to learn.
Loutro (pronounced with the emphasis on the final o)
is a wonderful place.
The E4 sneaks-up upon it from the rear. There is a gate to pass through and then you are
in the heart of Loutro. I took the "other route" - as is my wont! - scrambling
down the side of a small hill and entering Loutro from its furthest Easterly extreme. I
passed through two tavernas/cafes before settling myself at the third for a lemonita. I
decided against lunch; I wasn't in the least bit hungry. I wasn't tremendously thirsty
either, as I had incorporated a new plan of action into my walking schedule which I was to
follow throughout the rest of the walk. As I closed in on an ultimate destination, I would
stop, sit down and drink whatever water there was left in my flask. The reason for this
was that I knew that if I were to arrive at a place, thirsty, I would neck a beer before I
were able to say, "akomi mia mpira parakalo" (another beer
please). This way, I'd get into town feeling relatively refreshed and without that
desperate look which had accompanied me thus far. One of my better plans.
I have no idea why I like Loutro so much. Chora Sphakion has far more
options open to the tourist, and I feel relaxed there too, but after about three days in
Chora Sphakion, I become a little stir-crazy. Loutro on the other hand continues to grow
on me whilst I am there. I had never spent more than two consecutive nights in Loutro, but
feel that if I were to, I would become an increasingly immovable object. So, where to
stay? I passed one of the two Porto Loutro hotels and then the Blue House, when I spotted
it. The Hotel Daskalogiannis,
had advertised on this web-site in the past and that was reason enough to stay there, but
an equally good reason was a sign informing me that it had internet access. Sorted! My
e-mail in-boxes were in desperate need of checking and I also needed to tell people about
the loss of my 'phone. A short talk with Pavlos (I am relying on memory here!), the
manager of the hotel, and I was booked-in. My room was on the second floor, and was large
enough to accommodate at least three Stelioi, but it soon had that
chaotic look that is a feature of wherever I lay my bag; its contents randomly scattered
all over! A lovely bathroom and a balcony were also made to look like a bombsite, within
seconds of my arrival. I now had a mobile phone, but I appeared to have lost my address
book. This had all the e-mail addresses of people that I had promised to contact. I must
have left it in the car with the Jennings novels. Oh well, not to worry. I had wisely set
up an "address book" on one of my mail accounts, which I could access remotely;
and you don't get a lot more remote than Loutro. There are no roads here;
access is by boat or foot only. One can drive around the three or four streets which Aghia
Roumelli possesses, but there is nowhere to drive here. Clicking and cheering noises
were coming from outside and I decided to investigate. The clicking was the sound of an
air-rifle being fired, almost directly below my balcony. The cheering was the sound of
three chaps as they encouraged each other to knock-out one of the street lamps. I almost
said something, but thought better of it; nobody else seemed to care, and I didn't fancy
being shot at, so instead I chose to go back downstairs and tap on a keyboard.
I asked Pavlos whether I could use the internet for an hour or so.
"Ochi" (No), was his response. "Ti;"
(Eh?). "I am afraid that our computers are down for a couple of days", I was
informed. Oh well, draw some, lose the rest; as we 'appy 'ammers say! I walked along the
beach, taking special note of the sign, which warns against topless bathing. I kept my
shirt on. I returned to my room, walked onto the balcony, and started Ian Rankin's
"Noughts and Crosses", with only an occasional clicking sound
disturbing the peace. As I had not eaten lunch, I decided on an early dinner and, as I had
not stayed at the Blue House, this was where I decided to eat. I asked the waiter for the
vegetarian options and was staggered at the choice. I was extremely hungry and had to curb
my enthusiasm to order everything that my principles allowed me to eat; choosing a Boureki (click for the recipe, just leave out the mince!), a Greek
Salad, Gigantes (Giant beans) and the obligatory plate of chips (just to prove how British
I am). Wonderful! Since leaving Argyroupolis, I had not eaten well. In fact since the
breakfast on that morning, I had only eaten the omelette this morning, a Greek Salad and
chips(!) in Frangokastello and whatever I had nibbled at in Chora Sphakion to sustain me
over the last four days.
View of Loutro from the Hotel Daskalgiannis
Another walking option from Loutro, is to take the winding and very
steep path up to Anopolis. This is a walk that I have never done; in fact Anopolis is one
of the few places that I have never visited on Crete, but I shall set that straight on my
next visit. I looked at the trail; clearly visible from Loutro and was quite glad that my
next day's walk was merely to Aghia Roumelli rather than up this path. I should have known
better. My memories of the walk I would retread the following day, were hidden behind
somewhat rose-tinted glasses.
...and a rather silly conversation. Click here to avoid
Pavlos informed me that there was to be football on the television that
evening. The tele in question was the large screen variety, situated outside the hotel. I
declined his offer to watch the match. The previous night's excesses were still weighing
on my mind and I had decided on an early night. I had allowed myself a beer and a bottle
of Siteian wine (a very nice red indeed), for dinner and that was surely enough. The
weather forecast suddenly appeared on the giant screen! I had to know what climatic
conditions I should expect tomorrow, hadn't I? Well, just one more then! "Tha
kanei poli zestei avrio!" ("Scorchio!", it would
be tomorrow; so no great surprise there!). Having drunk the "just one more
then", and before heading to my room, I bought Pavlos and myself a beer, just to
thank him you understand, and...of course...he reciprocated! It was 8.30PM by the time I
had finished the last of these beers...so perhaps a little early to head to my bed; I
offered to buy another drink for my host. "Ochi Efharisto"
("No thank you"), replied Pavlos. That he declined my offer, should have been a
signal for me to call it a night. I ignored the signal, and downed the latest arrival.
Pavlos bought me another drink and I was suddenly warming to the idea of watching the
football. Besides. it was my round! It was the first of the Champions League semi-final's
(first leg). These games kick off at 9.45PM local time, and that time was rapidly
approaching, so I may as well watch the first half. I had been hoping that a British club
would be involved at this stage of the competition, but that was not to be. Real Madrid
had knocked out Manchester United by a score akin to Koko's IQ to that of George W. Bush
(quite high in footballing terms), in the previous round; so I now transferred my support
to the Spanish team (sorry Real supporters, it was all my fault!). I had made friends with
a young Dutch boy, of about twelve years of age, who spoke better English than I, and knew
every player on both sides as if they were personal friends of his. A very nice and highly
intelligent young man this. He deserved a far better and less drunk pundit than I sitting
beside him, but he was stuck with me. That's life, me young Dutch! I bought a few rounds
for us. He was on coke and I beer, so our conversation was not entirely what it should
have been. I was fully aware that I had become a little "tipsy" (a sure sign
being that I couldn't say "tipsy", it came out as "chipshy"), but it
was the relative value of my friend's sobriety that was making the matter worse. All
following "quotes" have been summoned-up from the cobwebs of my
mind and may not be verbatim, but this is my life as I remember it, between the hours of
21.45 and 23.32 that evening. Real Madrid were playing Juventus of Turin. Real did what
they do best and attacked the Italians with gusto (he plays up front, but then again, so
do most of Real's side), and took a deserved lead through Ronaldo (way-hay Ronnie!);
however, they forgot that the Italians can soak up pressure like sponges, and that's
exactly what Juventus did, before scoring an undeserved equaliser on the stoke of half
time. Curses! The game was into the second half, and I was becoming a bit over-excited.
"Ghiaaao orn Carlos", I encouraged, "bloomin'
shtuff em, me ol' shun".
"They've slipped into a three-three-four formation",
offered my Dutch friend coolly.
"Gertcha", I agreed.
"The transparency of their system is exposed by the very
fact that they can't use the 'diagonal-cross-diametric-partitional' method of
'three-five-two' once they have conceded," said he next to me.
What?..." Er...Quawite, but whash abou'
the 'tu-tu, tu-tu, tu-tu, free' system", I asked with a degree of
difficulty, bordering upon the incomprehensible.
"Well, that would require the implementation of a new law
that allowed fifteen players to take the field assuming no goalkeeper", said
smarty pants jnr. (no gorilla would get one over on this chap).
"Yup, itsha floor", I agreed.
"Me ol' shun" Carlos, came up trumps with the winner, and with
Real going for the "tu-tu-tu-tu-free-for-all", system that I had suggested, it
could and should have been a lot worse for the Italians. 2-1 to Real it ended and I could
see no way back for Juventus in the second leg (of course they were to
find a "way back"; flawed again!). My singular Dutch friend left me, no doubt
thankful that I had taught him a new language; how to utter gibberish!
Wednesday the 7th of May 2003
Loutro to Aghia Roumelli
Once again I had a hangover. Once again I was annoyed with myself; not
quite the fury of the morning in Argyroupolis, but the relatively calm realisation that I
just couldn't - and shouldn't - allow myself to continue on this metaphoric slippery
slope, for fear of falling off a real one! Why was I doing this to myself? The answer to
this was in the planning. I had walked this walk so many times in my mind, that I believed
my feet wouldn't need to be involved at all. It was relatively early (around 9AM), so I
strolled around the town and ate breakfast at a wonderful place next to the Blue House. A
little patisserie, can't remember the name, sorry.
It was another hot one. The forecast were for temperatures in the shade
of around 32c (90f) with the following day destined to reach the giddy-making heights of
35c (96f). Upon my return, Pavlos insisted on my having breakfast at the hotel.
"Thanks, but I'm not hungry", I said truthfully. "Never
eat breakfast", I added superfluously and untruthfully, whilst flicking at crumbs of
evidence which proved the contrary.
He was having none of that and insisted on preparing me a sandwich for
the day ahead. I made a point of explaining my vegetarian ways, but he wasn't at all put
off by this, and proceeded to ask a member of his staff to make me a little something for
the road. What a nice guy. I returned to my room to pack, making sure that everything I
possessed accompanied me. The walk from Loutro to Aghia Roumelli is not for the
faint-hearted, or indeed the hung-over. At times the coastal path is a tad precipitous, to
say the least. My original plan had been to follow a friend's advice and work my way
inland, skirting the village of Livaniana, before heading back to the track, thus avoiding
the tiny coastal "villages" of Lykos (occ. Likkos) and Finix (occ.
Phoenix). I was nearing Livaniana, when it occurred to me that I really shouldn't be doing
any such thing. "Stick to the path you know", I told myself. I had wasted at
least an hour, by the time I got back to the coast. I hadn't brought any guide books with
me other than the Rough Guide, (which included a very brief description of the walk); why
would I need one? This was a path I had already trodden; however, I did wish that I had
brought "Crete: The White Mountains", by Lorraine Wilson for the walk that I
would be attempting the following day. Aghia Roumelli to Soughia is included in her book,
as is the one that I was attempting now. I had managed to circumvent the Roman port of Finix,
completely, instead finding myself at Lykos. There are three
tavernas at Lykos, all of which have accommodation should you wish to spend a night there.
One follows the route from Lykkos by climbing over a few rocks, just beyond the beach with
the tavernas; the path then heads inland before taking you above the bay of Mamara. This
is also the end of the Aradhena gorge; another walk I have yet to attempt, though this was
the gorge that I had wanted to come down when I'd set off on my circuitous route that
morning. Perched above the bay is a taverna, which I stopped at. A couple of nudists
bathed below (I looked towards the white mountains), as I drank a lemonita; they took no
notice. The taverna was pretty well patronised, presumably by those that had taken the
boat here from Loutro. According to the Rough Guide to Crete, there is accommodation
here too; I failed to see any signs; a feature of my walk throughout!
It's a long walk from Marmara to Aghia Roumelli; one that took me the
best part of four hours. It's quite tough too; the path follows the coast for the most
part, before entering a pine forest. This is a stunning part of the walk, as the path hugs
the coast - sometimes visible, sometimes not - rounding headland after
headland before emerging at a beach boasting a beautiful Byzantine church - Aghios
Pavlos (St Paul's visit to this island shall be typed of more, later). I remembered well,
the difficulty of crossing this particular stretch of coastline, from the last time I had
walked it. Sand dunes and large pebbles meet, neither of which are particularly easy to
walk upon. On this occasion, I was walking from East to West, and I would say that it is
far more difficult to walk in this direction than the opposite. The reason for this is the
very problems that the terrain causes, especially when one is already a bit tired. If you
are walking from Aghia Roumelli, this stretch is within three quarters of an hour of
setting-off, and once through it, the walk gets easier and more scenic. Walking in the
direction I was travelling, you arrive at the sand dunes, having walked for at least four
hours to get to this point, and from there it's a bit like ploughing through a snow drift
for half an hour. Firstly, one has to get down to the coast and that ain't easy, with the
sand at once propping you up and then propelling you down to the coast. Once there, the
pebbles look inviting, but by the time you have turned an ankle for the third time, the
sand dunes seem the better option, and so forth. This route is described in a number of
guide books, but the description in "Between the Seas" by
Christopher Thorne (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992 OP), best sums it up: "...the
next half or mile or so proved to be the hardest going of the entire journey. For my way
led past the red tiled church (Aghios Pavlos), and along a beach of fine
grey sand into which my weight of around 230 pounds (102 kilos), pack and
self combined (my own combined weight was some 50 pounds or 22 kilos less than
this!), sank deeply down. Even then I could find little purchase
for which to drive the legs for the next step forward. The sand began to lip over the high
ankles of my boots. The sweat began to pour down into my eyes, simply swamping the band
that crossed my forehead...". (Thorne was to discover he had lost seven
pounds -3 Kg - during this walk). My recommendation here would be "don't look".
That's half the problem. You can clearly see the ultimate goal; the end of the stretch of
beach. It looks to be a mere five minutes away, until you have been walking it for 15
minutes, when it looks to be a mere six minutes away. Remember, you will be walking for
some time, and forget that the end of this stretch is visible throughout. Look at your
boots and take it gently.
Mamara beach. Photo by Alexander Stepanenko
I needed a break after that hard work and so I headed down to the sea,
to give my legs a dangle and my mouth a rinse. I knew that around the next headland lay
Aghia Roumelli and felt pretty pleased with myself. Tomorrow would be far tougher and it
was important that I felt up to it. The alcohol that I had consumed the previous night had
taken its toll and I was still annoyed with myself at the way I had been mistreating my
body. I would arrive at Aghia Roumelli at around six o'clock, and I wouldn't have any
trouble finding a room, especially - as rumour had it - the Samarian Gorge had yet to open
for the spring. This was an unusually late start. The first of May ordinarily signals the
grand-opening of the longest gorge in Europe, but the weather had been unusually inclement
in Crete, during the preceding winter and early spring. I had been getting regular updates
from friends that live on Crete, for the previous few months. It seemed as if it had
rained every day and the reports I was receiving, were from very unhappy
residents. Most had just sat inside and watched from the dry side of a window pane, as day
after day it had teemed down. One had decided to come to England "to see a bit of
sun". One had threatened to build an ark.The weather forecast for today had been for
temperatures of around 32 degrees centigrade (90f), and I would guess that if anything it
had been warmer. I had got through a fair amount of water but still had over three litres
with me; I was confident that I wouldn't be seeing any rain during my seven weeks on
Crete. One day I'll take you into my confidence, just to show you how poor it is.
As I climbed back onto the path, a lady called out to me. "Get
lost did you?"
Lost? How could I have got lost? The path runs adjacent to the sea!
"No!", I replied, for want of a better
response. I hurried to join the small group she was a part of, and proceeded to tell this
lady my cunning scheme of "always stopping before I reached my destination
for a bit of r&r". I got the feeling she didn't believe a word I was
saying, so I emphasised the point all the more. (Just 'cause you're paranoid doesn't mean
they aren't all out to get you!). After about five minutes of this, we managed to change
the subject, much to our mutual relief. Somehow the name "Pendlebury" was
mentioned. John Pendlebury is my hero (much more of him later)! I
explained that there was supposedly a new book coming out on the great man by Imogen
Grunden, and also explained how I had brought with me the very limited edition of
Pendlebury's travel hints on walking in Crete, written in 1928, and published after his
death as an appreciation (more of this later too). We talked of the SOE, Patrick
Leigh Fermor and various other luminaries connected with the island, and I was
growing rather fond of this lady. I admitted to being tired; I was. The walk, all-in-all,
had taken over seven hours, though one of those hours had been lost due to me trying to be
clever, something I am not too good at - and a fair time was spent in immobiley gazing at
the utter beauty of my surroundings - I was glad that I had seen sense and returned to the
path I knew best.
My suspicion that the Samarian gorge was closed to the public was
confirmed by my new friend, who was not at all happy about it. She was planning to walk up
it (including those stairs that I couldn't manage a couple of years ago), the day after
next. As we crossed the gushing river that empties into the sea just East of Aghia
Roumelli, she mentioned how she had seen it a great deal more ferocious than this on days
she had walked the gorge. I looked at her with great respect, at the same time offering
her advice. I had been there, seen it, done it all before. This river would have been
great for white-water rafting, but I wouldn't have fancied wading through its source,
which was the gorge that she was hoping to walk up! I explained my plans for the coming
weeks, and she was very supportive, telling me that I must write about my experiences,
before some of the walks are bulldozed for good. As we left each other, she asked my name.
"Jackson, Stelios Jackson", I said,
trying to sound like Sean Connery.
"Yes, I have heard of you", she replied!
Careful now, dear reader! Well why not? My fame goes before me! All my friends call me
"a great walker"; or at least I think that's what they say!
"And your name?" I asked.
"Lorraine, Lorraine Wilson", came the reply.
Oh dear. I had spent the last five minutes explaining how to walk a walk
that I had previously failed, to a person who could have -and did - write a book on it! Now
I was face-to-face with a person whom I'd wanted to meet for so long and, all of a sudden,
I couldn't string a coherent sentence together. Quite possibly a good thing! We left each
other, with me trying to think of something interesting to say. Thankfully, I have a
number of friends who write guidebooks, and a couple of these had specifically said to
"say hello to Lorraine", should I meet her on my travels. But which ones? I
dropped names into the conversation like confetti, and hit the bullseye with one;
"Oh Marc, yes please pass on my regards",
said Lorraine. And with that, she and her fellow walkers headed off to their dwellings and
I headed towards the port, where I was quizzed by a couple of people - there to catch the
last boat back to Chora Sphakion or Loutro - on the walk I had just completed. I explained
it to them as best I could, but the realisation suddenly dawned upon me, that I had spent
half the day wishing that I had a copy of Lorraine Wilson's book for tomorrow's walk, and
now I had just met the great lady, without asking whether she may have a copy with her
that I could buy! I am so stupid!
Looking through my Rough Guide to Crete, I decided that
the hotel Livikon, was the place for me. The hotel was open, but I couldn't find anybody
to ask for a room. This wasn't surprising. As the gorge wasn't open, the owners of the
hotel were hardly going to be hanging around waiting for the crowds to arrive. I coughed
loudly, which brought on a genuine coughing fit. A lady appeared and gave me a "stop
it now" look, but I couldn't. I waved a hand in her general direction and
retreated back to the entrance. I attempted to swallow what was left of the contents of my
flask in an attempt to stop this fit, but couldn't keep its contents down. This lady now
watched as I spat water all over the hotel entrance; resuming my coughing fit with added
gusto (a striker for Real Madrid?). When I had recovered sufficiently to ask for a room, I
wondered whether I should. Dusty, sweaty lone-traveller, with tears in eyes,
water-drenched shirt and general shifty look about him, asks for room and is told that the
only place open is a stable. Jesus! What does go through my mind in moments like these?
"Do you have any rooms", I spluttered, wearing my best grin,
which no-doubt made me look like a maniacal axe murderer. "Of course",
came the reply.
Simple as that. I was shown to my room, which was clean and pleasant. I
suddenly remembered the sandwich that Pavlos' staff had prepared that morning. I don't
like to eat en-hoof (eating can be dehydrating and I could do without that), but the
following day's walk would be a toughie and I should make sure that I had food with me.
This was the perfect solution. My room didn't have a fridge, so I asked whether I could
leave the sandwich in the hotel's fridge. I was planning to be up bright and early the
next morning and was told that I could, and that they'd keep the kitchen door unlocked for
me that night, just in case there was nobody around to open it in the morning. Excellent
value! As was the room at €15.00. I showered and headed into town; a walk of 100
yards. Before eating I stopped off at the local supermarket. Yiannis Tzatzimakis runs
this place and is quite a character. I had entered with the sole intention of buying a
couple of bottles of water, but ended up with water ("leave now Stelios"),
pistachio nuts ("ooohh, these'll be handy"), a can (yuk!) of lemonita (as an aid
to swallow the sandwich that lived in a fridge down the road), an opened bottle of beer
(mmm Mythos), chewing gum, a packet of boiled sweets, a can of dolmadakia
(rice in vine leaves), a lemon (for the Dolmadakia), tooth picks (to extract rice from my
teeth!), a pair of flip-flops (for the walk!), a small cuddly toy (to emphasise that I am
exaggerating), and more good wishes than I knew what to do with. My intention had been to
head off for something to eat, but now I returned to place my booty in the fridge of my
hotel.The beer couldn't wait, so I downed it!
I ate at the Farangi restaurant that night; a very hospitable place. A
pasta was ordered, which came with meat sauce. I hate that when it happens. I make a point
of stressing my vegetarian ways, but at times, it gets lost in translation, or
pronunciation, and this was one of those occasions. I apologised profusely, as did the
waiter, who had heard me, but had yelled the order through to the kitchen; they had
managed to miss the word "salsa", (with tomatoes rather than
meat). I enjoyed a few sips of wine (half a litre!) and one further beer. It was to be an
early night this, though I wish I'd had something to help me sleep; a couple of beers and
a half litre of wine not being enough? Help was at hand as I was treated to both fruit and
a small bottle of tsikhoudia. "Efharisto" (thank you), I said.
I'm just a boy that can't say "ochi". I returned to my room at
9.00PM and read for an hour. Lights off at 10PM. I wanted to be up at 6AM at the very
latest. I lay there and fretted; firstly about the following day's walk - one of the
toughest walks on the island - then about the fretting. I had wanted to be asleep by now,
but I was incapable of shutting-down my brain. The last thing I remember that night was
the realisation that it had gone 1AM; there was no point in trying to get any sleep...for
once this "reverse-psychology" worked, as I promptly drifted off into a world
that would be improper to share with you!