Hanging out in our cabin on the ferry back to the mainland. We are solo now that Derek has left for home, and after a rough evening we seem to be settling in. We booked a cabin, even though it is a daytime ferry, and it was so worth it! The kids are snuggled into a bed and have discovered that there is a TV in the cabin, they have found Greek cartoons. I just had a shower on the boat and feel great after a night spent in a scummy bed at a cheap rented apartment.
We have been on Crete for the last 11 days, and for the most part it has been fabulous! We stayed in the top floor of a house in the tiny village of Kotsiana near Kissamos on the West side of Crete. Our hosts were wonderful and generous, they welcomed us with fruit, eggs, honey, olive oil and raki (the local drink), everything made by them. The house was huge. We had two big bedrooms, each with a balcony and a full kitchen. We marvelled at how they could rent out this huge beautiful space for so little.
The people in this region are super friendly and helpful. We befriended a local couple who run a shop near where we are are staying and stop in daily to chat with them. The honey they sell is the best honey I have tasted in all my travels and is made from a white thyme that only grows in specific places in the mountains and cannot be transplanted. We go through several jars while staying and Derek stows some in a suitcase to check on the plane on the way back.
Most of the time here is spent hiking and swimming at the beach. We decide not to travel back to the East side of the island to see Knossos, as we have seen so many ruins this month and we just want to hang out and enjoy nature.
Our first hike was Imbros Gorge, where troops from Australia and Britain escaped from the Nazi occupation during WWWII. They had to hike down the gorge and be evacuated to Egypt on boats from the harbour at the end. We arrived to sunshine and hordes of people, the major hike that everyone comes to hike on Crete is closed until May, so everyone has come here. Descending downwards I feel irritated by the sheer number of people passing us and who we are passing. The scenery is beautiful; however, and I try to focus that and not the people. The path roughly follows the canyon floor, but in places it diverges and I let the kids wander off on whatever path they want. They are enjoying the freedom, and scamper away like the goats we see along the way. There is a narrow slot section near the middle of the hike and we compare it to the slots we have hiked in Utah. The kids decide they prefer the Utah slots as they are longer and have more colour. The hike is 8 km one way and we stop at a taverna at the end to have a snack and something to drink. We had read that you could ask for a “taxi” ride in the tavernas back up to your car, for 3-5 Euros a person. Derek asks the guy in our taverna and he says “20 Euro”, Derek says, “Just for me?” and the guys says “one or four, same price.” We aren’t paying 20 Euro for a 5 min ride up the hill, so despite the rain starting to fall we head back up the canyon. I’m so glad we did, as the canyon was dead quiet due to the weather! We haven’t brought our rain jackets, as it was hot and sunny when we left, so we duck under thick trees every time the skies unleash a torrent of water. Z isn’t thrilled about the hike up, but is happier when we stop at a goat herders hut halfway and break out the chocolate. We make it to the top just as the icy winds blowing off the snow capped mountains really start up. The kids feel pretty proud of themselves and say they enjoyed the hike.
The second hike we did on Crete was from Sougia to the ancient ruin of Lissos. This was my favourite hike of the trip so far, but the day started off a little crazy as we don’t have GPS and the route to Sougia is not well marked. We ended up taking a few non-main roads and ended up driving along little paved tracks through tiny villages perched upon the hillsides. Crete has received more rain this year than they usually do, and the mountainsides have responded by sliding onto roads, the roads have responded by disappearing into a sinkhole into the abyss. So you will be driving along and suddenly half the road is gone and a little mesh net lets you know it’s gone, or a tiny sign, or a guy waving a flag that looks like a matador flag and you aren’t sure if he means stop or go as he is waving it. The other thing you encounter is half the road is covered by a landslide and is either roped off, or there is machinery trying to clear it and you have to sit and wait for them to notice you and move before you can safely pass. We ended up on some roads so narrow that I’m not sure what we would have done had we met an oncoming car. This isn’t an issue though, as we are in the middle of who knows where and the only people around are old men sitting with their coffee and staring at us as we pass by.
So back to the hike to Lissos. We arrived at Sougia 2 hours later than we would have if we had managed to find the main roads; we know this because we drove home on the main roads and it was much faster! We park and walk to the mouth of the canyon, passing by a small port, turquoise blue waves slamming into the retaining wall and shooting spray into the sky. The kids comment that it doesn’t look like they will be swimming post hike as the waves of the sea are way too high today. The hike winds it’s way through a canyon, up through a pine forest onto a plateau and then descents steeply into a sheltered valley where the ancient city of Lissos is located. When we reach the overlook on the plateau, before descending into Lissos, we marvel at how beautiful the location is. Lush green grass and flowers line the valley, Olive trees grow in ancient terracing and the crystal blue water laps at the mouth of the valley. The valley is surrounded on three sides by towering cliffs, and the fourth side is the ocean, so very contained and defensible. Z hasn’t realized, until this point, that there will be a steep climb back out and she is not happy with us. We carefully pick our way down the cliffside path and are welcomed into the valley with the wonderful aroma of wildflowers. We find a picnic table in a meadow and sit to have lunch. A very hungry and aggressive cat soon joins us. This is where I learn my lesson about feeding hungry stray animals, as the cat, in his desperation for food, takes a chunk out of my hand. I quickly rinse it out under the spring, but realize I have no disinfectant in the first aid kit. (I end up later googling chances of contracting rabies on Crete for two hours! Turns out there is apparently no rabies on Crete). My hand hasn’t even gotten infected so I’m all good! I probably haven’t learned my lesson though, because I’m a sucker for cute hungry cats.
The last gorge hike was a bit of a failed attempt at hiking Topolia Gorge, unfortunately the rains have caused a huge washout in the gorge and we decided to abort halfway through as we were scrambling over huge boulders and I wasn’t sure of the stability of the land we were clambering over. We went back to the start and hang out in a taverna on the waterside with hammocks. The kids had a restful swing in the hammocks and we enjoyed some food.
We also spent a lot of time at beaches on Crete. Our favourite is Elafonissi on the southwest side of the island. Our first attempt to get there was in a one hour drive along the coast to find the road was washed out, we returned and went to the local beach to beachcomb instead. When we finally did make it to Elafonissi, we were smitten. The first day we went, it was early in the morning and no one was there. We hiked out the beach and across the spit to the island. The island houses sand dunes, some ruins and a small church. We climb the cliffs up to a cave and I burst into tears after reading that this was a cave that the Turks slaughtered 150 women and children in the 1850’s. I imagine their fear as they realized there would be nowhere to escape to! The kids slide down the sand dunes into a crystal blue cove where they swim. I wade in but the water is icy cold so I don’t make it far. The sand here is pink from tiny crushed seashells. We return to Elafonissi 2 more times on the trip and find that the water in the lagoon is much more pleasant. The kids and I wade and swim in the shallow lagoon, and enjoy the clear clear water.
The local beach has some neat terracing, creating tide pools. The water here is too cold and wavy to swim in the couple times we go here. The kids enjoying collecting seashells and they pile them on to a rock near where we are sitting. When we get up to leave, we realize that several of their shells have walked away! We discover hermit crab occupants in most of the shells so have to leave them on the beach, to Z’s dismay.
We spend one day exploring the shops and Venetian harbour in Chania and note the huge contrast between how touristy it is, and the quiet area we are staying in. We all prefer the place we are staying.
Greek Orthodox Easter occurs while we are here, and our hosts bring the kids a basket full of red eggs that they have dyed and some Easter bread and cookies for us. There is a tradition of tapping the eggs together on Easter, and the person left with the uncracked egg has good luck for the year. We stumble on a Friday evening ceremony in our travels to find an ancient site one evening, and fully intend to go to the Saturday night mass, which is supposed to involve burning Judas and fireworks.
A couple hours before the Saturday events, I try to lift a screen on one of the doors, and don’t realize how much tension it is under. I press the release latch and am blinded by pain as the screen whips up and the handle catches my head. I’m sure I have split my skull open and howl in pain. Derek comes in and his face goes white as he says “holy shit.” I’m not bleeding but a goose egg is rapidly rising from my forehead and I feel like throwing up. He goes to see if our hosts are home for ice, but they are out. We put wet cloths in the freezer and alternate them as they warm up. The kids, meanwhile, have thrown on their pyjamas and crawled into bed. We intend to just have a nap and then head into town for the 11 pm service, but everyone falls asleep and we miss it! We are disappointed, but hope to come back to Crete again in the future, so maybe we will see it one day!
The other notable thing we did here was visit the ruin of Polyrrhenia near sunset, again arriving there much later than intended due to getting lost on the winding roads. It was stunning to walk through the wheat near sunset and follow the narrow footpath to the top of the mountain. The views were stunning! T started sneezing and coughing as we walked neck high through the wildflowers and wheat and I commented that I thought she might need an allergy pill. She kept insisting that she isn’t allergic in between her sneezes!
We were sad to leave our lovely house and Achilleas and Marie, our hosts. They insisted that we come back and handed us a 1.5l bottle of their olive oil and raki to take home with us. (Raki is the local drink made with the fermented grape skins after they are used for wine). I sent these home with Derek, who has had to purchase a suitcase to take the gifts home as well as all the stuff I don’t feel like we are using in our packs. I have got the kids and my packs down to the bare essentials now! Derek dropped us in Chania and headed off to catch his flight.
We get to our room in Chania and no one is there to greet us at the agreed upon time. I phone the number on the door, no answer. I call again in 15 mins and she answers and tells me the room is not ready, but I can go up and leave my stuff. I climb the narrow creaking stairs to the top floor and find a room in disarray. I’m not comfortable leaving our stuff here and she wasn’t clear on the phone so we sit and wait. As we wait I check out the reviews on the place and wonder how I didn’t see these reviews before. We wait 1.5 hours while I try and decide whether to stay or bail. She finally shows up and starts to clean, she tells us to leave our stuff, so I grab the valuables and go for a walk with the kids. We come back in an hour and she is still cleaning, so we leave again. When we come back later, the room is cleanish, but the blankets have clearly not been washed in a long time. I tell the kids to crawl into the sheets and not rub their faces in the blankets. I barely sleep due to the imagined itching from tiny bugs crawling over my skin.
We are now on the ferry and on our way to Athens. We are off to Kalambaka tomorrow, which we were supposed to do by train, but have found out that the trains will be on strike. Looks like there are 6 busses a day, so will be trying to catch a bus instead.