I am writing this post in the courtyard of our air bnb accommodation in the village of Siva in the centre of Crete.
Where is that you may ask. Any Cretans who asked where we were headed next also asked that question. Well if you go to Heraklion and then head due south you probably still won’t find it on a map (it is on Google Maps). I am looking up at Mt Psiloritis, the highest peak in Crete at 2,456m (8,057ft).
It is a very small village of probably no more than 30 houses, a little like Dyke in Scotland but the surrounding countryside is totally different. However, we will update you more on the heart of Crete in our next post.
We left Chania on Saturday after a very pleasant week in the town. We walked around as much of the town as we could but tended to follow “local rules” of avoiding the worst of the very high temperatures we encountered. Get up early and walk before the heat became too intense or leave it until later, we never found that it got particularly cool until much later, like after our bed time.
There was one walk that we could not apply those rules to because it involved a very early departure by bus (6:15am) and a late return (around 8:30pm). It was the walk down the Samaria Gorge which despite the term DOWN, was still a strenuous outing with a combination of heat in the last section and a rough track underfoot for a signifcant part of the track.
The bus ride up, once dawn broke, was spectacular with a climb from sea level to 1,250m (4,101ft) at the start of the gorge which at 16km, is Europes longest.
The initial overwhelming view is of the White Mountains (Lefka Ora) which dominate the skyline at your starting point. The inital descent is fairly short and sharp with the track being steep with numerous switch backs. At this point it is very good to be going down and in a relatively short distance you are in a dry riverbed (I am sure it carries plenty of water in winter and spring, the evidence certainly suggests that) which you mainly follow for the rest of the gorge. I will let the pictures do the talking on the gorge itself but, it is always disappointing to review your snaps later because they seem to fail to convey what you saw with your own eyes.
It was a fairly routine descent, no dramas, you cannot get lost as that would involve some very serious mountain climbing skills which neither of us possess. At the exit of the gorge you still have a few km to walk to reach Aghia Roumeli, you can wimp out and take a bus (the sensible option) or you can slog it out on the only really unshaded stretch of the walk.
We of course did not wimp out. Ruth was showing signs of dehydration by wanting to go into any taverna that appeared to wait for the boat (they could have been mirages for all we knew). However, I had re-read Joe and Beth Volk’s blog posts on their experience and knew that; a cool dip in the Libyan sea, rest and a cold beer in the shade of a beach umbrella, were the prize of the patient. All of these proved to be true so thank you Beth and Joe. We enjoyed our blat out while we waited for the ferry to Hora Sfakion (boat is the only way out).
The bus ride back was even more spectacular.
It never fails to amaze me that we will get on these buses and trust the driver to get us safely over roads we would probably not have the nerve to drive on ourselves (going to put that to the test this week). Given Ruth’s limited tolerance for windy roads, we grabbed a seat behind the driver. At times the front of the bus seemed airborne and you did not want to be coming the other way because they need theentire width of the road to negotiate the hairpin bends. You do not wan’t to mess with a Cretan bus driver as we discovered when the bus approached our destination, much abuse, leaning out of the window, arm waving and total confusion reigned as a driver in front blocked the road ahead for a few moments.
Since renting a car, we have discovered that the road rules consist of:
- Do as you please.
- Ignore speed limits whatever they are (the signs are usually hidden in trees, graffittied or missing and seem to change every few km).
- There is no correct side of the road to drive on.
- On extremely narrow roads drive as fast as you can at the oncoming car in order to force them to yield (the state of many vehicles suggests that neither yield in many instances)
- Tailgate the driver in front in order to get them to pull onto the shoulder so you can pass them into cars undertaking the same manoeuvre coming from the other direction. Do not let the driver in front know of your intention to undertake this suicidal action.
- Hurl abuse at other drivers.
- Park anywhere.
- Do not indicate upcoming turns.
- If you are a pedestrian or dog, wander down the middle of a narrow road.
- Above all, do not get you car panel work done after the first and inevitable crash, it is a waste of money.
Driving on the other side of the road in a differently configured car has been the easy bit. Will I make it through to drop off incident free, tune into the next post. The odds do not great given my first two days on the road.
Today has been the first day where there are clouds around and we did just get a sprinkle of water, not enough to wet the iPad but a shock all the same. Since arriving we have become used to waking up to clear blue skies every day.
Finally, we did manage to confuse our hosts. Using the trusty (but sometime devious) maps.me App I plugged Siva in as our destination, well it showed one street. “Would you like us to meet you in Heraklion and show you the way” offered our host. “No we will not have a problem” was my over confident response.
We were looking for the third house on the right as we entered the village. In we drove, third house looked a bit of a dump with a padlock on the gate. Ruth wandered down the lane and asked a couple of people if this was Siva, no one spoke english, one old lady though an alien invasion was underway (Ruth was in shorts) but a child got the “Siva” bit and nodded vigorously in the affirmative. So we rang the host, “we are in Siva, where are you?”. You cannot be in Siva, I am out in the street and cannot see you, there is only one entrance to Siva. We killed the App, retraced our steps back to the main highway and drove further along and sure enough found the main entrance to the village. We could have probably heard them talking on the phone we were so close but they never thought anyone would come into the village the way we tried.
It is a lovely house, the hosts were very welcoming, we hope to catch up with them later in the week. It is Manolis’s family home, with the interior full of family momentos. One of the family olive groves is nearby, there is an orchard in the backyard with a wide range of fruit, the grapes are being harvested, a passer by left us with a big bunch. There is an organic winery across the street, I think we will enjoy our stay here.