The Missus really enjoys doing something, well, a little physical, sometimes when I'm lacking in sleep, or often disguised as a short "walk". Often losing interest by the time we've reached "there". Though I must be getting a bit "dim" in my old age, because I've actually started planning these sessions of torture in our trips. So our trip would not be complete without hiking the Samaria Gorge, often called the longest gorge in Europe, though I'm not so sure about that. The hike starts in the White Mountains and properly ends at the village of Agia Roumeli on the Libyan Sea. Because it was still the first week of May when we arrived we asked the always helpful Thomais about buses to Omalos. We were told that because it was early in the season, there was just one bus up to Omalos at 830. We got up, had some nuts, fruit, and yogurt and caught the bus to Omalos.
It seemed that the trip up the mountain was more stressful for the Missus and I as the road took some pretty sharp turns and it was drizzling pretty good. A couple of times the driver had to honk his horn to get the sheep of the road.
We finally made it up to the beginning of the Samaria Gorge National Park, hoping that the gorge was open in spite of the drizzle. The gorge is closed between the end of October, sometimes through the beginning of May as much of it is under water. We paid our 5 Euros and headed off down the steep beginning of the gorge called Xyloskalo ("wooden staircase") at about the 4,100 foot level.
It's a bit slippery and steep going down. There are also a lot of signs warning about falling rocks. The Missus got really irritated when I stopped to take a photo of one of the signs. When we mentioned hiking the gorge, several people told us to be careful because every year one or two people die from falling rocks, being swept away, heat exhaustion, or plain falling. But c'mon, maybe two hundred thousand people hike the gorge every year, so I naturally scoffed. Until I read this. The gorge is often closed during heavy rains and also after 3pm. You can walk into the gorge for about 2 kilometers from either end after 3pm, but you'll then be turned around.
The main trail in the gorge is very well maintained. We even ran into one of the park rangers riding his donkey, which I guess is the local ambulance.
It's about 2 kilometers before you reach the bottom of the trail. This being early in the season, the gorge had just reopened, we had to cross the stream quite a few times.
There was once a church here named Agios Nikolaus and before that a temple of Apollo. The cypress that grow here are said to be over 2,000 years old. It's a good place for a short break to take in that you made it down that mountain.....
About three and a half kilometers further, you'll come to the ruins of a village.
You cross a wooden bridge and enter what's left of the town of Samaria, which was populated until 1962! The last oflks left when the gorge became a national park. I had read that it's pretty easy to see kri-kri, an endangered species of mountain goat found only on four islands....but it was no-go.
A bit past Samaria, you'll enter the gorge proper. The water sort of disappears for a while; it's going under all the rocks you are trying to walk on.
This can be pure hell on your ankles if you're not used to walking on unstable and misshaped rocks. This is basically the riverbed that you're walking on. During the winter this is all under water. We could see watermarks on the rocks as we walked over them.
There were times when it seemed like the mountains met right in front of you and the trail ended. Of course that wasn't true, but it made for some fairly dramatic photos. Because we were approaching sea level the temperature also started rising and it was getting pretty hot. I'm sure this place might be no fun during the summer. Still, the Missus was determined to make that "first" afternoon boat out of Agia Roumeli and was pushing me harder than a stagecoach driver in Indian territory. Still, I was making pretty good time....I had a secret weapon, more on that later.
But to be honest; at this point I was getting to be a little "gorged-out", as you may probably be reading this. I was ready for a nice cold drink.....
Soon the river reappeared and we had to cross several rickety "bridges"......
After crossing the stream a couple of times we started noticing more people. These were folks doing Samaria the "easy way", actually hiking up from Agia Roumelli. This, of course meant we were getting pretty close. We especially knew this when we came upon the ultimate Samaria photo-op Sideroportes, the "Iron Gates" where the gorge shrinks to a mere 12 feet in width.
It's pretty anti-climactic after that. They check your ticket at the end of the trail, their way of making sure everyone makes it out of the gorge. You're quoted the distance to 16 kilometers, but it's actually13 kilometers to the end of the hike. The other 3 kilometers is down to the harbor of Agia Roumelli.
I did mention my "secret weapon" on the hike, right? Well, it's in the photo to my right. Early on, I found a sturdy stick. It really helped me keep my balance on the unstable rocks and the downhill walk. Both the Missus and I left our "walking sticks" at the exit of the trail. As we walked down to the harbor, I told the Missus, "I loved that stick, man, I'm actually looking forward to using a cane in my old age! And heck....maybe adult diapers ain't that bad after all...." To which She replied, "don't be stupid."
As we went to buy tickets for the early boat out of Agia Roumelli we found out that this time of the season there's only one boat from Agia Roumelli to Hora Sfakion where we needed to catch our bus back to Chania.
Now the Missus had made gorge walking into an Olympic sport to catch that "early boat"......now we had to wait three and a half hours for the "only boat". Still, I'm pretty happy to have done the gorge in four hours! So what to do while we waited? Well, the restaurants didn't look promising and we walked around the three shops, bought fluids to rehydrate, and looked at the ocean......
and looked at the ocean a bit more......
We finally made our boat, caught our bus in Hora Sfakion, and made it back to Chania at about830pm. Now we hadn't eaten but a tiny bit of food at about 7 that morning so we were starved. We'd been eyeing out Tamam Restaurant since we arrived. The restaurant located in two building across a small back street was always packed, the tables lining the street seemed less popular but were usually full as well. Well, instead of heading back to our room, we made like the little fellow to our right....right to Tamam and found the outside tables empty. We sat down...immediately!
Now if the name Tamam sounds familiar, it should be....the building that the restaurant is located in has a history as a bath...a "hamam". Anyway, you can read it here if you click to enlarge. We were really just too hungry to care. We descended on the bread, olives, and herb butter like ravenous wolves on a crispy pata!
And of course the Missus loved the local wild greens called horta. Here at Tamam, they served a particular green called Stamnagathi, also known as Spiny Chicory. Really good stuff!
Mildly bitter with a surprising amount of sweetness.
There was one dish, that I thought was kind of strange, that I'd heard Tamam served. Something that I would never would have associated with anything Cretan. I had to order the Spicy Avocado Dip....just had to!
Man, this was good, really good! There was a bit of spice, definitely yogurt, garlic, herbs....the Missus absolutely loved this as well. We've been trying to duplicate this since we returned. Olive oil gave it some fruitiness....... The gentleman serving us told me that avocados have been growing on Crete for years, but because it's not traditional, a lot of people don't know what to do with it. Amazingly good with fried potatoes.......
Which were included with the Cretan Smoked Pork.
The pork was pretty tough and the flavor a bit underwhelming....guess I'm used to a stronger smoked flavor. So yes Ed, I did eventually get to try Cretan smoked pork and even......
The Cretan sausages also didn't impress me much.
The by-the-numbers grilled oyster mushrooms with balsamic glaze was very pleasing.
But the Kid Goat Roasted over Potatoes was why I came to Crete.
Fork tender, mildly gamey and sweet, drenched in fruity olive oil, with tender potatoes enrobed in the essence of goat.....whoa.....one of the cuts was actually the tenderloin, which was super tender.
And of course, this being Crete there's always complimentary dessert......the raki that I'd come to love as well.
Wow, we finished everything.............
We headed back to Madonna Studios, we had a key to the building. I felt really bad when Thomais was still there! It was almost 11pm! She had waited for us to return, like a worried aunt...she had even prepped some cheese pie for us. I felt terrible....but the always accommodating Thomais told me, "no worries, I am glad you made it back safely. Tomorrow, you let me know, and i'll fry up the cheese pies for you!"
There's something about Chania that just goes straight to your heart.
I know this has been one of those long posts. Thanks for reading!