Roumeli to Lutro by Kayak

Another perfect morning in Crete. There is one road and almost no cars in Roumeli. From here on, we see hikers, kayakers and folks on ferrys. We practiced yoga facing the sea, and had breakfast at the same seaside patio as dinner last night. We’re all getting better at drinking Raki, and we’ve stopped saying there is just too much food. Now we just eat and enjoy.

We packed up our things and left Roumeli this morning. Going from Inn to Inn, we are totally taken care of. We put out our luggage, and it magically appears at our next inn. I suspect our guides and drivers are working while we sleep. I’d say they are little angels, but they are all grown, strong and beautiful young men.

So here a note about the E4 European long-distance path. It starts in Spain, goes through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungry, Romania and Bulgaria before ending in Greece. Part of it lies on Southern Crete, which is why I mention it. Most of the tourists we see are hiking, many of them French. I still don’t understand how we look bedraggled all day, and the French look perfectly dressed and coifed, even mid hike…

For the next few days, we’ll be kayaking along the E4, parallel to our hiking friends.

 

 

 

Matala – Phaistos – Samaria Gorge

We left Matala early today and drove to the site of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos. We arrived very early and had the place to ourselves for a few hours. With no crowds, it was easy to imagine living in the palace, as royalty of course… The site was inhabited from Neolithic times (3000 BCE) until the 15th century BCE.

According to mythology, the city of Phaistos was the seat of King Radamanthis, brother of King Minos (of labyrinth and the minotour fame).  The city was also part of the Trojan war. One of its two main ports was Matala, so it was interesting to drive the ancient route from the sea up to the palace.

Leaving Phaistos we drove up into the mountains to the Samaria Gorge trailhead. Most people hike down in the morning to catch the ferry.  We began our hike after lunch and pretty much had the entire Gorge to ourselves. I hiked down with Christie. We were not in a hurry, but we knew we had bad knees and about 5 hours. We occasionally ran into hikers working their way up the trail – harder on the breathe, easier on the legs. The hike is 16 km (10 miles) and all downhill. I should say here that we were given the option of staying on the minibus and accompanying our luggage straight to Agia Roumeli, the town at the base of the gorge, on the Libyan Sea. But we opted for the hike, and as hard as it was on the knees, it was spectacular. We drank clean, fresh water springs along the way, and occasionally read signs that said – Falling Rocks, Walk Quickly!

There is one part of the gorge, known as the Gates where the sides of the gorge close in to a width of 15 ft, and soar up to a height of 980 feet. Its a national park and a refuge for the rare kri-kri (Cretan goat), which is ridiculously cute. I only got one blister, and our guides had all the necessary bandages waiting for us.

Once we got down, we walked along the road to our hotel and had dinner on the terrace overlooking the sea. Pretty perfect…

Finally – on the water

So in our group of about 12, there were 3 people kayaking with me. The others were hiking or kayaking and camping. We were to stick close with the hikers, but eventually part ways with the camper/kayakers.

Today after a breakfast of fresh fruit, greek yogurt (I could swear it was sour cream), fresh bread and strong coffee, we got together on the shore for our review of kayaking safety procedures. First question was “who’s done it before?’  That’s when I realized I was the odd man out.  Just to fill you in, my sons regard my adventures as ‘yuppie travel’, safe thrills – organized and protected. After all, I’m a Jewish girl who lives in Beverly Hills – even if it is lower BH. I live my life in a temperate zone, which is why I chose Crete in October… perfect weather – not too hot, not too cold. The others, mostly mid-westerners, walk their kayaks to the local river and go. I sign up for a trip, drive or fly hours, sometimes both, then join a group. VERY DIFFERENT

Between us, we had thousands of river kayaking hours.  I had ZERO and the other three women in my group had the rest. I have ocean kayaked for a total of 12 days, half the time off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and half the time in the Sea of Cortez.  Still, we were ocean kayaking and that was new to my roommate, Christy. I kept my mouth shut and nodded a lot as we reviewed the procedures. Then we went out and paddled to Red Beach, a bay around the corner.

Who knew we were out for a spa day. Our guides brought us buckets of clay/mud. We slathered it on and let it cleanse our pores and dry, as we laid in the sun. BTW, before the trip, I spend about a week developing a fake, but safe tan. Once dry, we went into the sea, exfoliated with sand as we scrubbed and washed off the clay… and my tan!  Pasty white, I got back into my kayaks and set off back to our beach. But by now it was late morning and the wind kicked up. We were paddling into the wind and had to get around a point before heading back into the bay. I was in a single kayak and it was tough. I trailed behind the group a bit, but slowly progressed and made it back in respectable time. That morning was the most challenging kayaking of the entire week. Our guides told us that if the sea was at all rougher, we would not have gone out. I was just happy that I made it back without help.

The afternoon was uneventful, some swimming and a welcome nap. By late afternoon, we were refreshed and ready for a hike. It turned out to be an easy hike up the hill behind our hotel. When we got to the top, our guides pulled out wine, beer, snacks and a guitar. As the sun set, a few of us moved through some yoga poses to the sounds of the guitar. Still together with the whole group. we ate at the last restaurant on bay. It was my least favorite, food wise, but the view was everything.

1st Day with Kayaking group in Crete

Wednesday morning I had to get back to the Heraklion airport to meet up with my kayaking group. I had set up a transfer from the hotel with the husband of the tour guide I met on the bus. He seriously overcharged me, but then proceeded to stay with me for an additional hour until I found my Northwest Passage people. The two couples I met turned out to be hikers rather than kayakers, but as we were to meet up for dinner together all week, I was happy to get to know them a bit.

We set off to tour the archaeological site of Knossos, an ancient Minoan palace that predates the Trojan War. I had just spent a glorious day at the Heraklion Museum that housed the artifacts from Knossos, so I was thrilled to visit the site. Eventually, we left the North side of Crete and drove to Matala, a sweet seaside resort town on the Southern coast. Back when I booked my trip, I asked if anyone was willing to share a room. There was someone; Christie (from Tennessee) and I roomed together all week and got on together very well. She even joined me for yoga a morning or two. Our yoga space in Matala was on the roof of our hotel, the Zafiria. We practiced early in the morning with a view of the town, the mountains and the Libyan Sea.

Our first two meals were a sign of things to come. Lunchtime found us at the place with the best gyros in town. They serve their gyros with french fries inside, but I don’t think they were too offended when I declined the fries. We did some snorkeling and napping that afternoon then had a great dinner overlooking the water. Our guides ordered a huge variety of appetizers – then we had dinner, unnecessary by then, but that did not stop us from having some of everything. Greek food tastes better in Greece – no question.

We did not know it at the time, but every Cretan restaurant and family makes and serves their own Raki. Here’s the scoop:

alcoholic beverage, grape-based pomace brandy of Cretan origin that contains 40%–65% alcohol . …made by distilling of pomace, i.e., the pieces of grapes (sometimes including the stems and seeds) that were pressed for wine. The pomace is kept for about six weeks, in a tightly-sealed barrel, and then the fermented mush is distilled. Often home-produced in villages throughout Crete, the alcohol content varies. Every family and restaurant insists theirs is the best. It is always offered (no charge) and yes, every one we tasted was the best.

Later, stuffed and happy, we fell asleep to the sound of music from the nightclubs across the street.