Roumeli to Loutro Oct 9, 2015

 

Every morning here we get to practice as the sun is rising. After a short class, today was a paddling day. The sea was like glass, the temperature perfect and we were happy to be on the water. I was particularly pleased as I promised my group that the sea would be calm on this side of Crete. We paddled out and hugged the coast for about 45 minutes, putting in at a little beach where is is thought that St Paul landed. Just above the beach is Agios Pavlos, an 11th century Byzantine chapel dedicated to St. Paul.
Near the chapel is a taverna where we had fresh squeezed orange juice. Love that place. Our next stop was a longer paddle to Marmara Beach, a perfect hidden bay with cliffs to jump off of, water caves to explore and, perched over the water, the award winning cafe where we had lunch. We ordered way to much, left way too full, then spent most of the afternoon alternately swimming, napping and watching the E-4 hikers come and go.
When we left, it was a short paddle to Loutro, one of Crete’s most beautiful seaside towns. We are here for 3 nights and I am so grateful to be able to return a second time. Paddling into the bay takes my breath away. And not because I’m tired. Like most of the coastal towns on the southern side of Crete, Loutros closes down at the end of October. So we are almost the last of the tourists. There are no wall to wall people to push through, and there is no rush to find space at restaurants. It is easy to find time to talk to the hotel restaurant owners and staff. I only mention this because during the summer months it is jammed with people.

Matala October 6, 2015

This morning was our first yoga class. We met at 7am and practiced outside, by the pool. We started with the story of Apollo and Daphne. I always think of Bernini’s statue of them at the Borghese in Rome. Anyway, our tree poses were inspired. Then we were off in our kayaks to practice our ‘dumps and rescues.’ I’m in a double with Joan, and she did great for her first time.

That out of the way, (we all passed) we kayaked about a half hour to Red Beach. It’s the local nude beach and we were the morning’s entertainment. The surf was pretty high and the first kayak in rolled over. I was sure we might follow, but our guides brought us in like the guys on airport runways…”arm gestures sending us a bit to the left, back off during the wave, come in straight ahead”.  It was smooth and successful.
A few minutes later, our guides brought over a bucket of wet, gray clay. We covered ourselves and set out in the sun to dry. We washed off in the ocean, smooth and exfoliated, and paddled in the other direction for a late lunch. That launch was rougher and we took on a ton of water. Now we know how to pump out the kayak while at sea. By the time we set out to return to Matala, the  waves were pretty intense and we did some rocking and rolling. After another successful landing, we had a quick rest then left for a sunset hike. Our guide Eric was waiting up at the top with a spread of drinks and snacks. He played guitar for us as we watched the sun set into the ocean and Elana (another one of our 3 guides, and I practiced a few poses. Pretty wonderful day.
We walked over to dinner at a sweet restaurant where the head chef is a classic Greek yia yia (grandmother), short, squat, dressed in black and a killer cook. The whole family works there and she came out to share a raki with us before we left.

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.