Matala to Roumeli Oct 8, 2015

We left early this morning to the palace of Phaistos, an archeological site where the ruins go back to 3000 BCE.  In its time, it was the wealthiest and most powerful Minoan city in southern Crete. A little ‘history’: Zeus saw Europa hanging out on the shore with her friends and fell madly in love with her. He showed up on the beach as a white bull. She was captivated and climbed up on his back. He promptly spirited her to Crete. They landed in Matala. She bore him three sons, Minos became the king at Knossos and Radamanthis became king at Phaistos. Not sure about the 3rd…

We arrived when it opened and had the palace to ourselves. The views are among the most beautiful in Crete, at least according to the guide books… Before leaving, we found a corner to leave our mark in the form of some handstands and tree poses.
The rest of the group went on to hike the Samarian Gorge. Joan and I had decided to pass (I hiked it last year) so we went with our guides, Chris and Eric, in the truck and trailer with all the luggage and kayaks. The drive was beautiful, through the agricultural part of the island, through bright white mountain villages with lots of Bougainvillea in full bloom. We stopped for lunch in Sfakia, finally found some proper horta (sautéed wild greens, olive oil, lemon juice) cooked beets and orange sections, perfectly fresh Greek food. Then we headed for one of the best bakeries on the island to pick up cookies for the rest of the group after their hike. And so we could have some of the cookies…
Then it was time to board the ferry, with the truck and the luggage, with the trailer and the kayaks. Chris backed it onto the ferry with finesse, in perfect alignment. The ferry headed out and we learned what the sea is like when the winds kick up. We were in 9 ft swells, some of our luggage got soaked – we moved up to the top deck and still got sprayed. Eventually we made it to Roumeli. The ferry could not land at the regular dock, so landed a bit farther up the beach at a more protected spot. But the dock was tiny, the road from the dock, rocky, uneven and slightly washed out. We were lucky all we suffered was one flat tire on the trailer.
The ferry ended up waiting a few hours before returning to Sfakia. All in all an exciting morning.

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…