Oct 06 2007

Conquering the Gorge

Published by at 4:06 pm under Crete,Greece

There are two things that Ben and I are definitely not: 1. in shape (motivating myself to walk down the one flight of stairs in my apartment building instead of taking the elevator was an event) and 2. early risers (one memorable day in college Ben woke up at 7 pm, thought it was 7 am, and slept until the next morning. Seriously).

So it was a bit out of character for us to get up at 6:30 this morning to hike 17 kilometers through a giant gorge. This is especially true considering we hadn’t gone to bed until 2:00 in the morning last night. As yesterday was the Danes’ last night in Hania, we’d promised to meet them one last time at The Point. After several failed attempts to catch the early-morning bus to Samaria Gorge, we vowed to have only one beer, say goodbye, and call it a night at a reasonable hour. Unfortunately, Tom and Sandeep have never “called it a night” before early the next morning, so even though we were miraculously able to stick to our one-beer maximum, we didn’t get home until much later than planned. It was difficult to leave our new friends, since we’ve had such a great time with them over the last two weeks. I know the life of a traveler means all new friends are of the make-them-and-leave-them variety, but not being made of such tough stuff, it was with much reluctance (and tearful hugs) that I said goodbye.

starting the trek
We arrived at the bus station this morning out of breath, having had to run to make it on time, and grumpy, as our favorite chocolate croissant vendor was closed at that ungodly hour. We accomplished the mammoth task of buying a bus ticket and boarding the correct bus in record time. This bus from Hania took us up the mountains into the village of Omalos, where the start of the gorge hike is located. (PS: I will say the one good thing about getting up early is that watching the sun rise over the mountains was gorgeous.) (PPS: you know the only thing scarier than driving through the Lefka Ori in a car? Driving through them on a bus with a crazy Greek at the helm!)

The Samaria Gorge is located near the southern coast of Crete and, at 17 kilometers, is apparently the longest gorge in Europe. I don’t really have this whole “meter system” thing down yet, so I’m not sure what that translates to in miles. You could tell me it was 3 miles, or you could say it was 50, and I’d probably believe you. I think a sign said it was around 10 miles long.

The first part of the trek consists of steadily hiking down the mountain into the ravine. By “hiking” I mean “sliding” as many of the rocks were quite slick and the paths can be steep. We quickly became jealous of the gorge-veterans who’d brought walking sticks. One particularly awesome old guy brought two walking sticks and wore a helmet in case of rock slides.

Near the mouth of the gorge lies the namesake village, Samaria. The inhabitants of Samaria were kicked out (or “nationalized,” according to the posted sign) when the gorge became a National Park, but a few buildings and chapels remain.

the gorgeThe gorge itself is incredible. It almost seems like a rocky riverbed (which, I think in the winter, it is), with two enormous cliffs rising perpendicular to the ground on either side. For most of the hike, the gorge remains reasonably wide, but towards the end it narrows and reaches a point no more than three meters across (called the “Iron Gates”).

It was at this point that Ben and I began applauding ourselves for “conquering the gorge!” That turned out to be premature as it was at least another 3 km walk to the nearest village where we could catch a ferry back.

We have some bad news: we did not discover a kri-kri on our road trip. We had suspicions that our kri-kri friend was merely a goat when we saw an actual kri-kri in the Hania city park zoo. Our fears were confirmed when we consulted our guidebook, which informed us that we’d run across wild mountain goats. So the search continues…

goatI, for one, am quite impressed by these wild goats. Occasionally on our hike we would hear the sound of falling rocks from above. Resisting the urge to throw my arms above my head as if that could save me from descending boulders, I’d look up to see a goat perched on the cliff side. In a gravity-defying feat, these goats would scale completely vertical rockfaces with ease. That also put our “conquering the gorge” claims into perspective.

Some helpful hints for those considering the Samaria Gorge:

  1. Wear good shoes! Our athletic sneakers felt inadequate at times.
  2. If you’re coming from Hania, take the bus from the city bus station. It’s less than half the price of those tourist offices offering a “guided tour” of the gorge. Here’s a guide: walk.
  3. Don’t do it backwards. I don’t know what kind of crazy person would attempt to ASCEND the gorge, but I know people do. I can’t see it happening without serious injury.
  4. Bring a small water bottle and some snacks. The have springs along the way to refill.
  5. The gorge isn’t open year round, but I would go early or late in the season. We had about half a bus load of hikers starting the trek at the same time, and we still ran into some traffic jams along narrow parts of the trail. I can’t imagine what it’s like in peak season when they have up to five bus loads three times a day from Hania’s bus station alone. Plus, it would be unbearably hot in the summer.

Our days in Hania are winding down, and we’ll be traveling within the next couple days to the city of Iraklio on Crete, where we’ll stay for a few days before sailing out to other islands. Keep you posted!

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Conquering the Gorge”

  1. Dadon 07 Oct 2007 at 1:34 pm

    THe gorge hike looked fun and exhausting. THe breard looks good Ben. Call me! I need to hear your voice.

    Love ya, Dad

  2. TonTonon 08 Oct 2007 at 7:33 pm

    Crete is Gorge-ous!!!

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