When I returned from Greece in May 2011 I thought I would faithfully recount a travelogue in chronological order right away. But that didn’t happen.
I had to process the intensity of the trip, and then life happened, and here we are two years later where the Samaria Gorge is my most recent reference to that adventure. So I guess the Samaria Gorge day wants to go first. Technically it was day 12 of the 17-day multi-island trip, but a blog is flexible so I will figure out a way to create a chronological reading order later.
Getting the Gorge group tour booked was a adventure in and of itself, but that is for my Day 11 post.
I was told to board the bus outside my hotel in Hersonnisos on Crete at 5:30, and fortunately two other hiking-looking ladies made their way to the spot as we waited in the dark, reassuring me I was in the right place.
Everyone was snoozing and there were several other stops along the way. I overheard some Dutch people holding conversations, but they were too far for me to introduce myself (we chatted later). We stopped for breakfast at 8 a.m. in a rest stop, and then meandered up a very steep road with a few creepy turns at 10:30 a.m.
At that point the tour guide mentioned that if we had any medical issues like pregnancy, weak knees, heart problems etc., we should talk to her. Because letting us know about that before the 5-hour bus ride (longer for some) might just be too logical… We were told that because we were in the off-season, only 3 medical donkeys were available, and that about 1/3 of the way was the last point to turn back, after that the only way out was to walk the full trail.
Overly practical me had decided that given my island-hopping hand-luggage limitation taking my hiking boots and walking sticks for just one day was ‘frivolous’, so I had reinforced my red Merrell walking shoes with ankle braces. As Pretty Woman told the boutique ladies “Mistake…BIG mistake.”
The terrain was extremely gravelly from the get-go, and steep to boot. There were railings to get us started, but the speed at which some people leapt down the path made it hard to take one’s time. We were on a firm time schedule, since our ferry would depart at 5 p.m. and it would take 5-6 hours to walk the trail, so there was a sense of urgency initially.
We started at the mountain top (1250 meters altitude) and went down, down, down. It was an amazing descent that doesn’t really come out in the photos.
The gorge is an 8 mile trail (12.8 km) but the ferry port of Agia Roumeli is another 2 miles from the exit, totaling a 10 mile (16 km) strenuous hike that is indeed hard on the knees.
I saw a donkey move up the trail, which didn’t bode well.
Mysterious flowers intrigued me along the way.
The water was so clear, and important to the local water supply.
Along the way the scale of the gorge and the trees and the boulders is awe-inspiring.
Walking the trail is a geologist’s dream, seeing the different strata exposed so clearly.
There was an old settlement where the park rangers live during the summer season. We looked out for the indigenous kri-kri goat, but we only saw them from afar if I remember correctly.We did pause here for a little bit, and it was nice to take in some of the botany.
At kilometer 6 a man in his late 50s who had bounded down the trail initially suddenly blacked out and was being tended to by his friend, which was a little disconcerting. A few people who had medical expertise surrounded the pair, so all I could do was march on and motion others of the group to keep going as well.
You can tell the scale by how tiny humans are in comparison to the surroundings (and the passage of time).
The slippery terrain was giving my ankles a lot of work, and around kilometer 11 the nagging pain started for real. At that point all I could do was keep hobbling on. I allowed numerous impatient teenagers to pass me along slippery sections in the river bed, and envied their ankle strength as most of them wore Keds or even lighter shoes.
All I could tell my legs was that it was “just another 20 minutes, just another 20 minutes…” (for 2 more hours!)
Being in such pain I didn’t document the end of the trail we reached at 4:40 p.m., nor the refreshing orange juice an observant Englishman bought me (he kept tabs on me once he saw me hobbling along and ensured I made it to the end). He also took the non-selfie photos of tiny me in my white hat and yellow t-shirt.
I opted for the short bus ride to the Kri-Kri village where our ferry would dock instead of walking those extra miles. There I sat on the steps outside a restaurant as our group gathered, trying not to cry and concentrating all my energy on not throwing up from the harsh sun and pain.
Finally the ferry arrived and we alighted at 5:40. Everyone was ushered upstairs, but when I whinced at the sight of the stairs the ferry steward had pity on me and told me I could stay in a certain area below deck. Another steward pulled a plastic chair out for me, and the kind Englishman procured some ice for me upstairs which helped alleviate the dizziness I was now experiencing.
Needless to say, I have only memories of the ferry ride but no photos. The shade and sea air did make me feel better though, and above deck the shoreline vistas must have been gorgeous. The tour guides had huddled below deck as well and decided I could ride with them on the back of a pick-up truck that took them to the tourbuses (another 15-minute walk otherwise).
There my tour guide proceeded to direct me to the public buses further down the road, which was quite surreal. I asserted that I had arrived with her group, and she lamented that all three donkeys had been deployed for her group, so she was definitely having a bad day injury-wise. The man who had collapsed was doing better, apparently this episode had never happened before, and they didn’t know what caused it (he was very fit).
I was relieved to finally be able to sit for an extended period of time. We stopped for dinner and a bio-break along the way, and the phrase “Samaria Gorge” was all people needed to hear as they questioned my painful pace and nodded in understanding.
When the first people disembarked at their hotel, our tour guide instructed us to go to the bar, get three shots of a certain drink I forgot the name of, and then go to our rooms. There we were to drink one shot, and use the other two shots to rub over our legs.
At 11 p.m. I hobbled to my hotel bar to get some ice, which I was mercifully given even thought it was against the rules, then took a shower and proceeded to use the flask of Metaxa I had purchased the night before on my legs and to ingest. I elevated my feet thanks to having ample pillows, and once the cubes started dripping I settled into bed and slept.
The tour guide had also told us not to give into the urge to just laze the next day, but to walk off the soreness. Thankfully my ankle was much better the next day, though I still had to walk gingerly.
Being in a resort I was able to book a massage for that afternoon and they allowed me to linger in their hot tub for a bit prior, which soothed my aching muscles more. I wandered around the town a little bit and then sat at the beach until it was time for the next leg of my journey.
So even though people say that sneakers are fine, I totally would bring the hiking boots next time. Even though Crete and I didn’t have the best of vibes, I am glad I had this experience.
I learned to really push past pain on this hike, but I also learned that people look out for you and that, as Mr. Rogers said, there are always helpers. I saw that along the way with the people who had more serious health issues than me, and I experienced it for myself with tiny acts of kindness that made all the difference in preventing a pain-induced breakdown for me at the end of this journey.