Crete 2021: Part 3
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Rena also talked about how she has a book filled with the thoughts and comments of visitors spanning decades, which she looks through occasionally to reminisce. She loathes the fact everything is digitalised now. I promised her that I'd slip her a handwritten note when I left just to help.
The final nights in Heraklion I spent on the roof, first talking with some of the other hostel guests, and then to sleep. I kept trying to stylise myself as a professional travel writer to everyone who asks my job, even though I've never made any money out of it. A boy can dream though, right? Maybe one day it'll happen, even if it's just for a little while. However much these two bought it [Adams and Emilie], they at the very least humoured me enough to look through the terrible phone version of my blog. It's really does look awful, Wix you need better phone options! Of course, being French speakers first, some of the language was a bit impenetrable, but I was still happy for what attention my writing got that night. Sleeping on the roof turned out to be the best place in the whole hostel to sleep, once the planes had stopped for the night and the cats stopped screaming in the street. Falling asleep to a gentle breeze and waking up to the rising sun is always a great experience, and after a rough week of sleeping, it was the perfect send- off to my time at Heraklion.
That morning was already hot by the time I stepped out of bed, which meant that the pears I bought were finally ripe, but also that I was destined to sweat myself to death during the day of travel. Adams was leaving at the same time, so after we were packed and checked out, we left for the bus station where we would finally part ways. He was cool. I liked him. He laughed at my jokes. But damn stupid to climb a mountain without sun cream. Before long I was thanking God I sat on the side of the coach without sun shining on it, as it also had the benefit of giving me spectacular views of the coast on the way to Rethymno. I always find it difficult to describe places I see on the road. So much of it flies by so fast that it's hard to focus on any one thing in depth. Only impressions are available, so I hope these impressions are enough: Crete has a dramatic landscape. It is covered in great gashes and mountains in sequence. For somewhere with so much coastline, there was so little beach I could see from the bus. The majority was of rocky outcroppings and boulders all the way down to the sea. I saw one tiny cloud on the entire ride. Flower bushes followed the road in certain parts, and sometimes the view would open to reveal private bays or sweeping valleys that stretched on for miles, the mountain slopes overlapping each other back until they ran into the horizon. The sun was a constant companion; it felt like it followed you everywhere you went no matter which direction we took. Tiny villages and cliffside chapels flew by my window, and individuals stepped on and off the bus in seemingly random or featureless areas. Sometimes there were naked roadworks: dirt tracks carved through the mountains. Other times, you would find yourself 100 feet above a gorge, with your mind idling on a twisted fantasy of what would happen if the bridge collapsed. I almost forgot the olive groves! Sometimes we would emerge onto a plateau and then see miles of olive groves rising and falling with the topography, shimmering silver waves in the wind. Crete has some of the most dramatic landscapes I have ever seen. On the way from Rethymno to Plakias (and a 2 hour wait at the bus station), these landscapes were at their most pronounced, minus the coastline. At one point we were hemmed in by massive cliffs that extended above and below, narrowing the sunlight to our immediate front, and my side of the bus specifically. I couldn't take any photos that did it justice; it was insane to think that someone had built a road through it. The people who did are much braver than I would have been. Never mind the mad lads that decided to build a shrine up there and enough space later for people to park their cars on as well.
Anyway, it's nearly 12, so I should really get dressed for the day. Hopefully the washing machine is clear to use!
It's 5:30 and I just got washed and dressed. Had a handful of banana chips for lunch, so I'm a bit low energy, but who cares! The important thing is that we had fun! I plan to do very little whilst in Plakias. The hostel I'm in markets itself as the most southerly hostel in Europe, and I could certainly believe it. Here in the south of the island it's much quieter; less noise (no aeroplanes), less people (more Germans. So many Germans in Plakias). Actually, quiet might be a misconstruction. The cicadas are loud as hell and don't stop until the sun goes down. Aside from that, however, it's very peaceful. I can understand why so many people renew their stays here or come back each year. It's the most ‘holiday’ place I've been to for a while. Or perhaps it is better to say it's my sorts of holiday destination. Chersonnisos was overtly a holiday destination, complete with familiar foods, music, and loaded beaches of sunburnt tourists. Here seems much more my speed. Considering the last two years have been plagued by plague, I'm more than happy to have found a quiet place like this. There may be more to do here than I assume.
Last night, while everyone at the hostel was occupied, I took the pina colada that had been made for me and slipped away. I was not prepared for the view! First, the stars. I have gone on record about how much I love stars, and the stars above Plakias are some of the fullest I have seen for a long time. The real star [no pun intended, but now that it's written down, I take full credit] of the show was the village about halfway up the mountain. The lights from the houses lit up the cliff face behind enough to give some depth to the buildings. The lights weren't all white either! Orange, yellow, even blue; all were shining up on the mountain village. I couldn't stop staring at it, it had such a subtle beauty to it that I just could not articulate in the moment. The combination of a starry night and small village illuminated by different colours against a mountain backdrop made for a good atmosphere, and a very good first impression.
And then today I did nothing and then went to the beach. Angry clouds have formed over the mountains. Would be the first rain on Crete. How exciting.
Today was possibly one of my favourite days, if only because it involved one of my favourite things ever: river walks. But this weren't no River Wey, oh no. I'm talking bouldering up waterfalls and pulling yourself over to the next rock without falling all the way down and dying, swimming in plunge pools, and being attacked by tiny persistent insects.
After an early start on no sleep because two people now snore in my room, a group of four of us headed out on what ended up being a four-hour trek.
Well damn, that was a short day. And I had so much to write about too! Even more so now because of all the things that happened in the afternoon. But first things first. The trek was incrementally difficult, and incrementally beautiful. The Cretan countryside is already so gorgeous that waterfalls and dragonflies are really the icing on the cake. We passed a farm filled with chickens, and some dogs barking madly at us that together were almost certainly the source of the morning chorus the morning before. When we first hit the river, it was at an old mill, crumbling and covered in cacti. The views from the top were worth the perilous climb up the side, and the slight irritation at seeing how easy the climb would have been from the other side. From then on it was all water, all the time: clambering over rocks, wading through newly- disturbed silty water, clinging to branches and finding a path to the next pool. At the same time, we were surrounded by pink flowers, and occasionally chased by brown butterflies and bright blue dragonflies. The sound of invisible cicadas accompanied us throughout the trip. We learned very quickly how to tune them out. The trek became increasingly difficult as the waterfalls grew larger. What started out as moving between puddles became ascending sheer rock faces. We got to work out that lower- body flexibility by supporting our entire weight on one leg as we each leant into a boulder when trying to find a hand grip.
At several points we stopped for a swim to cool off in some of the deeper plunging pools. When you reflect on your life choices and what has brought you to this moment, you can't say it's all bad if you're sat under a waterfall in a hot country with friends. Imagine living in a place where you could decide to just go sit in a waterfall after lunch. Wacky. My shorts got ruined though. The tree coverage contributed immensely to the fun. If there had been no canopy to keep the sun off us, then it would have been more of a slog. The same is true of the towering cliffs around us. We were plunged into shadow several times just because the mountains were so monolithic. Shade is important kids! No time to enjoy the views if you've fainted from heat exhaustion. Towards the top of the climb there was a particularly scary moment where I stumbled forward and nearly ended up falling onto the rocks below. The water I was carrying on my back shifted forward as I stopped, pushing me off balance. That was mildly scary, but it's just death so no problem. Finally, after hours of wading up and through river water, we made it to the top. We stepped back onto dry land; it took the form of a cement cistern. The most beautiful reward of all. After that, it was a farcically short walk back along the ridge towards home. From that height we could see each landmark we passed on our way, in a ridiculously short space of time. All in all, only about half an hour of our four-hour walk was spent walking back.
As we were rounding the ridge, we heard what sounded exactly like a maniacal laugh. None of us could locate the source, neither could we later identify what creature (if indeed it were a creature) voiced it. It appeared to come from the trees, too high for a person to be hidden in. Whatever it was, it was only slightly disturbing in its volume and nearness, without a visible culprit.
When he first appeared, I struggled to find the words. Ethan's charisma was equal parts infatuating and intimidating, so much so that it took several awkward seconds before he broke the silence on my behalf.
“Bonjour, bel homme.” He spoke in tongues, but I gauged the meaning well enough. I knew he wanted me. I wanted him too. Yet now I was trapped by the bounds of social conformity to reply, and if I didn't seize the opportunity I never would again.
“H- hi, my names Josephine”, I stuttered. His muscles shivered in acknowledgement. My God his muscles were magnificent.
“Well, Josephine”, he moved towards me. My heart was racing now. “I am very thirsty.” my cheeks flushed red. “can you help me quench my thirst, Josephine?”
“I can certainly try.”
“Great, thanks.” he reached behind me and grabbed a cold bottle of water from the open fridge. Then, without a word, he left. All I had was his shrinking shadow, and the ghost of what may have been.
“Farewell, monsieur,” I whispered to myself. “Farewell.”
- commissioned by Ethan.
After we got back from the walk, within about two hours we were up and out again, this time to three different beaches down the coast period to get there, we had a brief 40-minute trip along a hot afternoon road, which also took us past some fantastic panoramas. I can't get enough of these mountains and how the clouds spill over them. We passed a goat farm where goat skulls had been arranged on the fencing, perhaps because of a previous insurrection attempt by the goats. At a certain point, we were walking through a dusty back road away from the water, and for a moment it seemed as if we'd taken a wrong turn further in land. But then again, that episode isn't worth writing about, and the fact I even started to is frankly embarrassing, so never mind.
When we finally arrived, the beach was packed. Wide and flat, the tourists were out in force.