Crete 2021: Part 4
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
As I was saying, the tourists were out in force. We played paddle ball for around 10 minutes and then never again on the trip once. We took it in turns to try touching the bottom of the sea once we had swum out far enough. Manuel is awful at holding his breath, as it turns out. He would last no longer than three or four seconds, which gave us just enough time to guess how long he would last before he came up again. I touched the bottom [eventually], because I'm cool. The next beach was another short walk up and around to a smaller, rockier area with vicious breakers. It was also a nudist beach, and at least once I got out of the water to a full-frontal view of old man penis. Would not recommend. We repurposed some styrofoam we found floating in the water as a ball and threw it around between us. It's harder than it looks to catch something with your feet when you're floating in water. Molly and Alex swam far off into the distance in the meantime; It was hard to tell what they were doing at first. As it turned out, Molly had trained as a lifeguard previously, and was teaching Alex the appropriate ways to save an unconscious swimmer. It was much more mature than trying to kick styrofoam I suppose. The sand was decorated with an unexpectedly vibrant mix of colours; red, grey, black, and white to name a few. In fact, they more accurately resembled minute pebbles then true sand, as if it were a beach in training.
Finally, we moved to the last beach of the day. It was less crowded than the first, and worse than the second. All of us were exhausted by that point, although Molly was the notable exception. She rocketed off again, and it took a couple of minutes to catch up with her. Alex randomly ran into a friend on the beach, which was an incredible stroke of coincidence, so he stayed back to talk. Before very long we all came back in, and started the long, exhausting walk back home, following the sun as it turned all the mountains into silhouettes. We picked up some ingredients for halloumi pittas and cooked them at the hostel. It was wholesome and tasty. Manuel really enjoyed the garlic crisps I made, saying he'd have to try cooking them in his own time. All in all, it was a fantastic, exhausting day.
The next day was, at least in the beginning, a little bit of a shambles. A plan had taken shape the night before where a group of us would take the second river walk that started about twenty minutes up the road by car, and progress down to the sea. I expected to be out and on our way by 11:00 AM, but during breakfast it seemed that everybody was floundering about who/what/when with regards to the trip. We dallied for so long that we ended up abandoning the formality of the trip and took the last boat out to Preveli Beach without Nina, who had decided to walk to a monastery instead. Because it was the last boat outward bound, nobody was on it except us. After all the stress of change to plans, missed buses, um-ing and ah-ing, we were finally on our way to doing something that day. And we were on a boat too! The best part wasn't even the beach, but where we swam after
The sand was so hot that I practically sprinted from the boat to the shade and back to the water after we'd set up. Manuel, Molly, and Eabha started swimming down the coastline, so I hurried along to catch up with them and see where we were going. We ended up exploring some incredible sea caves that were a delight to discover. We swam around the cliffs to find places that few others may ever have visited. Manuel continued to demonstrate his rock- climbing prowess by casually climbing halfway up an eroded cliff face, because why not. Altogether we checked out maybe two or three caves and tiny beaches. On the way, Manuel had climbed and jumped off an isolated rock away from the cliffs in the sea, so on the way back we all gave it a try too. The only sure footing was to stand on the sea plants of which I don't know the name, but felt more similar to moss than seaweed. You had to wait for the swell to push you forward, otherwise you would never get a grip on the spiky outcropping. The trial was worth it though: the sea was incredibly clear and inviting, not to mention it was nice to take a break from continuously swimming. Those few moments when you're standing up straight and trying to balance before deciding how far you need to leap are always a little jittery, but I was confident enough on the second jump to go for a full dive- bomb. Cliff/ rock jumping is so fun.
After the swim back and a brief stint in the shade, we had a quick look at the palm forest nearby before heading home. The sun was getting lower as the afternoon progressed, and the forest itself was flanked by sky- high cliffs with a slow, clear river alongside. The cliffs blocked the sun, so we were plunged into shade as we entered. It was surprisingly well maintained, with all of the dead leaves moved out of the way. In a few places, you could step out to the bank of the river and have a very special view. The water was so still that you could see full reflections of the mountains. The only disturbance was a boy on a paddle board, who was sending out silent ripples a little way upstream. But then came the final, heart-breaking part of the trip: the Three Hundred Steps. The car park was at the top of the gorge, and in order to get there you needed to climb up the cliff side at a perilously steep angle in searing heat with whatever you brought with you. Every time we thought we were halfway there, we'd look up again and see how wrong we were. For at least fifteen minutes we put one foot in front of the other, daring ourselves to not look up. It's not something I would recommend, but it was our only option. At least the taxi home was cheap and quick. Also, the view of the sunset from the edge of those cliffs was almost worth the trek up. Almost.
The longest day I’ve yet had on Crete began yesterday at around 8:30. After corralling a new group together, we left for that second, much longer river-walk whose beginning was much better than its end. We were given a lift by a nice older gentleman that was visiting the hostel; a Greek man who was very happy to play us some authentic Cretan music during the drive. I can understand why it’s not more broadly recognised. Don’t get me wrong, the dad singing with his daughter was very cute, but not quite a banger. Or maybe I couldn’t fully enjoy it because there were four of us squished together in the back of the car, and my arms were falling asleep. Your choice.
We arrived back in the canyon I had passed through on my way from Rethymno, disembarking at the ‘car park,’ as I had called it before. In truth, it was more of a hard shoulder. Additionally, the ‘shrine’ was actually an entrance to a descending path that led all the way down to the river. We were advised to turn left at the bottom in order to see the waterfall. We had to clamber over some dodgy piping to get there, but my god was it worth it. The waterfall was spread over a long crevasse both wide and deep that led all the way back to the plunge pool at the very back. What cover there was to the pools had numerous holes where even more water was allowed to pass through, and pepper those standing underneath with freezing rain. Sunshine was exposed in certain spots, creating a beautiful chiaroscuro effect on whomever happened be standing in that part of the chamber. However, standing was a double-edged sword. Yes, you would be halfway out of the hypothermia springs for a minute, but before long you’d have to submerge your newly dried self again to swim back out. God giveth and taketh away. Yet one mother fucker of a cold bath was a small price to pay for that experience, and one I would gladly pay again. Whether I would enjoy it in quite the same way as the rock-climbers, I haven't decided yet. They were jumping into the plunge pool from the top of the waterfall, and once they had all finished, they continued to follow the river out and down the valley. They would end up accompanying us from just far enough away to avoid any introductions, but close enough that we couldn’t ignore them either.
Compared to last time, this river was much more forgiving. It was wider, and we were headed downstream instead, meaning there was room to experiment in terms of navigation. The drawback was that there was almost no tree coverage along the route. The hot rocks that lined the gorge only amplified the heat, hemmed in as we were. In this respect, the brisk rapids were our salvation. Some parts of the river ran quite fast, in fact. It was tricky enough weaving our way between both banks without having to negotiate pockets of fast-running water and hidden currents. Yet weave we did, and completely ignored the advice of the wise old Greek man to stick to the right side. What did he know? That would’ve made it easy and boring!
The whole walk was meant to take about five and a half hours, and we were already two deep by the time we stopped for a snack. We assumed we were at the end of the river section, and about to shift to cross-country. The sun remained sweltering. I felt a tinge of satisfaction at throwing my apple core clear to the opposite bank, before re-entering the group’s conversation. During the time it took me to brush the sand off my feet and swap to shoes, I had overheard everyone else discussing drugs they had tried. Cannabis was the most common, unsurprisingly. Only I was ignorant and pure. Which makes me cool, right? Cool kids don’t do drugs, right? Oh no.
Eventually we did leave the river-wading behind and stayed on the path alongside as best we could. This included such brilliant decisions as climbing along a slate cliff with a decent drop underneath, and practically no surface area to grip or stand on. Very spooky. Ultimately, we emptied out of the canyon into curiously well-maintained fruit gardens with fences and gates and sprinklers in the middle of nowhere. Could this be the fabled “Banana Gardens” we’d heard so much about? Could we have found one of the last holdouts of hippies on Crete? Indeed, we had. And hippies (as we all should know by now) lead the good life of self-sufficiency and cannabis, which was oddly appropriate considering the conversation we’d had earlier. When following the fruit trees, we stumbled down a staircase that was hanging precariously from the end of a bridge, almost like it had failed to be secured properly and was now gently swaying, slightly suspended. It led to their camp, and a lady came out of a hut to greet us with some water and (for those who preferred to eat their water)watermelon slices. They also offered us some juices: banana and melon, or banana and strawberry. I was the only one who went for the former. Both were good, but the strawberry variation was agreed to be better. Two dogs at noticeably different ages and energy levels sat under our table. Both were very sweet. The older pit bull terrier was slow and smiley, and the younger dog was a breed I couldn’t place, but quite friendly. The chief hippie quickly introduced himself and invited us on a small tour of the estate, which the younger dog followed us around for. It was like a fluffier corgi with a curly tail. It didn’t interact with us during the tour. It was more like an adorable escort.
There were many other animals too: already we had seen chickens and roosters pottering about, digging holes and clucking. I almost walked into a turkey that was sheltering from the sun in a bush. Two males were particularly loud and gobbled away like turkeys do. The Chief (as we’ll call him) walked us through their entire setup: mango, banana, olive, nut, avocado, and lime trees, as well as fruit patches and peanut plants. He even gave us a detailed history of the riverbank of the river we were following that fed said plants. Yet by this time, the day was dragging on, as indeed was the conversation. We were all too polite at first to interrupt him, much as you don’t want to interrupt a grandparent, but we seized a gap in the conversation to let him know we needed to leave. What followed was another half hour of him and his wife doing everything possible to talk us out of walking the rest of the way to our terminus at Preveli Beach. They pleaded with us to get a taxi instead. The Chief focused on Mollie by the end, who was given the name and number of a taxi driver, along with a bus timetable. He then spent another five minutes giving us an excruciatingly detailed list of directions, that was so long we stopped paying attention. We really needed to go. Then we managed to go. He did not go with us.
Do you know it's now the 25th and I’m still talking about this one day? That’s how much happened. Anyway, we proceeded down what was to be the final stretch: a short stint on the road before following the river through a palm forest and out to sea. Things started to look unclear when we reached a junction, so Nina asked for directions. It turned out that the sea was not, in fact, going to be uphill, and that we should take the route the locals pointed out to us. This route began to head uphill. We took it in turns to play music in an attempt to keep our morale up, because this walk had turned into a march. We just wanted it to be over. We began to climb higher and higher, so much that we were now losing the river altogether in the gorge we should have been walking through. Instead, we hiked up and up across dusty scrubland. I told Mollie that if we ended up at that car park again, and had to climb down all three hundred steps, I would cry.
I’m sure you can guess what happened. I was not best pleased but managed to laugh it off because I’m actually a lot more mature than one would assume. It’s been a long time since I’ve been surrounded by people who just want to get over the finish line, and I have to say the feeling was reciprocated. On the one hand, “oh my god I'm going to die please please be close to the end.” On the other hand, “I am so focused right now that I will overcome any obstacle to complete my mission. I will walk over you if you’re in my way.” Then, finally, mercifully, we arrived at the beach. Mollie and I swapped our favourite music videos on the way down (Francis and the Lights – Like a Dream; Stuck in the Sound – Let's Go respectively). Then, after all our trials, we stayed for around half an hour and went home. We were too tired to stay, and just wanted to sleep after all that. It was absolutely worth it for that waterfall, though.