Friday, April 12, 2013

Crete: Day 7 - The Land of the Labyrinth

The plan for the last day was to attempt to understand the ancient landscape near Gortyna and Phaistos and possibly locate the original Cretan Labyrinth Cave, or Lavyrinthos.  The exact location of this place is classified and has been essentially obscured by the authorities.  

This situation with the labyrinth has been documented in depth at  It is an esoteric subject and a bit controversial, but I find it fascinating, mostly because of the Minotaur, a truly evil, primal and frightening monster.  On this website, there exists this German WWII topographical map showing the exact location of the cave entrance.
Kriegskarte, 1942

The cave was used by the Wehrmacht to store ammunition.  So, I decided to investigate this location and took a few photos of the landscape for reference.
This photo was taken from the 292 m hilltop north of Kasteli.  I am reasonably certain that I was within .75 km of the entrance, but I couldn't persuade my partner to spend any more time on this rather preposterous, and slightly dangerous, mission.  When I return, however, I will know exactly where to go!

I chose Kamilari because it is near the archaeological sites of Phaistos and Gortyna, and also close to the labyrinth cave.

Next stop was the nearby archaeological ruins of Gortyna.
Trajan's Odeon, Gortyna
More Gortyna photos here. Then up to Phaistos.  Phaistos photos here
Then to the Phaistos' ancient port of Komos.
Finally, ending the excursion in the hip village of Matala.
Heavy seas, Matala
A place of legend.  This could have been the very location where Menelaus ships were thought to have been wrecked as told by Homer in The Odyssey.   What an epic trip!

We also went to the Museum in Heraklion before the flight on Tuesday.  Here are several images.
Head of Pan, Gortyna
Nymph holding a basin, Gortyna 1st C.
Phaistos Disc, 1600 BC
Flask, 1600 BC
More Heraklion museum photos here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Crete: Day 6 - Up to Aradhena

Day 6 - (April 7, 2013)
The strong wind throughout the night had turned the sea into a raging torrent, so leaving Agia Roumeli by the ferry was out of the question ... we had to walk.  The plan was to hike up 700+ m to Agios Ioanis and then to Aradhena, where we would try to hitch a ride back to Chora Sfakion.
Misty Mountain Approach
Starting out, I was a bit concerned about several possible negative scenarios, including the weather, but Fortune was on our side.  The path was nice, and the ascent relatively easy, despite the ominous forward appearance of vertical rock faces and the prospect of frightening exposure.
Selaudha Face
The plateau over the rim was like a different world.
Near Agios Ioanis
From here, we made great progress and reached Aradhena around 14:00.
Aradhena Gorge
More Aradhena photos here. Two friendly Germans happened to be sight-seeing the gorge exactly at the same time we arrived.  Score.  The ride back to Chora Sfakion was secure.  We were greatly relieved to not have to do a 30+ km day.  No more than 30 minutes later, we were back in our rental car and on the road to Kamilari.  3 hours later, a pleasant evening commenced at the Kritimos Villa, our accommodation.
At the Kritimos Villa, Kamilari

Crete: Day 5 - Samaria Gorge

The plan was to walk from Agia Roumeli up to the old town of Samaria and back, about 15 km.  The weather was absolutely ideal.  Being the only visitors in the entire gorge made the experience really special and rare, as this is a hugely popular place in peak season.  The path was fine and in good condition, though several of the bridges had not yet been set up, so we had to ford the creek several times.
The Portes
Note the absence of a bridge at the Portes, the narrowest part of the gorge.  The geology is remarkable, characterized by the clear display of tectonic forces.
Tectonics shown in the Limestone strata
The old village of Samaria, or Ossia Maria, founded in the 14th century, has an interesting history as an outpost, that has never been conquered.  It is ideally protected naturally, and the man-made walls make an easy trap for any invader.
Ossia Maria

I also saw two Kri-Kri, the elusive and iconic acrobatic native goats. More Samaria Gorge photos here.

Crete: Day 4 - Agia Roumeli

Day 4: (April 5, 2013) - Agia Roumeli
On this day, the plan was to explore the local environs, including the ruins (above) of an Ottoman fort overlooking the entrance to the Samaria Gorge.  The history of this place is ancient.  Even 4000 years ago, it was a prosperous timber town.
The old village of Agia Roumeli
The new village of Agia Roumeli and the ferry
Swimming in the Libyan Sea
I had to test the water, and it was really nice.  We were the only people on this beach.
Beach near Agia Roumeli, Gavdos in the distance
More Agia Roumeli photos here

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Crete: Day 3 - Loutro to Agia Roumeli

Day 3: (April 4, 2013) - From Loutro to Agia Roumeli
This was a long day of walking that provided some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever witnessed.
E4 Leaving Loutro
Immediately outside of Loutro are ruins and a short distance from there is the ancient port of Finikas.
Technical section of E4 near Likos
The E4 around Cape Moures was great, but the section near Likos was difficult.  The photo above shows how the suspended path dwindles away to a 4th class scramble up to a catwalk that skirts the cliffs leading to Marmara Bay.
The catwalk near Likos
It took some thinking and a bit of determination, but I pressed on and we conquered the obstacle.  
Marmara Beach
By the time we reached Marmara Beach, it was already 13:00, with over 15k left to walk... but with perfect weather, Cape Plaka was incredible.

Several hours later, we reached the welcoming pine forests near the small 10th century church of Agios Pavlos.
Pine forest near Agios Pavlos
On the beach, Agia Roumeli in the distance
The last 5 k was on the beach, more or less.  Agia Roumeli slowly revealed itself like a surreal ghost town.  Was it real?  Completely quiet, with nobody visible, it seemed a bit strange.  Fortunately, our first encounter was with a friendly man who was baking bread and offered us a beer and a homemade roll.  Perfect welcome.  We found our accommodation  the Samaria, and realized that this place was of heaven.   

Crete: Day 2 - Chora Sfakion to Loutro

Day 2 (April 3, 2013): Chora Sfakion to Loutro
Had the sea not been too rough for the ferry boat, we may have opted for the easy way to Agia Roumeli, but it was not meant to be.  The winds were strong, though the weather was not in-climate  So, plan B was to walk the E4 path, stopping at Loutro.  The only guide was the map and my mountaineering experience, both of which actually proved to be quite useful.  The E4 path is what could be called "hard" depending on your expectations.  In hindsight, it was not terribly difficult, but there were several sections which were downright tricky, particularly with a 20 kg backpack.  We encountered an eroded section of path less than 1 km from where it left the road that had serious 100+ m exposure and was less than a meter wide.  So, we decided instead to hike over the 500 m mountain to Kambia and down the steep path to Loutro.  It was rewarding.
Looking down on Chora Sfakion
Loutro from above
More Loutro photos here.  Accommodation for the evening was the Oasis, and moussaka at the  only open taverna.  It just gets better and better...

Crete: Day 1 - Heraklion to Chora Sfakion

Sing to me of an adventure, Muse, a journey through an ancient land, the land of Crete...
I just returned from an absolutely fantastic trip.  The essence of the plan was to find the real Crete, not the Crete of mass tourists, but the authentic place where land and sea collide and where the roots of Western civilization were born.  It was an unqualified success.  The destination was the wilderness of South Western Crete, only accessible on foot.  Road-less, and rugged, the landscape is immense and sublime, and the Libyan sea, a gorgeous turquoise.  So, here is the narrative.
Day 1 (April 2, 2013): Heraklion to Chora Sfakion
We arrived at Heraklion.  The first stop was Knossos, a prerequisite cultural infusion.
I will refrain from comment about the 19th century Evans reconstruction.  As a place of profound historical significance, however, it was still a worthwhile excursion.  More Knossos photos here

Next, we went to Chora Sfakion by way of Rethymno, about a 3 hour drive.  Hora Sfakion is a small village with a harbor, and the primary disembarkation point for the ferry that connects the otherwise inaccessible villages of Loutro and Agia Roumeli. 
Chora Sfakion
The accommodation for the first evening was the Hotel Xenia with a meal at Taverna Nikos.   More Chora Sfakion photos here