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Published: July 10th 2019
We're up at 5am for our long awaited day of hiking through the Agia Irini Gorge. I think that maybe it’s only me that the “long awaited” bit applies to; I suspect “long dreaded” may be more Issy’s take on the subject. We are picked up just before 6am, and we join a busload full of fellow hikers for the long drive up into the White Mountains where our hike will start. We originally considered hiking the 16 km long Samaria Gorge, which is apparently the longest gorge in Europe, before deciding that the Agia Irini, at a paltry 7.5 km, was a bit more our style. We assume that everyone else on the bus is also a fellow Agia Irini hiker, but we soon discover that it is only us and one other couple who are doing the shorter hike; everyone else is hiking Samaria. We now feel like second class citizens. We feel the eyes of everyone else on the bus bore into us as they question our physical and mental fortitude. I briefly consider grabbing a microphone and telling them all that it was Issy’s idea that we do the shorter hike, but apart from being untrue, I’m
also not too sure that this would be all that good for matrimonial harmony.
Our guide’s name is Tomas and he gives the Samaria hikers a briefing on the day’s activities. If he‘s trying to talk them out of attempting the exercise he’s doing an excellent job. He tells them that this is not a hike for the faint hearted. He says that if anyone has heart problems, knee problems, asthma, diabetes or any other ailments they should pull out now. He says that there is only one way in and one way out of the Gorge, and if you decide halfway through that you’ve had enough it will be too late. He says that he sometimes hears people tell him that they’ve heard stories that if they get into trouble, mules can be sent in to carry them out. He says that those stories are completely untrue. If you go into the Gorge, the only way out is on foot. He’s put the fear of God into us, and we’re not even doing this hike. I wonder what happens if you fall down a cliff and break your leg. Presumably you end up as goat food. Actually I
think that goats might be herbivorous, not that that makes the concept of being left alone to die there any more attractive.
We stop at a small shop for supplies. Tomas says that we’re now up at around a thousand metres above sea level. It’s almost cold which is a bit of a change from the oppressive heat down on the coast.
We stop at the entrance to Samaria Gorge, where the view is spectacular. It seems that Tomas’ attempts to talk anyone out of doing the hike have been a spectacular failure. I wonder which of these brave souls won’t survive the day.
I’ve been trying to work out Tomas’ accent and I ask him if he’s German. He tells me that he is from Austria. I ask him if I have offended him. He says not, but then pauses and says “well maybe a little bit”. The look on his face suggests that this is a major understatement. I was only trying to be friendly, but I’m now worried that he might try to guide me off a cliff.
The four of us second class citizens get back on the bus and we are
driven down to the start of our Agia Irini “stroll“. It starts off easily enough, but we soon find ourselves scrambling up and down steep slippery rocky paths and over large boulders. We were pleased to discover yesterday that we didn’t need to worry about being killed by dangerous snakes out here, but we wonder what other animal hazards lie in wait. We see a goat scraping its horns against the trunk of a large tree. I assume it’s just doing this to pass the time, but Issy says she’s heard that this is sometimes what goats do to sharpen their horns just before an attack. I think she might be making this up, but I move away quickly just in case. Samaria Gorge looked to be very busy, but it’s very quiet here and we’ve virtually got the whole place to ourselves. It feels very isolated. We hear a chopping sound in the distance. There’s no one around to save us if there’s an axe murderer running loose in here, so it’s a relief to find that the noise is coming from the park ranger clearing rocks off the path with his pick.
The scenery is spectacular. The
sheer cliffs on both sides of the Gorge are up to 500 metres high in places, and these, together with the trees in the base of the gorge, provide almost constant shade from the blistering sun.
The track isn’t getting any easier. We walk along the face of a cliff along two rudimentary wooden walkways, and then climb down another cliff on a wooden ladder. The ladder looks like it’s been designed to be used by giants. The spacing between the rungs is enormous; Issy’s not short, but she can only get from one rung to the next by jumping.
We reach the aptly named Oasis Cafe at the end of the Gorge. After a few well earned drinks we get back on our bus for the drive down to the tiny coastal village of Sougia on Crete’s remote south coast. We have a bite of lunch and settle in on some sunlounges under an umbrella on the beach. The sea seems much calmer here than on the north coast, and the beach is black pebbles rather than golden sand.
Back on the bus, Tomas asks us how we went. He tells us that the Agia Irini
hike is a lot more technically difficult than Samaria, and involves a lot more ups and downs and scrambling over rocks than its relatively flat neighbour. We try to get him to repeat this to the whole bus with a microphone in his hand. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. We’ve spent the whole day believing that we were second class citizens, when we’re actually the bus’s premier hikers. It’s the Samarians who are the real wimps, and the worst thing is that they don’t even realise it. The injustice of it all.
We’re too tired to troop into Chania so we grab a quick bite of dinner at a resort around the corner from ours. Our waiter looks distinctly Greek but he addresses us in what sounds to us very much like an Aussie accent. He says that his parents migrated to New Zealand from Greece, but he came back to Crete a few years ago. He says that we Aussies are “alright”, as long as we don’t win at cricket.
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