::Stelios Jackson's walks
interkriti:the E4 and other Mythical Trails-by Stelios Jackson
A diary of events of the trials and tribulations
of a lone walker, in his attempt to cross Crete
from Kato Zakros to Kissamos...
Chapter One: The planning and arrival (E4 I go!)
Warning! There are a lot of scenes of gratuitous alcohol consumption in this  chapter!

So, two years in the planning and I could talk a good walk! I knew only too well, that the 20 mile (32 KM) treks across flat Hertfordshire footpaths, would in no way, prepare me for the undulating and severe landscape that is Crete. First things first though, I had to get these legs used to putting themselves in front of each other over lengthy periods and short of spending a small fortune by joining a gym, this was the only way I knew of getting myself into some sort of shape for the hazards to follow. "Discipline" is the keyword here, something I am sadly lacking in. My journey to work involved walking the mile and a half to Totteridge station from my home in East Barnet, getting the tube to East Finchley, and walking the three miles across Hampstead Heath to Tufnell Park. This walk was reversed in the evenings, when there was light enough to see by - and rather more circuitously via Highgate, when there was not - so I could claim to be walking 45 miles (72KM), just getting to work and back in an average week. Every Sunday and each day-off work I had during this two year period, would see me traipsing a well-trodden path from East Barnet to Enfield, through Trent Park and back home again, trying to keep to footpaths. As I became increasingly accustomed to this walk, so I became increasingly bored with it, however much I tried to vary the route and by the 100th time I had walked it, I had become desperate for a change of scenery and the challenges that lay ahead in Crete. Yes, I knew full-well that by the third week in Crete, I would have done practically anything to be treading these paths again - to be able to see the M25 from a great height from the arched bridge that nobody other than me had seemingly ever crossed; to disappoint for the umpteenth time, the horse that blocked my path, with that "give me an apple" look, whom I always left with a long face; to arrive home to a bath and the omnibus edition of Eastenders awaiting me! Oh yes, I knew all right!

Two years! It felt like a prison sentence! I had decided not to go to Greece in the interim year, choosing to buy a camera instead. A Nikon Coolpix 5700; a piece of machinery that would remain with me for life and one with which I would be able to record for posterity the trials and tribulations of the walk to follow. My last visit to Crete, had seen my first encounter with an eagle, or at least the first one which I could identify an eagle as being such and not a bird by any other name! Countless times during previous visits to various parts of Greece, I had seen sparrows, swallows and other birdlife; large insects and who know's what other ufo's?- perhaps even eagles - just far enough away for me to claim my "eagle spotters badge", and that, up 'til then had been enough. Then in 2001, I was able to categorically claim to have seen the real thing for the first time and was bowled-over by the experience. Thirty foot (10m) above me, the claws unmistakable, an eagle! Your actual not-a-sparrow, not-a-swallow, not a-bloomin'-big-bug, but a bona-fide eagle! I had somehow remained calm enough to reach for the camera and take a wonderful picture of "eagle on wing". At least it should have been a wonderful picture, but when developed, I realised that the disposable camera I had used had been on "panoramic mode", when what I had needed was  "zoom mode" (which that camera was a wee-bit incapable of), and that the vision of beauty I had snapped, had turned into little more than a spec against an otherwise empty blue sky! No, that wouldn't happen again. Not with my Coolpix 5700 with its eight times optical and six times digital lens, replete with far more memory than this correspondent could claim. Here I had a pair of binoculars capable of taking photographs and able to do other things that boggled the mind. I could lose anything...anything else, whilst in Crete, including what was left of my sanity, but come the day of reckoning, this little beauty would be buried alongside me...oh yes!

During this two-year period, I had looked at and read everything I could lay my hands on - which was not a great deal - concerning the Cretan leg of the E4, a path which begins at the Pyrenees, winds it way through Europe, heading down across Greece to the Peloponnese, before picking up again some 500 miles away in Crete (presumable after a jolly good swim!).  On Crete, the walk is traditionally considered to be West to East (Kissamos to Kato Zakros), in direction, which would make sense, given its Western European origins. It is after all a Pan-European footpath, (though where the Pan European footpath number four actually begins is debatable; some say Portugal, some France, the latest edition of the Blue Guide to Crete has it starting in Malta), but having spoken to people who had walked the good walk and, as the idea had originally been planned to follow in the footsteps of Christopher Thorne, I decided to break with tradition. Besides, the thought of following the sun in the afternoon was a far better one than being blinded by it in the morning. This decision was, as it turned out, one of my better ones, making navigation far simpler than walking in the opposite direction. I had managed to acquire copies of the four regional maps to Crete - laughably (as it turned out), calling themselves the "E4 walking maps" - but had failed to obtain a copy of the accompanying book, which according to my agent in Crete, was "out of print" in English, which given the awfulness of the maps, was probably a blessing!

Tuesday the 29th of April - Thursday the 1st of May 2003
So, at last the day had arrived, the 29th of April 2003; my flight booked to Heraklion five  months earlier; a two-way ticket for £132.00 from Gatwick, for which I had no need for the "return" leg, instead booking my return from Athens with easyJet on the 19th of June, for a further £74.00. It was impossible to get a return flight for the duration I wished to be in Crete - some seven weeks - but if I could have bought a single at that price I would have, so it all boiled-down to the same thing. I had stayed the night before at the home of  my travelling companion, Rex, his place being far nearer to Gatwick than mine. Rex, in actors parlance was "resting". A writer of no little skill - versed in multifarious computer programs, which I have trouble enough remembering the names of - Rex had decided that rather than waiting for the 'phone to ring with offers of jobs, he may as well accompany me for the duration, writing the second of his novels and remaining in contact with his "office", by way of laptop and mobile. OK, I know what you're thinking! " 'Rex', it's a dog's name isn't it?" Well, I can tell you that my faithful friend is decidedly human and not canine in the slightest ...other than his occasional fits of Pekinese snoring and that hang-dog expression...then there's the panting and wet nose and...no...I'm not going there!

The flight to Crete was a dream, arriving at Heraklion airport at exactly the time stated on the ticket and the taxi ride to the Hotel Mirabello was equally painless. A visit to Heraklion archaeological museum was the highlight of our brief stay in Greece's fifth largest city. It was during my Pendlebury ramble, in 1989, that I had last visited this museum and again, it did not disappoint. The Phaistos disk (a copy, I have the original at home!) alone, was worth the admission price of €4.00, especially as Rex paid. A few beers and a nice meal, with a litre of village red wine, in a taverna by the Morosini fountain followed. We were struggling to finish the third of the beers and hoping for our first tsikoudhia ("raki" - a term coined by the tea-and-coffee-total Ottomans for any brand of hooch and still used to describe the somewhat inferior Turkish version of "Ouzo") of the trip, which is often served after the meal as a treat, when the waiter asked if we would like a little something on the house. "Absolutely", we cried! 

There is an art to drinking tsikoudhia, one of belting it down the Gregory (neck) as swiftly as possible and worrying about the consequences once they start to set-in. Much like Schnapps, they are usually served in small shot glasses, though occasionally come in small - four shot - bottles, but hey, you already know that! For once we were hoping for the single glass option, as we had stuffed ourselves insensitive and were deeply regretting having ordered that third beer. Of course, we should have known. The waiter was the generous type and rather than offer us the cheap -and some would say nasty, but not I - option of a shot of tsikhoudia, had treated us to a fourth beer. Our plans for an early night were delayed by two hours as we waited for the miracle of night-time evaporation in vain and sipped from the bottles, as if they indeed contained raki!

I am afraid that this was tantamount to one over the eight for us. You know what it's like, don't you? One too many and all sensible decisions, made in the cold light of day and sobriety are washed away by a new found urge to have "just one more" and we were hoping that "one more" would be a raki. A bar was found, but tsikoudhia wasn't and after a few  double whiskies and a number of attempts to get a meaningful picture of a statue of a mermaid (don't ask me why, it just seemed important at the time!), we wandered back to the hotel at some ungodly hour, probably waking up the neighbourhood with our attempts to hush each other (we are polite drunks!).

My mobile ‘phone was not what one call “state of the arts”. It had been once I suppose, but rapid technological developments over the previous five years or so, had left the Erikson A1018 lagging behind in this field. I had attempted to upgrade to a somewhat newer model, before leaving England, but without success. Mobile ‘phones by definition, should be both portable and capable of making and receiving calls, at least that's all I want from one. The Erikson A1018s was slightly challenged in this first department, taking up far more luggage space and weight allowance, than strictly necessary, but did the necessary job on the second of these two criteria. Not for long. A gust of wind (or my hand, I forget which!) toppled over a bottle of water, the contents submerging the ‘phone, which then refused to switch off. Not a problem you would have thought. Just keep recharging it and all would be OK. "Whatever you do, don’t take the battery out for the next seven weeks", I told myself. I heeded my own advise for approximately ten minutes with the inevitable consequence. On removing and replacing the battery, the ‘phone which had previously refused to switch off, now refused to do the opposite. Not surprising really. In common with most electronic equipment, “off” and “on” shared a button, and so I was mobiley challenged, before I had put my best foot forward!

Day one, and the most important piece of equipment other than my camera and boots had given up the ghost. This was to have been my corridor to the outside world during the walk; my only means of communication with Rex; my way of finding where he had booked accommodation for the night, whilst I was stuck up some mountain or other. All attempts at coaxing the ‘phone back to life failed; this was far too new a trick for my old “dog and bone.” Never mind, I would buy a new one.

Rex’s ‘phone by contrast to mine, was top-of-the-range. Replacing his SIM card with mine, his mobile asked for a PIN, which we assumed was mine – though I wasn’t actually aware of having a PIN - but have since discovered that it was in fact Rex’s phone, demanding this; a pretty straightforward procedure, I learned later. His phone was what is known as “SIM locked”. Had I known then what I know now, I could have bought any old ‘phone with a functioning on/off button, keeping my old number - instead of the snazzy new model I bought a few days later, with a new Greek number – or at least used my old SIM card! Oh well, at least I still had the camera and the boots would be attached to my feet for most of the trip; even I was incapable of losing these…wasn’t I?

We had hired a car from "Oleander" - based in Kalamaki, near Aghia Galini on the South coast, who met us at the hotel the following morning - for the whole seven weeks and Rex's job was to meet me at each point of arrival with accommodation booked, and if necessary to whisk me off to wherever he had booked it. I had a problem coming to terms with the idea that if there was nowhere to stay at my arrival point, I could easily be transported by Rex to the nearest place where there was. After all, this was a luxury that surely would not be open to many attempting the E4, but I convinced myself that so long as I walked from the points of arrival the previous day, to the next village on my list, I was following the path, regardless of where I had laid my head the previous night...but I get ahead of myself...

We set off for Rethymnon, where we had booked for a couple of nights in the Hotel Veneto, a splendid place, situated in the Venetian quarter of the town. As Rex drove away, I remember wondering whether my navigatory skills would be sufficient to see me across the 500KM that I intended to walk over the next five weeks. Lost in this reverie, I failed to do the job immediately at hand and inform Rex where the coastal road lay and before we knew it, we were the wrong side of Mount Ida! As it turned out, this was a splendid reintroduction to Crete, as we took the high road around Psiloritis (Mt Ida), stopping off for a bite of lunch at Zaros, before heading West to Fourfouras and then North-West down to Rethymnon. I had convinced myself by this time, that the detour had been a deliberate one and that I was merely showing Rex the beauty of Crete's hinterland and giving myself a sneaky view of the way I was soon to walk. Any doubt that I was directionally challenged, however, was to evaporate upon arrival at Rethymnon. The beautiful hotel "Veneto", proved allusive, despite having a map of Rethymnon with the hotel marked upon it. I tried my best to talk Rex round into believing that I was merely giving him a tour of the Venetian sector of the city, but as I was carrying a rucksack weighing 15 kilos and a suitcase of equal load, the weight of my argument remained unconvincing. Eventually we found the hotel and spent two very relaxing nights there, recovering from this unplanned, unexpected and frankly unnecessary trawl through the back streets. This did not augur well, and I knew it!

We ate that night at the "Vassalos" taverna adjacent to our hotel, where Rex could satisfy his desire to rid the sea of as many little fish as he could swallow, whilst I stuck to my vegetarian principles. This of course was accompanied by far too much wine and our first tsikhoudia of the trip. The following day was spent looking for sun-tan lotion and an internet cafe, both of which proved far more difficult to find than was proper in a town that boasted a fabulous beach and a substantial tourist industry. Despite the impression I may be giving, Rex and I are not "boozers"; we do however, enjoy an occasional drink or three, and we found a fabulous place among the seemingly generic tavernas opposite the main beach to do just that. The place (I have lost their business card, so I can't share it's name with you) opens 24 hours per day 365 days year and despite us being their only two customers, it had a definite atmosphere. Greek music, from old-world Rembetica to Harris Alexiou, played in the background whilst Rex and I hatched plans for next day's drive into the hills.

Friday the 2nd of May 2003.
Argyroupolis - in the foothills, close to the Rethymnon/Chania district borders - was our next destination and off we set, by some stroke of luck finding the place without any further mishaps. This was my first, but definitely will not be my last visit to this beautiful twin-layered, mountain village. My expectations, fuelled by the Rough Guide to Crete's  (which was to remain my bible throughout), glowing report, were fully met, though I had expected it to be either wet or overcast - a throwback to my previous stay at this altitude - when I had been planning this trip; we were, of course, treated to the most gorgeous sunny day. Argyroupolis could definetely be used as a base for a longer stay, being a close enough drive to places such as Georgoupolis and lake Kournas, a few KMs to its north-west and the city of Rethymnon to its north-east. We stayed in the upper part of the village, with the archaeological site of Lappa (originally a Dorian settlement dating back to the 8th century BC; the reservoir which serves the village to this day is Roman and dates back to the mid-first century BC), close at hand and a series of superb-looking tavernas down the hill. For lunch we chose the bottom-most taverna - The Vieux Moulin, highly recommended in the Rough Guide - and we were not disappointed.  A previous discussion over whether or not freshwater crabs existed on the island, was almost immediately answered as one joined us for lunch; that is to say it sidled up to our table before realising that whilst I was studying it with awe, Rex was eyeing it with relish - which would either be horseradish or mustard given half a chance - and deciding that the nether parts of a local rock would be safer - and better - company.

I had decided that Velonado -a few KMs South-East of Argyroupolis - would be the starting point for the "pre-walk" which was to begin the following day. The rationale behind this was that Velonado  was a "crossing" point for the inland and coastal sections of the E4. One path heads off North-West to Argyroupolis and ultimately on to Askyphou and the White Mountains, whilst the other meanders South -to Kato Rodakino - and becomes the coastal path of the E4, a fact I knew, having studied various maps during the previous couple of years. (There is a third path, but this seems to do much the same as the first and I am sure that it only exists for symmetry or some such reason, if at all!) Velonado therefore, was to be the place where I would start the coastal walk to Soughia and four - or so - weeks later, the point from where I would head inland for the "alpine" section. Rex and I drove to this famous crossroads and were happy to find the village boasted a cafeneion, there for the sole-purpose, of supplying coffees to trekies, such as me. Here we met with a group of walkers from Holland, who were off to Aghios Konstantinos with "The Happy Walker" tour company. The group was led by an extremely fit-looking lady (healthy that is...honest!), who knew the area well, but unfortunately not where the E4 started.The two ladies running the cafe, had not heard of the "Epsilon Tessera" (E4) at all and as I was to discover the following day, neither had any of the villagers (who expressed an opinion) that lived there.

Back in Argyroupolis, we ate and spent the night at "Zographakis' hotel", a pleasant place with a lovely view. Mr Zographakis (a name synonymous with the WWII film of the book by W Stanley Moss "Ill Met by Moonlight, the part of "Charis Zographakis", being played by George Eugeniou in that movie), also runs the folk-museum next door to the hotel, which I am reliably informed is well worth a visit, but I had other things on my mind, such as ...

"...where does the E4 trail start at Velonado?"
© Stelios Jackson & interkriti
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