Chapter Three: Four Days of Rest.
Part One: Soughia and Chania.
Once again I have divided this chapter into two parts, due to its
length. Part one covers the night we spent in Soughia, and the two days in Chania; part
two will be the trip to Kato Zakros - where the walk begins - via Malia, Aghios Nikolaos
and Siteia. These four days-off, probably constitute the most important period of my
Friday the 9th of May 2003
My head hurt! Well, what did I expect after last night's excesses? I struggled out of
my bed and on to the room's North-facing balcony...hold on! Last night? I promised you a
résumé of last night's activities, didn't I? Well, if truth be told, I can't remember
much of what happened, but you know me; always game. Herds of majestic wildebeest...no,
that's not it...oh yes...Soughia by moonlight:
The Night Before
The water-taxi docked, and Yiorgios (Rex tells me that our driver's name might have
been Michaelis, but, for the sake of continuity, I'm sticking to Yiorgios), offered the
three of us a lift into Soughia town, in his more conventional variety of cab; a journey
of no more than a couple of hundred metres. Even I could manage this on foot without
getting lost. I attempted to pay Yiorgios for services rendered, but he said he'd see us
later. And so it was that I was led to the hotel Zorba, where Rex and Virginia had booked
the three of us into a treble room for the night. Excuse me for being a misery-guts; the
euphoria I had briefly felt earlier, had all but vanished. I dumped my bag and without
further ado, off we set to forget the day's experience. Well at least
that had been my intention. Rex and Virginia, on the other hand, decided
that my moral-fibre needed a bit of stiffening. They escorted me to the bar that they'd
spent the best part of the afternoon at. The bar Santa Irene can be
accessed from the road or the beach Here I could drown my sorrows - or myself - and
maybe get run-over too! Most of the patrons Rex and Virginia had spent the best part of
the afternoon with, were still there, and greeted me like their long-lost and rather
stupid brother. "Oh, bother!
I was quite a celebrity; the one that had got lost on the walk to Soughia from Aghia
Roumelli; a trek so straightforward that locals walk it three or four times a week
just to "stretch their legs". My legs were skilfully pulled, in a
metaphorical kinda way, of course. Not that I didn't feel that I deserved this gentle
ribaldry, I had lost all sympathy with myself somewhere over there... I looked East, but
in the increasing darkness, the rolling hills revealed no clues as to the painful nature
behind their seemingly gentle make-up. Tsikoudhia was drunk. A lot of tsikoudhia was
drunk. I was drunk, or at least becoming so. I smiled thinly at well-meaning comments and
entered into a conversation with the local policeman, asking if I could borrow his gun.
How we laughed! We started talking about his hobby. Or at least I think we did. Model
aeroplanes were the subject of debate. This conversation stretched my knowledge of Greek
to previously unknown heights, and as pleasant as it was, I decided that I just couldn't
do justice to my friend's air-fixation. I turned to thrash-out matters of high-commerce
with the newly arrived Yiorgios. I thrust €35.00 in his general direction, and downed
another tsikoudhia. I was informed that I had made a "lathos"
(mistake), and that it was €35.00 each way. I was a bit miffed by
this, in all honesty. Yiorgios was a nice enough chap, but surely, if our nautical
adventure were to cost more than the advertised price of a single trip, shouldn't a
"cheap-hour-return" have been part of the deal? For once in my life I was not up
for an argument, besides, the trip had been worth every lepta (cent). I
paid the ferryman.
A few other bars were hit; a few more tsikoudhias were imbibed, but
still my mind refused to forget the horrors that I had experienced today. In the long term
this would be a good thing; tonight it was a burden from which I could not escape, however
much I tried. And I tried. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the balcony of our room
in the hotel Zorba; it was the following morning...
A little bit About
Soughia (more often than not, Sougia, or occ.
Souyia), is a nice place, ideally suited to those wanting to spend a few days doing very
little. Occupied during Byzantine times (324-1453 AD) and before, the village was then
abandoned and resettled after 1885 according to Xan Fielding - though not until after WWII
according to others -and now caters for the tourist with just a bit of adventure. The
beach is the main attraction; a long, wide sandy/shingly/pebbly stretch, with a road
running parallel to it. This is where the majority of the hotels, bars and restaurants can
be found. As the village is surrounded on both sides by hills, there is little scope for
development, so Soughia will never be a place of mass tourism. I expect that I could
return in 10 years to find very little had changed. There is one road into town - at a
right angle to the beach road - to and from the North of the island, though ferryboats
also connect it with Aghia Roumelli and Paleohora.
The Greco Roman site of Lissos (also Lisos or Lyssos/Lysos) is
within walking distance (around one and a half hours to the West, though water-taxis are
available, if you can afford one!), where you can find the remains of a Roman theatre as
well as a temple dedicated to the God of medicine, Asklepios.
The Morning After
My head hurt! Well, what did I expect after last night's excesses? I struggled out of
my bed and on to the room's North-facing balcony (if you stay at the hotel Zorba, or for
that matter any other hotel in Soughia, do try to get a South-facing balcony; the sea
makes for a far better view than the hinterland!), I ached from head to waist. I emphasise
these particular parts of my body, because they exclude the very parts of me that should
have been incapable of any movement at all: my legs! OK, I'd had a good night's sleep (it
was past 10.00 AM by the time I had risen from my pit), but surely, if I were to be in
pain, my legs should have been suffering the most, shouldn't they? Defies logic, but they
felt as if they were ready for a walk back to Aghia Roumelli; the rest of me most
certainly wasn't! Rex and Virginia were nowhere to be seen, so I went to find them. I had
a brief wander around the town of Soughia, and decided I'd return here one day...by
I spotted Virginia in a local fish restaurant and joined her for a coffee. The Greek
waiter was having a conversation in Virginia's native tongue; German. I asked for a coffee
in Greek and he replied in German. I looked at Virginia for assistance and she translated.
He was asking me where I was from. "Eimai apo tin Anglia" (I am
from England), I answered him directly. He replied in German. I was perplexed and
linguistically challenged. "Den milao Germanika" (I don't speak
German), I said. That's not strictly true; I can order a beer in German (thanks to a
friend, I also know the German for 'duck
billed platypus' - "das schnabeltier" - somehow, I just couldn't fit this
into the conversation); I can order a beer in most languages, but all I wanted at this
moment was a coffee. Oh cruel fate! The waiter seemed incapable of switching languages, so
I asked Virginia to order me a coffee. This she did and having drunk it, we spied a
loitering Rex, and were ready for the off.
Our journey to Chania was pretty unremarkable, though we did stop-off for a
bite to eat in Kampanos (I am relying on a dim and distant memory here),
close to the top of the Aghia
Irini gorge. When I say "a bite", in my case I mean it quite literally. The
food brought out was fabulous; local cheese, a jar of honey and an omelette of quite
dazzling colour. I tried to eat, and I felt hungry, but I just couldn't face the food once
it arrived. I tried to conjure-up images from my childhood, of starving Biafran children
with horribly distended stomachs; the ones that my father believed would help me enjoy
tripe and onions; that didn't help then and it didn't help now. Rex and Virginia
(pictured), devoured the offerings, as I watched on, guiltily.
For me, the strangest part of the drive to Chania, was that I had totally forgotten
what it was like to sit in a car and watch the landscape slip by. It had been just a few
days since the last time I was in this position, but it felt as if it were years. I had
become used to the scenery moving at my walking pace. Rex is a careful driver, but I felt
like a co-driver on a rally. As he drove, Rex told me of his journey to Soughia and the
wait that he and Virginia had endured the previous day. Once again, I'll let the boy type
Rex types his mind...
Didn’t we have a wonderful
time the day we went to Soughia?
I’d sort of abandoned
Stelios after Virginia and I had left him to his own devices in Chora Sphakion. He
didn’t really need me for this coastal jaunt and it looked straightforward on the
map. Despite my experience of the first day of the walk, it still hadn’t got through
to me that the lad was directionally challenged. Anyway, this looked pretty easy. All he
had to do was walk up the coast keeping the sea on his left. Recovering from sunstroke or
a bad olive, I took the lovely Virginia back to Chania for a couple of days of not doing
much before driving back across the island to meet Stelios at Soughia.
The remarkable thing about
Crete is that, although it is a pretty big island, you can get from anywhere to anywhere
else in about three hours (Rex here has presumably forgotten our
eight hour drive, through the mountains, in the dark, with me at the wheel, from Myrtos to
Chania, in 2001! SJ.). In
the case of Chania to Soughia, that includes a half hour stop for an 'Ellinikos'
(coffee). Driving along in the little hire car, Virginia and I were suddenly surprised by
a giant grasshopper that bounded through the open roof. Virginia is particularly scared of
anything that flies or crawls, having had a nasty nip from a scorpion a few months before and
having suffered the decimation of her wardrobe by moths. For a minute or two, the thing
sat on the dashboard above the steering wheel looking like an extra from War of the
Worlds. Honestly, it was the size of a large crayfish or a small lobster.
“It’s an eater!” I said to Virginia. This must have upset it, because it
leaped into the well of the car and hid in the silliest place you can imagine, hanging
upside down from the underside of the handbrake. We pulled over and Virginia, very
bravely, helped me liberate the beast. I still think we should have roasted it.
Just like any other journey on
Crete, this is a spectacular drive: climbing up the valleys into the mountains; the pretty
villages with spectacular views down gorges and across snow-capped peaks; the drop down to
the sea on the other side. Soughia itself, like a lot of coastal resorts, is T-shaped. The
road runs up to the coast and then stretches out either side along the beach. Here you
find the usual cluster of bars, tavernas and hotels and a very strong sense of community.
We found a suitable room for the night with Michailis at the hotel 'Zorba', then went for
an early dinner or a late lunch and I called Steli. At first he was optimistic. He just
had one gorge to cross and he would be here. A little later he was unsure where he was.
Later still he was definitely going back to Aghia Roumelli. I decided to hit the beer and
relax. I wasn’t going to get myself worked up into another panic. There was still an
hour or so of daylight. Virginia and I met a man called Yiorgios - or was it Michaelis? -
who was introduced as the local walking expert. He knew every rock on the cliffs
personally. He had a letter of introduction to the most important goats. He had walked
from Chora Sphakion to Paliahora in six hours – at night – blindfolded –
backwards. After several attempts and a lot of breaking up on the phone,
Yiorgios/Michaelis and Stelios finally had a conversation. As a result, Stelios decided he
was definitely returning to Aghia Roumelli. I made several more attempts to talk to him
but he seemed to have found a part of the cliffs where there was no phone signal at all.
Back to the beer.
But I had reckoned without the
persistence of the lovely Virginia. She found another man called Michaelis (or Yiorgios;
at about this time, everyone we met was called Michaelis or Yiorgios), who ran one of the
bars we had been drinking at as well as the local supermarket, a road taxi, and the water
taxi. He would take us to collect the misdirected one in his boat for 70 of Monsieur
Chirac’s finest euros. I rang the lad. No reply. This was pointless. Michaelis needed
to know by 8.00 because after that it would be too dark. There was every possibility that
Steli hadn’t even made it back to Roumelli. It sounded like a lot of money for a
40-minute boat ride.
Back to the bar.
But I had reckoned without the
persistence of the lovely Virginia. At 10 past eight she came and grabbed my hand.
“Come on. We’re going.” She’d managed to contact the lad just as he
was climbing past the last goat.
The drive round the
headland in the fading light remains in my memory as one of the magic moments of my life,
with Michaelis/Yiorgios pointing out the various gorges that Stelios had never made and
finally the shallow valley where later I was to learn the boy had spent a frightful three
hours clinging perilously to a near horizontal cliff face above a perilous four-foot
drop." (It was bloomin' great deal higher than four foot, SJ!)
and I dropped Virginia off at her flat in Kato Daratso, slightly West of Chania town, and
the pair of us headed for Chania itself; Rex parked the car in our usual spot, somewhere
round the back of the Nautical Museum. Before leaving the car, I sifted through my
luggage, I still couldn't find my address book; it was becoming increasingly clear that I
must have dropped it on the walk to Rodakino. My address book contained all the 'phone
numbers of people I wished to contact whilst in Crete, just in case I did something
stupid, like drown my mobile 'phone for instance. I had added some of these 'phone numbers
to an online address book, just in case I did something stupid like drown my mobile 'phone
and lose my address book! Oh yes, I know myself well. I had prepared
myself for most eventualities. All was not lost We set-off, on foot, to the hotel Amphora on the waterfront.
The Hotel Amphora
A number of the hotels here are of original Venetian design. Some of them, such as the
hotel Amphora, are on the Venetain
harbour. Cheaper hotels are available, but where else in the world could two people stay
in relative luxury - with a view to die for - for €90.00 a night? The hotel Amphora
has fabulous rooms, and Rex and I had managed to get one with a balcony overlooking the
Venetian harbour. I had booked two nights at this hotel a few months earlier. It had
always been a place where I'd wanted to stay, and I wasn't disappointed. The entrance is
hidden round the back - the second parallel road of Theotokopoulou street - and this took
a few minutes to find. Once there, a few steps need to be negotiated, before you
arrive at the reception. We were greeted by Anna, the lady whom I'd communicated with all
those months ago. She showed us to our splendid room, and left us do our own devices.
How I see Chania
Chania is an absolutely magical place. What immediately hits you is the
sheer beauty of the place. Crete's second city is inexorably linked to its diverse and -
at times - torrid history. Winding narrow streets, within which it's practically
impossible not to get lost; marvellous tavernas, ("Tamam" -
situated in what was once the plunge pool, adjacent to the now defunct Turkish baths,
during Ottoman times - is my favourite, but there are plenty of other excellent eateries);
superb architecture; splendid people; great museums; Chania is an absolutely magical
place. What you see now, however, is not only there due to the grace of the Venetians. In
the 1960's this majestic city, was nearly ripped apart. What you see now, was a hare's
breath away from being bulldozed to death, as developers attempted (and almost succeeded),
to convince the powers that were, that modern hotels were what holiday-makers wanted
(there is an example of one of these follies, opposite the "hand" monument, from
where my friend Tony Fennymore begins his guided tours - see below
for Tony's thorough and excellent historical dissection of the city). Thankfully, local
pressure groups - both Cretan and ex-pat - managed to stop this wanton destruction, and
Chania remains one of the Mediterranean's great beauty spots. The Venetians themselves,
were not particularly nice people to be ruled by (the succeeding Ottomans were a breath of
fresh air in comparison, and we all know how the Cretans felt about them!), but whilst
they may not have been liked, they did know a thing or two about art; especially
architecture. So too - though to a far lesser degree - did the Ottomans. A feature of the
harbour (East side), is the white, domed mosque (of the Jannisaries). Until recently, this
building was used as the local tourist information office). Tony has pictures of the
mosque, replete with minaret. The Nazis were to blame for this decapitation, as they
blitzed this city during WWII. Well, what would they have done with all this useless
beauty? Two other mosques can still be seen, though with practically no Muslim population
in Crete (30,000 Muslims were thrown out during the exchange of populations between Greece
and Turkey in 1923), they are now purely aesthetic.
A note from Tony Fennymore greeted us; he wanted to meet-up. I 'phoned him and arranged
to meet in half an hour at his place. It is always a pleasure to meet Tony; he and Rex got
on like a 'house on fire', allowing me the necessary - though rare - luxury, of saying
very little. They talked about jazz...and jazz! Ordinarily I would have thrown my two lepta
into the equation, despite knowing precisely nothing about this genre of music, but I just
didn't have the strength. I sat on Tony's balcony and quaffed at a rather large glass of
wine. I had all the energy of a sloth...on valium...in hibernation season. I had no
energy! Tony leads guided tours around the city of Chania. I know more about Chania than
anybody in the world; or at least I thought I did. I was later to join Tony on one of his
short tours (1.5 hours), and I was to learn more about this fabulous city in this short
time, than all the months I had lived here - or hereabouts - in the past. I'll allow Tony
to explain further:
AN OUTLINE HISTORY OF CHANIA
by Tony Fennymore
Tony Fennymore was an
historian and architect.
As a resident of Chania, Tony conducted tours of the town.
Chania has always been, and still
is, a living, working Greek city. Recent archaeological excavations in the area of the
ancient acropolis (now known as 'Kasteli' - Venetian for 'castle' - and the site of the
Venetian Rector’s palace) have revealed evidence of human habitation from Neolithic
times (c.4,000 B.C.), on through the Greco-Roman period and right up to the present day.
These 6,000 years of civilisation make Chania one of the oldest and longest continually
occupied sites in the world. In and around the city the influences of Neolithic, Minoan,
Mycenaean, Dorian, Classical and Hellenistic Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Venetian,
Turkish and modern Greek are exposed to the eye like a slice of multi-layered history
cake; a true kaleidoscope of architectural styles and building techniques.
Chania lies on the site of the ancient
settlement of Kydonia and according to legend was founded by King Kydon, the son of Queen
Pasiphae (wife of Minos) and one of her ex-marital lovers, Apollo. This place name
(Ku-do-ni-ja), occurs on Linear B tablets from Knossos and is also mentioned in many
ancient literary sources. The Greek and scientific name for the quince is also apparently
derived from this name and Crete is credited with being the homeland of this fruit. The
importance of these early, pre-Greek inhabitants is emphasised by Strabo and confirmed by
Homer who writes of the Kydonians as one of the indigenous people of Crete. The city of
Kydonia is mentioned by Herodotus and Strabo who considered it to be the third most
powerful state on the “Great Island”; after Knossos and Gortyna.
During the post Minoan/Mycenaean period
i.e. Dorian/Geometric/Archaic/Classical and Hellenistic periods, Crete is very much part
of the known Greek world, but remained on the periphery. Kydonia (Chania) assumed a
prominent role in various inter-island wars and alliances; even defeating Marcus Antonius
( the father of Mark Antony ) in his invasion of Crete in 71 B.C. and later taking the
lead in the resistance against the subsequent successful Roman invasion in 67 B.C. which
was lead by Quintus Metellus (afterwards
From 67 B.C. Crete is linked with
Cyrenaica (in North Africa) to become a single province of the Roman Empire with its
capital at Gortys. With the split of the Empire in 330 A.D. the island becomes part of the
eastern empire – the Holy Roman Empire with control from Byzantium/Constantinople.
However, in 824 the island is seized by ex- Saracen/Andalusian Arabs under the leadership
of Abu Hafs Omar thus ending what is known as the Byzantine I period. Crete does not
become part of the Byzantine Empire again until 961 when it is recaptured by the famous
Byzantine general, and later to become an emperor, Nikiforas Phokas.This is the start of
the Byzantine II period in Crete which continues until 1204 when the most glorious city in
Christendom, Constantinople, falls to the 4th Crusade. The sacking of Constantinople by
the “Belgian yobs” was, of course, engineered by the Venetians who had coverted
the wealth of the Byzantine trading empire for many years.
For services rendered, one of the
Byzantine princes had given Crete to Boniface of Montferrat who was a Genoese, sea
captain. Preferring mainland territory, this “pirate” sold the island to the
wily old Doge of Venice for only 1,000 silver marks and for the next 465 years, Crete is a
fundamental part of the Venetian trading empire in the Mediterranean. The Venetians
renamed the island “Canea”; an Italian/Latin version of Chania which had for several centuries before been
the name of this town. In 1252, the original city was rebuilt on the site of the acropolis
and was known as “Castello Vecchio”. As can be still seen today the encircling
wall was strengthened using many blocks of stone from the ancient Kydonia.
In 1266 (some sources say 1263!),
Chania was captured and plundered by the Genoese who were great rivals of the Venetians.
They held onto it until 1285 when the Venetians won it back again. It was again fortified
in 1336 and later in 1538 in accordance with the plans drawn up by Michelle Sanmicheli in
1536. This military architect from Verona was also responsible for the fortifications at
Rethimnon, Heraklion, the island of Rhodes and many other Venetian colonies. These
fortifications were the height of military architecture for their day incorporating a moat
200 ft wide and 50ft deep which ran all round the 6 km of the town, with the sea and the
rocks abutting on the northern side. The fortifications took some 12 years to construct
using a regular labour force of over 30,000 people!
During the long period of occupation,
the Venetians built so many fine private and civil/military structures in “La
Canea” that the town enjoyed the reputation of being known as the “Venice of the
East”. In 1609, a Scottish traveller, William Lithgow, wrote “Chania is a large
castle (meaning the fortification walls) containing some 97 palaces in which the Rector
and other Venetian gentleman dwell”.
However, on the 22nd
1645, these ambitious and apparently inpregnable fortifications fell to the Ottoman Turks
after a seige of only two months. The Turks settled in and set about repairing the
fortifications and converting churches and monasteries into mosques.
Eventually in 1849, the Turks made the
the capital of the island.
The Seraglio was also in the city and
travellers in the 19th
century reported a community of Africans and Arabs at
the edge of Chania which must have had a generally exotic atmosphere.
Following the Greek War of Independence
which commenced in 1821, the islanders began a series of rebellions against Turkish rule.
Such revolts were put down harshly by Turkish and Egyptian forces culminating in the
massacre of christians at the Monastery at Arkardi. This act of defiance aroused
Europe-wide sympathy and with the killing of the British vice-consul in Heralion it
finally brought about the expulsion of Turkish
troops in 1898. All Turkish troops were withdrawn from the island and the International
Forces moved in under the aegis of the then Great Powers. Prince George became High
Commissioner and Chania retained its honour of being the capital of Crete when the Cretans
eventually achieved “Enosis – union with the Greek motherland – and on the
of December 1913 the island was united with Greece with the Greek flag
being raised for the very first time on Crete in the Firkas fortress on the harbour in
Chania by Eleftherios Venizelos and King Constantine. The town lost this capital
distinction in 1971, when the seat of administration reverted back to Heraklion which was
a far more logical capital both from a population and geographical point of view being at
the centre of the island.
Only eighteen years after the Treaty of
Lausanne and the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey, the island was again
invaded, but this time by the Nazis. The city was heavily bombed in WWII and the worst
damage was in the district of Kasteli in which were concentrated the most important public
and private buildings of the Venetian and Turkish periods. The Allies lost the Battle
for Crete leaving the island to be occupied by the Nazis
for the next four years. On the 8th
of May, 1945, the Nazi Commander of Crete,
General Benthag, received orders from Admiral Donitz at Elensburg to surrender to the
Allied Forces H.Q.. By this time the Nazi forces had retreated to the area of Chania
and were completely surrounded. So, on the following day
Benthag was taken to Heraklion by plane from Maleme and from Heraklion airport he was
driven by car to Villa Ariadne at Knossos to sign the “unconditional” surrender
still retains the island’s highest judicial authority - the
Court of Appeal, and houses the Art and Architecture Departments of the University of
Crete. In addition to the impressive Venetian walls, there is the Historic Museum and
Archives and also the Archaeological Museum
) which is housed in the cathedral of a Venetian monastery built
by the Franciscans and is, without doubt, the finest example of Venetian ecclesiastical
architecture on the island. The Naval/Maritime
is situated at the entrance to the Firkas fortress being the original
purpose-built Venetian garrison; the Byzantine Museum
is located in the former monastery
church of San Salvatore and the
“Agora”- the covered Public Market Place
which is a large structure built in the
shape of a cross and modelled on the great market of
and dating from 1913.
In recent years, the Synagogue of
“ETZ HAYYIM” has been completely renovated. The jewish presence in Crete is very
ancient and dates back to the 4th
c B.C. – not long after the conquest of
the Near East by Alexander the Great. By the time of the Roman conquest of Crete (67 B.C.)
there were Jewish communities in most of the important cities of the island. The Synagogue
of Etz Hayyim could well be the oldest surviving synagogue in Greece – along with
that of Rhodes.
Today, Chania is the island’s
second largest city with a population of 70,000. However, it
may be thought of as two cities – the old and
the new; with the old still enclosed within the Venetian fortification walls and the new
Chania growing up along the plain behind the harbour and gradually absorbing the earlier
suburbs such as Halepa.
A man who tires of Chania, to
paraphrase Dr. Johnson, is tired of life.
Chania vibrades with life and yet still
retains the intimacy and personality of a village, but with all the amenities of a modern
(Chania, December 2003)
Cheers Tony; SJ
Saturday the 10th of May 2003
My memories of the previous night, were - once again - befuddled! I know that at some
stage Rex and I met up with my friend Adam whom we invited to join us the next day; that
Virginia had joined us; that we had gone out so that I could watch Rex and her eat; that I
was desperate for my bed and that the chances of me walking the island had sunk from slim
to less than zero. This morning I felt mentally far more attuned, but physically, I had
sunk further into the mire. I had been looking forward to meeting-up with my friend Jean (he's
'Jean' as in Jean-Luc Godard and not as in 'The Prime of Miss Jean
Brodie', much to the confusion of a number of regular Interkriti message board users!). As well as
the sougia.info site, previously mentioned, Jean is the webmaster of west-crete.com; one of the top sites
to Crete. Our place of meeting was to be my old stomping-ground of Kalathas, on the
Akrotiri, just East of Chania (this was the place where I'd spent three months, back in
1989, reportedly studying archaeology, but for the most part, doing what most students do:
partying; I throw great parties, even when I am the only person attending!). I had told
Jean that we'd see him at the taverna on Kalathas beach at 1PM. Kalathas is a mere 20
minute drive from Chania, but on the evidence of this morning's activities in the bathroom
department, that would require stopping the car at least ten times. I shan't dwell on the
messy details. Needless to say, I had caught Rex's sunstroke! Virginia arrived just before
mid-day, with a hat bearing the legend "Nivea", which she placed on my head;
Adam arrived just after Virginia, and off we headed.
How Stelios Got His Groove Back.
Somehow I managed to survive the trip to Kalathas. Jean was on top form,
though he claimed to have become unfit during the unusually wet winter that Crete had
undergone this year. Looking at him, I decided that I would have had to have spent a year
in a gym, six hours a day, seven days a week, to begin to approach his level of
"unfitness". Jean has a cracking sense of humour and is a fine anecdote teller.
In my fragile state, I didn't thank him, as he told us of the time that he'd got caught up
in a Presidential procession in Holland. Somehow his battered Fiat had found itself
squeezed in-between the limousines, and the Dutch police could do nothing other than
salute the entourage - replete with Jean, now waving at the assembled spectators - as it
drove past. This would have been excruciatingly funny at any time, but now, it was almost
more than my central nervous system could stand. Not for the first - or last - time that
afternoon, I headed for the gents.
In between these trips to powder my nose, I was quizzed on the walk thus
far. I was avoiding - the best I could - any mention of the Ag. Roumelli to Soughia part,
when Jean mentioned the Ag. Roumelli to Soughia part! "You didn't manage it,
did you?" How did he know? "How do you know?", I
asked. "It's impossible to do in a day", replied Jean. Oh no
it's not. I may not have been able to remember any specific details from Lorraine Wilson's
book, but one thing I could recall was that she clearly states that it is possible to do
in a day. Jean had a copy of the book at home and off he went to fetch it. On his return
we read the introduction to that walk:
"...on the E4 trail, this walk can be done in one very long day, if you
are familiar with it...There aren't many places like this left - make the most of
it by planning a 2 or 3 day trek..." Two or three days? I couldn't
remember reading that. All in all Ms Wilson reckons on 10 and a quarter hours, but of
course that is not allowing for any stops, and is reliant on you knowing the route. I had
not known the route. "...Especially avoid walking this route alone, because
of the inaccessible remoteness..." I had attempted to walk this route alone!
I go by the nickname "Dopey"; are you beginning to realise why?
Jean had walked this route, but over two days. Jean is a professional walker. He takes
hikers into the white mountains (including mount Pachnes, Crete's second tallest
mountain), and he maintained Ag. Roumelli to Soughia was nigh-on impossible to do in a
day, without prior knowledge of the path. So what had I been thinking? What hope did I
ever have of achieving this, when two of the most experienced walkers on the island
advised against it. Something stirred inside. Something that didn't need a trip to the
gents to sort out. One day I would walk from Aghia Roumelli to Soughia, and I'd do it in a
day. This would be some time in the distant future, but it was the very inspiration that
I'd needed. The idea of walking Crete had, all of a sudden, become a challenge again, and
not the purgatory that it had been over the past two days. We departed, with me
apologising for my state of health and Jean making me laugh for the umpteenth time that
day. He wasn't to know this, but my friend had just put the groove back into Stelios.
Arriving back at the hotel, I had a siesta. We were meeting-up with my friend and
namesake, Stelios F tonight, and I wanted to be up for it. The time of the meeting had
been set for 7PM and just before that time, I was awoken by Rex. I asked him to go ahead
whilst I tried to make myself presentable. This I was incapable of doing. I had brought
the original (1865) copies of Captain Spratt's, 'Travels and Researches on Crete',
to lend to Stelios whilst I was walking the island. With these two volumes in my hand, I
left the hotel and walked to the Meltemi bar, next to the nautical museum, where we had
chosen to meet. There is accommodation here too, with a lovely view over the Venetian
harbour. I'd stayed here a few years back, with my friend Shoel, and - along with the
taverna 'Mini' - the bar is my preferred meeting place in Chania, due to its position.
Adam, Virginia and Rex made up our number, but I am afraid that I was not in a fit state
do anything other than give the books to Stelios and return to the hotel.
It was 8.30 PM. I read for an hour before taking 40 winks; each lasting a quarter of an