::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 Four: Kato Zakros to Chandras.

So, after what was surely the longest 'introduction' in history, we can now get down to the walk itself. Please remember this is not a walking guide, but a guide to my walk as I remember it. All times and levels of difficulty are viewed from behind sometimes rose-tinted glasses and quite often with the help of over-brimming cups!

Tuesday the 13th of May 2003
The Walk Begins
The goats of my dreams were already a distant memory, but the music played on. Rex can be the quiet type, whilst awake, but makes up for this whilst sleeping, as I may already have mentioned once or twice. I went outside shutting the doors behind me (the windows had shutter-type doors too, similar to those found in a stable, enabling horses to take a nosebag!), and sat on the balcony of the 'Coral Rooms'. Originally I had planned to start the walk at Xerokampos - which is further  down the coast - and walk up the Ziros gorge. I'd had tremendous trouble finding out anything at all about that particular gorge. Despite its name it didn't appear to end at Ziros, but at Hametoulo, which didn't look as if it connected with Ziros at all according to any of my maps, so I had decided to start at Kato Zakros instead, This was a fine decision. Kato Zakros is a splendid retreat, though I do like the even quieter Xerokampos too. It was 8.AM. The archaeological site at Zakros would be open in half an hour. The car keys were on the side-table in our room. I seized these and the opportunity to sort out the luggage in the car. One of the advantages of having my "best friend" with me, was having a ready supply of clean clothes on hand. The car contained my suitcase, which in turn contained every item of clothing I owned; or close to it.

Rex was going back to London via Chania on the morning of the 18th of May. Thereafter my suitcase would be looked after by Virginia until I myself returned to Chania on the 10th of June. Between these times I would have to carry all the luggage required, in my rucksack. I knew how many t-shirts, trousers and books I could fit into the rucksack. I'd had ample opportunity to experiment with this at home. When Rex had decided to join me on this trip, I'd realised that I could pack anything that I wanted in the suitcase and a shoulder bag, which had come with me as "hand luggage". Therefore, I had brought with me 17 t-shirts! With all the other necessities of life on the road, I knew that the rucksack had room for no more than three or four shirts. Amelda Marcos would have been proud of the shoe collection I'd brought with me. I had room for one pair in the rucksack! The six novels I had bought a few months ago for the trip, had been joined by a further 10 - bought at Gatwick airport - and various other works of literature, such as a biography of Venizelos, bought in Chania. I had room for six books in my rucksack. My boots were the bulkiest items that I owned, but I had every intention of wearing these whilst walking. The boots were made by a company owned by Chris Brasher. Brasher was a 3,000 metre steeplechaser - which he was pretty useful at - who happened to look like a schoolmaster with thighs a heavyweight boxer would be proud of. He does make exceedingly good boots; this I can assure you.

My sleeping bag, an inflatable mattress and a small pillow were the first things I placed in my bag. I had carried these three items on all the walks thus far, despite having had no need of them, to date. I would have no trouble finding a place to lay my head for the next few days either, as Rex could transport me to wherever we wished, but once he left me? The security of knowing that I could sleep on route, far outweighed the weight and the cumbersome nature of my mobile bedroom. A pair of jeans (I had brought three), two (of five; one I would wear) tracksuit bottoms, a bag of underwear (including six pairs of walking socks), a pair of gym shoes (tremendously comfortable these), a jumper and a sweatshirt, four t-shirts, three pairs of shorts, a towel and a pair of swimming trunks were squeezed into my bag, along with my cosmetics bag, just in case I needed lipstick on route. Eh? No. Toothpaste and stuff, you know. Four novels, two guide books and six maps were placed into the rucksack's side pockets, along with my binoculars and wallet. I looked at the wet-weather gear that I had decided to bring with me. What had possessed me? Not only had we had no rain since our arrival two weeks ago, but it had been getting steadily warmer, and if anything drier. The waterproof jacket and trousers I could understand, but the plastic cover for my rucksack? What was that all about? These items stayed in the suitcase. I would be OK for a week, and next Monday morning I would go through all this again. By that time I hoped to be starting on the arduous trek across the Dikteian range. For now, I preferred not to think of that. The car-park where we had deposited the car, was on the way to the archaeological site of Zakros, so I left the rucksack in the boot. By the time I returned to the room, my friend was up and desperately searching for the car keys. I dangled these in his general direction. We talked for a while, and ate a light breakfast, consisting of coffee for me and a yoghurt for Rex, before we headed-off for a dollop of even higher culture.

The entrance to the archaeological site, is at the far end, as viewed from the village. If you arrive from the village of Zakros, you have to pass the exit, before you come to the entrance. This is a pity for two reasons. Firstly, the old 'harbour street' starts at the exit, and is the perfect place to begin a tour of the site; secondly, people can't help themselves and tend to walk through this access point, only to be told-off by those in the 'entrance' box. Whilst Rex and I were on site, three people "snuck-in" through the exit without paying. The first two were rudely yelled at by the people manning the entrance's kiosk and the third was politely informed of her mistake by Rex and me. None of them got away without paying for the privilege, and quite right too.


The 'Palace' of Zakros

Captain Spratt visited Zakros in 1852. He believed this to be the ancient site of Itanos. It is not! Itanos is further north, but Spratt's notes on the remains at Zakros led various archaeologists such as the Italians Frederigo Halbherr (excavator of Phaistos) and Lucio Mariani as well as Arthur Evans here. Zakros had to wait until 1901 for its first proper excavation, however. This was undertaken by the British School of Archaeology, led by David George Hogarth. After uncovering a number of houses (on the North-East hill) and rare Linear A tablets, floods caused the dig to be abandoned. Hogarth had been a mere 10 metres away from the 'palace'. Incredibly it was fully sixty years before Nicholas Platon and his team started preliminary excavations on the 'Minoan palace' and, after many years of hard slog (still ongoing), uncovered what we see today. In one of the most exciting digs in world archaeology, a 'palace' was found...un-plundered.

Artefacts such as  rock crystal rhytons including a superb one of a bull (a cup in the shape of a bull, with a hole allowing the holder to pour its contents; see pictures below), a 'cosmetic box', with a sleeping dog lying on its lid, identical to the one found by Richard Seagar at Mochlos in 1905 (both can be dated to the late third millennium BC and were almost certainly made by the same craftsman) were found here (the latter in Hogarth's original dig), as well as any number of vases both of pottery and stone, such as the one pictured. Most of the remains that we see are from the second palace (neopalatial) period, built during the latter part of the 17th century BC, though there was a 'palace' here dating back to the 'protopalatial' period (c1900 BC), which probably suffered the same fate as the other protopalatial sites; death by earthquake. Pumice was found here in quantity, leading to the belief that the eventual destruction of this and other 'palaces' (c1450 BC) was caused by the eruption of Thera (Santorini). This theory is hugely compelling but has been widely disregarded, as the eruption appears to have happened at least 70 years (and in latest scientific theory, 178 years) before the destruction of the 'neopalatial' palaces.

The central court is about one third of the size of that of Knossos (the site itself is about 1/5 of the overall size of Knossos) and is lined in a Northeast-Southwest direction (Phaistos, Knossos and Malia are North to South), but other than Zakros is very similar to the other 'palaces', though as I say, somewhat smaller. The site of Zakros is very slowly sinking to the East, creating a marsh-like environment.

Zakros Palace Image Library

The "Hall of the Cistern" - with an exterior diameter of seven metres and an interior diameter protected with hydraulic plaster, or 'waterproof cement' of five metres - to the East of the Central court, is superb. Nobody really knows what this cistern was used for; 8 steps lead you down into the "swimming pool" (some people believe that this was its use) which had drainage facilities enabling it to contain a constant level of water from underground springs, rather than merely catch rainwater. It is now a home to terrapins, who are somewhat shy, but clearly visible and audible (along with the toads!) as they throw themselves into the water. This cistern is unique in Minoan/Mycenaean architecture, in that it is found within the palace complex.

The geographical position of the site, and its harbour, would have allowed trade with the near East (especially Egypt), to be carried out, far easier than from any of the other (known) 'palace' ports'.

Further reading:
'Zakros: The Discovery of a lost palace of Ancient Crete' by Nicholas Platon (Scribners, 1971) is a bit dated and out of print, but well worth picking up if you can find a copy, second hand. There is a short guide to the 'Palace' written by Costis Davaras, available on the island, and both the 'Blue Guide' and 'Rough Guide' to Crete have sizeable sections on the site.  

History Box 05 ^
 I didn't stay at the site for as long as I would have wished. I had a gorge to climb and I wanted to be in Ano Zakros as early as possible, and from there be chauffeured back to Siteia's archaeological museum. It was approaching 10AM. The archaeological museum closes its doors at 3PM and I wanted to be there at least an hour before it did so. I had already seen enough of the outside of the museum for one lifetime; it would be nice to get see the inside for a change. It would take an hour or so to drive to Siteia from Ano Zakros, so I had around three hours in which to conquer the 'farangi ton nekron' ('valley of the dead'; so called because of the 3500+ year old tombs found in the caves above the gorge). This I believed I could do. I retrieved my rucksack from the car, headed back, past the site, and carried on down the same road for around five minutes before arriving at the end of the Zakros gorge. Well the end for most. This was just the beginning for me. It was a beautiful day, and I felt terrific. Off I set. I would recommend this walk - in either direction - for those of you that enjoy the beauties of nature and a jolly nice stroll too. At this time of year, very few people walk the Zakros gorge (pictured), and there are flowers in abundance, aided in their growth by the river that runs through the gorge. The only slightly tricky part is trying to cross that river. Despite the dry weather we had been having of late, the widest point of the river was gushing forth. Not a problem in itself, but there was a bit of a log-jam of people trying to keep their feet dry whilst crossing it in the opposite direction from the one I was travelling in. Hardly a crowd, but 15 or so people were waiting to cross it at its narrowest point. Three very attractive women were attempting this as I met them head-on. I attempted to show-off. I should have known better. Instead of waiting for them to cross, and skip over to from where they had come, I climbed one of the high rocks before realising that it was far trickier getting to the other side than I had thought. The three women were looking at me in awe, and whilst I couldn't hear them, there was little doubt in my mind that they were saying things such as "look at the daring chap; isn't he a hero". Little boys will be little boys! I really should have known better! Just as I was about to launch myself off the rock I had climbed, and onto another rather jagged example, I thought of Rex. I thought of Rex telling people that I had broken my leg on one of the easiest walks on Crete. I thought of the other times that I had believed that women were looking at me adoringly. I have a vivid imagination! I came down from my perch and took the easier route. My "fan-club" was already out of sight; I looked at the route I had almost taken. Was I out of my mind? I had walked this walk twice before, but both times it had been in a downward direction, and this new approach was an equally nice way to walk it. Arriving at the top of the gorge, I veered right (North), over the (still functioning) Roman aqueduct. After around ten minutes, there is a gate to your left. This is one of the two options that take you into Ano Zakros. The other is to come through the official "Valley of the Dead" entrance; or in this case exit, and walk up the road to the village. If you are going down the gorge, this is a good plan, as it's easy to find the entrance to the gorge. If you are walking up the gorge, my suggestion would be to do exactly what I did. The book 'Landscapes of Eastern Crete' describes the walk in excellent detail (as you can see, I haven't). It is quite a steep climb into Zakros. Rex had warned me of this. He had taken a stroll down to meet me, and struggled up again. Back at the top He 'phoned me. "Bloody hell mate, it's like Everest out there!". I had been warned. "Cheers Rex!". I looked at the hill and braced myself. Suddenly there I was. At its top. Without breaking into a sweat. I had allowed myself three hours to complete this walk and had managed it under two and a half. Had the acclimatisation of the "pre-walk" worked? Far too early to say, but this augured well. Rex had done his duty and booked us into the hotel Zakros. This is a wholly old-fashioned type of place, and a wonderful one too, though the building couldn't be described as anything other than ugly. I presume that a lot of its business is obtained from those wishing to walk down the 'valley of the dead', and deciding to stay here the night before. An excellent plan. I dumped my bag, had a quick wash in our en-suite bathroom (all for €30.00), before joining Rex downstairs for a lemonita or two and a drive to Siteia.

Three quarters of an hour later and we were inside the Siteia museum (way hay!). I stared long and hard at my 'Kouros', before circling this rather small, though beautifully formed museum. 'Minoan' artefacts from Zakros, Palekastro, Aghia Fotia and Mochlos, are exhibited here and join Geometric and Archaic finds from Siteia and elsewhere in the East of the island. The Linear A tablets are among the best collections of this un-deciphered script, in the world. Sarcophagoi, stirrup jars, pithoi and rhyton vases are featured in this wonderful museum. Unfortunately there were no postcards for sale of my object of desire, but the wonderfully helpful staff gave me a brochure of the museum, with a depiction of my-main-man on its front cover. Rex was determined to find a launderette in Siteia. Siteia was determined not to reveal one to Rex. I returned to the Internet cafe and added the 'phone numbers from my on-line address book to my snazzy new 'phone. Having done this, I rang my sister Alison and asked her to pass the new Greek number on to the rest of my family.

Back in Ano Zakros, we had a look around the place. I decided that I wanted to find out the direction of the route I would be taking tomorrow, before tomorrow arrived. To this end, I walked up the road running away from the direction I had come, taking particular notice of a sign advertising the presence of a pizzeria further down this road. That sounded a grand plan for tonight's nosebagging. Before arriving at the pizzeria, a road on your right, takes you into the back-streets of this pretty village, past a communal water fountain. Some steps then take you up and out of Ano Zakros, and there it was that I spotted an E4 sign. That would do nicely. Back at the hotel and now sitting down with a Mythos (a very nice lager indeed), I asked Rex whether he fancied a pizza tonight. As per always Rex was willing to give anything a go, and so it was decided. We had a couple of more beers and watched the locals, who had grown tired of watching us. The main square boasts more kafeneia (coffee shops), than you can shake a stick at. When Rex and I returned from Siteia, most of the male population of Zakros were inhabiting the one to the South of the square. By the time we returned from our volta (stroll) around Ano Zakros, these same people were congregated in the one opposite the hotel. An en-masse kafeneion-crawl. My type of people! The meal was fabulous. The 'Napoleon' pizza restaurant is run by a chap called Yiorgios. Rex had become convinced that every man on the island of Crete was called Michealis, Yiorgios, Stelios or Vassili (the Greek version - to the Latin 'Rex' - for 'King'), and on learning the man's name gave me one of those "told you so" looks. I ate a mushroom pizza (a bit more like 'Welsh rarebit' than most pizzas I'd tasted before, but none-the-less enjoyable) and an onion and feta salad. This is a particularly nasty habit of mine. I have to explain each and every time to disbelieving waiters, that all I want is a raw onion, and some feta cheese (kramidhi me feta salata). "No, no tomatoes...or lettuce, and...no...especially no cucumbers". Yioryios took this in his stride, as if it was the most natural thing on earth to want. As of course, it is! A bottle of the marvellous Siteia red complimented an excellent meal, and I was a particularly happy bunny as Rex and I made our way back to our bedroom and to a very satisfying, goat-free, night's sleep.
Wednesday the 14th of May.
Part of the deal at the hotel Zakros - for which Rex and I had paid a total of €30.00 - is breakfast. I am not a breakfast type of person, but it seemed silly not to take up the offer. I waved a knife at various preserves and forced a piece of bread down my throat. The coffee flowed freely. I am a coffee type of person. A cacophony from just outside the hotel, disturbed the peaceful bliss. It probably disturbed the people down in Kato Zakros too, such was the noise it created. People came rushing from each and every direction to find out what had created this unholy din. Rex and I stayed firmly rooted to our chairs. There was little doubt a car crash had taken place. I - for one - didn't want to find out in what state of disrepair the people involved in the crash were in. Much shouting and waving of hands was taking place in the little alleyway which runs down the side of the hotel. The entire population were giving their deka lepta (ten cents) worth of opinion. The manageress of our hotel (Kyria Daskalakis is her name, I believe), returned and, clearly shaken, sat down with us and explained that an elderly chap had been reversing out of his drive, at the same time that an extremely large tractor-type vehicle had been reversing into the alley where the old chap was manoeuvring himself. She was relieved to reveal that nobody had been hurt, and I joined her in that relief. This is a small village of no more than 2,000 people; everybody knows everybody here, and the chances are that if two people were involved in an accident, they would probably be related to one another in some way or other. I was delighted that Kyria (Mrs) Daskalakis had felt free to join us at our table. This a very Greek thing to do, and shows that you have been accepted, albeit temporarily, into the fold. We spoke for half an hour or so, of various things, and it was with regret that a glance at my watch informed me that it was time for the off.

I picked up my rucksack and looked at a map or three. I reckoned on around four hours to Chandras (Handras) from here, tops. Rex decided that he hadn't had enough breakfast yet and took the opportunity of my departing, to take hold of my plate and clear it; he is a flyweight with the appetite of a heavyweight. I told him that I would see him in around four hours. Rex gave me one of his. "See you at midnight" looks. He didn't believe, for one second, that I could make this walk in fewer than six hours, and that only if I didn't get hopelessly lost. Rex is usually right. I was determined to prove him wrong. I followed the same road as I had the previous afternoon, and came to a cave with a significance that escaped me, but an overpowering smell that didn't. The trail takes you round the hill, twisting and turning, before depositing you at a plateau of sorts on its North-Western side. This was splendid. Alone, other than an obligatory goat or two, a gate has to be passed through (and closed behind you). Looking in the distance, you'll be able to make out another gate and once there, continue on the path which veers to the left after a slight climb. Now things get a bit confusing. After around five minutes of walking on this wonderful trail, we come to a crossroads of sorts. Logic say's "straight ahead". There is a sign pointing to your right and to a walking path which has little to do with the E4. Experience had taught me to play it safe. If there was a proper walking path here I should take it. Take it I did. As far as the E4 is concerned it's the wrong direction. I was hoping that it would link back onto my preferred trail, but before I knew it I was approaching a village. According to the maps, the E4 takes a South-Westerly direction, from the hamlet of Zakathos, which I assumed I had just passed, and I was taking a North-Westerly one. I took a break and a 'phone call from my other best friend: my sister. "How am I?" Well, I was just fine and dandy. Never felt better. "Where am I?" Well, I wasn't entirely sure. I looked at the village in the near-distance and decided that it must be Sitanos. Sitanos was some way from the direction I had wanted to travel in, but if this was that village, then there was no problem in getting to Chandras, and besides, I was enjoying this walk. 15 minutes after terminating my conversation with my sister, I came to the village itself. Mon Dieu! It was indeed Sitanos. O.K. I wasn't exactly where I'd wanted to be, but at least I knew where I was. This is a pretty little place, and one that I shall visit again in the future. I entered into a conversation with an elderly couple. They wanted to know my life story, I wanted to know whether the road that I was following would take me to Chandras. We compromised. 15 minutes later, my new friends knew more about me than Rex, and I was on the road again, armed with the knowledge that the road I was taking (to Sitanos' left, from the direction I had come), was the road I wanted. During the hour's walk to Chandras, I spotted all of three cars. You pass by a tiny villages (Katelionas), before, just West of Chandras, you come across a fabulous old village of Voila; "Voila!", I remember saying, pithily. Oh, I make myself giggle at times. A beautiful Ottoman fountain can be seen and drunk from here. It was a hot day and despite being only fifteen minutes or so away from today's ultimate destination, I sat down and enjoyed the scenery. A church (Aghios Georgios) dating back to the mid 16th century, is also well worth visiting - it was locked whilst I was there - for what the 'Rough Guide to Crete' describes as "...an interesting 16th-century gravestone fresco, in an interior recess...", whatever that may mean. I rang Rex. I told him that I would be in Chandras in 15 minutes. He was dumfounded. It had been just over three hours since my friend and I had shared special moments and my breakfast.

Rex and I were in clear communication as I entered Chandras and looked for a "small kafeneion", where he had deposited himself. He still didn't trust me not to get lost in this tiny village and had taken up residence in the local kafeneion, ..."waiting to send out search parties". I was still laughing at his 'sense of humour' when I turned the corner and spied Rex, chatting away on his mobile with...er...well, with me! Unusually the kafeneion here is not set around a "square", though it is at a crossroads. The people here were charming. "Kalispera sas" ("good evening") is all it took to get a few friendly smiles. I didn't ask about accommodation. I should have I suppose, at least to have made this write-up more useful, but I am pretty certain that there is no place to stay in Chandras. It's a pity, that. This is a lovely village. However, I knew that there was a hotel slightly East of here, in the village of Ziros. Rex knew this too. He had passed it on the way to Chandras. So, with regret, we left this lovely village and headed for Ziros. Ziros is not as immediately pretty as Chandras. Far from it, in fact, but this is a splendid place to lay one's head. The hotel Harkiolakis is, unsurprisingly, on the main road, in and out of the village. There are a couple of tavernas here, as well as one at the hotel (actually, the hotel was a taverna first, with rooms added later). The hotel's owner informed us that there were rooms available and gave us the choice of two with twin beds, at a price of €25.00. We chose the one looking away from the main road and giving us a balcony view of a basketball court where the local kids were having a rather anarchic game of football/shot putt. No, I hadn't realised the two could be combined either. Not on a basketball court anyhow. The kids kicking towards the hotel end were leading 36 - 31 (sorry, I have to get in a mention of football, somehow!) when a small child cast his shot (a brick), somewhere in the region of an even smaller child, some three metres away. Thankfully he missed. This could end in tears, I thought. Nobody likes to see a grown man cry, so I decided that my bed could afford to be closer to me than it was, and took a siesta. I'm all for siestas. No more than an hour, mind. Feeling thoroughly refreshed, no more than an hour later, I took a shower in one of the two bathrooms at the end of the communal hallways, and was raring to go. There is not much to explore in Ziros, but it's the perfect place to spend a night, if you find yourself here. A choice of a couple of tavernas and another place which may, or may not, provide food, but most certainly does provide beer. Rex and I had already decided to eat at the hotel, but a couple of beers at this place down the road, was the perfect aperitif. During this pre-dinner sip, Rex told me of his day and of his continuing 'wild launderette' hunt. Needless to say it had, once again, ended in failure, but he had thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of the chase. He had visited Palaikastro and every town or village on the way to Chandras, by all reports. He's a game lad is our Rex! The meal at the hotel Ziros, was excellent. It was too early go to bed, so Rex and I sat at one of the hotel's outdoor tables and talked utter rubbish for an hour or two, whilst enjoying a further couple of beers. Only one idiot came close to spoiling the evening, and it was neither of us. A large red-head, decided that he didn't quite like the look of Rex (somewhat rich coming from him!), or for that matter the look he believed Rex was giving him. Rex's indifference and less-than-fluent Greek didn't help as the orang utan sneered in our general direction. I placated this chap by appealing to his better nature, which was extremely hard to find, and after a few minutes, we almost shook hands (or wrung necks, forget which), such are my skills in arbitration. Everything in heaven and earth was almost right, as I took myself, a takeaway bottle of mythos and a good book onto our balcony. I was looking forward to the walk tomorrow. Rex would drive me back to Chandras, and from there I had a stiff walk to the village of Chrisopigi. I doubted if there would be anywhere to stay once I reached my destination, but with the car, we could spend tomorrow evening wherever we wished. I was thoroughly content. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Nothing could possibly prepare me for precisely what was to go wrong the following day...

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