Chapter Two: The Prewalk.
Part Four: Aghia Roumelli to Soughia. Or, "How not to walk to Soughia."
You may notice from the chapter headings, that I attempt this walk twice (see also chapter
15); in fact I very nearly abandoned the idea of walking the island altogether; below you
will see why:
Thursday the 8th of May 2003
My body-clock informed that the time was somewhere around 3AM, so what
was dawn doing breaking-and-entering into my room? I ignored the rosy-coloured finger that
pointed at my eyelids, and tried to get some much-needed sleep. I pulled a sheet over my
head and immersed my face into an extremely comfortable pillow. "Mmm", I sighed,
contentedly. A rooster crowed somewhere in the near distance. "What's all the hubbub,
Bub?" Another rooster, somewhat closer to my room, competed with the first for this
morning's "loudest larynx" trophy. I was tired and somewhat angered by the
crazed habit the local poultry had of waking people in the middle of the night. I mused on
this for a couple of minutes, before deciding that there was more than anecdotal evidence
to suggest that it was later than my internal clock was allowing me to believe! I glanced
at my watch. 6.45?; "Kyrie eleison!" My body-clock is
Greek. My watch is Swiss. My God had forsaken me! I was exhausted, but I had to get up; in
fact I should have been up and about an hour ago! I headed for the bathroom. I am not at
my best at this time of the morning, and neither is solar heating. Just as I was wishing
that I had shrunk from the shower, rather than under it, a wide-awake feeling
came over me; a cold shower had been just what I'd needed. I dried myself, dressed and
headed for the kitchen below. The plan was to gather whatever I possessed from the fridge,
pack my bag and head-off. I was already an hour or so behind schedule, when I turned the
handle of the kitchen door. The door's handle turned; its hinges remained firmly in
position, aided in this conspiracy by a bolt on the other side of the door. Surely some
mistake! I had been informed that the kitchen would remain unlocked that night; evidently
I had been informed erroneously!
I scratched my head and glared at the door. A "Cretan glare",
no less. A less inanimate object would have withered under this look. The lock remained
unimpressed and firmly bolted. Rather than stand there - imitating a spare lemon - I
decided to use the time that I suddenly had at my disposal, to find exactly where the path
to Soughia begins. Behind the hotel (North), a road leads past a blue gate. I was informed
by an early-rising shepherd that this is where I should start my trek. He pointed at a
path which ran past a chicken coop, and indicated that I should head inland from there.
Thanking him, I took the opposite direction from the one he was pointing in, and returned
to the hotel to resume my glaring contest with the kitchen door. I tried its handle again.
Still no give. I tapped gently on the door. Nothing. I coughed loudly and tapped the door
a little less gently. A shuffling noise from within, informed me that this latest tactic
may have worked, and sure enough the sound of a bolt being drawn followed. Fortunately
the face that greeted me was that of the lady who'd promised she'd keep the kitchen door
unlocked last night. I wouldn't have liked to have met anybody else, and explain explain
why I was tapping on their kitchen door at 7.30 AM. Unfortunately, she
was in her nightie and was giving me the same look as I had given her door a few moments
earlier. "Nai!" (Yes!), she barked. "Signomi,
Kyria. Poro na paro ta pramata mou apo to psighio sas;" (Sorry, Madam. May I
raid your fridge?). Sudden recognition flickered across the lady's face. The scowl that
had greeted me, was replaced with a smile of breathtaking beauty. If you've been able to
elicit a smile from even the most grumpy Greek, you'll know "that look"; somehow
a Greek face can be transformed from glowering ogre to that of an angel, with a mere
upward curl of the lips, even I am blessed with this ability, and I'm only half
Greek-Cypriot, though wholly grumpy! Apologies followed; from both of us. Her, for locking
me out; me, for waking her up. The pair of us were still apologising to each other as I
took my water, sandwich and leave. I still had a rucksack to pack, and returned to my room
to do just that.
So, I was off. "Like the proverbial dirty shirt", as my dad
would have it (much to the childhood confusion of my sister, Alison, and I). It was 8.15
AM, by the time I passed through the blue gate, sending goats, chickens and pigs,
scurrying. "Oh, what a beautiful morning", I warbled; and it was! Ideally, I
would have liked to have been here an hour or so earlier, but I still had plenty of time
on my hands before sunset this evening. Around 12 hours in fact. I had compromised on the
water-over-weight problem. This would be a long, tough day and I didn't want to be
carrying too much excess baggage. I reckoned on 5.25 litres of water, plus my lemonita. I
had placed 1.5 litres of water at the bottom of my bag. This would be my emergency supply.
1.5 litres was shared between my hand-flask and my bumbag. This would be for immediate
needs. The remainder - three 75cl bottles, were distributed evenly through the rest of the
bag; far easier to carry and keep cool than the larger bottles. I would be as sparing as I
could with these bottles, as my emergency supply was just that; a supply to be used in
Already, it was extremely hot. I had been promised temperatures of 35c
(95f), today, and I could believe it was nearing that already. I never wear hats. I have
hair, which does a similar job in protecting my head from the sun's rays, or at least
that's how I've always viewed it. I should have worn a hat! I shouldn't have worn shorts!
Once I had passed the wildlife, I entered a forest of viscous man-eating stinging-nettles.
These were to be the least of my problems today! The path heads inland and quite steeply
upland for the first half an hour or so, before heading West. The terrain here is lovely.
A pine forest greets you almost immediately upon set-off, and you stay within this for
some time. Thankfully the ground levels out after a while, though the gradient remains in
an upward direction for a further hour. Occasional glimpses of the sea help to show that
you are heading in the correct direction, as do the equally occasional E4 signs. This had
been a good start. I felt happy, both within myself and with the direction I was
travelling in. I was desperately trying to recall any snippet of information I could, from
my readings of Lorraine Wilson's Soughia walk, in her book on the White Mountains. I knew
that there were a couple of gorges which I would have to negotiate, but wasn't entirely
sure how this was to be done. Presumably I'd have to get down to the coast, at these two
junctures, but where to start my descent? I had three maps with me, and a compass. The
compass was useful, the maps were not. One of the maps - purporting to be of the E4 - was worse
than useless. It showed the approximate position of the gorges, but the path was unclear
to say the least. A child could have etched the route shown with its eyes shut, and in all
likelihood, did. After two and a half hours of carefree walking, I came to what I believed
may have been the first of the two gorges (wrong!), known as the Klados gorge. Was this
deep enough to acquire gorge status? I looked towards its most Northerly extreme and
decided that it probably was (!). The only way to get to the other side of this ravine,
Klados gorge or not, appeared to be to round it, by heading North (inland), then West,
then back South again. I sat down, had a water break and sized up my options. I could hear
footsteps approaching. I was fully expecting to be nose-to-nose with a goat any second,
when a chap appeared. I certainly hadn't expected that. "Yiasou"
(hello), I said. "Hello", said the chap, and continued on his way. I decided to
follow him, from a distance. He was one of those chaps with calf muscles where I don't
have places, and a backpack about half the size of mine, but I believed I could keep-up
with him and crib from the general direction he was travelling in. Once again, I was
wrong. As soon as I decided that I had given him enough of a lead, I lost sight of him
altogether. Oh well, at least it would appear that I was travelling in the correct
direction as far as this "gorge" was concerned, so I proceeded to round it. Once
at the "gorge's" most Northerly extreme, I spied an E4 pole. Always a nice
feeling that. I headed towards it and from there the trail was straightforward, with black
and yellow poles, as well as signs stapled to trees, in abundance. Every time I failed to
see a sign, I would stop and scour the landscape for another. Occasionally this would take
a few minutes and a few steps in practically every direction. Problem was, the posts and
signs were for the most part, yellow in colour, as are most of the abundant flowers up
here at this time of year. I pride myself on my eyesight, but a yellow crocus by any other
name, should never be called an E4 sign. Far too often I found my path was being
way-marked by flowers. Not to worry, I had little doubt that I was heading in the correct
My Best Mistake
It was here that I made my first major mistake of the day. Having
followed a trail of flora, some way down into the "gorge" (heading South), I saw
a black and white E4 way-sign some 50 metres or so above me and to my right (West). Well
that made sense. What I should have realised was that this sign was indicating that I was
heading in the correct direction, albeit a few tiers below the actual path. What I did
was head for the sign directly. Once at it, instead of looking South, to see whether or
not there were more signs, I continued to head West. There was a tor (a small rocky hill),
which I assumed I needed to climb. My Velonado to Rodakino experience had taught me that I
may well have to climb such hills every now and then, and so off I set to conquer this
one. The tor was steeper and higher than it had any right to be, but I had no great
problem ascending it. That was until I reached the top, and there, in front of me, another
tor towered. I glowered! Two things were missing here. E4 signs and common sense. It was
approaching 12 o' clock and I wanted to press on, so instead of thinking, I carried on
Just before I reached the top of this second tor, my foothold - a
sizeable rock - gave way; hurtling towards the "gorge" below. Thankfully,
one leg and both hands were grasping firmer terrain, but for a few moments the leg that had
been attached to the foothold dangled in mid-nothingness. I composed myself and looked for
another foothold, finding one a few centimetres up from the one that no longer existed.
Very carefully, I placed a foot on this and slowly sidled my way up the remainder of the
hill. My relief at reaching the top, was slightly diluted by the fact that I hadn't the
foggiest where I was. I found myself on a plateau, on which lay evidence of occasional
goat visits, but I felt I was quite possibly the first human ever to tread this ground. I
found a clearing, flat enough to sit down for half an hour. I had drunk the contents of
both my flask and of the bottle in my bumbag, so I opened my rucksack, replaced the empty
bottle with a fresh one and poured one of the other two remaining 75cl bottles into my
flask. I was still a bit shaken from my dangling experience; more through the noise the
rock had made on its descent than actual danger to my person, so I decided to spend a
little longer here, than I would have otherwise wished. I pulled the lemonita and the
sandwich from my bag and became a laddie that lunched. The smell of pine permeated the
air, That was until the sandwich neared my mouth, when "aroma de dead pig"
replaced it! "What?" I opened the sandwich, and sure enough, ham stared back at
me. "Curses!", I cursed. I had been given this sandwich by Pavlos at the hotel
'Daskalogiannis' in Loutro. I had clearly explained that I am the vegetarian type, and he
had clearly understood. Did he hate me? I remembered his instruction to the creator of
this sandwich. Pavlos had known I was vegetarian, but I couldn't recall him passing on
this information to the sandwich maker. It wasn't his fault. I had been there, and could
have easily have added this rather important detail myself. Before setting-off for Crete,
I had made the decision that if I were to be in a place where no vegetarian food could be
found, I would temporarily abandon my self-inflicted principles and eat meat. I looked at
my sandwich. No, I just couldn't do it. For over 20 years I had stuck to these principles,
and I wasn't about to abandon them, for want of a two-day-old sandwich. A dreadful
waste, I know, but I threw the sandwich at a nearby pine tree. I still had a can of
dolmadakia and a bag of pistachio nuts in the bag, though somehow. I had lost my appetite.
Well, more of a 'literary box' really.
Two of the great
books about Crete, were written by Xan Fielding. Both are out of print,
sadly! The first, "Hide and Seek", concerns Fielding's amazing
wartime exploits, and is a wonderful read. The second, published in 1953, concerns his
subsequent visit to Crete and is called "The Stronghold: An account of the
four seasons in the White Mountains of Crete" (If
you get the opportunity to buy one of these, grab it, with any luck it will come with the
dust-jacket - opposite - from a painting by John Craxton).
It's a fabulous book, full of anecdotes and
salient observations, and I'd like to quote from a passage, from the chapter on
Koustoyerako, which lies a few kilometres North-East of Soughia. The following extract, is
on the - thankfully - outlawed practice of the "dowry" system, wherein daughters
were married-off to suitors, with promises that she'd come with a plot of land, and/or
other financial incentives. I have placed this anecdote here, as an antidote for the sheer
misery that is the walk, below this piece:
'...a girl whose other sisters have already
married, or whose parents owned little or no land in the first place, has very little
chance of finding a husband, however great her personal charms. And so she relies on other
charms. I am not sure if love potions are still widely used in Crete, but I discovered
existing recipes for two of them, which show to what lengths a girl will go in order to
get her man.
'The First, known as "mothers milk",
requires ingredients, which certainly cannot be available in a small mountain village.
Moreover, four female accomplices are needed for the preparation of the potion - two woman
with the same Christian name, and two others who must be a mother and her married
daughter. Such a quartet, would not be hard to find, but the recipe lays down an
additional condition: the mother and the daughter must each have an unweaned child. They
are made to sit down, back to back and facing east and west respectively, and are then
milked simultaneously by the two women of the same name. The milk extracted is given to
the would-be bride, who mixes it with water and whispers: "As a mother loves a child,
so may (and here she names the youth of her choice) love me" The liquid is finally
used to make bread, which is offered to the youth at the earliest opportunity. After
eating it - but how long afterwards, nobody knows - the youth is inflamed with an
uncontrollable passion for the girl, which makes him blind to the poverty of her parents
and deaf to the counsel of his own.
'The second potion, which is said to be equally
effective, is simpler to prepare. Only the basic ingredients of elementary sorcery are
needed: nail-parings and hair - and these do not even have to come from the victim; the
young girl uses her own. She plucks one hair from her right temple, to which she adds a
bit of her left thumb-nail; then - and the order is important, one hair from her left
temple and a bit of her right thumb-nail. This mixture is enriched by the addition of one
hair from her right arm-pit, followed by a bit of nail from the big toe of her left foot;
and one hair from her left armpit with a bit of hair from the big toe of her right foot.
These precious odds and ends are then set on fire, and while they burn, the girl utters
her spell: "May I shine in his eyes like the sun, may I beam on him like the
moon." The ashes are finally collected and set aside until an opportunity occurs for
them to be put in a cup of coffee, which is promptly offered to the unsuspecting suitor.
'No wonder mothers here warn their unmarried sons
against accepting food and drink from the hands of a virgin!'
Xan Fielding; "The Stronghold: An
account of the four seasons in the White Mountains of Crete." Pages 25-26. First
published by Secker and Warburg, London 1953.
The rest had done me good, now all I needed was a change of scenery. I
was getting a sugar-high from the lemonita and with that aiding my propulsion, pressed on.
Soughia is West of Aghia Roumelli and that was the direction I was travelling in. My
confidence was still with me. Time had flown. It was 1.15 PM. Around seven hours of
daylight remained. A quarter of an hour later, I came to "another" gorge. The
sea came into view, sparkling in the distance. Now, this was what I call a gorge. Not the
sawn-off version of a couple of hours ago, but the bone-fide, sea-reaching,
mountain-cutting variety. Problem was, I was above it, on its Eastern flank, some distance
from its mouth. I looked at one of my maps. Was this the Klados or the Tripiti gorge? If
it were the latter, I could be no more than four hours away from Soughia. If the former, I
would be lucky to reach Soughia before sunset. First things first. I needed to get
down into the gorge. I had a pair of binoculars in my bag and pointed these towards the
beach, where the gorge below ended. I fancied I could see a path at its far end (I have
these fanciful visions every now and again!). If that was the path that I wanted, then
surely it was adjoined to a path leading to the sea, from the direction I had just come.
Should I go back and try to find that path? I looked at the route down the gorge, from
where I was standing. It looked tricky, but possible. If I could get down into its dry
riverbed, it appeared that I could pick up the trail again. My decision was made. I would
descend the gorge from here. "Here", was some way up. I would reckon on at least
300 metres up in fact, and it looked pretty vertical below. So down I went, carefully. It
was all I could do to stop my rucksack from propelling me forwards. Memories of the
scree-slope on the way down to Rodakino, came flooding back, but this was far tougher, and
I had no idea whether I was doing the correct thing. I stopped every few seconds, just to
make sure that I could get back up if necessary.
About half way down, I could make out the sides of the gorge proper.
They looked totally sheer; hewn out of limestone by the elements, over millennia. I
decided to set up camp for a while, taking off my rucksack and bumbag, allowing a closer
and less burdened look at what I was hoping to descend. As I approached the cliff
face, it became increasing clear that the only way down, would be to throw myself of its
edge. A drop of a 100 metres or so. "I think not". I returned to my camp. I
would have to go back to the top. As I looked up, I couldn't see how I had got down in the
first place. Where were the foot and handholds that I'd used? I sipped some water and
tried to believe that I was anywhere else other than here. I could see a way up to a spot
some ten metres above me. What if there was no way up from there? I had two options: Climb
to that spot, or spend the rest of my life here. I chose the former, taking it very
slowly. I had chosen correctly, and came to a ledge, large enough for me to take a break
whilst lying down. This I did for ten minutes, before redoubling my efforts to get
"the hell out of here". Another series of footholds showed themselves and I
was growing increasingly confident of reaching the top unscathed. There's nothing more
flawed than a confident Jackson. I had increased my pace and with it the risks. For the
second time that day, my movements were to disturb the peace.
A boulder to my right, was to be my next handhold. It was at a 45 degree
angle to - and some way above - my head. At a stretch, I could reach it; I would have
liked to have grabbed hold of it, somewhere around its midriff, but the flask I was
holding in my right hand made this impossible. Instead, standing on tiptoes, I placed my
hand - replete with flask - on top of the boulder and began to heave myself up. Just as I
was nearing the boulder with my face, it decided to meet me half way, as it were. "When
in doubt, shut your eyes", I shut my eyes. How this huge rock - half the
size and possibly 100 times the weight of my rucksack - missed me, I'll never know, but
miss me it did, hurtling itself gorgerwards. "Don't look", I told myself. I
looked. I was perched on an almost sheer cliff-face. I could see the boulder as it bounced
below me, taking other lumps of gorgeside with it, before disappearing from sight. I could
only hear it now; the noise - exacerbated by reverberations as the gorge below acted as an
echo chamber - could probably be heard in Chania. My left leg had lost most of its
purchase on the small rock that it had found. Worse still, my right handhold was now at
the bottom of the gorge, and I couldn't see another. I thought of releasing the flask I
was holding, but decided I couldn't afford to. If I were to get off this hillside alive, I
would need all the water I possessed!. The hole created by the AWOL boulder, allowed me to
rest my hand within it, but I just couldn't get any purchase as I attempted to pull myself
up. Every time I tried, my right shoulder was showered by bits of hillside. "Get a
grip man!", I told myself, with gallows humour, though this was more of a
crucifixion. I was scared. I was very scared. Visions of friends and family flashed
through my mind as I remained quite literally petrified to the side of a gorge that I
wished I'd never seen. My right leg was shaking with a mixture of exhaustion and terror.
The rucksack wasn't helping matters. It was difficult enough keeping my body tight to the
side of the gorge without the weight of my bag trying to pull me backwards.
A couple of metres below, I could see the flat ledge that had been my
'resting place' a few moments earlier. How I yearned for its relative safety. I needed a
plan! I reckoned I could drop myself onto the ledge, if only I could turn around. With my
rucksack on my back, there was no hope of me turning anywhere. The rucksack had
to jettisoned. As my right hand was doing very little, other than holding the flask, I
decided it needed to be put to further use; to undo the belt which attached the rucksack
to the rest of me. If it missed the level below, what the hell? It would probably only
bounce down the hill for a further few metres anyway, and if it did decide to join the
boulder at the bottom of the gorge? Well, I could always buy another bag, couldn't I? It
was at this point that I remembered that the contents of my bag, contained such niceties
as 2,000 in cash (a fool and his money, are not so easily parted), all my debit and
credit cards, my return ticket home, my passport and, far more importantly over three
quarters of my greatest asset: Water!
I needed to hold on to the bag; to hug it to my person; my life depended
on it, but I also needed to remove it from my back. Carefully I released its catch and
pulled my right arm through the strap. Not one of my best laid plans this. All of a sudden
my weight and that of the bag shifted to my port side. I had to somehow grip the rock that
was in my left hand with my right, if I were to remove the bag. This would have been
awkward at the best of times, but with my shaking right leg the only other purchase I had
on terra-firma and with that leg some-way-away from where my left hand was, I decided that
it was impossible. I had to get back down to the ledge below. I looked down. Well, if I
stayed here I would very soon be forced to release my grip anyhow, so I released my grip.
I'd expected to see the earth rushing up to meet me and braced myself for inpact, but
somehow my boots met the level below with a dexterity that I hadn't realised I posessed. I
succeeded in turning my body round so that my back was pointing at the side of the hill.
My rucksack - somewhere over my left shoulder by this time - attempted to unbalance me,
but I managed to hug it to my chest and fall backwards against the hillside. My blessed
relief was short-lived. I was in exactly the same position that I had been ten minutes
ago. This time I decided that I would have to rid myself of the rucksack, if not
its contents. My wallet was shoved down my shorts, the larger of the two bottles of water
in my left hand, and the other...? No, this wouldn't work. I had too few hands. My flask
had already hampered the grip of my right hand and I had nowhere to put a 75cl and
a 1.5 litre bottle of water. I removed everything else from the bag other than my wallet,
binoculars, water and dolmadakia. Now why hadn't I thought of that before? My sleeping-bag
had taken on the look of a body-bag. I could see no other use for it...or the shoes,
t-shirts, trousers, books and other bits and pieces that had taken superflous residence
within my rucksack. Released from this cumbersome load, my mobility improved dramatically.
What had seemed an impossibility a few minutes before, now became relatively easy. A new
way up was found and 15 minutes later I was, once again, at the top of the gorge.
I looked at my watch. It had gone 4.00 PM. I had spent the past two and
a half hours on the side of that gorge, and whether it was Klados or Tripiti, I had no
chance of making it to Soughia now. I knew the route back to Aghia Roumelli from here, or
at least I should have. But what if I couldn't find my way back before sunset. To get to
this point the first time round had taken five hours. If the return journey was to take as
long, I wouldn't be there before it got dark. I may need to spend the night out. I no
longer posessed a torch (why hadn't I bought one in Rodakino, Frankokastello, Chora
Sphakion, Loutro or Aghia Roumelli?!), so I wouldn't be able to walk once daylight had
gone; not that I'd want to anyway in this terrain, with or without a torch. The day
had been very hot, but I realised that once it got dark, the temperatures would fall
dramatically. Should I head back immediately or retrieve my sleeping-bag from where I had
left it below? I wanted to get away from this gorge as soon as possible and hopefully
never see it again. However, I decided to go back and get the sleeping-bag and other
objects from below. It had been pretty straightforward with a close to empty rucksack, so
once again I emptied it, retaining only the flask (just in case!), and carefully headed
back down, making absolutely sure I could get back the same way I had come. I picked up
the remainder of my clothes and my sleeping bag. Without the water these too weighed far
less, and I was back at the top within ten minutes. It is amazing what a difference little
more than three kilograms can make.
Back at the top, I repacked my bag, and headed back the way I had come.
I didn't recognise the terrain one bit. I took a last look at the gorge and realised why.
I was far further South than when I had last studied it from this elevation.
"Jesus, which way to go?". Should I head back North and see if I could recognise
the way I had come. Everywhere I looked there were pine trees. What hope did I have of
recognising the exact route that I had come from? What was I to do? Keep an eye out
for a rancid ham sandwich, which in all probability had been gratefully gobbled-up by a
passing eagle? Well, if I was to get back to Aghia Roumelli, then at some stage I would
have to head East, so I decided that I may as well start in that direction immediately.
Rex's 'phone rang. "Rex's phone", I grunted! "Rex", said Rex. The
signal wasn't great, but I managed to explain to him that I was heading back to Aghia
Roumelli. Rex was in Soughia with Virginia. I could hear music and revelry in the
background. O, for music and revelry! He told me that he would ring me back shortly. The
plan that had formulated in my head, was to get back to Aghia Roumelli; hopefully that
evening. The next day I would take the boat from Aghia Roumelli to Chora Sphakion and from
there, the bus to Chania where I had an hotel booked for tomorrow and Saturday. As far as
the walk proper, across the entire length of Crete - for which the past few days was
supposed to have been a means of acclimatisation, was concerned - I had decided that
I couldn't and wouldn't do it.
After around half an hour of walking East, I spotted something that made
my blood rush. An E4 sign. I immediately recognised the errors of my way, that morning.
The path I should have followed went far further South than I had "thought", and
by happy coincidence, I'd walked in a giant loop. I looked towards the direction that the
sign pointed and in a fit of madness decided that I may as well follow it. It was close to
5PM and it looked like I would be out for the night whichever direction I chose. Rex's
phone rang again...and again. The signal kept breaking up. At the fourth attempt, I
managed to get a relatively clear signal I explained to Rex that I was - after all -
heading for Soughia. Rex had found a new friend; a Cretan man who knew "every
rock" between Aghia Roumelli and Soughia. "Yeah, right!". I tried to
explain my position to Rex's new friend, and was told that I was close to the
Tripiti gorge. "You can be here in under three hours", I was informed.
"Impossible", I decided. Even if this chap were correct, and I was
above the Tripiti gorge, it would take at least an hour to get down to sea-level and by
looking at my map, I decided probably at least another three hours from there. I asked to
speak to Rex again and told him that I had changed my mind and was heading back to Aghia
Roumelli after all. This should have been a thoroughly deflating decision, but somehow it
wasn't. Not yet anyhow! I had spent far too long, in extreme heat, with only the
occasional goat for company. Goats do not make good company and cannot always be relied
upon to rescue you if your stuck up the side of a gorge! Take my word for it! If I pushed
myself, I could possibly make Aghia Roumelli tonight. I pushed myself. As I reached the
point that I should have taken earlier in the day, I was once again overtaken by the chap
I had seen this morning. His name was Andrew, and he was with Lorraine Wilson's walking
party. He had just taken a "stroll" down to the beach that I had been perched
above for most of the day. I suddenly felt inadequate in the extreme. I was tempted to
tell him that I had "decided to abseil the gorge, without ropes", which up to a
degree was true, but a tad disingenuous. Instead I told him that I had been hoping to get
to Soughia, but had failed. The truth will out, and strangely, putting that awful
truth into words, made me feel better. I asked Andrew not to wait for me; he was, after
all, a far fitter walker than I, and it would be nice if one of us could get back to Aghia
Roumelli before dusk. This time, I made a real effort to keep up with him, but within five
minutes he had lost me. Some parts of the walk back, I recognised, some I didn't, but
within two hours, I found myself looking at Aghia Roumelli, at a distance and height that
told me it would take at least an hour to reach. It was 7.15PM. I had about an hour or so,
of daylight left, so I could make it. I was out of water by now, except for the 1.5 litre
bottle at the bottom of my rucksack. This was for emergencies and I refused to touch it.
It was quite possible that I would be out for the night and if that were so, I would need
the water this evening and tomorrow. After my first walk, where I had no water at all for
a period of close to six hours, this stoicism was far easier to handle than it might
otherwise have been.
Approaching Aghia Roumelli, you feel that you can walk straight into it.
The beach looks as if it just extends and becomes part of the path you are on. So why had
I headed North and inland that morning? There had to be a reason for it; I stuck to the
path that I knew. Rex's phone was on overdrive. It rang every few seconds and I was
becoming increasingly annoyed by it. The reason for the constant 'phone calls was that the
signal - if anything - had become worse since Rex and I had last shared words. This time
however, I managed to get a signal and a few seconds of very intriguing and quite
maddening "conversation" with Virginia. If you do not possess a mobile 'phone,
you're my kinda person! However, you'd also miss out on conversations which vaguely follow
Virginia: We'll c...ect...ahh...ski...
SJ: That's easy for you to say?
SJ: Yes dear, 7.35.
Mad as a fish! I was having difficulty multi-tasking. Walking and
talking I could just about manage. Simultaneously attempting to decipher what Virginia was
saying, was one trick too many for this old dog! I sat down, sighed deeply and loudly, and
tried to pay attention.
Virginia: Ought to ski...
SJ: Thanks for that, but I am having difficulty enough walking
at the moment. Talk to you soon. Goodb.., eh?
SJ: No...and this isn't a great time to...eh?
Virginia: You like?
SJ: I like...? What the...? What are you like? Heavens
above, Virginia! Ring me in half an hour.
Virginia: We...c...and...colt...in i...lee...war tax?
SJ: I can't understand a word you are saying, ring me later,
Just as I was about to terminate Virginia's ramblings, and resume my
own, she managed to create a sentence, of sorts.
VH: Wrecks...n...erect you in...a...room....I...a wart axe...you
"Ought to ski". "War tax". "Wart axe"?
"Water taxi"? By George, I had got it! She and Rex wanted to come and
collect me in Aghia Roumelli, by water taxi? Was she insane? One of us was!
"Are you insane?... 'in sane'...Eh?...Paris...?...No...!
Yes, I know you are in Soughia. Never mind... Listen!...Please...I'll be
in Aghia Roumelli in 30 minutes with any luck. Try ringing then, the
signal will be clearer." I switched off the 'phone and was, in fact - and
with great relief - back in Aghia Roumelli within 15 minutes.
I felt exhausted as I passed through a different gate from the one I had
come through this morning. This gate, slightly west of the blue one, has an E4 sign
attached, but it makes little difference which gate you pass through. I found a
taverna and asked for a bottle of cold water and a beer. The taverna also had rooms. I
asked about the availability of one of these rooms and the waiter said he'd ask the
manager. I looked at the beach; the same beach that looked as if it had been part of the
path an hour or so ago. It most certainly was not part of the path. I had chosen my route
back correctly; was I learning at last? Rex's 'phone rang, and with a voice as clear as
crystal, Virginia resumed her "water-taxi" conversation.
"We can be there in 20 minutes" she said. Surely not. Was that
"Is that possible?". Apparently so.
Virginia is the sort of person that just gets things done. Rex was later
to try to gain some of the glory for this masterstroke, but I know Rex, and he - like me -
would have thought of this option a month or so later - whilst supping a pint of bitter in
a pub in London - if at all. Virginia had spoken to the local taxi driver; a chap named
Yiorgios, who also possessed this less conventional form of transportation. The cost would
be 35.00. What a way to end the day. I really didn't want to spend the night alone
in Aghia Roumelli, or face the journey to Chania the following day. "Go for it",
I said, and with that, she went for it. The manager of the taverna came across and
informed me that he had a nice room where I could spend the night. I apologised and
informed him that I was to be picked up by water taxi to spend the night in Soughia. He
raised an eyebrow at this, and told me that it was impossible. "It's too dark for the
taxi" I was told. I looked at the ever-diminishing light, and had to agree. However,
until I received word from either Rex or Virginia, I could do nothing other than wait. And
wait I did, with only a knowing glance or two from the taverna manager, breaking the
monotony. I decided to pay the bill; for something to do, and in case I needed to make a
quick getaway. Time dragged on. Just as I had given up hope of getting out of Aghia
Roumelli that evening, I heard the sound of an engine somewhere to the distant West. As
there are no roads whatsoever between Soughia and Aghia Roumelli (the latter boasts a few
internal roads; used for deliveries to shops etc occasionally by frustrated youth, trapped
on a road to nowhere!), this could only be a boat. I couldn't see it yet, and it could
easily have been a fishing boat, but I kept my eyes peeled at the headland in front of me.
There it was! Quite literally travelling at the rate of knots! As the boat neared Aghia
Roumelli's quay, I could make out three people on board. One of them looked like Rex. That
was good enough for me. I grinned broadly at the taverna manager and made my way down to
I wished that I could say that the journey to Soughia took me past some
of my old stomping grounds, and I suppose it did, in a way, but not in the way I would
have wanted. It wasn't cold, but I shivered involuntarily as we passed the gorge where I
had been perched for half of today (I was later to learn - thanks to my friend Jean - that
this was the Klados gorge and not the Tripiti). The sheer misery of it all suddenly hit
me. I had failed. This whole walk had been nothing more than a string of disasters; a
Gordian knot of calamities. I was an utterly useless walker! The boat ploughed its
relentless way towards what should have been my destination by foot. I was wallowing in
self-pity, when an even nicer sensation took hold. Suddenly I felt alive. Not too well,
but alive! Had I not landed on my feet at that gorge, I might not be here now, sharing a
superb experience with two friends that meant a hell of a lot to me. There was an irony
here that didn't escape me. I smiled at Rex and he winked back at me, as did the beautiful
Virginia. Maybe I had failed in my aspirations, but by hook or by crook, and with the help
of my friends, I would reach Soughia, which I most certainly wouldn't have done, if I
hadn't made the absolutely correct decision to return. I was on a boat; it was a beautiful
night and if I had failed...? Well at least it wasn't for lack of trying.
I shall leave you here; it just seems the perfect place to do so. A
brief description of the short time I spent this evening in Soughia, from the perspective
of waking the next morning, can just wait until the next chapter...