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::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...
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Chapter Eight: Selakano to Aghios Georgios.


Wednesday the 21th of May
Sewing
I had been pretty certain that today's walk, would be tomorrow's as well, for some little while, now. There was something dark and dangerous about this latest mission. The Dikteian range of mountains had to be crossed, and between my starting point (Selakano), and my destination (Aghios Georgios), there is precisely nothing, other than the range itself. I was awake and alert on my bunk-bed, staring at a map, eyebrows knitted in concentration; and consternation. However much I looked at these maps, I knew these were only pale imitiations of what to expect, once I embarked upon the latest of my walkabouts. It was 9AM and I was in no particular hurry. The stroke of luck in finding this place - or at least finding Kyria (Mrs) Stella - had been just what I had needed. I could cope with both the idea and the practicalities, of spending tonight al fresco. Naked, other than a rather sexy and revealing pair of Y-fronts, I waddled, in my inimitable style, over to my rucksack. Water would be my primary concern if I were to be out and about for two days. Upon checking my stocks, I found that I had one 1.5 litre bottle, at the bottom of my bag, and no fewer than five 75cl bottles, wrapped up in various items of apparel. In addition, I posessed a 75cl bottle which lived in my bumbag, and my flask was half full, or half empty, depending on which way you looked at these things.. This should be enough liquid to see me through two days of walking. What I needed to do, was fill the flask, from the current I had passed yesterday evening, and drink its (the flask's) current contents (not in that order). I was becoming a little fixated by my water quota. When I had first started this walk, I had been reluctant to drink too much water before setting off. I believed that this would have a negative effect on my body, making it desire more water, whilst sweating-off whatever it had inside, very quickly. I had abandoned this plan, after the first day! The walk from Velonado to Rodakino, had seen to that! With a full "tank" of water, within me, I could easily last a couple of hours walking, before I needed a top-up. A plan, built on necessity and experience; I was about to meander off to the river, when I had a visitation!

Now, I know that, at times, I have a tendency to exaggerate...a little. That's prosaic license for you! "Purple prose"; "over-ripe imagination"; "babbling!"; call it what you will. However, all that I have written up to now, has been the truth, the whole truth, with nothing other than a dash of embellishment as garnish. For instance, "Harry", of a couple of chapters ago, didn't scare me nearly as much as I might have made out - he was, in fact, a very nice chap - but he did worry me, and everything I said that happened, happened in exactly the way I said it happened. More or less. Now for a leap of faith, on your part, dear reader, and a leap of the heart for me:
Reaping
I had just wandered back to my bunk bed, and the first of my socks was joining my lingerie(!) as being "upon Jackson". Whilst doing this I was trying to study another in my famous collection of utterly useless," in-the-vague-shape-of-Crete", maps, when the door to the mountain hut, was thrown open. There, standing in the doorway, was the grim reaper! I kid you not! My eyes adjusted, from look-in-horror-at-map mode, to a far more manageable, "oh my God, I'm doomed", horror! What was this I saw before me? Dressed, from head to toe in black;  returning my stare, with eyes aflame and - of course - carrying a scythe (again, I kid you not!), there was the reapy one, in the door frame, with the glare of the early morning sun, behind. My first thought, was that this figure, of impending doom, gloom and funerals, was somewhat shorter than I'd expected. My second thought was to panic! My third, fourth and fifth thoughts were mostly toilet related. The problem here being that the toilet was outside, and the only way of reaching it was through the door, the frame of which was currently occupied by the very reason for my sudden, urgent, need to powder my nose! All of these thoughts passed in the split second between the door being thrust open and the vertically-challenged one uttering her(!) first words. Waving the scythe in my general direction, Kyria Stella spoke: "Den efighes akomi;" (you haven't left yet?). The good woman was not happy! No, I hadn't, though if my heart had been a little less strong, surely I would have just done so; permanently!  I wondered if this was Stella's party piece; whether 12 Austrians had woken yesterday morning and only nine had left Selakano; the other three, scared out of their wits by this seemingly harmless, elderly lady! Maybe this was why they hadn't made their beds. Before a word could be uttered, however, Stella launched into a grim lecture. I was informed of the rights (of which there weren't any) and wrongs (of which the were at least 10!) of having left a ten euro bill secreted under one of the ashtrays of her kafeneion. I apologised profusely, but it was of no use. She would have her revenge. In my state of undress, and with her, armed with scythe, I was in no doubt, she would.
Revenge and Dishes
Ka. Stella's  "revenge" as it turned out, was as cruel as it was cunning in its simplicity; she made me breakfast. I don't do breakfast, but this morning I knew that, somehow, I would; and, somehow, I did. Big time! The bill for dinner, last night, had come to ten euro. I had stuffed and drunk myself insensitive for that amount, and Kyria Stella was about to make sure that I got the full ten Euro worth this morning. I had time for a quick wash and much needed use of the toilet facilities, before rendezvousing with the good lady at the Kafeneion 'Stella'. Eggs were cooked; paximadia (little toasted bread sticks) with cheese, honey, olives (of course!); coffee and orange juice, were placed upon the table. Kyria Stella no longer had the scythe in her hand, but she was equally as dangerous with a spatula! I ate as much as I could - which wasn't very much really -  casting a nervous smile in my benevolent land-lady's direction, whenever she came out of the kitchen to increase the burden on the already full table-top. I warned her that if she carried on in this way, I would have to leave a huge tip for her, under a different ashtray. She smiled at this, and realised that my diminutive frame could cope with no more. For an hour we sat, and I chomped. I have no idea, whether, in the future, Greek ladies, of uncertain years, would be as openly warm and generous as this generation are, or whether that particular cast was already fracturing. For an hour, my stomach complained. For the rest of my life I shall not forget Kyria Stella, with or without scythe! Eventually escaping Stella's latest attempt to stop my heart, I retrieved my rucksack from the mountain hut, left the key in the door and headed Dikteian way, passing Stella for the final time. I waved at the wonderful woman and she waved back, as if saying farewell to a fondest son.
Mounting Mountains
It was close to 11AM as I passed the thicket where I had almost slept last night, and had a last shufty around, just in case I may have left something important there. Sure enough, there was my pen-knife. I retrieved this and pointed my left foot at the mountains. My right foot followed, and before long I was into my rhythm. There is a beautiful forest here. The entry to which lies just west of Selakano. The E4 continues on a road, past this entrance, and restarts at a little shepherd's hut on its south side. I was amazed to find the path marked, by red and yellow blobs of paint. The climb up into the mountains was pretty easy; far easier than I had expected it to be. Within an hour of setting off,  I could clearly see the range I was to cross. It was at this juncture, that I realised that I hadn't filled my flask. It was at the point between that juncture and a shepherd's hut, a mere 100 metres away, that I found a source of water. Gushing from a rock, and piped into a trough, liquid gold spilled forth. I took the opportunity of filling my flask and placed my head beneath the icy flow. There is a fine line between "refreshing" and "bracing", and this crossed it. If I'd thought that I'd had a close encounter with "death" this morning, I was left in very little doubt, that I was very much alive, after this icy immersion.

So far, the blobs of yellow and red paint had been my guides and my friends. But what would happen when these disappeared, as they inevitably would? I would take this slowly, I decided. Make sure I was doing the correct thing. But the paint blobs didn't disappear. In fact, if anything they became more abundant. I was making good time; too good! The beautiful wooded territory around here, eventually deposits you at a large, open, rocky plane, with a river bed. Wide areas of snow, speckled the landscape to the north, whilst a river babbled beneath me, and to my south. I was to encounter many areas which had retained snow; the picture shows one of the smaller examples of these. I was just cursing my luck and stupidity at having lost my camera, when it occurred to me, that somewhere among the mess within my rucksack, there was the little disposable variety that I'd purchased in Aghios Nikolaos for €8. Fishing through my bag, and finding my camera.  I felt light-headed; dizzy; like a child finding himself in a giant playground; without a care in the world. I took a picture of one of the pockets of snow, when I realised that without a subject matter, it would probably look the size of a snowball once developed; if indeed I could convince anybody that this was snow in late May, in the first place! Off came my cap, and the rather grainy image you see before you, is evidence of my encounter with my very own pocket-St. Moritz. I frolicked the best I could with the snow for a while, which was not ideal for frolicking with, or indeed for skiing or making snowmen. Trust me, I tried both. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and this was an entirely new experience for me, with the sun beating down, I was in danger of getting burned, whilst I warbled my desires for a "White Christmas", and waddled, penguin-like, through various snow pockets.

At Home on the Range
It was fantastic up here. I felt light-headed. I wanted to tell the world, and as chance would have it, my 'phone rang. It was Virginia. The signal, to say the least, was intermittent, but I believe that Virginia was left in no doubt as to the spirits I was in. They were as high as Mt Dikti itself! (A picture of a couple of  Swedes, atop of the mountain, can be seen here) I made a tentative arrangement to meet Virginia in Spili, on Wednesday week. Whether she, or I, would be there, was somewhat doubtful, but I like tentative arrangements. I signed off from Virginia and rang my sister, Alison, back in England. My niece - and God-daughter, Sophia, could  clearly be heard as she babbled like the child of one and three quarters years old, that she was, and the distant river beneath me. I lay down for a while, and thought of England, and decided, that at this precise moment, I would prefer to be nowhere else other than where I was, at this precise moment!. It was 12.30 PM and I reckoned that I could easily walk for another eight hours. I had no idea where I would be at that time, but I would have broken the back of this range. The walk through the Dikteian range, at first takes you west, and at about the half way point (of the range), you need to head north. This was my one major concern. I could clearly see Afentis Christos (peaking at 2141 metres, I could hardly miss it!) to my left (south) and I knew that at some point, I would have to take a sharp right turn, and skirt round Mt. Dikti (Dikte, or occ. Spathi; peak 2148 metres); Mount Lazaros, also towers well above 2000 metres, in this range), before heading in a mostly northerly direction, towards the Lassithi plateau.

It couldn't last. This I knew; I also knew I should be getting on, so on I got. A couple of E4 poles indicated that the paint blobs spoke the truth regarding the direction for my destination. Solitude, hardly describes the feeling of utter remoteness up here. From the original wooded, green area, my senses were now dazzled by the sun's reflection off the limestone. I'd envisaged this walk, before hand, as, somehow, dark and foreboding. As I pulled my cap down to shelter my eyes from the direct rays of the sun, and squinted, to avoid the glare coming up from below me, I realised that I could hardly have been more wrong on the "dark" front! "Foreboding, didn't seem an accurate description either. OK, I still had to find a sharp right turn, or I would hopelessly lost, but with the E4 signs and red and yellow blobs, guiding my way forward, I was making good time and thoroughly enjoying myself. Time flies when you are having fun, and after a couple of water breaks, and a moment of navel contemplation, I came to my "sharp right turn".

Neither Here Nor There
This I couldn't believe! I looked at one of my maps, and then at the others. The topography suggested I was exactly where I thought I'd be at around 6PM this evening; i.e. the half-way point of the walk. It was 2PM. I followed the path and the paint blobs up the side of the rather steep face in front of me. If I was correct, at the top of this climb, I'd be able to see the Lassithi plateau. If that was so, then it would be possible to make Aghios Georgiios, tonight. Of course, I am hardly ever correct! What the hell! David Bowie was bellowing out  'It Aint Easy'. ("When I climb to the top of the mountain, look out over the sea..."). Not in person, you understand - I rarely take David Bowie on my walks - but through my headphones, attached to my CD player! But there it was. A half an hour later, in all its glory, the >Lassithi plateau. I have said before, that "Crete doesn't do 'flat'". Well, it does occasionally, and this is one of those occasions (the plains of Nidri, Messara and Askyphou are others). From up high, I could make out the villages of Aghios Georgios, Aghios Konstantinos, Mesa Lassithi, Psychro and others, spread out before me, like a map. A map far better than any of the ones I possessed! Which was understandable really. I still had some way to go, but I knew now, that rather than sleeping out on a mountain range, tonight I would be in Aghios Georgios. It was 2.30, and I reckoned on 3 or so hours to get to my chosen destination. I did my best to convince myself that it really didn't matter whether or not, I reached Aghios Georgios tonight. My best is really not very good. I knew that I now had to get there this evening.

What Goes Up...
It's a long way down, when you are this high up and this descent should be taken carefully. It's rather steep at times, and small rocks underfoot, do their best to accelerate your progress; to terminal velocity. E4 poles, rather than red and yellow paint blobs, guide you down, through a barren, rocky landscape, until the ground levels out, and a (dry) river bed can be followed. The problem with the realisation that I could make Aghios Georgios tonight, was that it made me suddenly desperate, to be there ASAP. This in turn, sapped the strength, until I was forced to slow down. Still, by the time I had descended to height of only 1000 metres or so, above sea level, it was no later than 4.00 PM. There is a mountain hut, (Stanestasi, elavation 1555 metres) just to the west, here. I wondered if this hut - or any other, for that matter - could possibly have a more fabulous keyholder, than the one I had spent being charmed by, twice, over the past 24 hours. I reckoned there probably wasn't. Besides, I had a Lassithi village to lay my head in this evening. I came to a shepherd's house followed by a modern village with a handful of rather nice houses. I was greeted by the obligatory snarling dog at the shepherd's house, and moments later by the shepherd himself, accompanied by a friend. "Pou pas;"  (where are you going), I was asked. "Sto Aghio Georgio", I replied.

The Lassithi Plateau (Oropedhio).

Lassithi, with its 17 villages, is among the highest inhabited areas in the whole of Greece. In its total of 30 square kilometres, the variation in altitude across the whole plateau, is only 33 metres (817-850 metres), giving it its level playing field appearance; certainly from a distance, it looks totally flat, and somehow out of character for this undulating island An excellent, anthropological book to the area  in general, and the village of Magoulas - just south of Psychro - in particular, is 'Village on the Plateau', by Sonia Greger; available from you know who. A centre of revolution against Draconian Venetian rule in the 13th century, the Venetians depopulated the area in 1263, and forbade cultivation due the rebellious nature of the locals; a couple of centuries later, when Venice's desperate need for corn necessitated, the plateau was allowed to be resettled .The ditches (or "linies), still in use today for drainage, are of uncertain date. It is almost certain that these date to Venetian times, and the recultivation of the area, but some people believe that they are, in fact, Roman. In the 16th century, people of the Peloponnese settled here, to escape the Ottomans, who had taken mainland Greece. Of course, by the end of the following century, Crete too was under Ottoman rule, and the plateau was destroyed, twice, under the Ottomans, in the 19th century.

The plateau is dominated to its south, by the Dikteian range. We have a slight problem with nomenclature here. As I said in chapter four, part two, there is a growing feeling that the Dikteian cave, the birthplace of Zeus in Greek mythology and currently placed just above the village of Psychro, in Western Lassithi, is in fact at the eastern extreme of the island, at Petsofas, not far from Palekastro. Just when this range of mountains was given the name 'Dikti', is uncertain. According to Greger, the locals of Magoulas, call the range by their "traditional name, Madara". The area is well worth a visit, despite the fact that its traditional tourist attraction - the white-sailed windmills, of which there were said to be close to 10,000 - have all but disappeared, other than to attract the tourists, if you see what I mean. Nowadays, tourists tend to come to escape the heat of the coastal areas; the Lassithi Orepedhi, as it is known in Greek, is markedly cooler than the coasts, and can be a breath of fresh air, in the height of summer.

Important sites, other than the so-called Dikteian cave at Psychro (more of this in the next chapter), are the cave of Trapeza, east of Tzermiado, the Eteocretan site of Karphi (Karfi), founded during Dorian rule, and the 16th century monastery of Kroustallenia, close to Mesa Lassithi.

Stelios Jackson 2004
The two men told me that I was heading in the correct direction, before getting embroiled in a discussion, as to why nobody seemed to do this walk in the opposite direction any more. I left them to it, and took the road, which wound around the hill that had suddenly, and unexpectedly, appeared before me. On the other side of this hill, should be the crock of gold, at the end of my very own, personal, rainbow.
Looking Forward
And so it was. The hill's road was of the winding variety and it did take me slightly longer than I'd thought to get to Aghios Georgios, but this also had something to do with my taking an unexpected diversion through the village of Avrakonites, which in turn was due to me deciding to take the very new and very shiny, road , rather than continue on the path I'd been on. However, at the stroke of  6PM, there I was sitting in a kafeneion run by the charming Harikleia Kleisarchaki. My expectations for today had been exceeded by some distance. All in all, the walk had taken fewer than seven hours, and I had hardly been sprinting. I ordered my usual: lemonita and a beer, whilst drinking in the moment and this splendid village. There are two hotels along this road. Both were recommended in the Rough Guide to Crete. The reason that I chose the Hotel Dias, was more a matter of present geographical positioning, than any preference. The Dias was opposite from where I was sitting. Well, that's not quite true. Directly opposite from where I sat, was another kafeneion, full of elderly men, playing tavli (backgammon).  Tables outside, suggested that one could eat at the hotel too, and so, ordering another beer, from Ka. Harikleia,  I set out to bridge the divide, between the kafeneion and the hotel. Three seconds later, and there I was, face to face with another smiling lady. Niki Hatzaki was her name, and we immediately hit it off. There is either something about this area, or something about me, which makes ladies of uncertain years, smile maternally. Maybe they just feel sorry for me. I do have that "lost" look about me! I asked this latest addition to my smiling lady collection, whether she may have a room for me for the night.. This she did. And what a wonderful room too. For 15.00 of my Greek Euro, I was offered a bedroom with three beds. OK, it wasn't en-suite, but I could cope with that; besides there was something that reminded me of my childhood holidays about this place. No frills, few thrills, just a good, old-fashioned, honest and comfortable room. A truly marvellous place. I seized the moment, and booked it.

Returning to my beer, I realised that my appetite had returned. After the breakfast I had waded through this morning, I'd thought that I might never feel the need to eat again. But now, relaxed and surrounded by benevolent villagers, I was growing peckish. I decided that I had better eat before I became as relaxed as a newt. Returning to the hotel Dias, I warned Ka. Niki of my intention to nosebag soon;  that I was of the vegetarian ilk, and disappeared to powder my nose, before the great feast. Upon returning, I was sat at a table and given a litre of village wine (which I had ordered) and a bowl of pasta soup (which I had not) whilst waiting for the food to arrive. I, of course, had ordered everything suitable for a vegetarian, which was quite a lot, but Ka. Niki, wanted to share with me her own favourite dish. This was pasta in goats milk, a platter so delicious, that I wolfed it down in a matter of seconds, and had to turn down the offer of seconds! Filling stuff, that pasta soup. By the time my order arrived, I was feeling like I had this morning. Surrounded by a dozen small plates, I realised that I had ordered enough for a small army of Tsaksonakis'. Thankfully I had my book with me, and reading this, I managed to pick at the food, until I had eaten about half of what was on the table. I had no such problems with the village wine. In fact I had finished this, well before I had stuffed myself to the limit. The food was wonderful, with all sorts of Greek dishes, my onion and feta salad and a plate of chips! Due to the wine, and a feeling of utter contentment with everything in heaven and earth, I remember very little else that evening. I know that I made it to my room; that I managed another couple of chapters of my book, and that I slept the sleep of the virtuous. After this, comes tomorrow, and that, of course, is another day, and another chapter....

Stelios Jackson's sponsor :
The Hellenic Bookservice - Britain's Greek (and Latin) bookshop. Est. 1966
© Stelios Jackson & interkriti

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