Chapter Two: The Prewalk.
Part Two: Kato Rodakino - Chora Sphakion
With additional material from Rex Anderson
With special thanks to Alexander Stepanenko
for allowing me to use his wonderful pictures.
Sunday the 4th of May 2003
More rude beginnings
I lay there, eyes firmly closed, gently massaging a tender spot
somewhere beneath my blanket. I opened an eye. Rex raised an eyebrow. Deciding not to ask,
he instead headed for the bathroom. It was morning, but it had been when I had gone to
bed! I had managed a little under six hours sleep since hitting the hay at 2.45AM.
"You alright mate?", Rex asked upon his return, eyeing me
suspiciously. "Fine", I replied - perhaps a little too firmly - "just
making sure that I still have legs, that's all!". I had awoken without any feeling of
discomfort in my limbs. This had come as an extremely pleasant surprise, but my initial
delight, had been replaced by the creeping fear that I may be paralysed from the waist
down! These disporate emotions -within two seconds of each other - just about sum-up how
my brain works! It had been with mixed feelings therefore, that I discovered that a
sharp poke in the thigh region had been greeted with an immediate knee-jerk reaction!
"Ouch!" Yes, my kneecap still hurt a bit, though quite a bit less than I'd
thought it would and that was the part of me that I had been gently and skilfully
manipulating when I'd opened my eyes to the world and Rex. I swung myself off the bed and
tested my abilities in the "walk across the bedroom" department! Well,
I certainly knew that my legs had had a bit of exercise the previous day, but other than
that I was feeling jolly well and, for some reason, ridiculously pleased with myself.
Rex had woken soon after my arrival at our room at around 02.30 that
morning. I vaguely remember having tried to babble at him, but Rex had just been happy to
see that I was still alive; any great detail of my day could wait until later that
morning. It was now later that morning and I seized the opportunity, proceeding to tell
the tale of the previous day's journey in gory detail. We set off for breakfast. No; Rex
set off for breakfast. I had only got as far as Alones in the story as my friend silently
slipped out of the room. I joined him at the breakfast table. He had ordered a mixed-plate
of dead animals for two persons, one of whom was vegetarian! (Greek is not one of the
languages in which the boy is proficient, so I immediately forgave him this
oversight...well, after a few minutes anyway). I watched as he ate and resumed my
traveller's tale. Poor Rex. On-and-on I rambled - much like the previous day's hike -
before the realisation that I had been monopolising the conversation struck me momentarily
dumb! "I'm sorry mate, how was your day?", I asked, magnanimously!
So, what had Rex been up to during the monumental calamity that had been
my first walk? Well, I had been correct in thinking that he had been worried about me
during my epic journey the previous day, but I'll let the boy type his experiences for
Rex types his mind...
There can be few more
pleasurable experiences on earth than driving in an open-top car along the back roads of
Crete: the sun beating down, virtually no traffic, breathtaking scenery, no particular
place to go. Not that I’ve got anything against walking. I love walking. What I
don’t love is hills. That’s not strictly accurate. What I don’t love is
hills going up. Even then, I’m not opposed to a little hill-walking, but the length
of Crete and
with Stelios? Whatever he may tell you, the lad is
fit…and single! The last time I walked anywhere with the boy had been the day before
when we had made our way back up from lunch in a taverna in lower Argyroupolis via a very
circuitous route of his choosing to the main town. He does prefer the road less travelled.
I had to take a 15-minute break, while my heart found some blood to pump back into my
brain, before tackling the last couple of hundred yards to an early beer.
My two tasks that day were
straightforward. Find an Internet Café in Plakias
and then locate Vardis
in Kato Rodakino. The first was simple enough. Plakias is a pleasant little resort to walk
around and it has a bright bar with a couple of computers. A light lunch and a rapid
perusal of my e-mail later, I was on my way again, sun still beating down, and by mid
afternoon I was driving past the gates of what appeared to be a very classy hotel and down
to the group of tavernas at the end of the coast road. I marched into the first one and
made enquiries. A very healthy looking man with a shock of grey hair told me: “Is not
this bitch. Is other bitch.”
Approaching the imposing gates
from the other direction I saw that they led not to an hotel but a bar. Here I was
informed that Vardis would be back shortly and would have a room for us. I settled down
with a beer and a book to soak up some more sun. Vardis, a cheerful young chap, duly
appeared and we were soon registered as guests. I moved some of the luggage and returned
for another beer. It was by now about the time the Jackson should make an appearance.
Instead a car drove up and out poured Adam, a friend, with a New Zealander and a couple of
girls he had picked up on the way. We had some coffees and beers and I started checking my
watch and the road in a more concerned manner. I had expected the walking half of my party
to arrive around 4.00. It wasn’t that great a distance. Given the fellow’s
propensity for exploring virgin terrain, I could stretch that to 6.00. It was now after
7.00. In an hour or so it would be dark.
I went and spoke to Vardis. He
took me to the side of the bar where we could get a clear view of the mountain. He
pointed. “My brother and I have ships in these hills,” he said, confusingly. I
turned to the bay behind me. Surely a more appropriate place to keep ships. Then the coin
dropped. Sheep. He meant sheep. He told me how they regularly walked the hills to round up
their ships. They could walk the path from Velonado in four hours. Someone who did not
know it would take six hours. It was very easy to follow and, at this time of year, there
would be plenty of walkers. If my friend had fallen, he would soon be found.
“But,” he said, “he should never have gone into the hills without a cell
phone. Nobody walks in the hills without a cell phone.” I wondered how those English
travellers, Pendlebury and the rest, had ever survived with only cleft sticks for sending
Adam agreed that there was
little we could do at this time. If we set out to find him, we would soon be lost in the
dark. I got quite friendly with the New Zealander, a carpenter who was seeing Europe in
the traditional Antipodean manner of drifting with the wind. They would rent a couple of
rooms for the night then set out to find the wanderer first thing. Meanwhile, a conference
was taking place around my friends hired car. My New Zealand friend went to find out what
was ‘going down’. He returned. “Apparently we’re going to Plakias to
find somewhere to stay there.” Without any further explanation, the party climbed
back into their transport and drove off into the twilight. It must have been something I
Vardis had no food at his bar so
I walked the mile or so up the coast road to the “other bitch” where I enjoyed a
very good moussaka-like meal with a carafe of wine. I ambled back about 11.00, had a last
beer and decided on an early night. I figured that if my missing friend had found a phone
he would have called me. He may have fallen but there was nothing I could do about that
until morning. More likely he had decided to camp out on the hillside. I collapsed. I
didn’t know it then, but I was suffering the early stages of a mild sunstroke.
Sometime in the middle of the
night there was a pounding on the door. There was Vardis with Lot’s wife, a pillar of
salt, out of which emerged Stelios.
Now, that's what I call writing!
Rex finished our breakfast and we bade a fond farewell to Vardis,
thanking him for his wonderful hospitality. I promised to return one day and I shall! I
can remember where the hotel is situated but can't share its name with you, as I once
again failed to collect a business card. Rex was to drive me up the road to Kato Rodakino.
Cheating? Perhaps, but I would gladly have stayed there the previous night if it hadn't
been for the need to find my friend; so justifiable cheating. Rodakino is
famed in Cretan memories as the place where the revolutionary flag of the Greek war of
Independence had first been raised on the island, in 1821; but is perhaps better known for
another - later - slice of history. My journey had only just begun, but before we left
Koraka I looked seawards and paid silent homage to a group of extraordinary men;
for somewhere along this stretch of coastline, the final leg of a hair-raising
odyssey through Crete, had occured some 58 years earlier. A group of Cretans and Allied
soldiers, accompanied by a single reluctant Nazi, would later be immortalised in the book
and film 'Ill Met by Moonlight.'
History Box Nr 1 - Ill Met by Moonlight
"At times we almost ran, our route
taking us up and down steep gradients like a madman's switchblade and before long we were
feeling pretty exhausted...we were unfortunate to find no springs and streams in our
"Ill Met by Moonlight"
W. Stanley Moss describing the journey to
Rodakino from Vilandredo - not far from Velonado with General Kreipe a reluctant
participant - in his book, "Ill Met by Moonlight"
On the April 26th, 1944, the divisional commander of the Nazi regiments
based in Herakleion - one General Heinrich Kreipe
- was abducted by W.
Stanley Moss, Patrick Leigh Fermor,
Manolis Paterakis, Antonis Zoidakis among others. This was the propaganda story of the
war, capturing the hearts of millions at the time and - thanks to the publication of Moss'
diary of events 'Ill met by Moonlight
' - millions since. First published
in 1950 - and still available in a Cassell
reprint, the book was later
made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde as "Paddy" Leigh Fermor and directed by
the wonderful team of Powell and Pressburger.
Patrick Leigh Fermor was already an expert in offering generals
directions off the island! The year before the Kreipe abduction, he had managed to
spirit-away the leader of the Italian forces on Crete. General Carta
(pronounced with an Italian accent and not
as in Jimmy Carter!), had been
a willing party - the Italian forces having capitulated, he wanted
to escape the island - and so this new operation was to be a whole different kettle of
Kreipe had been abducted close to the Villa Ariadne
- erstwhile home of Arthur Evans at Knossos - just outside Herakleion, where he had been
living at the time. Now for the tricky part; Kreipe's abductors had to negotiate a dozen
or so check-points - with Leigh Fermor wearing the General's hat! - before they could get
their captive out of this sprawling city (nowadays Greece's fifth largest). There were to
be a number of "close shaves", before this small band of brave men managed
to escape Herakleion and with the General their prisoner, walked South-West across the
island to the beach at Rodakino (Koraka bay) - via Anoghia (Anoyia) and Psiloritis (Mount
Ida) - finally boarding a boat to Egypt on May the 15th, some 19 days after their journey
This is a truly wonderful story; full of tales of derring-do, but it was
not to be without its repercussions. The plan - conceived the previous year - had been to
abduct Kreipe's predecessor; the loathed General Muller
British Intelligence - The Special Operations Executive (SOE), based in Cairo - had
reported that Muller had left the island for the Dodecanese. The SOE had been wrong
Muller had replaced General Brauer as Festung Commander
" (Nazi command); in other words, he was now the top Nazi on the
island. Now based in Chania - merrily goosestepping around Venizelos
which he now occupied - Muller had been responsible for killing 100s of innocent Cretans
and sanctioning a policy which stated that for every Nazi soldier killed, 10 Cretans would
lose their lives. Kreipe filled the vacancy left by Muller's promotion. "One
General was as good a catch as any other
", was Moss' viewpoint. Can't say
that agree with that statement. All things being relative Kreipe had been a saint compared
to his predecessor. Now back in Herakleion - the Nazi HQ for this region was at Archanes -
Muller proceeded to do what he did best and what he did best was
The poster below, written in both German
and Greek, was an attempt by the British to distance any Cretan involvement in the capture
of General Kreipe, as they feared the reprisals that the Nazis were likely to carry out.
The text reads:
"General Heinrich Kreipe, was taken prisoner by British officers, without any assistance from the Cretans. General Kreipe is already safely away from Crete, held in security."
Ignoring allied claims that the Cretans had nothing to do with the
operation to abduct Kreipe (see picture
), Muller set-about
executing villagers and destroying villages such as Anoghia. The destruction of villages
such as Yerekari, Smiles, Vrises and Kerdaki, were also on Muller's "hit-list",
though some believe that the later destruction of villages in the Amari valley came too
late to be connected to this incident.
It's not for me to question the rights and wrongs of this operation, but
I shall! Was it all worth it?
Did the end justify the means?
Ample evidence was available at the time as to the atrocious lengths the
Nazis would go to - by way of reprisals - but the British had gone out of their way to
distance the Cretans from any involvement in the abduction.
This didn't stop General Muller in exacting revenge in any way he saw fit, saving his
worst atrocities for the people of Anoghia, as they had been, in his view: "...the
centre of English espionage in Crete
". Muller (in a leaflet to the people of
Anoghia), makes it quite clear that at least some of the cause of his wrath was due to the
Kreipe abduction: "...and since the abductors of General Kreipe passed
through Anoyia, using Anoyia as a stopping place when transporting him, we order its
razing to the ground and the execution of every male Anoyian who is found within the
village and an area of one kilometre around it
" (General Muller from "Crete:
The Battle and the Resistance
" (C:TBATR), by Antony Beevor, published by
Penguin). So why does Beevor - in an earlier chapter - say of the reprisals: "...this
is a canard
"; apparently contradicting his own quote from Muller?
For sheer propaganda purposes, the mission was a total success. Manoussos
(an important member of the Allied intelligence operation, based
in Chania): '"Everybody felt taller by 2 centimetres the next day...
(the day after the Kreipe abduction) ...out of 450,000 Cretans, 449,000 claimed to
have taken part in the Kreipe operation..."
, indicates the immense pride
aroused' (Beevor, C:TBATR).
Whilst I have my reservations at the rationale behind the abduction, the
operation was a success in exactly the area that it set-out to be, i.e. undermining Nazi
(and therefore boosting Allied) morale; and this should be taken into consideration by
those wholly against the operation. Also, both the Cretan and British participants were
extremely honourable men. Moss had to be controlled in his over-enthusiasm - he later
planned to abduct Muller in the same way, which would have been a somewhat madcap mission
- Sandy Rendel (a radio operator when his radios' weren't being given the same treatment
as my erstwhile mobile phone'!) and Leigh Fermor, all come-over as true British gents.
Both Moss' and Beevor's books are essential reading.
Adam Hopkins in his excellent book - "Crete, its Past
Present and People
" (sadly out of print) - in the chapter 'The Pity of War',
say's that the event "... raises questions, which few cared to face
clearly at the time...
", though he also points out - quite rightly - that to
show no resistance to the Nazis would have been untenable and most certainly against the
character of this island nation. "If there was to be a resistance at all, its
success would inevitably be measured in blood and flames. The Cretans have always known
If the book Ill Met by Moonlight
comes across as a
", it has to be remembered that this is a
publication taken directly from Moss' diary and whilst there would have been some serious
copy-editing, alterations and additions, it is still essentially just that: a diary of
events as seen by Moss and not
a misty-eyed reminiscence.
My planning period had
allowed me a couple of choices for the next trek. I had thought that I would
easily be able to get to Chora Sphakion from Rodakino, though staying at
the half-way-point of Frangokastello was a contingency that I had allowed for. The
advantage of the Chora Sphakion option - via Frangokastello but not staying there
- was that it would allow me an extra day to spend doing absolutely nothing. I had three
such days planned for the walk proper (I called these 'Dopey days'; "Dopey"
being one of the many - and one of the more polite - nicknames that I go by!), and I
particularly liked the idea of an extra night in Loutro, a place where I
always feel relaxed. Now, as I thought about the days ahead, the presupposition that I
could "easily make" Chora Sphakion from Rodakino, had to be amended given my
experiences thus far. Rex had already decided to stay with a couple of friends of his in
Frangokastello. Silvia and Costas run an hotel just behind the Venetian castle. I had
never been a great fan of Frangokastello, finding the place pretty one-dimensional, but I
had never spent the night there, and if Rex was staying at Frangokastello, so was I; my
decision had been reached.
The walk to Frangokastello from Kato Rodakino, is all a bit of a blur. I
can remember arming myself with enough water to float a small boat and heading-off
Westwards, but after that, very little else. I was later to drive the road I had walked
and I was surprised at how long and winding it was. The later drive proved a couple of
things to me. I already knew that I headed down to the coast at some stage, re-emerging
onto the road at Skaloti - East of Frangokastello - but where had I taken
this path? As the road heads Westwards and upwards from Rodakino and a couple of
kilometres before you reach the village of Argoules, a track heads south
and takes you down to the sea. I do remember thoroughly enjoying that particular
part of the walk. I found a river, veritably gushing-forth and spent a great deal of time
watching it do just that. There are a couple of nice stretches of sand along the coast
down here; mostly secluded, though a few parked cars were to give away that these beaches
are not entirely unknown. The river I had found crossed a road and formed a small
waterfall (more of a "water-drop" of a couple of feet, if truth be told - caused
by a rut in the path and gravity - but to me it was the Niagra Falls), within which I
frolicked for another inordinate length of time. I had a sudden fascination with water,
not entirely unconnected with the experiences of the previous day, methinks! All in all it
took me four and a half hours to get to Frangokastello from Kato Rodakino, but at least
half that time was spent idling in one way or other.
It was 3.00PM when I reached the castle of Frangokastello. Built
in the 14th century by the Venetians in a fruitless attempt to quell the Sphaks
people of the region of the "white mountains" known as Sphakia),
this castle is well worth a visit.
Thanks to Alexander
for the picture of Frangokastello's castle.
Directly opposite the castle there is a taverna with a sprawling bar
containing a spread-eagled eagle - "taxidermed" with extreme prejudice -
which, rather disturbingly, hovers within. I entered the taverna "Kriti" and
ordered a Lemonita and then another. I watched as people ate and drank,
and luxuriated in the thought of being able to join them in this nose-bagging (eating), if
I wished. I did not wish. I wanted to find Rex, ensconce myself in the hotel and have a
siesta.I had no trouble finding Rex's friends' place. The hotel Milos, is situated adjacent to a very
nice sandy beach, just South-West of the castle. I was shown to our room and there was
Rex, plucking! This is what he does in private moments, and sometimes in public too!
Rex can play any number of stringed instruments and had brought a "travel
guitar" with him. These small, classically strung guitars made by Martin and
Co. in the USA, are the perfect answer for those travelling light who may wish to
entertain themselves. I make very bad sounds indeed with guitars,
whatever their spec. I learned this at an early stage of my musical development; people
just leave the room as soon as I pick up - or even look at - a guitar. Rex on the other
hand, can play rather well. "Rather well", wasn't how my friend looked, however.
There was a sickly hue about him. "What's up, mate?", I asked.
"Sunstroke", was the answer, albeit in a somewhat early stage. I informed Rex of
my intention to have a kip and suggested he do the same. I am far too selfish to remember
whether my friend took my advice, but I most certainly did. An hour of
refreshing sleep later, I was fit enough to wander down to the beach and test the water. I
always look forward to swimming in the deep-blue ocean until it comes to the time of
putting thought into action! Whenever I get this close to sea-water an orchestra
strikes-up in my head; crazed violinists screech-out refrains from John Williams' 'Jaws'
and I more often than not, decide that my toes can be immersed, but no more of me than
that. Pathetic? I know it!
History Box Nr 2: Frangokastello- "A bit of history"
Frangokastello - "A bit of history"
Two separate revolutions reached their sad conclusions here: In 1770 Yannis Vlachos - better known as "Daskaloyannis" or "teacher John" - started an uprising in the White Mountains. This was an area -and people - the Ottoman-Turks had never quite conquered. Wild goats, wilder mountains and even wilder men, were - and still are - the make-up of this inhospitable terrain. The Sphaks therefore, had a degree of autonomy, not afforded to other Christian Cretans. They also had their own ports - Loutro and Chora Sphakion, to name just two - and their own fleet. The Russians - who were helping the general Greek cause for independence in the Peloponnese at the time - now offered Daskaloyannis aid in the event of a Cretan insurrection. The uprising that followed was brutally quashed, leading to Daskaloyannis' surrender at Frangokastello castle. Despite pledges of amnesty from the Pasha of Herakleion (then 'Candia'), Daskaloyannis was put to death, the following year. I will not dwell on the details of his execution - there may be children reading - but needless to say, it was rather gruesome!
In 1828, another uprising against the Turks (there would be quite a number more before Crete - in 1898 - was "allowed" autonomy by the 'Great Powers' of the time - Russia, Britain and France - and even after that, further uprisings were necessary before union with Greece was finally achieved in 1913). This was part of the general war for Greek independence, led by Hadji Michaelis Dalianis - from Epirus in Northern Greece - and it was as a result of this revolution that the legend of the "drossoulites" (dew shades) emerged.
And "emerge" is exactly what these shadowy creatures do each year. Ghosts of the 385 men (mostly mainland Greeks), trapped within the castle and slaughtered by the Ottomans - themselves losing at least double that amount of men - walk around revelling in the pure joy of being dead. This happens every year; usually in May.
"Drossoulites", most certainly do exist, but these shadows of former selves, are nowadays more commonly thought of as mirages brought on by particular climatic conditions. These are scientific and unromantic times, and I would rather believe in the ghostly past, but sadly lack that most powerful of all deceivers; imagination!
Memories of things past:
As an eight years old, I'd swum off the coast of Tolon (then a small
fishing village; it's a far bigger place now), on the Argolid; the thumb
on the hand, that is the penisular of land known as the Peloponnese, in
Southern Greece. I remember feeling a nick on my inner thigh. Ignoring it, I continued
swimming for another hour or so. When I eventually surfaced beach-side, a little girl of
about my age, pointed at me and screamed. I would grow quite accustomed to this response
from females of all ages in later life, but this was before the
onset of puberty - and the "ugly pills" I insisted upon taking - took
their hideous toll. I most certainly hadn't merited this response! "Typical
girl!", I remember thinking. "You'd never see a boy behaving in this shameful
manner". However, following the more specific direction that the girl's finger was
pointing, I glanced down at my right leg which was bright red from the inner thigh down. A
gaping hole three inches long and half an inch wide had replaced the bronzed skin that I
had expected to see. The girl's screaming ceased, or at least it had been replaced
by a far louder and higher pitched variety of noise, which surrounded me and appeared to
be coming from my mouth. My mother, whom had been sunbathing (it was good for you in those
days!), now came over and tried - in vain - to console little Stelios. We were "too
far from a hospital", according to my parents (wasn't there one in Nauplion, just up
the coast?), so I couldn't get my wound stitched and I have still have a scar - three
inches long and half an inch wide - on my right inner thigh to remind me of the
experience. But why am I telling you this?
Well, my neurotic fear of sharks should never have been allowed to come
about. The wound had been caused by an anchored boat that I had swum under; the propeller
of the boat was turning ever-so-slightly, and I had just caught it with my leg. It had not
been at-all painful, I remember; just a slight pinching feeling. I was to see the film
'Jaws' at the age of 13 or 14; some five or six years after the Tolon episode. Sharks can
smell (so we're told!), blood from miles away, diluted to one part in millions (we're told
this too!), and I had been pumping out a river of the stuff into the sea for an hour or
so. If any animal in the water had fancied lunch I had been advertising my presence - much
like the smell of frying onions attract football fans to a burger stall - for long enough
to attract those swimming off the coast of Libya! No interest whatsoever from the finny
ones, so why I feel that every shark in the Med will flap their dorsals in my general
direction as soon as I immerse myself into its depths is beyond me, but I suppose it only
goes to prove how illogical fear can be.
Anyhow...I returned from the beach and read my book. I tend to read
factual material when I am at home, so whenever I go on holiday I take the novels that I
had been meaning to read in the interim period. Having not been away for two years, I had
a lot of literature to catch-up on, and our car had a small library - containing about 30
novels - in its boot. I always start-off with what I would call "unchallenging
reading". Not Jeffrey Archer or the like - his novels are more unreadable than
unchallenging - no, Ed McBain, James Herbert, that kind of thing; well written but
formulaic stuff. This year I had regressed and decided to re-read a couple of novels from
my childhood, so had taken two "Jennings and Darbishire"
novels. For those of you that have not had the pleasure of Jennings' and Darbishire's
company; you haven't lived! Written by Anthony Buckeridge, this is PG Wodehouse for
children, or the child within us all. I know, you live in Outer-Postelthwaite and
it's far too embarrassing to read a children's book on the tube, bus or train, isn't it?
Well, just hide a copy of a Buckeridge novel in the latest 'Harry Potter' and other
passengers will never guess that hidden within the paperboards of Rowling's latest deeply
philosophical treatise, you are sneakily hiding a children's book!
Rex and I had decided to eat at the hotel taverna. Despite my siesta, I
had wanted an early night, and so it was that we sat down by a seaside table at 7.30PM. A
waiter came to our table presently and I asked for a litre of red wine, in Greek. ("Ena
kilo kokkino krasi, se parakalo" were my very words.) "English!"
our waiter said, in English. "Yes", I replied in Greek. ("Nai".)
Our waiter gave me one of those looks! "I don't think he's asking your
nationality", Rex said. Is my Greek that bad that I can't ask for a litre of wine in
the language of my mother? Oh well! "A litre of red wine", I said in English.
The waiter looked at me blankly and a silence followed. "Rot wein", proffered
Rex, breaking the silence. The waiter looked at my friend blankly. "Kokkino
Krasi" I tried my Greek again. Nope! Jesus! "Wine" I whined, no
longer caring which colour or variety it appeared in. Blankness stared back at me!
"Vin rouge", it was Rex's turn. Ah, that worked. Our waiter left us and returned
five minutes later accompanied by a woman. Had we asked for a woman? (had the waiter read
my mind?). We both had a desperate look about us - we usually do - but that was more due
to me wanting a drink and Rex's sunstroke! (No, if he could read my mind, then where
was the wine? Phew!). "Sorry, what did you ask for?" the woman asked. Our waiter
had needed an interpreter! Were Rex and I incapable of being understood by anybody other
than each other? "Could we have a litre of village wine", I pleaded, choosing to
forget that this particular tipple was on my "leave well alone" list.
"Certainly", replied our interpreter and passed this information onto our waiter
in a language that I didn't understand but later learned to be Bulgarian.
We should have ordered food there and then, but didn't! The wine came
and the staff disappeared, evidently believing that this was all we had wanted. It was
growing darker by the minute and becoming somewhat chilly down by the
waterfront, so after 3/4 of an hour, Rex and I moved closer to the kitchen and tried to
attract the attention of the staff within. The Mary-Celeste had been veritably
over-populated when it had been found, compared to the current head-count within the
kitchen. We sat and sipped; I experienced the feeling of deja vu! A German chap sat
at the table opposite ours. It was now 8.45PM and I was becoming irritable "No chance
of him getting fed", I muttered to Rex, just as three waiters emerged from the
kitchen. An opportunity to order. We seized it! We drew the same waiter as before out of
this melee and he was still incapable of understanding a single word we uttered, but he
was giving it a go and so was I. "Vegetarian", I said pointing at myself. "Hortofagos",
I said in Greek. Rex's German and French vocabulary weren't quite up to this word, which I
doubt he'd ever use even if it were, so I attempted a mime; you try miming
"vegetarian"! A new interpreter was found and he explained that my options were
chips and a Greek salad. And so it was that I ate chips and Greek salad and watched
Rex devour whole fish in one go. "Down in one, down in one", I would have said,
but I was having a serious "sense of humour" failure, so I ate what was in front
of me and headed to our room to sulk in private. Jennings and Darbishire cheered me up and
I took the opportunity of an early night. It was 10.30PM.
Monday the 5th of May 2003
I awoke at 8.00 the next morning, feeling thoroughly rested and up for
anything, especially as the "anything" I was "up for" that day, would
be the short walk to Chora Sphakion. I like Chora Sphakion, but my opinion of
Frangokastello had altered. Surprisingly, this was on the positive side (and that opinion
would improve even more on my subsequent re-visit to the same hotel). I realised that our
disastrous meal the previous evening, had most probably been a "one-off" and a
great anecdote opportunity; I may even write about it one day!. The sun was shining
brightly and I decided to take a trip to the beach and dip an ankle or two in the water. I
was growing bolder by the day! I had finished both of my 'Jennings' novels so invaded my
library, picking out "Gates of Fire" - a novel about the battle of
Thermopylae - by Stephen Pressfield and "Noughts and Crosses" by Ian Rankin
(both of which I'd recommend). I would need a couple of novels
as Rex wasn't coming with me to Chora Sphakion, or for that matter to Loutro, or even
Aghia Roumelli; my next ports of call. Rex's friend Virginia was coming to meet him in
Frangokastello that evening, and the plan was to team-up again at Soughia, in three days
time. Virginia lives just West of Chania, which would take her a couple of hours to drive
from, and seeing that she hadn't started her journey yet I decided I couldn't wait-around
for her arrival. Impatient I am, I know it. Bad trait, I know that too!
I said "chin-chin" to Rex - who looked at me, baffled! -
"So-long", I translated, promising him that we would share special moments soon.
This was another walk with very little to report. Not the "blur" of the
Rodakino-Frangokastello trek, more of a "nothing really happened" type of
walking experience. By now I had fully expected to be struck by meteorites or lightning
or...well, I am sure you get the gist! I followed the coastal road West out of
Frangokastello and after about a quarter of an hour, the road veers North. No
surprise there. According to the maps, there was a path - the E4 - to the
West (left), before I reached a junction in the road. So, keep it nice and steady,
look out for this path, and don't reach a junction in the road. I reached a junction in
the road! Doh! Never mind, at least I knew where I was going; a signpost
clearly pointed in the direction of Chora Sphakion and so I decided to stay on this, the
main road linking Frangokastello with Chora Sphakion...
There are some marvellous villages on this particular stretch of road,
which climbs inland before hugging the coast at a considerable height. The locals were
friendly too. Say what you wish about Greek xenophilia (friendship to
foreigners), but when have you ever passed a pub in England - or anywhere else in the
world for that matter - with a group of 20 men of varying ages sitting outside, all
wishing you a good journey? This happened to me at two kafeneia along that stretch.
Firstly in Aghios Nektarios and again (though with fewer people) at Vouvas.
A simple "Ghiasas" ("hello") was all it took to illicit such response,
which was a unanimous "kalo dromo" ("good road", or "good
journey"). I didn't stop at either place, despite the offer of a coffee from one of
those gathered at the first kafeneion; I'm a touch shy I am afraid and I was already
looking forward to reaching Chora Sphakion - a place I knew well.
Approaching Chora Sphakion
This would be my eighth visit to Chora Sphakion. Six of these visits had
been as a direct result of walking down the Samarian gorge and once
- two years before - when I had attempted to walk up and down the gorge
in a day. I failed in that attempt as I just didn't have the time to get much further than
Aghios Nikolaos (a deserted village an hour or so walk from the top of
the gorge), and return between the first and last boats to Chora Sphakion. If truth be
told, by the time I had reached the bottom of the gorge again, I was more than a touch
exhausted and doubt if I could have struggled up - and then down - the wooden stairs that
for most walkers signal the start of their great descent, down the longest gorge in
Another reason for looking forward to reaching Chora Sphakion, was that
I would now be in familiar walking territory. Back in 1987 I had decided, that having
descended the Samarian gorge, I would continue to walk from Aghia Roumelli to Chora
Sphakion. To that end I took an early bus to Omalos in the white mountains, booked a night
at one of the hotels there (the "Nea Omalos" I think, but I
could be wrong), and walked up Mt Gingilos that day. The following day I awoke early,
heading down the gorge in what surely was record time (why I felt the need to break
records is now beyond me and I am assured that my time of three hours and a bit would not
have placed me in top ten-thousand that year!), with not a soul in sight. Staying at Aghia
Roumelli - where the gorge ends - that evening, the following day I headed for Loutro,
spending the night there, and on to Chora Sphakion the next day. This had been a superb
walk and one that I would highly recommend. The gorge itself had been reasonably
straightforward, do not underestimate it though; the walk from Aghia
Roumelli to Loutro relatively tough (though reaching and spending the night at Loutro had
been a delight), and the final walk to Chora Sphakion had been very easy. Now I was to
repeat this walk, albeit in the reverse direction and slightly more weighed-down in the
As I neared Chora Sphakion, I was a happy-bunny. Just before Komitades
(where the allied troops were brought during their evacuation in W.W.II before heading
down to Chora Sphakion, where some of them would manage to escape the island), I looked
Northwards and remembered the time I had walked the gorge which ends here. The Imbros gorge,
is an easier walk than the Samarian gorge, but attracts far fewer than the 3,000 visitors a day
who walk the latter during the "high season" and it's a very pleasant walk.
Komitades survives - at least as far as tourism is concerned - because of the gorge, and a
host of new hotels and eateries have sprung-up to feed and accommodate the people who walk
this gorge (there is also a place to stay at Imbros where the gorge starts if you fancy
making this walk more than just a day-out (follow above link); alternatively you can get a
cab from Komitades up to Imbros, before walking back down). Another recommendation would
be to ignore these new glossy hotels and eateries and stay and/or eat in the village
itself - a couple of hundred metres further West - which has some lovely-looking,
There is supposed to be a track taking you off the road and into Chora
Sphakion. This is marked on maps as part of the E4, but if it exists at all, I failed to
find it; though I can't say I made a tremendous effort to do so. A further forty minutes
walk took me into the heart of Chora Sphakion, making this walk a three hour one in total.
For the capital of the region of Sphakia, this small town is just that; small! It's also
somewhat reliant on the traffic created by the Samarian gorge walk, with many people
choosing to stay the night there and get the bus back to wherever they were stationed on
the island, the following day. A fine idea.
This is Erno territory. Erno is the webmaster of www.sfakia-crete.com,
which is the best area-specific website that I have seen to any area of
Greece; and that area is Chora Sphakion. I had met up with Erno
- after a long period of communication - a couple of years before this trek and after the
two-way attempt on the Samarian gorge. Sadly Erno wouldn't be in Crete for another week or
so; so a meeting wasn't possible (no flies on me, eh?). I would be alone, but that
suited me. I am a loner by nature. Erno had recommended a hotel and I was tempted, but
knowing me, I would choose that night to wet the bed or set fire to the place - or
both; one possibly counteracting the affects of the other? - so I decided to stay
elsewhere; somewhere I could make a fool of myself anonymously. My choice was the hotel 'Samaria'; A thoroughly
nice place to spend a couple of days this, right in the heart of Chora Sphakion.
Thanks to Alexander
for the picture of Chora Sphakion, taken from the West.
I enjoyed a beer (Mythos), at the hotel's restaurant - or the one next
to it - and decided that I may as well eat there that evening too. Rex and I had enjoyed a
meal at this very nice taverna two years before and again I wasn't disappointed. The
waiter (Stelios!), was a fabulous chap (as are all we Stelioi!). Hailing
from Bulgaria, we spoke a mixture of English (of which he was fluent) and Greek (of which
he was fluent!), a far cry from my previous experience of Bulgarian waiters' linguistic
skills! As I was about to head back to my room, I spotted a short bearded type.
Spitting-image of Rex was this chap. There was a woman with the hirsute one.
Spitting-image of Virginia was this woman. Coincidence? Surely not. I wandered over to
where they were seated and peered into the face of the hairier of the two. Thankfully it was
Rex; had it not been I would have been greatly embarrassed, as before being
100% certain, I had planted a kiss on the man's beard and was closing-in on the woman with
lips puckered. Rex and Virginia, for reasons I still haven't quite worked-out, had decided
that they too would eat in Chora Sphakion that evening. As Rex was to be the designated
driver for the evening (an evening-off the hooch was necessary thanks to his sunstroke and
he would be driving back to Frangokastello), he was forced to watch as Virginia and
I drank raki to his health; to Virginia's health; to my walk; to our waiter Stelios;
to Rex again - "my bestest friend; to "Daskaloyannis" (the
person); to "Daskaloyannis" (the ship which shuttles her way between here and
Aghia Roumelli); to Rex again, by now "zer beshtish fwriend a man could 'ave."
Rex and Virginia left me to my own devises. It had been great to see
them; to know that somebody cared for me. Life was great and I was in love...with
I found my room - after a lengthy period of confusion as to exactly where it
was - placed a box of matches safely out of reach of idiots, and spent a very long time
"powdering my nose", before I went to bed!