Be prepared, people. Be very prepared. For today is the day, whence the tale of Samaria will be told. And it’s a humdinger. I’d say the most memorable part of our vacation, if not OF OUR LIVES. Just because I survived it. Applause please. So. Let’s get started. Our alarm goes off at freaggin’ 6 a.m. in the morning (on our vacation, dudes!), we get up, pack, etc. and have the earliest breakfast the buffet allows: at 7. The bus picks us up at around 7h35, with the usual greek flexibility of time. On the “express way” past Rethymnon and into Chania, our tour guide of the day tells us stories about greek living before pointing out the lovely white hotel with roses planted in front. He jokes that you can book a room here for years – and then we wonder why there is barb-wire around the back garden – until he tells us it’s the local prison. Nice.
Through Chania we turn south, up the mountains, up very winding and very narrow roads. I start to feel quite nauseous and try to concentrate on the non-existing, ever-moving horizon while the guide tells us about possible hiking injuries (there’s only a doctor half-way and the only transportation is mules) and possible fires (it is a dry, very hot day and the “escape routes” are a joke). Another guide on a later tour tells us (casually, en passant) she has seen people die up there. How very nice.
The entrance of the gorge is arrived at 10h, we have an itinerary from the guide with several stops where we can fill our water bottles with fresh spring water and the time we should pass those points. We figure he has counted large and there is no hurry. We’re young and fit, after all, we should have no problems. We were wrong. But at this point, in good spirits, we brace ourselves for the first 1.7 km, which are the steepest, and should take us about two hours to descend. We pass the “wooden steps”, which are actually slippery stones polished by the 8.000 feet that pass over them each day, the fire routes covered in dry pine needles, loud cicadas (they were everywhere!) and sudden cliff drops. Around the bends are some great views, but the second part is supposed to be even nicer. For the most of this first half, it’s a (hard) mountain climbing route. On the contrary to what we were told, my shoes are not appropriate. Definately no walk in the park, but our legs are still keeping up. It’s half in the sun, half in the shade, my hat is doing it’s job and our sunscreen is with us. We keep filling our bottle.
Once we hit the part where the river runs above ground, the ups and downs alternate, not helping with the leg strain. We follow the rivers path passing sharp white dusty stones (my shoes were once black…) until the old town of Samaria, where the second part begins. This is where the doctor is, and the only restrooms (didn’t try them), and some tables (didn’t eat) and some goats – that came real close once I opened my backpack. Realising we have to pick up the pace in order to hold the itinerary, I just have time rest my feet a little and reload the sunscreen. We still have a lot to go and I have already thought more then once: I do not fancy this any longer.
Past that comes the actual canyon – vast white stones between very tall mountain walls, sedimentary layers out in the open and everything. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. And I could have stood there for ever and looked around, if it weren’t for the fact that this portion is completely in the sun. And it is now midday. Our guide warned us that kilometers 8 – 10 were the most dangerous and there are signs everywhere warning people of possible rock slides and explicitly saying to keep quiet (or as the interwebswould say: STFU). But this – of course – does not translate into annoying french. A family behind us starts – right after the marker for km 8 and such a sign – to holler at each other. And then. They start singing. SINGING. We see the piles of fallen rocks past and decide to get out of there as quickly as possible. Further down the road, the path (at some times hardly recognizable, at others marked with a red arrow painted on a big rock) leads us winding over the river – on very wobbly wooden bridges. Or should I say two logs. And I have a sort of phobia of said bridge-type. But I suck it up and carry on and The BF is being very supportive and thanking me for being a good sport (this was his idea, of course).
After hours and hours of this, we suddenly some to an opening and our itinerary tells us this is the last resting point before the end. This is the turning point of the “lazy way” route, an option for less adventurous tourists who start in the back, venture up an hour to the narrowest point, and turn back. We realize here that it was a very good thing we took it the hard way, because the lazies miss the best part. But still, my feet are absolutely killing me and on top of that I’m starting to feel quite woozy. I just can’t stand anymore and all I can do is focus on the next rock to sit on in the shade. I’m not even listening to The BF, who (as I later found out) wanted to tell me that this one wall looked like a huge sleeping face. Too bad.
The exit isn’t far from there, so I schlep myself over and give back my ticket (that’s how they count if everybody got out). Finally, some kiosks. We indulge ourselves to a soft ice cream that tastes SO GOOD I want to marry it right then and there and make lots of babies with it. But then we have to move on. Itinerary and all. The kiosks are on the outskirts of the old town of Agia Roumeli and we are meeting back with our guide at the new town. Shouldn’t be that far, right? Wrong! We pass the stone ruins of old houses and some farms (later at dinner we realize we still smell of the goats we passed there, with all the dust and dirt clinging to us) and take the road to the new town. And when I say road I actually mean more pointy hard rocks with some concrete interspersed. I would think my feet were about to just rot and fall off, if it weren’t for the sharp pain I get every time I put a foot down. And my knees are giving in. I just want to get there and never move again. Ever.
The new town is recognizable thanks to the now familiar tourist shops. We find our way to the Manos tavern, where our guide hasn’t arrived yet. Then we head to the beach. We were told to bring our beach stuff with us, since we would have free time at the end of the tour. Yes well, no such luck. We had lugged the whole damn stuff for nothing. The beach was all stones anyway – which were scalding hot. We just took the time to dip our feet in the clear, cold water which felt soooo goood (again – marry, have babies, be blissful). Back in the tavern, we grabbed a gyros pita (so that we could add a distinguished garlic smell to our goat aroma) and then headed for the boat. Our guide made it clear that one of the reasons to keep the itinerary in mind was that this was the last departing ferry of the day. And since it’s the only way to get off of that piece of land, anyone who doesn’t make it has to spend the night. The ferry ride to our bus was very nice. Surprisingly, I didn’t get sea sick, so I had time to enjoy the view. [Side note to my sis: remember Corsica? Ah, the sea is a dangerous mistress!]. The bus ride back didn’t go well though (even though our tour guide recited some home-made poetry! Traditionally called “matinas”) and I felt ill the rest of the evening.
We got back to the hotel just in time for the last of the dinner buffet – still with our backpacks, cruddy shoes, sweaty clothes and all. Once in our room I securely placed myself on the non-moving bed (I had hardly eaten anything), laid my legs up (so as to get some blood back in my upper half) and then tried to let all these many amazing, unique, multifaceted impressions of the day sink in.