The highlight of my Greece trip so far has been hiking through Samaria Gorge on Crete. And so it makes perfect sense that I’d show up at the park without my camera’s memory card.
Crete turned out to be my most favourite island so far. It has everything I need to be happy in life: beaches, mountains, fantastic food, and handsome bearded men. From Chania, Matt and I decided we’d do the Samaria Gorge trek: a full-day, 15-kilometre hike through the largest gorge in Europe, in White Mountains’ National Park.
Cool fact: there are 450 species of plant and animal in the area, 70 of which are endemic to Crete.
We had to be up and on the road at 6 AM, and since I’m not a morning person, naturally I ended up forgetting a few things. Sigh.
To get to Samaria Gorge is bit of a process. If you’re not on a guided tour, from Chania you take a public bus to Xylóskalo, hike all day, and then come out on the other end in Ayia Roumeli where a ferry will pick you up and drop you off at either Loutra or Hóra Sfakion, where you get the bus back to Chania. It ain’t easy, but that’s what makes it wonderful. If you’re more of a pansy you can do a quick trip from Loutra and just hike halfway up the gorge. But really, the beginning is worth it.
Anyway. The drive to Samaria Gorge itself is wonderful, and will take you through the winding mountain roads of the park. If you’re afraid of heights, maybe don’t take the window seat.
The hike is INTENSE. Matt and I tore through it in about four hours, but the terrain is full of loose rock and dried up riverbed. The first three to four kilometres is straight down the side of the gorge, via a ton of switchbacks and steps. My glutes and quads were singin’ the next day, but it was a good song.
The rock is often slippery in places too, worn smooth by countless other hikers. We left the bus with about 50 other hikers, but we rarely saw them on the trail. Only at the bottom did things get crowded, especially as people made their way up from the other end.
I also came across this little forest of rock people, like the Canadian Inuksuk.
Moving on, I don’t know why my face looks this way.
We were also pretty fascinated by the trees growing out from the gorge’s walls.
And these pretty little pools of water.
Impossible to get sick of this view.
It was really fun hiking with Matt, mostly because he’s a geology nerd who played the part while pointing out various interesting geological formations, while I just nodded along with like I understood what he was saying.
There are plenty of rest stops along the way, and toilets, although they’re the squat kind that give me the heebie geebies. Matt and I are a little competitive so every time we passed a couple we’d high five. We were the last hikers to get started on the trail, and the first to finish. BOOYAKASHA.
At the end you’ll walk out into the little seaside village of Ayia Roumeli, where a few tavernas and bars are scattered, as well as a beach. Somebody recommended Roussios to me, where a man with the most stunning blue eyes I’ve ever seen served us well-deserved Mythos pints of beer and a ton of food.
By the time the bus was supposed to show up, the wind had picked up considerably and the waves were crashing over the side of the dock. It was pretty clear we weren’t going to catch the boat.
So the only thing to do was grab more beer. We picked a bar by the dock to watch the sea, and asked our waiter when the boat would arrive.
He shrugged. “Maybe in two hours,” he said. The laid-back attitude of the Greeks is something I’ll never get used to. Later he came along with a complimentary bottle of raki and poured us all some shots.
By the time the boat arrived, Matt and I were three sheets to the wind. We figured if we were off balance already due to the booze, then the rockiness of the waves would just cancel each other out and we’d be walking just fine. Totally worked.
Tip: Don’t ever do this. Waking up on the bus to Chania without a bathroom was about the worst thing in the universe.