Saturday, 19 October 2013

a minor tour

The ferry to Crete arrives at midnight.  We roll off the boat and onto a tiny dock.  The port at Kissamos doesn't get much action.  Up on the main road we turn right, away from the town and past a few houses.  On the left are some olive trees and a track, so we head down it.  It smells a bit of animals, but there's no sight nor sound of any.  The grove is flat, so we quickly pitch the tent and fall asleep.  At sunrise Gayle sticks her head out.  "John, you know how it smelt like a farmyard when we camped?" "Mmm." "That's because it is a farmyard."

We are meeting our friend Laurence in Hania in a couple of day's time.  He is bringing Vanessa and we will cycle together for a week.  We mooch along the coast and check out campsites.  It's end-of-season quiet but the sun is out and still very warm.  We stop at site and get ear-bashed by a couple who have been here over a month.  They are friendly enough, too friendly, full of patronising advice and slightly sensationalist information about the locals.  There's lots they can't tell us, or don't want to know, but "everyone is carrying guns these days".  Later on I chat to a man who has come to kayak with his wife.  He said he felt depressed after talking with the Residents, because they said stuff like "people die in the sea here every year".  We ended up laughing about it - he seemed to have got over it.  The campsites all seem to have odd characters.....

Saturday comes and finds us climbing the road up to the airport outside Hania, excited at the prospect of meeting Laurence and Vanessa.  They appear on schedule and we just have to find the bike rental people - this has saved them the hassle of bringing their own bikes on the plane.  Finally the bike people appear and while they sort out their bikes we are given a pile of goodies from home to look through and pack.  When people ask us what do we miss most from home on a long journey like this we reel off the usual platitudes - y'know, family and friends etc.  But usually the first thing that pops into my head is something bizarre like pork pies, crumbly Lancashire cheese, salt and vinegar crisps, port...... So when Laurence asked us if they should bring us anything from home we jokingly listed these items, along with other more useful items we can't find here.  Vanessa kindly did all the shopping and even these items were included.  Mmmmm, pork pies.  Melton Mowbray pork pies.  After a spontaneous picnic we ride back into Hania and stop outside a cafe for drinks.  A lovely place in a square with plenty of shade from some big old trees.  Talk, talk, talk.  At some point the terrace we're sitting on feels like it is floating on water - a strange sensation.  We look at each other, and then the whole place shudders and shakes like an almighty fairground ride.  People cry out.  An earthquake.  6.4 on the old Richter scale.  Nothing collapses.  At least not around us.  We head across the old town and out to the nearby campsite and settle in for the evening.

Our idea is to do cycle a small circuit in the south west of Crete and we begin with the hard part - heading straight into the mountains.  The road is good, but it's hot work climbing all day and we are unsure what Vanessa and Laurence will make of it.  But they are as tough as the route, and just before sun-down we are setting up our tents on a patch of land with olive trees before eating our tea in the light of the moon. 
The road continues to climb in the morning.  We have to negotiate a road crew who are widening and resurfacing - so plenty of mud and dirt to ride through on switchbacks - before we emerge at a pass and descend to a plateau surrounded by mountains.  The route then drops into a valley on the other side, but first we have to circle around the head of the valley before a big descent towards the sea.  There's a cruel twist though, because as we are descending we know our road has to climb out of this valley.  So mid-afternoon sees us huffing and puffing our way up a smaller road, with steeper sections.  We have passed through several little villages but none with an open shop.  We don't have food for the evening.  We decide to push on to Paleohora on the south coast.  At the top of the climb we get two great views: one of the sea and one of the mountain range behind where we have cycled.  And then we begin to head down and across some of the ridges tipping into the sea.  The sun is dropping and we're kind of excited because we know we can reach Paleohora before dark.  But the road twists and turns, becomes dirt, then back to tarmac, and it's quite a dramatic descent with fantastic views. Happily we arrive at the campsite exhausted but triumphant.  It's been a great ride but have we pushed a little too hard? Who cares - the next day is a rest day we all agree.

Paleohora's a quiet little resort town with a couple of beaches.  We plan to continue around and up the western coast and circle back to Hania.  But in the evening we are told that storms are forecast.  We check the weather and it's hard to see whether the rain will come across this area, but the winds are forecast as westerlies with strong gusts.  After much discussion we opt to stay put in Paleohora and go for a day ride without our luggage.  Sounds easy, eh?  The roads only go uphill from here, so uphill we go, climbing up a quiet back road through gorges and tight valleys that begin to open out as we ascend. We have lunch by a church in a quiet and rather empty-looking village and then continue uphill for another hour or so to a point where we can see all the mountains around.  This feels a world away from the coast.  And then the fun of the big descent on new tarmac all the way back to the sea, popping out from a valley amongst polythene-covered farms. 

the easy bit

We try a different kind of day-ride the next day.  Vanessa opts for the rest and relaxation, whilst we head up another gorge and past a couple of villages and out onto a high point over the coast.  The predicted storms came in the night, some rain and a lot of wind, and the wind is still gusting now.  Laurence is proposing to cycle down a dirt track to the E4 walking trail that runs along the coastline and trying to cycle back to Paleohora.  Gayle takes a look at the landscape and chooses to take the road back.  I know Laurence is disappointed we haven't continued touring around the coast as we'd planned, and he is determined to do something to recompense for it.  Against my better judgement, but caught up in Laurence's gung-ho spirit, I join him.  We drop down the track to a plateau where we find the E4 markers.  It looks fine as we cycle along a decent track, and then drop off the plateau.  Now we can see along the rugged coastline the beach we are heading for in the distance.  It doesn't look too far.  Only now the path is not cyclable.  In fact, we can't even push the bikes.  We have to carry them down a distinct trail which winds down to the sea and then climbs up and over the ridges protruding from the cliffs.  It's madness. Folly.  The day has been cloudy and it tries to rain again, so the trail is virtually empty of people.  What would be a good walk along the coast becomes an endurance feat.  Laurence is stronger than me and I soon find myself muttering curses as we work our way through the prickly scrub and rocky pathways, finally emerging on the beach completely knackered.  The ride back to the campsite from the beach on the dirt track, just as the sun is setting, is the most enjoyable cycling I could ever imagine.

In the morning we have a short walk through a gorge that brings us back to the beach Laurence and I had been to the day before.  The week has gone quickly and Vanessa and Laurence have to get back to Hania for their flight home and to hand over the bikes.  So in the afternoon they take a bus back to Hania.  We hope they have enjoyed themselves - did we overdo the first couple of days? For sure, the cycling here is unlike anything you could do in the UK.......

No comments:

Post a Comment