Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hiking the Samaria Gorge

The bookends of this day were beautiful though absolute hell for Krista.  It all began with the rude beeps of a 5:00 alarm.  Aren't we on vacation?  Jarred out of sleep, we pulled on long sleeve shirts - the wee morning hours are surprisingly chilly - and followed our sleepy feet to the bus station.

After buying our tickets from a red-eyed Greek who also appeared to be awake too early, we ordered two coffee freddoes.  The french presses magically appeared and within moments freshly-brewed caffeine coursed through our veins.  This warmth stayed with Krista for the first few minutes of our bus ride but the nonstop curves put her down for the count.  I sat back and watched the sun slowly rise over rocky hills densely planted with olive trees.  The bus snaked back and forth through small villages but the olive trees were constant.  A net lay bunched up at the base of most trees.  My guess is that the trees are shook during harvest times as the nets are spread out to catch the precious cargo.  If I saw thousands of olive trees during this ride and each has hundreds of olives, what are the chances I saw the tree from which the olive you last enjoyed came from?

At the end of the two hour ride, we dipped under an extended row of modern windmills, skirted the town of Omalos and arrived at the entrance to the Samaria Gorge National Park. This gorge, reportedly the largest in Europe, is filled with beautiful scenery from its mountain beginnings to its oceanic mouth.

From Greek Trip - Hiking the Samaria Gorge

The beginning of the hike was hectic as we navigated around many groups of people.  We saw them all - from trekking pole equipped warriors to the grandmother in her nice dress, big hat and large picnic basket to the people who must have been disappointed at the "no-high-heels" sign.  After several steep switchbacks, we finally left the crowds behind and had the rest of the hike almost to ourselves.

At one point, we crossed a bridge and entered the deserted village of Samaria.  In 1962, the gorge became a national park in order to protect the kri-kri (a wild goat).  Though good for the goat, the villagers of Samaria had to pack up and move out of the now-protected zone.  The buildings seemed to be in decent shape after almost 50 years of abandonment. 

From Greek Trip - Hiking the Samaria Gorge

The highlight of the gorge is near the end of the hike as the walls come close together and allow for a narrow passage created by the ever present creek (not as spectacular as Zion's Narrows, but quite nice).

From Greek Trip - Hiking the Samaria Gorge

Finally, we exited the park and arrived at the small coastal village of Agia Roumeli. Hours ahead of schedule, we enjoyed the hiker's beer of reward, went swimming and waited for the boat that would take us home.

From Greek Trip - Hiking the Samaria Gorge

The final bookend?  A bumpy, two hour ride on the Neptoune that provided spectacular views of the Cretan coastline but was only marginally more comfortable than the bus journey many hours earlier.

From Greek Trip - Hiking the Samaria Gorge

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