Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I SURVIVED THE SAMARIA GORGE!!!

Dear Friends,

Well, yesterday, Tuesday, September 22nd., I did it - I hiked the Samaria Gorge! I decided to book on a tour after some friends of mine attempted to make all arrangements on their own last year, only to fail twice in making the necessary connections to enter the gorge before the cut-off time. On their third attempt, they traveled first to the city of Chania the preceding day and spent the night there. The next morning, they left Chania and were able to successfully enter the gorge prior to the cutoff, and with plenty of time to complete their hike.

My day began rather early, getting up at 4:45 A.M., showering and dressing in a pair of hiking shorts, short-sleeved shirt and hiking boots. I gathered my necessary gear which consisted of my Nikon D200 camera and a small bottle of water, left my apartment and made my way to the Roxani Hotel to await the tour bus. I arrived there at about 5:55 A.M., in plenty of time for the scheduled departure time of 6:10 A.M. By 6:20 A.M. I had started to get a little concerned, when up the road came a nice, shiny, sleek bus. It stopped in front of the Roxani Hotel, the door swung open and I asked, “Samaria Gorge?” “Yes, of course”, the driver answered. The bus was completely filled except for one vacant seat next to a young girl from Latvia (is that a suburb of Philadelphia?). I sat down next to her and we pulled away from Amoudara and headed west. After about an hour or so, we pulled into the little village of Scaleta for a ten minute rest break. Then, just past Chania, we turned south and began our ascent into the mountains. The bus made countless switchbacks as it made its way up and through the mountains. It was a beautiful sight seeing the early morning sun over the Aegean Sea, casting its rays of red and pink on the blue waters! At something past 9 A.M. we made a twenty minute stop in the small village of Omalos to get something to eat or drink, and to use their restroom facilities before making the five minute drive to the entrance of the Samaria Gorge. Just before arriving at the gorge, the tour guide informed us NOT to remove our boots or shoes during the hike for any reason, because the feet would swell, making it impossible to get the boots or shoes back on. I couldn’t help but look upon this as a bad omen! Once at the gorge, each person had to pay a 5 Euro entrance fee. I put my ticket into my billfold, because at the end of the gorge there would be a checkpoint through which I would have to pass and produce my ticket as proof that I had indeed paid. Otherwise, I would be required to pay again.

Now, this is where the fun begins. Roughly the first 2.5 hours of the 17 kilometer trek (about 10.5 miles) is spent descending 1,300 feet from the mountain down into the belly of the gorge. The downward grade can be rather steep, and much care must be given to prevent rocks from turning beneath your feet and thereby causing one to stumble out of control like a cartwheel. As a result, the knees are relentlessly used as shock absorbers and the feet are constantly used as brakes. Along the way down, I think that I probably stubbed my right toe at least 5 or 6 times. I believe it was probably the 2nd or 3rd time that I stubbed the big toe on my right foot causing the most damage and probably breaking it. Each subsequent time that I stubbed it simply added to the damage already done, and, subsequently caused the most unbearable pain. Unfortunately, there is no way for medical evacuation out of the gorge except by primitive Greek ambulance – a donkey. Not wanting to suffer the humiliation of being the only person to be evacuated from the gorge by donkey, I decided to try to “tough” it out and walk the remainder of the gorge, which I did. Approximately 5.5 hours after entering the gorge, I stumbled out of that geological Hell and hobbled to the nearby little village of Agia Roumeli to rendezvous with the fifty or so others in my tour group at a small taverna. I immediately consumed a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and then some lemonade in an effort to replace some of the potassium and bodily fluids that I had lost during the hike. My legs had already begun to cramp, and I was afraid if they continued to do so, they would curl up like the coiled springs in a cheap mattress! When others in the group approached me and asked how I liked hiking the Gorge, the intense pain in my right toe, the cramps in my feet and legs, complete exhaustion, and the total depletion of testosterone prevented me from saying something like, “Oh yeah! I’m ready to hike that sucker again!”, or, “Hey, that hike was nothing more that a walk in the park!” What I really said was, “Are you insane? That gorge is a killer! I am walking like someone who has just had a double hip replacement! The bottoms of my feet feel like I have been walking barefoot on hot coals all day! My knees feel like all of the cartilage has been squeezed out of them! I'm suffering from delirium and I think my kidneys are shutting down! And you ask me if I liked it? Are you into pain or something?" Wide-eyed, they backed away from me, and began to whisper things into the ear of the tour guide, who then watched me suspiciously the rest of the trip. I sat back down in my chair, ordered another glass of orange juice, gazed at a distant mountain peak and thought to myself, "Hell, it couldn't get any gooder than this, unless I was up on top of that mountain over yonder in the dead of winter, laying in three feet of snow with my back broke, completely nekked, wearing nothing but a necktie!” I smiled to myself.

We left the port of Agia Roumeli by ferry boat at about 6 P.M. and arrived at the village port of Chora Sfakion about an hour later. We all immediately boarded our tour bus for the ride back to our respective points where we had originally boarded the bus. I disembarked the tour bus shortly after 10 P.M. in Amoudara in front of the Roxani Hotel. I hobbled down the main street, walking like a man who had just had a vasectomy performed on him earlier in the day, and headed for my apartment on Naxou Street. Upon arrival in my apartment, I sat down and removed the hiking boot and sock on my left foot and examined it. It was sore and red, and there were places where it appeared blisters had started to form. Then I unlaced the boot on my right foot. Just the act of unlacing the boot hurt; removing the boot hurt; removing the sock hurt; looking at my foot hurt even more. The bottom of my right foot was red and swollen; my big toe was red and swollen, as were the other remaining toes on my right foot. There were places where the skin had begun to bubble. But what concerned me most was that the toenail on my big toe had turned a shade of blue and grey, and it was very painful to bend my big toe. I took a good hot shower, limped into bed at something before 11 P.M., and didn’t get out of bed until about 9:45 A.M. this morning! Today, I have nothing on my agenda, except to stay off of my right foot, and write this post for my blog. I have just looked on the internet at the web site, WebMD, to see how best to treat a broken toe! Among other things, it advises to keep the foot elevated as much as possible. I think I will limp down the street to the booking agency for the Samaria Gorge tour and elevate my foot by placing it into the backside of the man who sold me on taking the tour to the Samaria Gorge! As I hope you can see, I AM trying to keep a humorous outlook on what transpired yesterday! And, while I don’t intend to ever hike the Samaria Gorge again (never say “never”), I am glad that I did it and successfully completed the hike! And lastly, I MUST confess that I stand in complete awe and amazement of a God who can create such a magnificent and rugged beauty using nothing more than the slightest stroke of His Will!!!

Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.

Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,

Bob Armistead
CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO GET A LARGER VIEW















UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The entrance to the Samaria Gorge.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: The Samaria Gorge














UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Hikers have arranged stacks of stones like these throughout the entire Samaria Gorge.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: The only means of evacuation of the ill or injured from the Samaria Gorge - the Greek ambulance!















UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The ancient Church of Agios Nikolaos. Near this site there were ancient archeological ruins discovered revealing animal sacrifices.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: This small chapel is from more recent times. In front is a single grave.






















UPPER LEFT PHOTO: There were numerous ancient settlements like this one which were used by the Cretan resistance during both the Turkish occupation as well as the German occupation during WWII.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: This view reveals the magnitude and the magnificence of the Samaria Gorge. The tiny specks in the center of the photo are hikers.





















UPPER LEFT PHOTO: Rushing flood waters have carved interesting features on the rock walls of the Gorge.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: More interesting patterns on the Gorge walls created by rushing flood waters.




















UPPER LEFT PHOTO: The "Iron Doors" or the "Iron Gates" located not far from the southern end of the Samaria Gorge.
UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: An ancient Church at the edge of the little village of Agia Roumeli.
















UPPER RIGHT PHOTO: This fortress-like structure overlooks the small village of Agia Roumeli.

6 comments:

adiktion said...

Bob, congratulations on the accomplishment! I hope your toe isn't actually broken and does not ruin the rest of your trip.
I remember two things about the gorge: we spent the entire hike staring down at the ground so as not to trip on a rock and missed the beauty surrounding us! The other was that a girl and I got down to our shorts and slipped into a beautiful little pool in the stream along side the path. I have a wonderful photo of that somewhere! Beautiful water, but cold!

Don't forget to get yourself to the Balos Lagoon and Lake Kournas for a swim and a cheese pita with honey!!!!!!!!!!
-james gill 88-90

Don in Atlanta said...

Bobby,
I hiked the gorge back in 73 maybe and stayed over night at a little church that had a mosaic floor in the court yard area. It had a little rock wall around the court yard. I wonder if this is the same church. It overlooked the village of Agia Roumeli. Back then you just went down. We missed the ferry that evening and had to stay.....or walk back up (no thanks). Sleeping (or trying to sleep) on a mosaic floor with out a sleeping bag (I was tougher back then)is hell.

Anonymous said...

What a nice reminder of a wonderful hiking trip I took 25 years ago!!! Thank you for sharing.

Günter said...

Hi Bobby!
Nice greetings from germany,how long will you stay untill you get to go home?Hope you enjoyed your time since we had left,whats about the wether?Hope we hear from each other,
stay well and nice greetings to popy,jota etc..
Ps: we are a little bit jalouse,but we come back.... Günter and Ute!!

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,
Yeah we did the gorge walk last month 31st Aug 2010. We too had an early start, up at 4:30am to leave our Hotel in Rethymnon to drove to the top entrance of the gorge for a 7am start. The sun was just casting light on the highest peak in front of us. Armed with Hiking boots a pair of shorts, tea shirt and 6 litres of water we set off. It was rather chilly to start with and we had the beauty and tranquility of the gorge to ourselves for nearly four hours when an athletic father and two sons ran past us. Taking in the fabulous scenery along the way, we arrived at the lower checkpoint and made our way wearily to the beach where we were greeted with crashing white breakers atop the bluest of seas. Boots and socks off, trunks on and a slow amble across the almost black 'sand' and into the cooling ravages of the sea. Half hour later we had a short snack and ice cream from one of the local shops, then we had to psych ourselves up for the return climb back up. Yes, the wife and I(both in our mid 50's) like a challenge. We passed the lower checkpoint at 12:30 and set off at a pace. Our guidebook said the journey up would take considerably longer than the one down. We knew the park was to close at 7pm, so we had six and a half hours to reach the top. Fortunately there are many places to fill up with water from springs along the way. To start with the ascent was enjoyable and exhilarating. By the time we reached the ruins of the old Samaria village, the remainder of the journey was seriously up, up, up. We passed many people undertaking their descent and the few we spoke with were amazed that we were going back up. We were conscious of the sun lowering in the sky and could see wisps of cloud reaching over the mountains that were now below us in the distance. After an extremely tough final 3miles, we reached the checkpoint cabin at the top. To our amazement (and utter relief) it was only just past 5:30pm!! We were abslolutely shattered. Our guide book implied a total of 17miles had been covered. We were aching terribly, but after a 30 minute rest we set off on the car journey back to Rethymnon and a very relaxing and somewhat painful following day nursing a couple of bruised toes and aching buts. If you are fit and like a challenge, don't miss this one, but take plenty of water. Good Luck.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,
Yeah we did the gorge walk last month 31st Aug 2010. We too had an early start, up at 4:30am to leave our Hotel in Rethymnon to drove to the top entrance of the gorge for a 7am start. The sun was just casting light on the highest peak in front of us. Armed with Hiking boots a pair of shorts, tea shirt and 6 litres of water we set off. It was rather chilly to start with and we had the beauty and tranquility of the gorge to ourselves for nearly four hours when an athletic father and two sons ran past us. Taking in the fabulous scenery along the way, we arrived at the lower checkpoint and made our way wearily to the beach where we were greeted with crashing white breakers atop the bluest of seas. Boots and socks off, trunks on and a slow amble across the almost black 'sand' and into the cooling ravages of the sea. Half hour later we had a short snack and ice cream from one of the local shops, then we had to psych ourselves up for the return climb back up. Yes, the wife and I(both in our mid 50's) like a challenge. We passed the lower checkpoint at 12:30 and set off at a pace. Our guidebook said the journey up would take considerably longer than the one down. We knew the park was to close at 7pm, so we had six and a half hours to reach the top. Fortunately there are many places to fill up with water from springs along the way. To start with the ascent was enjoyable and exhilarating. By the time we reached the ruins of the old Samaria village, the remainder of the journey was seriously up, up, up. We passed many people undertaking their descent and the few we spoke with were amazed that we were going back up. We were conscious of the sun lowering in the sky and could see wisps of cloud reaching over the mountains that were now below us in the distance. After an extremely tough final 3miles, we reached the checkpoint cabin at the top. To our amazement (and utter relief) it was only just past 5:30pm!! We were abslolutely shattered. Our guide book implied a total of 17miles had been covered. We were aching terribly, but after a 30 minute rest we set off on the car journey back to Rethymnon and a very relaxing and somewhat painful following day nursing a couple of bruised toes and aching buts. If you are fit and like a challenge, don't miss this one, but take plenty of water. Good Luck.