Friday, September 25, 2009


Dear Friends,

I have decided to include some information/facts about the Samaria Gorge as a follow-up to the previous post about my hike through the Samaria Gorge:

In order to avoid the logistics of planning and executing the transportation connections, possible lodging, acquiring ferry tickets, etc., I took the American way out – I booked my Samaria Gorge excursion through a local travel agency in Amoudara. The cost of the tour (including bus transportation and a guide) was 41 Euros ($60.55), the ferry fare was 7.50 Euros ($11.08), the entrance fee to the gorge was 5 Euros ($7.38), and a broken toe - PRICELESS in any currency!!! So, excluding the costs of a sandwich prior to entering the gorge, refreshments at the end of the gorge, and a broken toe, the total cost, based on today’s exchange rate was $79.01. Remember, this was for a full day, beginning shortly after 6 A.M. and ending at just after 10 P.M.

The hike through the Samaria Gorge is said to be the most hiked trail in all of Greece. The second most hiked trail is the Mount Olympus path, home of the Greek gods, located on the Greek mainland. The name of the Samaria Gorge is most likely from the ancient, probably Minoan, word Samarah, meaning "torrent", but the usual explanation offered is that it is from the Church of St. Mary the Egyptian, located near the village of Samaria. I have been told the correct pronunciation for “Samaria” is: sa-mar-ya' ; NOT: sa-mar-ee'-a ; and NOT: sa-mar'ee-a.

Many have claimed the Samaria Gorge is the longest gorge in all of Europe, with a distance of 18 kilometers; others claim the distance is 16 kilometers. Our guide told us the distance is 17 kilometers. Some say the actual length of the gorge itself is 14 kilometers, but with an additional 3 kilometer walk to the village of Agia Roumeli at the end of the gorge, makes the actual hike a total distance of 17 kilometers. Whether it is actually the longest gorge in all of Europe is questionable; there is one gorge in southern France that is reputedly 20 kilometers long. When I was stationed on Crete in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I recall having been told the Samaria Gorge was the DEEPEST gorge in all of Europe, dropping to a depth of 600 feet below sea level. I have searched on the internet to either verify or dismiss this claim, but I can find neither. Perhaps one of you might be better able to uncover the truth regarding this assertion.

The beginning of the Samaria Gorge is known as Xyloskalo, which, I was told, means, “wooden stairs”, and refers to the steps which descend into the gorge. But the steps are not made of wood; they are stone and there really aren’t that many “steps”. Perhaps it refers to the occasional wooden railing that is alongside parts of the descending path. The entrance of the gorge is at an altitude of 1250 meters (4,100 feet). The Samaria Gorge has an area of 12,125 acres and its width varies from 150 meters to a mere 3 or 4 meters (at the so-called "Gates"). The sheer rock walls vary in height from 300 to 600 meters.

Immediately, in front of the entranceway rises the majestic Mount Gingilos. Legend has it that Mount Gingilos is the site of the Demon’s Cave (Daimonospilios) which is thought to be the location of an oracle and a grotto of nymphs. Ancient tradition says that music and the dancing of the nymphs can be heard from this cave. Naturally, I looked for this cave, but was unable to find it. However, if I ever hike the gorge again…

At about 4.5 kilometers from the Xyloskalo (the entrance of the gorge) is the little stone Church of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicolas). This Church is said to have been built near the ruins of an ancient temple of Apollo. However, the English scholar Robert Pashley, who traveled Crete at the beginning of the 19th century, argued that this was the site of the ancient city of Kaino where the Cretan goddess Artemis or Britomartis was born. At any rate, the shade of the towering cypress trees and cool spring water make this an ideal place to stop for a few minutes and rest.

The numerous paths through the gorge and at the top of the surrounding gorge walls were used by the Cretan resistance forces to evade capture during the German occupation of World War Two. Many of the now-abandoned stone settlements and stone structures located throughout the gorge were also used by those same resistance forces for shelter and refuge.

One of the more impressive parts of the gorge is that stretch known as “The Iron Doors” or “The Iron Gates” located toward the southern end of the gorge. The locals have simply always referred to them as the “portes”, which means doors. Here the sides of the gorge close in to a width of about 3 or 4 meters and rise to a height of 500 meters!

Even though the Samaria Gorge is open only from May 1st through October 15th, tens of thousands make the hike during the open season. However, the hike through the gorge is not without its risks. There are on average one or two fatalities each year. Even our guide advised us NOT to make loud noises or attempt to make an echo in the gorge, as this could frighten the rare “kri-kri” goats that live in the gorge. He further explained that when the goats are suddenly startled, they can kick down rocks which could create a rock slide.

On a more personal observation, I would strongly advise wearing a good pair of hiking boots to protect the feet and ankles and to provide adequate traction, especially during the decent into the gorge. However, I did see some hikers wearing tennis shoes, sandals, and one with just a pair of “flip-flops” on. The strangest sight I saw was a young lady wearing something that looked very closely akin to ballerina shoes – I never saw her again! While hiking the gorge I also noticed some people who carried very large containers of water. This was completely unnecessary. A small bottle of water, 10 or 12 ounces, is more than sufficient, as there are numerous springs of cold water every one or two kilometers, where the bottle can be refilled time and again. Also, the small bottle of water can easily be fitted into the pocket, thereby keeping the hands free.

I realize that much of what I have just written has been assembled in somewhat of a random manner, but I thought that you might find some of the aforementioned information and facts interesting.

As always, take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.

Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,

Bob Armistead


Verna said...

Dear Bob,

I'm a bit late, but I'm really enjoying your blog! I hope your toe is recovering from your adventure in the gorge. I hope you're having a great time!

I just returned from an Alaska cruise, and had a wonderful time. Best wishes for good times during the remainder of your stay.


Steve G. said...

Where do you find safe drinking water?

Bob (Bobby) said...

Dear Steve,

The safe drinking water came from fresh water springs along the way. The water comes down from higher up in the mountains. I haven't heard that anyone has become ill from drinking that water.

Your Friend and Fellow "Silent Warrior",


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