Samaria Gorge - the Awesome Authority of Nature
To begin the decent through the gorge my wife and I joined a coach service to the Omalos Plateau which sits high on the Lefka Ori or White Mountains, the largest mountain range in Crete.
And what a ride! The road is finely laced with narrow windings and twistings overlooking sheer drops and deep chasms and ravines, exhilarating and frightening on downward curling hairpin bends.
Few people actually live in these isolated mountains now, although we did pass one man loping through a pasture cradling a gun in his arms and with a dog at his heel.
Forward and upward to the magnificent and spectacular plateau of Omalos; and it is breathtaking. Surrounded by the mountain peaks which seem to touch the sky at seven and a quarter thousand feet and being the second most notoriously high mountain of Crete, we felt honoured to be part of its presence. It is thought the plateau might have been a lake once but over time it dried and eventually became a grazing ground used by shepherds for their flocks of sheep and goats.
Yet not only were there brave herders some also produced delicious cheeses and grew grain and potatoes. But now it is deserted and the few shepherds who do go there during the milder months abandon the area in winter because it is far too cold for livestock. In older times, the plateau was the shelter for the locals, a base for the rebels during the two and a half centuries of Turkish occupation and during all other wars against invaders.
It was almost time, but before we began our decent through the gorge, it was important to stop for breakfast on this impressive plain. We had local yoghurt and honey and water, while sitting overlooking the awesome gorge.
Right on the rim and contrasting against the bank of green, our gaze was drawn to a small burst of yellow and we were amazed and delighted to realise it was a rare flowering bee orchid, something I’d been told to look out for but without much hope of seeing one, let alone a half dozen.
We began the downward climb of five hours and twenty kilometres through woodland and over rivers trickling through the gorge, a stumbling downward descent through the split across this awesome island.
The very first and most overwhelming sensation was the dense perfume from the pine and wild sage
that was to stay with us all day. Another was the constant gurgling from tumbling mountain streams spurting from beneath huge boulders almost appearing out of nowhere, so absolutely crystalline and glittering and icy and pure that we simply stopped for a few moments to take it all in. A whole host of creatures came to see us.
Dogs, rabbits, wasps, goats, sheep and butterflies, up there on the roof of Crete, even a wildcat, but the only fliers were buzzards and wide-winged black carrion crows gliding in the sky crowing high above the crags.
Behind, across the gorge from where we stood, ran the massive wall of fascinating stalagmites on the outside of the massive craggy rock face, towering, as far as we could see and hardly changed since prehistoric times while before them, the eerie sight of people in long strings gingerly threading their way in single file down steep paths through the trees and cross-hatching the slopes over the stepping stones, up scree paths and dodging dislodged rocks and gasping with fearful wonder and admiration of it all - and down, down and down towards the coast.
Beautiful, imposing trees, some truly muscular, huge, growing up out of the sheer rock, some having split their boulders apart by gradual increase in bulk or maybe from swaying leverage after storms; the awesome authority of nature.
Then there was little wild life to be seen apart from the occasional chaffinch and hosts of tiny purple and violet rock flowers, dandelion and a strange five-petalled white mountain flower, rather like a snowdrop, hugging dolomite stones and dust.
Ah, who knows this ancient place? Gradually the blissful silence of nature returns
as people stand without words, tight-lipped, gazing in wonder at all this ordinary co-existence and natural order. Many walkers clambered down the pathways careful not to stumble, talking loudly, checking the time while others sat deep in thought, possibly comparing their lives in concrete and manufactured fantasy with this tribute to life and nature.
Bread, sardines, feta, tomatoes, cake and water made our lunch beneath a sign in English and Greek explaining how the Samaria Gorge was once a refuge for the Cretan resistance under persecution from the occupying German forces during the Second World War. Glanced down at my dusty feet.
After lunch, onward but much easier now with more waterfalls and startlingly clear gushing green
onto pale fawn rocks splashed deep brown by the wetness and forward through leafy green areas fertile with sensuous life. The narrowest part of the gorge is three metres wide and an artist's easel. The lasting impression for Sandy, my wife, was of how her smell, taste - because you taste the dust – sight, touch and hearing were each thoroughly enhanced. The moment we reached the shore
we stripped to our underwear and fell into the pounding waves, to be buffeted and pummeled and pushed and picked up and rolled in the luxuriant sea like so much flotsam and jetsam. The sea was merciless and threw us about and it didn't take long until, exhausted, we saw our chance and ran, literally dragging our legs through the foam and out of the water before she could drag them back for more. Comment by Anastasi from We Love Crete
Thank you Tony for your heartfelt and beautifully expressed story about walking the Samaria Gorge.
You really have communicated the blissful silence, the imposing rock walls, the ancient feeling and the perspective one gains from sitting quietly and absorbing the place.
We felt your wonder and your appreciation of even the tiniest things as well as the awesome huge structures, and we felt your relief and bliss at plunging into the sea at the end of the journey! Thanks for all your photos too, much appreciated.