A Whale of a Kayak Trip

With a crocodile close to the south coast (see ‘Explore!’ February 2010), and a whale lurking off the north coast,  Crete is not exactly the safest place in the world for sea-kayaking.  You didn’t know about the whale?  Well, once upon a time, O best beloved, and long, long ago, this enormous sea-monster was heading towards Crete, intent on swallowing the island whole.  Fortuitously, and only just in time, the Greek gods spotted it, and instantly turned it into stone, when it became the island of Ag Theodorou,  just offshore from Platanias, and 7 km WNW of Chania.

The island from the starting point

Whale Ho!

We chose one of Crete’s 300 sunny days a year  – this one at the very end of November –  to circumnavigate the islands by kayak.  Plural here, because there are two, the smaller rocky islet of Ag Theodoropoula being largely hidden from the coast.  Launching from Platanias, we set off on the 1.8km crossing to the island on the calmest sea imaginable.  Still waters usually run deep, but the sea bed was visible below us all the way over, a leisurely half hour paddle.

Bob increases to ‘ramming speed’

In 1930 Ag Theodorou was designated a wildlife sanctuary, and  home to the famous wild goats or “kri-kri” ; in 1935 one male and two females were brought from the Samaria Gorge and released here, and have since procreated, the herd now around eighty.  It’s also the habitat of several raptors, safe from Greek hunters.

A beautiful calm sea

Like most of Crete the island has a long history.  Remains found in the enormous cave suggest it was a site for Minoan worship ; centuries later (in 1583) the Venetians turned the island into a fortress against the threat of piracy and Turkish invasion (and similar to Gramvousa island, it held out against the Turks long after the Cretan mainland had fallen.)  Access is (officially) prohibited except on the Saint’s Day in June, and even then, on paths limited from the shore up to the church.

If you can read this..you are too close!

Nearing the small beach and jetty, we tried to make out the words on a rusting notice, and when 50m away, could decipher them :  “No approaching to 100m from the beach.”  But we made a brief landfall, stretched legs, then set off around the SW tip of the island, below the huge cave which is the eye of the whale from some aspects.  Cliffs fall sheer into the sea from the island’s high point of 165m, with cormorants nesting in crevices and small ledges.

Resting, ” by still waters …… “

The strait between the two islands is a narrow channel  measuring c.30m across. We paddled  carefully through, watchful for sharp rocks below us either side, then anti-clockwise around Theodoropoula, where a landing looks almost impossible.  To our north lay nothing but open sea until Athens, some 250km distant, reminding me of the Breton fishermen’s prayer :

“O Lord, the sea is so great, and my boat is so small.”

Through the strait ... "and my boat is so small."

Through the strait … “and my boat is so small.”

Through the strait again, then keeping close to the north and south-east cliffs, watching for ‘kri-kri’  on the rocks above us, and spotting three males, larger than imagined, looking down on us as we looked up at them.  An hour or so and 5km after leaving it, we were back at the beach, this time for a picnic lunch and rest in the sunshine.  But, as we used to sing in school assemblies years ago :  ” Not for ever by still waters, would we idly rest and stay …”

The island from Kato Galatas

Phil had driven from Platanias to the small harbour at Kato Galatas, where we had arranged to end our voyage.  Ag Theodorou receded behind us on our 4km return to the mainland, leaving us with memories of a fine day, and the thought that, to misquote Psalm 107 :

” They that go down to the sea in kayaks, that go paddling in great waters ;

these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. “

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Anidri village sign

 

One of the pleasures of winter in Paleochora is spending evenings in the  “To Scolio” cafenion in the nearby village of Anidri.  With an extensive menu of both Greek dishes and international influences, prepared and served by Georgia and Emilia, and warmth from an exceptionally efficient ‘zomba’ (woodstove), it’s a wonderful place to pass an evening with friends, especially, if the weather’s been good, after a walk in the vicinity to build up an appetite.

Anidri school house cafeneon

The Schoolhouse Kafeneon, Anidri

Here’s a walk starting and ending at the cafe itself, in the centre of the village.  The shorter version is only around two hours, the longer and more difficult route an hour or so longer.  Both have superb views along the southern coast of Crete, and inland to the mountains.  The terrain on both requires good footwear and sure-footedness, and maybe a “head for heights.”

Begin by walking 500m down the road towards Paleochora, past the village sign, and turn left along the track known locally as “Christos’ road” (of whom more later.)  This bends right to a fork, and after 250m it’s already decision time  –  the shorter route goes up left through a wired ‘gate’, and the longer walk continues along to the right.  The shorter one first : pass through the gate, and climb the track, concreted in part, to a ‘col’, then contour on a wide track high above the Anidri gorge.  Where the track ends, a footpath begins, ending on a broad ridge with the sea and Ianniscari beaches far below.

Looking down towards the Anidri beaches

Christos, who has lived in Anidri all his life, tells how men and boys from the village took mules down this trail to collect sea salt.  After four or five days, they returned from the coast loaded with salt, important in meat preservation . The wide path Christos recalls is now unclear, but head down the ridge, finding a way between rocks (loose at times), thyme bushes and spiny spurge.  An outcrop to the right provides a “birds’ eye” view of the beaches, where two cantinas (in summer) will provide refreshments before or after a swim.

For the longer route, and the more adventurous, keep on Christos’ road (which was the original way from Anidri to Paleohora before the road through the gorge was built c. 1970) . This rises gently, then levels to take you past a track (left) and another (right), both gated and avoided, to reach a small plateau.  Continue ahead for views overlooking Paleohora, then look for a way through the fencing to the east  –  the easiest way is to the left of a small depression (pond in winter).  If you miss this, the fencing is easily negotiated further along.

Anidri walk - paleochora

Looking to Paleochora from the trig point

When you reach the open hillside, pick a way carefully up through the rocks to a concrete pillar (in England a ‘trig point’.)  Enjoy superb views of the peninsula of Paleochora, out to Gavdos island, c.50 km distant, and it would be rare not to see freight and container ships heading through the Libyan Sea en route to/from Suez.  The way along the ridge is not easy, with deep fissures and ‘grikes’ in the limestone, potential traps for a twisted or broken ankle, so tread warily.  Losing height, look for a rocky platform to the right, from where are the best and most direct views to the beaches, and along the coast to the ‘Crocodile’.  Soon after, join the shorter route described earlier, and head down to the sea.

The way through the gorge back to Anidri is unmistakeable, following the streambed, and marked by somewhat unnecessary stone cairns.  Three obstacles, a ‘water-slide’, small waterfall (only after heavy rain) and a cave can be climbed direct or avoided by side paths.

Anidri gorge near paleochora

A rare waterfall in the Anidri gorge

Take the left fork at a junction (signed to Anidri), and then leave the gorge to walk up a wide track towards the village. Keep right to the 14th C church of Agios Giorgos, inside which are some of the best frescos in the area, and there you are, back at the cafenion.

Christmas Puzzle
With a record number of entries, all correct, tension was high in the cafenion when Emilia and Georgia made the draw.  And the winner is ……..  Olle Meurling, who receives a €10 voucher to exchange at ‘To Delfini’ bookshop. Olle will also receive an extra special prize very soon. More on that later….

Anidri scolio cafeneon

And the winner is……

And, lastly, here are some hardy lunatics souls braving the chilly water at Anidri beach on Christmas day…

anidri beach

Brrrr…

Happy New Year!

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