Over the winter I re-read “The Last Lemon Grove”, a gift from visiting friends a couple of years ago.  Written by American Jackson Webb, published 1977, it tells of the author’s one-year sojourn in Paleochora in the early 70s, living alone and simply, and his affinities with various animals and pets, neighbours, and the local community.

Lemon Grove cover

It’s a quirky book, and you need to know something of Paleochora, its past and people, to appreciate it fully.

One particular paragraph rather jumped off the pages :-
 “ … the bus will coast out between the eucalyptus trees and onto the canyon bridge
    with a bump, grinding up through the rocks to Spanyako again.  And after an hour,
    the cloudy twin peninsulas and the straight line of the north shore will start to
    show ahead between the mountains.  Then the loud music will play while everyone’s
    sick, winding down the foothills into the white town of Vukolies, and a completely different afternoon …. “

The bus journey over to Chania is still an experience, although both the buses and roads have been modernised.  The eucalyptus trees are still there, the bridge widened, the road straightened, the music still plays (but no smoking, except maybe the driver), Gramvousa and Rodopou still come into view, and Chania, when you reach there, often seems a different world.

The old bus

The old bus

The new bus

The new bus

Here’s an afternoon walk, taking the 3.30pm bus to Kalamos, walking up into Spanyako (sic), and returning on the bus leaving Chania at 4pm, picking you up at approx. 5.30pm below Spaniakos. Jump off the bus beside the olive mill in Kalamos, just a ten minute and 6 km journey (by car, there’s a parking place close by.)

Olives at Kalamos

Olives at Kalamos

Just above the mill, by stone steps to the former ‘platea’, and almost hidden, is Agios Ioannis, with old and rare frescoes ; a quick visit here is recommended.

Kalamos

Kalamos

Begin the walk by setting off back 700m to Paleochora, over the road bridge, around a bend, and then turning left up a track signed (currently at least) to Spaniakos.

Spaniakos sign

Spaniakos sign

Confirm you’re correct by passing a fridge  after 150m, and continue ahead. The track winds onwards and upwards, soon with Spaniakos’ main church, Panagia,  in view above the hamlet of Giannakiana.

Eventually the track joins a surfaced road, where you turn left, but pause here to enjoy the view, and get your breath back.  Across the valley is the ridge leading to the masts above Paleochora (see ‘Explore’ Oct 2014), and to its north a similar ridge ending at Kastri, 820m, above Sarakina (‘Explore’ Sept 2015.)  In between is a glimpse of Sklavoploula (‘Explore’ June 2015.)

Spaniakos village

Spaniakos village

Walk on, flat now, into the ‘centre’ of Spaniakos, still known as  ‘Tzami’, the Greek for ‘mosque’.  Here, during the long Turkish occupation, and where the (closed) school is now, stood the largest mosque in Crete, built c.1670, and only destroyed in 1897 following an uprising by resistance fighters.  Spaniakos was the religious centre for Turkish villages of the area, its residents forced to convert to Islam.  The 1881 census records a population of 136, with 41 Moslem families and only 4 Christian.  Nothing remains of the mosque, although the ruined Turkish fort above the village survives and can be visited (‘Explore’ Nov 2013).

Etching of The Spaniakos Mosque

Etching of The Spaniakos Mosque

Above Spaniakos lives Andreas Kontorinis, born here some ninety years ago, who has told me so much about the village.  He attended the school in the 1930s  –  “ just one class, 55 pupils aged  6 -12 yrs,”  and left when he was twelve.  Although, he smiles, “I started work when I was 3,”  helping his shepherd father, and spending summers high in the White Mountains “mitata” making cheese.  He talks of the harsh war years between 1941-44, the family living frugally on ‘horta’, dairy products when not taken by the Germans, and bread made from carobs.  “Diskola,” he says (difficult)

Andreas

Andreas

I asked him about the village cafenion ; “Which one ?” he asks, “there were three.”   The last, closed around 1970 and now derelict, is opposite the school, and could tell some stories.  Occasionally he would travel to Chania, a daily wooden bus in the 1930s carrying passengers and livestock taking four hours.

Spaniakos cafe

Spaniakos cafe

Spaniakos church is nearby, but better to continue downhill, past the school, then detour 250m to visit Agios Giorgos, peacefully situated, with a rocky outcrop above a meadow behind it making a fine viewpoint.

Agios Georgos

Agios Georgos

Return to the road, built only in 1965, before which paths (now overgrown) led from Spaniakos more directly down to meet the main road, closer to Paleohora.

On reaching the Chania road, walk 700m back to Kalamos for your car, or wait at the bus shelter for the short ride back to Paleochora, where, to quote ‘The Last Lemon Grove’ :
“To the east and west, the hills drop sheer on the deserted coastline, with only the
        blue-black sea and the faint tipped ramp of Gavdos Island lifting just under the
        horizon, quarter way to Africa.”

Lemons

 

 

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Readers will recall our trip from Paleochora to Nepal in late 2014 (see “Explore” January 2015), our stay in Katmandhu, and trek into the Tsum Valley, close to the Tibetan border. We had booked a similar journey for 2015, well before the dreadful earthquakes last April, and after some thought, and against some advice, went ahead, flying to Nepal last mid-November.

Katmandhu, especially the ancient Durbhar Square, had been badly damaged, and some temples destroyed completely ; many families were still living in tents, despite the approach of winter, whilst their homes were being re-built.

We flew on to Pokhara, less affected, and set off on a 12-day trek above the Kali Gandaki river and into Lower Mustang. Our guides pointed out occasional landslides, and we passed through remote villages where life was returning to normal after the devastation, with houses and schools being repaired and renovated after the tragedy which claimed over 9000 lives, with some 23,000 injured.

Tourism in Nepal last year was down by 70% ; we met only a small number of other trekkers, and many of the ‘lodges’ in villages where we stayed were empty. But – everywhere – we were met with traditional Nepali welcome, warmth, friendliness and gratitude.

If you’ve ever wanted to visit Nepal, see the Himalayas, go walking through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, don’t have any second thoughts about booking flights to Katmandhu. Here are a few photographs from our trip, which might persuade you to do just that …….

Titi Pass, 3000m

Titi Pass, 3000m

On the trek

On the trek

 

All smiles

All smiles

 

Daulaghiri sunrise

Daulaghiri sunrise

 

Dhaulagiri 8167m

Dhaulagiri 8167m

 

Shopping

Shopping

 

Our guides

Our guides

 

Nilgiri range

Nilgiri range

 

Prayer flags at dusk

Prayer flags at dusk

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