There’s no French equivalent for the expression “once in a blue moon”, Michelle told me. So for readers possibly in the dark (so to speak), a “blue moon” is the second full moon in a calendar month, a relatively infrequent event, hence the phrase. The next “blue moon” will be at the end of January 2018, and then another in March that year. One occurred in late August 2012, and between these dates, a recent ‘blue moon’ appeared on the night of July 31st (2015).
The distance between Kandanos and Agia Irini, at the head of the eponymous gorge, is, as the eagle flies, a mere 8km. But in between lies the massif of Agios Zinas, the summit of which, at 1331m (4,367ft) is the highest point in Selinou, our local area of SW Crete.
Combine these two paragraphs, and there’s an “Explore” with a difference – an overnight “blue moon” expedition from Kandanos to Sougia, via Agios Zinas and the Agia Irini Gorge, resting for a few hours at least in the little chapel on the summit.
We caught the last (6.15pm) bus from Paleochora to Kandanos, followed initially the “old road” out of town, then branched right, climbing steeply at first then easing, on a rough track which took us to 1100m. A young shepherd, descending (by pick-up truck) after feeding his flock, asked us the inevitable question. “ O po, po, eine makria,” – (‘O my, my, that’s a long way’), he replied ; then gave us directions how to reach the summit more directly, possibly faster, but far rougher and steeper (which we disregarded and kept to our original route plan.) More importantly, he confirmed that there was a ‘vrisi’ (spring) not too far ahead, with “the best water in Crete.”
The sun dropped below grazing sheep, and set way out to the west, where we could make out the islet of Pondikonisi, 40km distant and west of Balos bay. Then the ‘blue’ moon rose, climbing as we did, to the start of a 2km-long rocky ridge leading to Agios Zinas summit. Our eyes became accustomed to the moonlight, and torches were unnecessary, but finding a route over and between often large boulders, interspersed with thyme and potentially painful “phrygana” shrubs, was by necessity slow and concentrated,
We reached the summit at 10.15pm, not exactly “leaping’ and hoppin’”, but certainly “ being followed by a moon shadow.” The chapel offered protection from a warm breeze, preferable to sleeping outside on rough gravel. Michelle’s compatriot, the famous mountaineer Gaston Rebuffat, wrote : “ I must not encumber myself with useless things, weight is my enemy,” but Michelle had brought a small bottle of “ouzo” and some still icy water. So we carried a bench outside, sat under the blue moon now high above us, and enjoyed “ a night deep in moonshine.”
Views were extensive, although Paleochora was not visible. Lights in Spina and Skafi, almost directly below us, more in Sougia on the south coast, and Chania lit up, seemingly a stone’s throw away, but 35km to our NE. Closer, the Lefka Ori range, where we could identify the individual peaks of Melindaou, Pachnes, Zaranokefala and Gingilos, all looking even whiter by moonlight.
The wind rose during the night, and sleep was difficult on a stone floor. I slept only fitfully, trying (in vain) to recall themes from Mussorgsky’s “A Night on the Bare Mountain” and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ ; Michelle, an accomplished pianist, would have known.
Dawn brought an entirely new perspective : deep valleys below us, hazy seas in three directions , indistinct mountains to the east, with the ridge we had traversed last night looking far easier in daylight. Michelle goes nowhere without coffee, so we sat and drank “frappes” before leaving at 7.30am, taking the long and winding track (used for access on Agios Zinas’ ‘Saint’s Day’ onJune 22nd.)
And entertained all the way down (1.5hrs) by aeronautic displays from a couple of ravens and several griffon vultures. Culminating when some 40 vultures feeding on carrion lifted into the air, circling high above us ; of several collective nouns, a “wake of vultures” seems the most appropriate. Michelle took some stunning photographs.
Reaching the main road at Koulouridiana, a further half hour took us into the Poroforago cafe at Agia Irini, and after a leisurely breakfast, through the gorge (see Explore – May 2010) and the 2pm mini-bus into Sougia. Just seven hours after leaving Agios Zinas, and exactly 1,331m lower, we were floating refreshed in the Libyan Sea.
And later, exactly 24 hrs after we climbed on the KTEL bus, the “Samaria” ferry glided towards the Sougia jetty to take us home. “Carpe Diem”, and we had certainly done just that ….