One definition of ‘explore’ is “to search or travel through for the purpose of discovery.” Another, more famous, though less grammatically correct, one is “to boldly go.” Earlier this year, John, Phil and I boldly went to explore and make possibly the first ever descent of the Ropanas Ravine. It’s one of the longest valleys in the Paleochora area, and follows the Ropanas ‘potamos’ or river, which drops 7 km and around 500m from the tiny village of Vathyrema to the sea. But I doubt if many seasoned visitors, or keen local walkers, have even heard of it.
If you drive from Paleochora through Koundoura and up to Sklavopoula, the signed turning to Vathyrema is on the left after 16km, and about 1.5 km before reaching the main village. We left a car here, in case of retreat, having already left a car at the end of the ravine, in case of success.
The road led us pleasantly along, then over a ridge to the houses of Vathyrema, tucked below the track, and then swung north, contouring around to the head of a steep-sided valley. We almost missed the tiny church of Agios Giorgos, hidden in the trees below, and close to a spring of cold water . Now heading SW, we remarked how tranquil and peaceful it all seemed, totally idyllic. Then ” Pou pate? “ boomed a voice from olive trees far below us. ” Where are you going? This is not the way to Elafonisi !” Holding a conversation over half a kilometre isn’t easy, so we continued down (keeping sharp left at a turn) to where the voice and his donkey were collecting olives, and explained that we were trying to follow the valley down to the sea. “Ah,” he told us, “then you’ll come to the beach near a white villa ,” – so perhaps it wouldn’t be a ‘first descent’ after all.
Vathyrema, seen better from here, once had thirty occupants, our new friend told us, but now only four people live there, and it was a hard life. As elsewhere, the olive harvest had been affected by the ‘dakos’ worm, so the quality of oil was poor, and it was hardly worth collecting them.
We looked carefully for an entrance into the gorge itself. Our first attempt, leaving the track too soon, took us only into thick impenetrable undergrowth, and further progress was impossible. The correct way, from where the track appears to end (at beehives, July ’11) is to go uphill for 100m, curving left and through a wire gate, towards sheep feeding troughs. Then descend steeply to the left, keeping right of a wire fence on steep but open ground, (stick or walking pole useful) into the riverbed.
Now at 300m above sea level, the way ahead is clear. As the King advised Alice (in Wonderland) : “Go on till you come to the end, then stop.” After a while a side valley joins from the right (NW) descending from Maniatiana, when the valley becomes wider – then narrows again, often between large boulders.
Interesting scenery changes around every twist and turn.
Many years ago, Lord Byron, in ‘Don Juan’, musing … “dreamed that Greece might yet be free …” He was alluding to the Turkish occupation, but these days the reference might well be to litter. For lower down the valley, rubbish – and plastic in particular – has blown or washed down into the gorge from the municipal Refuse Site above, becoming trapped on trees, rocks and the occasional fence, most unsightly for half a kilometre or so
Another lesser ravine meets the main valley, which then narrows, with some easy scrambling down over boulders.
Two fences must be negotiated (look for the wires to open and close after you ), after which the valley widens again, with the sea eventually in view. A final ‘gate’, beyond which is a rough track – and Krios beach is there in front of you.
In high summer there’s a ‘cantina’ for well-earned drinks and snacks, with sun-beds & parasols for relaxation after a swim, equally well-deserved. A walk along the shore, and an easy climb over rocks leads to a smaller and more secluded beach, sheltered from any west winds.
We took around four hours from leaving the car to reaching the sea. The walk, of around 10 km, is feasible without cars by taking an early morning taxi to the Vathyrema turning, and returning to Paleochora by the bus which leaves Krios (at the junction to the beach, 1km from the cantina) around 2.40pm.
Lynne, my lovely wife and best friend for over 24 years, passed away in Chania hospital on the 12th June, never waking from the coma after a severe cerebral haemorrhage on 24th March.
Lynne loved exploring in SW Crete, and before Anavasi maps and Google Earth made things easier, we spent hundreds of days together following footpaths, tracks and mule trails, attempting to link villages and valleys, or sometimes just simply to see where they went to. Often they led nowhere, ending in olive groves where we had a picnic and retraced our steps, but many of our explorations resulted in walks which have given pleasure to thousands of people through our two books, and via the ‘Explore!’ series.
The words of T.S.Eliot seem appropriate :
” We shall not cease from exploration ; and the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time. “