Monday 12th December to Sunday 18th
Monday we’re both so tired this morning after our walk yesterday and Jac’s visit that neither of us want to get up. But finally we manage it and after fighting heavy Monday morning commuter traffic and long queues I return to the basement to finish painting. Daz returns to block one; patch painting, caulking and removing mold on pipes.
Tuesday we’re shattered again. The wind has really picked up and the shutters and windows were rattling so much it was tough to sleep. Today we both work in block one cleaning aircon vents, electrical sockets, sweeping the patio of leaves and our last job in the block – to ensure the crockery, glasses and silverware in each room match. We stupidly thought this would be straightforward but it’s anything but. We move from room to room and then on to new blocks trying to find matching glasses etc. Finally block one is complete and we check blocks 2, 3 and 4 are all OK after the heavy rain. Tuesday evening I visit the dentist – teeth cleaning time. Fortunately he doesn’t spot anything else that needs doing.
Wednesday Daz starts on block 5 whilst I check blocks 6, 7 and 8. Then I start matching crockery etc in block 5. In the evening it’s quiz and bingo night. Our team mates are John and Glynnis. He turns out to be the infamous cat man. They have 28 house cats! OMG we find our 4 a handful enough.
Thursday it’s more work on block 5 and matching crockery in 4. Yes our days are routine with no excursions; we’re recouping after Jac’s stay, trying to save our pennies and preparing for Gav’s flying visit. Remember the incredible Ha Canyon and our hope to go canyoning? Well after several enquiries, including asking our incredibly knowledgeable host Vassilis, we thought we had no chance of achieving this adrenaline adventure but finally one company that I emailed has come back with a positive result, so fingers crossed.
Friday, normal jogging. Saturday we popped out in the evening for food at a local kebab joint then to the Cavern for a beer. We were expecting a quiz too but missed it by a week, it was last Saturday!!
Sunday we’re at work as Gav is arriving tonight and we need to pick him up in Heraklion and then we’ll some time off whilst he is here. As an added bonus we definitely have some guides that will take us to Ha Canyon including Gav!! We get a message that his flight is delayed, so decide to make dinner before heading to the airport, but just as Daz is starting to cook he says he has been put on an earlier flight and will be at Heraklion at 9pm!! We chuck everything in the fridge, and head out as it’s a 2 hour drive to the airport. We arrive just as he’s walking out of the airport!! On the way back we pop into a kebab joint for a late dinner and then have a few drinks into the small hours down in a beachfront bar as we catch up on all the gossip!
Monday 19th to Wednesday 21st December
Monday morning we have scrambled eggs for breakfast then head to Sitia with Gav to show him around. We also want to pick up some ferry tickets for our journey to Rhodes at the end of the month. So once in Sitia we head to the harbour in search of a ticket office and get an amazing sighting of a kingfisher.
It’s a lovely sunny day, if a tad windy, and as we walk along the harbour we stop to watch a fishing boat being manoeuvred onto a trailer to bring it out of the water. They try several approaches and there’s a lot of shouting but unfortunately the wind keeps pushing it away from the trailer and in the end they give up!! Bizarre!
We speak to the harbour master’s office and they say that the ferry has got some problems and is laid up in Rhodes. We should go to the agent in town for more information. Fortunately the agent reckons the ferry should be OK by the end of the month, but even then he cannot guarantee it will arrive as there may be more problems, bad weather, strikes, mechanical problems etc etc!!! Well we buy tickets anyway and we will have to cross our fingers. We then decide to take a trip to Vai beach where there is the only palm forest in Europe. On the way we stop for a geocache up the side of a hill, but after much scrambling we realise we have approached from the wrong side of the hill and only Daz is able to climb the last section to find the cache… he can’t find it and we can’t get up without a long detour so we give it up. It’s actually been quite an extreme ascent (see the photos) and both Daz and Gav are covered in scratches and scrapes. Another time maybe!!
As we were searching, Christine who we met on the cave walk, rings us. We had planned to meet her but had missed comms, however she had finally got our message and so we agree to pop over to see her, luckily we are right across the road from her village, Dionysou! She shows us around her village, which was specifically built as a tourist resort funded by EU money. With hotels and 365 apartments/ houses it was designed to attract foreign interest in Crete. With a communal pool and shops it was supposed to be a paradise holiday resort. Unfortunately the management company ran off with all the money and now, in winter, it looks rather forlorn and dilapidated and only 3 or 4 apartments are occupied year around. Alot of the houses on the seafront are falling apart from the sea air and neglect. The pool was half full of green water and the area was abandoned. Christine did say that in the summer months it’s a very different place and the previous summer some work had been done and the pool was open and everything is tidied up and cared for and it’s a delightful place to be. It’s just hard to imagine now the village is closed for winter but this has been the story for all of Crete for us! We need to visit again but in the spring or summer.
After a cup of tea we all head off to Vai; Christine is our expert tour guide and in exchange we introduce her to geocaching. Vai, or more specifically the palm forest of Vai, is one of the most popular sights in Crete and one of the most beautiful and special places in the whole Mediterranean. Vai draws thousands of visitors each year. They come not only for its wonderful palm forest, but also for the large sandy beach spread out at its foot.
Vai was “discovered” by hippies who were turned out of Matala in the early 70s and sought a new refuge in the area. By the early 80s, Vai had become a permanent campsite and been transformed into vast rubbish tip.
It’s deserted and we can imagine how packed it will be in the summer, Christine says they arrive by the bus load from Heraklion. Apparently the palm forest came from when ancient pirates discarded date stones after meals, either way the resultant forest is very impressive.
We climb the hill overlooking the beach in search of a geocache.
Chrstine then takes us to an ancient minoan settlement where we can still see the walls and street layout from 3000 years ago.
Our final stop is at Topoli monastery and we are fortunate that a monk lets us into the church to marvel at the artwork. And there’s another geocache opposite.
It’s been a fab visit to the north east side of Crete and thanks to Christine we saw so much more!! We bid farewell, but she has suggested we join her for Xmas dinner at a taverna in Kato Zacros. We’re back in time for a beautiful sunset before heading to our favourite taverna, Paradise. Unfortunately we decide to visit the Cavern and many beers and ‘killer’ pool games leads to a messy ending to the day. Oh why do we never learn?
Tuesday morning we are up very early as we have a date with Ha gorge. We’re all feeling a little fragile and manage to forget to take most of the things we were told we’d need.
We’ve arranged to meet our guides, Simon and Manos, at the bottom of the gorge by a small church. Once dressed to impress we can leave our dry gear and car at the bottom and all drive up to the top in Manos’ pickup. Manos and Simon are experienced canyoneers and climbers and soon have us kitted out. Unfortunately due to a lack of wetsuit sizes Gavs is too small tight and Daz’s is too big. Mine is fine!
Gav getting ready with Ha gorge in the background.
The suits have all seen better days with rips and repaired tears all over! Oh well, adds to the fun. We arrive at the top and after a short walk start descending a very steep grassy and muddy slope to get to the gorge proper. It’s quite treacherous and a sign of things to come.
Finally in the gorge proper we don our harnesses and helmets and Gav gets a lesson in abseiling and for us a refresher.
And so we begin…Ha gorge here we come!
The entrance to Ha gorge is very narrow, about 3m. Its width in many parts is only 30cm and in others no more than 3m. To the left and right stand huge stone walls 200m to 400m high. The length is about 1km. Ha is one of the most demanding and technical gorges on Crete. We’ll have 27 abseils to complete, the highest 35m, so this would be impossible without all the climbing gear brought by Manos and Simon. In the last third of the gorge, a waterfall of 215 meters height comes in from the left which increases the amount of water in the gorge. This is often the problem point for canyoning because up to this point the Ha is dry, but from here it can have large amounts of water. The waterfall is the highest in Greece and is located at the end of Mastoras sub-gorge. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for us there has been no real rain on Crete this year so Mastoras waterfall isn’t running. Unfortunately this means the slides and jumps won’t be possible. There’s no running water on the slides just slippery algae and the jumps into deep, clear pools have insufficient water depth to be safe and the water is a stagnant, fetid, frigid foul pool of murky stinking water. (Apologies now, lots of photos!)
Initially all the abseils are dry and in the lower half of the gorge we’re abseiling into fetid, frigid foul pool of murky water. The smell is disgusting and we even see bones floating in the water and hate to think what is in the water with us. For those of us feeling slightly the worse for wear after last night’s excesses (me and Gav), this proves to be our undoing, much to Daz’s entertainment!
It’s still quite slippery, especially on some of the damp mossy areas and we all end up sliding down the rock on our arses at one point or another. Gav does so well. This is his first experience of abseiling and canyoning and this is extreme. By the end of the day we are all weary, cold and wondering if it will ever end. By the time we descend into the final pool it’s gone 5pm and the light is fading. Just in time! 7 hours of abseiling and walking down the gorge. An amazing experience for us all so huge thanks to Manos and Simon for their patience and coaching and a huge well done to Gav who, whilst often out of his comfort zone, still kept us laughing! We start to get changed, but then have to wait whilst Daz drives Manos back to the top of the gorge. Apparently this drive in the dark, on some very steep windy roads, was more scary than the canyoning! By the time they get back it’s 7pm and we load up the kit and say farewell. We stop off in Irepetra on the way home, too tired to cook so we enjoy 3 large pizzas with garlic bread and Greek salad!
Wednesday: The next day we all ache from the yesterday’s exertions and I’ve got a really itchy skin rash. I think it’s from the foul water. Fortunately no one else has it. But it’s time for Gav to leave Crete, so it’s back in the car and off to Heraklion and the airport. We go up early so that we can do some sightseeing seeing with Gav around the historic fortress walls of Heraklion.
By the time we do drop Gav at the airport (including having a laugh at his expense by swapping his boarding card whilst he visits the loo!) and get back to Makry Gialos we are ready to drop. No quiz and bingo for us tonight!
Thursday 22nd to Friday 30th December.
Despite being absolutely shattered we didn’t sleep well last night. There was a huge thunderstorm over Makry Gialos. It was so close we thought the windows were going to smash. The storm front finally moved on but another followed in its wake this morning. With the high winds came hail. We’re going to have to check all the rooms for damage and clear the hail and standing water on the patios and corridors.
We also manage to fit in some vaccinations we had ordered at the pharmacy; Hepatitis A for both of us and Daz also gets a Polio, Tetanus and Diphtheria booster. The young assistant has downloaded and printed a massive document about which countries require which vaccinations. Initially when we tell her where we going she says ” can I come?”. Then Daz adds “on bikes” and she says ” forget it!”. She confirms the need for Typhoid but this is only available for purchase in huge batches so it’s only held by hospitals. And Rabies? Well it’s still a ‘no’ for rabies. We will have to check in Turkey. These 3 vaccinations have cost us 76€. Daz also visits the dentist again for some remedial work on 2 old fillings (80€). He still has another tooth that needs work.
Christmas Eve we had planned a sightseeing trip but the rain is persistent and heavy. Instead we find ourselves in a taverna in Ierapetra recommended by Vassilis enjoying some food and some rather bizarre Greek Xmas carol singing.
Christmas day. We’ve arranged to go to Kato Zacros on the east coast for Christmas dinner, so after a little lie in and a lovely breakfast cooked by Daz we drive over the mountains early so that we can do some geocaching and walk some of Deads Gorge before lunch.
The gorge is so called because the caves along the gorge walls were used as burial chambers during the Minoan period. It’s a lovely day if a tad windy and we enjoy a lovely walk up the gorge for a couple of kilometres to find a geocache.
Back in the village we arrive at the taverna to meet Christine, a German couple – Gerhart and Brunni, and Stavros for Christmas dinner. We are a little late, but soon settle down and enjoy a lovely meal whilst chatting to the German couple about our travels and theirs. Christine has even bought us a Xmas present, our only one! She’s given us a travel adapter suitable for 120 countries and some mini toiletries. Such a thoughtful and useful gift! After the meal a quick visit to the minoan palace ruins, (3000 years old) stalked by a dozen ‘bruiser’ cats rounds off the day.
Zakros Palace in Crete is one of the last vestiges of the ancient Minoan civilization that was unearthed in our time. Zakros Palace is the last of the Minoan Palaces that has come into light as a whole. The palace itself covered an extension of 4,500 square meters and crowned a flourishing urban centre with an area of over 8,000 square metres as a whole. However Zakros Palace is only a fifth of the size of Knossos, the latter being the largest of the Minoan palaces in Crete and the centre of the Minoan civilization in general. After admiring the ruins and enjoying the narrative by Christine and Stavros (both very knowledgeable) we bid farewell and make the lengthy drive back up over the mountains in the settling dark. We are soon tucked up in bed, a glass of wine to celebrate the day and watch some TV… bliss. Whilst the cats come for a cuddle. Their not interested in the vast expanse of bed……….only Darren.
It’s Boxing Day but we are up and back at work. Daz is still cleaning door and window handles in block 5 and whilst I do some paint stippling on the tile floors (to disguise all the chips in the tiles) and cleaning electric sockets with earbuds in block 5!! Oh the joy!! Tuesday more handle cleaning and stippling. Wednesday we start sorting out our kit and looking at our onward journey. We’re planning to catch the overnight ferry from Sitia to Rhodes and then we hope the Rhodes Catamaran will take us to Marmaris. But we’re really not confident; the first weak link is the Rhodes ferry which is often delayed or cancelled; the Marmaris catamaran is a passenger ferry. In a phone call they said no bikes but in an email they said yes to bikes. Of course our use of the term ‘bikes’ is probably disingenuous. If the catamaran plan fails then there’s a vehicle ferry to Kos and then another to Bodrum. We did think these ferries ran daily but now the website suggests otherwise. So to cover all bases I’ve contacted all the warmshower hosts between here and Rhodes – Marmaris – Fethiye and all those between Rhodes – Kos – Bodrum – Fethiye. To be fair there aren’t that many. We’ve also been checking out places of interest to visit along the way! Whilst we’re both looking forward to a change of scenery, we’re both feeling trepidatious about Saturday and cycling to Sitia. It’s only 32km but after 6 weeks off I’m pretty sure it’s going to hurt. Thursday we finish block 5, stipple in blocks 3, 4, 6 and 7. Move all our work gear and basically prepare to handover.
Friday 30th December
Daz and I always laugh and say a plan never survives first contact with me. Well today, supposedly our last day in Makry Gialos, our carefully crafted plan has collapsed around our ears. The ferry company rang to tell us that tomorrow’s ferry from Sitia to Rhodes has been cancelled. We have no idea why. It won’t run until next Saturday, 6th January. This is a complete disaster! We need to be at our workaway in Turkey for 11th January. Our host has booked her flights for her holiday. And perhaps if we leave Crete on 6th January we might well make it to our host by 11th but there’s no margin for error so if next Saturday we get a phone call to say the ferry is delayed due to bad weather, we’ll be well and truly up shit creek without a paddle! Our stress levels go through the roof and the bickering increases exponentially. How do we get off Crete before next Saturday??? The obvious answer is get back to Haraklion (a 3 day bike ride) and take the ferry back to Piraeus, Athens and then take a ferry to Kos and then to Bodrum. The downside to this is the 3 day bike ride; the weather is horrendous ( extremely cold, windy and either raining or hailing), and the expense because there’s no way I’m camping in this weather! And then we spot a decent alternative. The internet suggests there’s a ferry from Sitia to Pireaus on 2nd January. Finally after several hours on the internet and numerous phone calls we think we’ve cobbled together a new plan that gives us the wriggle room we need and puts us in Bodrum on 7th January.
New Year’s Eve
This morning we catch the bus into Sitia with 90% of our gear. We are so fortunate that Pavlos, the Aussie/Greek fireman who we met on the group walk to the cave, has said it’s OK to leave our bags and tomorrow our trikes at his firestation. We also exchange our Rhodes ferry tickets for Piraeus tickets. Fingers crossed that this ferry isn’t cancelled too! The last cancellation was due to the weather. We head back to Makry Gailos, we planned to have a quiet New Year, maybe popping out for a couple of celebratory drinks just before midnight, but by the time we are tucked up warm and fed we don’t feel like going out again, so celebrate together with a few glasses of wine. It’s our 2nd New Year since we’ve been travelling and also 2 days shy of 2 full years of travels. It’s been an amazing time and we are looking forward to what 2017 brings and especially to travelling out of Europe towards Asia. Happy new year everyone!!