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Author: Maria Zehentner / Translation: Elke Weninger
Beitrag vom: 28.02.2017

Crete – the underestimated pearl of the Southern Aegian Sea

January 2017

We stocked up on food in the Port of Piraeus and afterwards leisurely rolled onto the night ferry taking us to Heraklion/Crete. Time was pressing by then. Due to our dawdling the best locations to spend the night on board were already occupied and as we were not willing to spend money on a cabin for 9 hours sailing and unluckily sleeping in our vehicle was not allowed we had to set our minds on couchsurfing!

The cruise seemed ill-fated from the very beginning. The sea was rough and stormy, dishes were constantly rattling in the shelves of the Coffee Shop, children were restless...just our little son was sleeping as cool as a cucumber, his parrot tightly in his arms, on the sofa.

Leander and I were also part of these rough weather conditions – we suddenly did not get on with each other anymore without any apparent reason. From minute to minute it got worse, we were shouting at each other, literally couldn't bear each other's smell, treated one another without any respect. We ended up spending the night at different locations – Leander at the end of the lounge, while I was turning the night into a day with Lennox.

Believing in a happy and bright morning in harmony after such a horrendous sailing would have been irrational. Without wasting a look at each other, let alone saying a word we got into the driving cabin and drove into the Port of Heraklion. As soon as possible Leander stopped Akela at a car park. We both got out of the lorry and quite provocatively, Leander asked me where I and Lennox would like to be taken next. Instantly a verbal gunfight started between us again. Reproaches, accusations and a hell lot of insults were exchanged. Numerous emotions broke free – emotions which had been caught inside were set free and the other person was consequently made responsible for things which had been unsettled for some time. We got onto the lorry again, though still without having made up, and joined Lennox who had already started to cry not understanding anything, just like we didn't do either.

Nevertheless, we hit the road again. What other options would there have been for us? Hand in hand with each kilometer I navigated Leander, he showed me his reluctance and unwillingness. At some point I simply didn't care anymore and directed him towards a small bay in the south of Crete I had heard a lot of positive things about. To get there, however, we had to cross the island once, about 80 kilometers, which doesn't sound a lot in plain areas. Yet Crete is NOT plain, quite on the contrary it is very mountainous. The mountain range, leading from west to east, is mostly fairly steep along the south coast, not as steep in the northern area. The Ida Mountains, containing Psiloritis as highest mountain on the island with 2,456m, are among the four highest areas of Crete. 

It was covered in snow as well as its surrounding peaks. Akela struggled up the final serpentines until we finally saw the sea sparkle on the southern coastline. There was bright sunshine – at least regarding the weather conditions - whereas between Leander and me it was still frozen and cold. Silence.

The small village of Lentas was quickly found but turned out to be far from what it had been promised, it was a flop. Leander parked on a grassy spot and instead of exploring the area like I did with Lennox, preferred to lie down a bit – still grudging. How incredibly wonderful! The mood barometer plummeted. 

When looking around, Lennox and I spotted two men who were curiously watching us from the patio of a small cafe. Resolutely the two of us approached the men. “Yassas, do you speak English?” I asked. My question was answered in German by one of them and while enjoying coffee and orange lemonade, we asked numerous questions regarding the area. Rich in information we returned to the truck, Leander was still slumbering. 

Very carefully did we try to wake him up – something which can go utterly wrong when not bringing up enough sensitivity. Still drowsy he listened to our vast information and I showed him a possible location on the map where we could stay directly at the seafront – not far from our current location. He hardly appeared interested in what I had to tell him – just listened to given directions.  We took place in the driving cabin once again and circumnavigated Cape Leontas, or – as native people fondly call this area – The Lion, which is a nature reserve and therefore protected officially.

We stopped on a small car park next to the road outside the village of Dytikos. From this location we could make out the road leading down to the sea – covered in pot-holes and fords. Leander showed me unmistakably that I should get lost. He was not in the least interested in driving down there, obviously and understandably enough. The Germans had, unluckily, forgotten to mention in what a horrible state that road was. Consequently, we left Akela at the car park next to the road. This was luckily not too bad as there was a small footpath leading down to the beach. 

Leander and I still didn't speak to each other, hence no mighty imagination is required to picture how we experienced the remaining day: Frosty in warm weather conditions.

Only the next day in the morning we were able to bear eye contact and also to speak in a reasonable way with each other again. We were caught up by well-known issues such as stress, no time for one another, misunderstandings and constant – and I REALLY MEAN CONSTANT – necessary repair work on the truck.

Lennox topped the nasty situation by mirroring our behaviour in his behaviour. He was acting exactly the way we were acting. The situation was tense, we were strained, easily irritated,...still felt as if not having properly arrived in the mighty project Akela. It didn't feel at all the way we had wanted it to be like and feel.

In such frequently coming up siuations we tried to remember the basic idea of this journey. Why are we doing such hardships to ourselves? Luckily we do remember again each time it seemed to have gone lost. The WHY we are doing it. At times such days - I want to call them “Blackout Days” - are good. After accusations or using bad language it seems easier to join again in common activities. New energy was set free and from then on everything ran more smoothly.

At last were we able to explore and enjoy the stunning Bay of Dytikos with new eyes and a free spirit. Barefooted we were strolling along the sandy beach, icy sea water lapping our feet.

Lennox' fifth birthday was approaching fast and of course there is no such celebration without a cake. I had already stocked up on ingredients and decorations in Macedonia and even without a hand blender the dough was ready in the twinkling of an eye. Our junior was already fast asleep when I started the “cake spectacle” since the cake was supposed to be a big surprise for him. When the cake had been in the oven for about half an hour and doing what it ought to be doing Leander and I went outside the lorry for a cigarette break. After the break we opened the lorry in good spirits and were instantly greeted by a mighty cloud of smoke which seemed to hit into our faces. Leander dashed into the lorry to quickly get Lennox outside to catch fresh air. In the meantime I opened the oven and even more smoke escaped from there. Our home had turned into a smoking chamber, even airing for minutes hardly made the smoke, let alone the smell, disappear. This was just the moment when we recalled the smoke alarm, which we had been carrying along for quite some time now yet still had not installed or mounted. Sitting in a drawer it would definitely NOT warn us from being killed by smoke. Though my expectations were quite the contrary, the cake could still be used the proper way. I cut off the burnt edges and decorated the remains of my masterpiece. This incident frightened us deeply – cooking and baking with gas is still not my cup of tea and I keep fearing something might explode. We started Lennox' birthday with a proper breakfast containing cake and to mark the occasion we got our Enduro off the truck for the first time ever sine we left Austria. Wrapped up in warm clothing and “armed with skiing helmets” did we set off to our joyride. It was great fun to ride along the impassable dirt roads through the countryside. The sun was laughing from the sky, the birthday boy was beaming with happiness and later when we fairly exhausted returned to Akela the orange ball, namely the sun, was setting already. Not considering it to be luxurious, we decided to take a shower after doing without one for six consequent days. It's hard and difficult to imagine, how bare essentials such as fresh water or new clothes to be used or dressed in every day get appreciated and become precious when out here. Amenities which at home are and have been regarded as self-evident. In the nearby restaurant Mythos we later raised a toast to Lennox' birthday, his great day, drinking wine and lemonade. Should any of you ever be in the area of Lentas we dearly recommend taking a walk in the gorge of Tracholous. Don't forget to bring swimming gear – at the end of it there is a charming little bay with a lovely fine sandy beach. When we were there we happened to become witnesses to a baby goat being born. It was born, without any help by mankind, in the wilderness – exactly on Lennox' birthday. Irony of fate.

After Lentas we were drifted in the direction of Matala, a village on the southern coast of this Greek island. According to mythology, Zeus in the form of a bull abducted the Phoenician princess Europe there and went ashore. To many people Matala is known due to its caves. Already back in the Stone Age mankind were digging holes used to live in into the soft and porous material. During Roman occupation those caves were used as burial place instead. In the 1960's Hippies from around the world founded a big community and lived there. Legend has it that Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan had been living there as well for some time. After a leisurely drive we arrived in the small village. We were lucky and could park Akela directly at the seafront, only 200 meters away from the caves. During busy summertime it would for sure be impossible to have such an opportunity – stopping our home on wheels in front of such a stunning scenery. Now, at winter time it didn't seem to be of interest to anybody in this deserted area. The kitchen window had a wonderful view, just outside the entrance to our home we could see and hear the sea rolling in and out of the corner of my eye I could spot a small cafe with a neighbouring playground. Perfect!! I was looking forward to having some carefree days here in Matala. The rising sun made leaving our beds early in the morning attractive to us. Lennox gulped down his breakfast, impatiently endured being cleaned and quickly put on his clothes. When running passed me he shouted that we would find him at this very playground, should anybody care for his presence and be missing him. Leander had set out with the camera, the boy let off steam and I could sense the small chance of having some time just for myself on my own. Such moments are rare if not impossible on a world trip and are precious with rarity value. On the oven fresh coffee spread seductive aroma in the air which reached my nose when I was making myself a cigarette. Just as I was pouring my cup of coffee I heard Leander shouting in the distance and screaming for some ice bags. He quickly came running with Lennox, who was screaming like hell and could hardly be calmed down. At the playground he had jumped off a climbing wall and directly landed on his left arm. At first sight he didn't seem to have a fracture, yet as little as Lennox' screaming did this pain stop. 14 kilometers away from where we were back then, in Mires, there was a hospital. We came to the conclusion that I would lie in the bed with Lennox while Leander would be driving to the hospital as quickly as possible. Once again. An x-ray picture turned our assumption into fact that Lennox had no fractures, but the doctor advised us to rest the arm for a few days. This was not fair at all for Lennox: 5 minutes at the playground resulted in a plaster on the left arm. Treatment at the hospital was free – once again – even the private orthopaedist sent us away, murmuring words such as “no, no, it's free”. Up to now Greece has only surprised us in many positive ways. Its inhabitants are incredibly helpful and have shown great interest in our project. Every now and then messages from strangers flowed in on Facebook. Strangers, but people who had spotted us somewhere on the way, or they knocked right on our doors just to say hello and greet us. Even sweets were hung at the doors. The one and only reason was not that we looked undernourished but just to be nice to us. I know that I am repeating myself when I am saying once again, “we like Greece and its inhabitants a lot!” When we had returned to Matala we were strolling a bit around the village. The faded Hippie flair of the 60's could still be sensed and experienced at various locations. Flower Power symbols decorated walls, tattoo shops, reggae bars and shops specialised in esoterism were lined up next to each other. Obviously all these shops were closed now at winter time, all but one cafe, which we entered to warm up a bit. We paid €9,80 for two cups of coffee and one orange lemonade. When leaving we were wondering how Greece could drop into such a financial calamity with a VAT of 24% and such cut-throat prices. Or was it because of the high VAT? We were drawn in for three days by the amazing caves of Matala before we decided to pack our gear and hit the road towards Rethymnon.

We had selected this city by the sea only as a stopover to be able to get to the furthest northern place we were aiming at on Crete – after having relaxed and rested. This northern place we were planning to go to was Seitan Limania Beach, which is located on the Akrotiri peninsula. 

The beach is hidden between high cliff tops and offers sandy parts as well as some areas with pebbles. Its name “Seitan Limania” originates from three bays located next to each other, of which only one is suitable for swimming and can be reached on foot. The name means “ports of the devil”. It is very likely that these bays used to be hiding places of pirates as they are closely located to the entrance of the Souda Bay.

The trip there was a really painstaking process.The last part of the pebble road consisted of six steep serpentines which were too narrow for our huge truck to take them in one go. This meant hard work for Leander to steer Akela safely as far as the end of the road where we could park the lorry at a safe spot. Leading to the beach from this car park we found a footpath which was not really easy to walk on. At times and towards the end of the path we had to climb and this was especially tricky for Lennox with his left arm in plaster and therefore he required help there. As so often in the past, the descent was more than worth it. I regard this beach as an absolute insider tip. It is incredible, unique and is definitely one of my personal favourite spots. The bay is surrounded by three steep clifftops, it's not possible to get a view of the sea yet the water meanders in between the cliffs from the free and open northern side in beautiful bright turquoise and ends up in a small sandy bay. Stunning and romantic!

Considering these perfect conditions Leander suggested putting up our tent right next to the sea. It did take some art of persuasion to convince me as well, yet I agreed in the end and so we walked up to Akela to pack our necessary gear for the night in a tent. These things were the tent, sleeping bags, mattresses, food, music, warm tea and - Lumumba a la Maria – which we didn't want to do without. A small nightcup for us adults. 

Heavily packed like mules we walked down once again and started putting up the tent there. While we were doing that, Lennox collected drift wood to make a campfire. Within a short time flames were blazing and we could prepare and barbecue our sausages. We used the flames to make shades and played with them. Shadowland in Crete. Later that night, when Lennox was already fast asleep and the nightcup had done its job Leander did what he had promised to do a long time ago – he danced Salsa with me on the beach. Being close to one another again was a wonderful feeling and just for this very moment time seemed to have stopped.

As usual when sleeping in a tent, the night resulted in little sleep and was rather modest. Though still feeling knackered in the morning and with tired bones we were in high spirits and motivated to take action. We found a bear cave indicated on the road map. And since this sounded very good and Lennox realised that we were up to getting the Enduro off Akela again, he was glowing with joy and happiness. 

A bit of food was packed - and off we went.

In freezing cold wind we were going for about 30 minutes when we finally reached the cave. We parked the motor bike in front of a monastery as from there a footpath led us to the cave. Not only did we visit the bear's cave in the end but also the cave of a hermit called Johannes and the monastery ruins of Moni Katholico.

Exhausted and tired we mounted the Enduro and set off towards Akela. Happy as we were close to Akela, we steered into the first serpentine, when suddenly two huge dogs were dashing towards us - with bared teeth. Leander stepped on it, but the two dogs aggressively chased us, barking loudly. To get round the turns safely, Leander had to slow down which helped the dogs to catch up each time as this unlucky incident repeated itself in every single turn. The dogs did not give in but kept snapping at us. It became more and more dangerous as the road would be ending soon and we would have to stop unless we wanted to end up in the sea. 

Deterred by Leander's loud screaming the dogs finally gave in. Thank God! The dogs stopped and we were safe. Luckily Lennox had not realised how dangerous the situation had been – Leander and I were still shaking from fear and when getting off the Enduro, our knees were trembling. This could have resulted in quite a disaster.

Crete had conquered our hearts secretly yet steadily. We loved hiking down to small bays where the water was sparkling in turquoise colours. The back country was hilly and partly alpine, just as we loved it. The planes were used for agricultural purpose and olive trees characterised the landscape of Crete in a natural manner. Not to forget the countless sheep and goats which are everywhere and suddenly come out behind some bushes quite unexpectedly. 

Early the next morning we said good bye to one of the most beautiful landscapes and areas we had ever seen before and directed Akela towards Chania, where there is another port. 

Fabian Lentsch, who we had already met at Termophylae, had arrived on Crete as well with his Snowmads. He and his mates were cruising around in our area and therefore meeting up again was a must. Lennox was already very excited as he was looking forward to seeing Fabi and Moggä (Markus) again, his – as he kept emphasising – very best friends ever. We felt like Asterix and Obelix when enjoying a wonderful dinner together and the waiters kept serving new plates full with even more delicious food. We talked a lot about the journey, exchanged ideas and stories and afterwards Lennox and Moggä went shopping and played a bit on the beach with Fabi before he turned in. The large grin on Lennox' face which even didn't disappear when fast asleep should not be left unmentioned.

The lads answered the call of the wild still at night and chased the snow in the mountains. We stayed on the car park of the restaurant and started early the next morning feeling fresh and rested. 

We had chosen Balos Beach to be one of our final destinations on Crete. Anyone looking for Caribbean atmosphere in Europe is exactly at the right location here. This beach ranges among the most beautiful beaches in the world on the third range. Just past the little hamlet of Kaliviani there is the end of the paved road and a dirt road leads about 8 kilometers further north on the eastern side of the peninsula Gramvousa. At end of the road there is a square with gravel surface and from there a footpath leads towards the lagoon. The seashore there is made up from white shell sand and coral sand. The bays emerged due to a tectonic uplift of this western part of the island of Crete. The dune-covered coastline has scarce vegetation, yet numerous goats still seem to get enough nutritious food. After two magic days exclusively spent on this wonderful beach we set off again. 

The past days had left their marks. Our legs were tired and exhausted from hiking. Though it had been a carefree time on Crete we had to think ahead again. After Greece we wanted to go to Turkey, but at all the planned destinations where we wanted to stay there were winter temperatures. Good bye to the sun, the beach and the sea – welcome snow, and yes, we still had to make Akela suitable for winter.

A possible location to do all these adaptions and repair work seemed to be the small village of Falassarna in the northwest of the island, which is backed by a long dune beach. Judging from the road map we assumed to be able to stay right at the beach, which was very lucky as therefore we could keep an eye on Lennox and avoid possible mishaps. We had been able and been allowed to see so many unique and stunning bays on Crete that Falassarna did not make Leander go out to take pictures. What a great feeling as this meant more time spent together as a family. 

After a lean period our leader of the pack, Akela, was treated well again. Leander put oil on the grease nipples to keep the joints and hinges flexible and smooth. This is a highly necessary and important yet unluckily very uncomfortable job to be done every few thousand kilometers. In younger lorries such jobs needn't be done as the joints are constructed to do without any servicing for a lifetime, but anybody knowing Leander's love for older models also knows that he also grins and bears damages caused due to old age ;-)

In the meantime Lennox and I were trudging round the beach looking for material to make some handicrafts. Sea shells, driftwood, cords...all these precious objects found their way into our bag. In combination with quite a few things we had already brought along we made wonderful necklaces, wristbands, and a pirate's sword which could be mistaken for a real one. 

When God created mankind, he unluckily forgot to make his female creation resistent against cold weather. Normally I only dare going swimming in tropical temperatures, not in arctic ones as was the case now. For a long time I had been able to turn down my husband's urges with shabby excuses, but here in Falassarna time had come to change. The wall of resistance started to crumble. Time had come to get undressed, especially since I had had enough of being called coward all the time. Sloooooooowly did I put one foot after the other into the waves of the water, I could feel each and every cell of my body contracting, I didn't have enough breath to scream or shout as my breath got stuck in my cold lungs.

We enjoyed bright and from day to day warmer sunshine in Chania. Slowly the “winter of the century” was banned from southern Greece. Bearing in mind the upcoming destinations on our world trip with cold temperatures made us wistful though. We utterly enjoyed feeling the warm sunshine on our bodies, which had been shaken from cold wind for quite some time. Still, nothing could stop us from exploring new things and to carry on. Alltogether we stayed on Crete for three weeks and wouldn't like to miss any single day of the time. 

This time sailing by night on the ferry from Chania to Piraeus/Athens went smoothly – neither the weather nor Leander and I had any unfortunate incidents.

Comments (4)

  1. Petra Rettenwender
    Petra Rettenwender at 12.03.2017
    Hallo Maria, Leander und Lennox. Vielen Dank für die Postkarte aus Kreta! Es tut gut zu lesen, dass es euch soweit wieder gut geht. Wir freuen uns schon auf den nächsten Beitrag. Liebe Grüße. Petra mit Family
  2. Amir
    Amir at 16.03.2017
    Wird Zeit für ein neues Update. :)
    Die Luftaufnahmen sind grandios, mehr davon. Vermissen euch schon.
    1. Leander
      Leander at 16.03.2017
      Updates gibts ständig auf facebook und instagram!!
      Und wenn du uns die Bürokratie abnimmst, bekommst jeden Tag von mir einen Blogpost!! :P
      Ja und was die Luftaufnahmen betrifft... war grad a bissl schwierig mit der Drohne über Istanbul und Ankara zu kreisen ;-)))
      Jetzt packts endlich mal zusammen und kommts auf Besuch!!! Der Iran wird - hoffentlich - mega werden!!
  3. Maria Zehentner
    Maria Zehentner at 18.03.2017
    Hallo Petra,
    gerne ;-) uns geht es soweit ganz gut. Sind gestern in Kappadokien angekommen. In der Nacht hat es dann 10 cm geschneit... damit haben wir nicht gerechnet ;-) Zumindest Lennox hat sich über den Schnee gefreut. Die nächsten Tage werden wir noch in der Türkei bleiben, bevor es dann in den Iran geht. Liebe Grüße an deine Family und eine feste Umarmung für dich.
    Freut uns, dass ihr unsere Beiträge verfolgt.
    Liebe Grüße
    ML2

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