The final installment of my canyon narrative… If you joined me for the long kilometers of the hike down to the sea, thank you, I’ve enjoyed the company. If you’re here for the first time and wish to glance back at the trail, you can start at Canyon and Portal (1). Watch out for those enclosing walls! Meanwhile, I hope you like the last leg of wild Crete high above the southern shore.
The small boat puttered from Aghia Roumeli then turned to follow the coast through a realm of sun and wind and mist. Indigo fish leapt and glided from the cutting prow. The coast was craggy, treeless, and uninhabited. We passed mouths of canyons and lesser gorges, palettes of red and green and gray.
The boat docked briefly at Loutron, a port even tinier than Aghia Roumeli. I jumped off, wanting to hike the last leg of the journey to Chora Sfakion where I would catch a bus. Loutron was roadless and defined by a few houses, hotels, and tavernas nestled above the cove. Its marina consisted of a single, slowly sinking rowboat. Water reflected blue-green shutters and whitened walls. Schools of fish swam near the pebbly beach, and a rooster’s crowing echoed from the several steep sides of the village.
At the waterside cafe a waiter chased off an inquisitive ewe. I listened to a multi-lingual conversation at a neighboring table.
“Are we going by foot or by boat?” inquired a young Englishman.
“By foot-boat,” answered his companion.
I camped on a headland at the outskirts of Loutron. The village seemed as timeless and tranquil as the Canyon of Samaria. With the evening’s sound of crashing surf below me, I toasted the rising moon with my bottle of retsina and then dozed off in the sleeping bag.
No harsh winds rocked my dreams this night. I woke to a mild breeze at dawn, with goat bells clanging and with free range mammals sticking their muzzles into every side of me. Their diet seemed to stop at nothing. Grasses, socks, and sleeping bags, all are tasty to a goat. As a fisherman sputtered off for a day’s work at sea, I, too, got moving and prepared for a tough day of hiking.
At its best, the footpath to Chora Sfakion is a broken goat trail; at its worst it doesn’t exist at all. The coastal mountains, lacking vegetation and being prone to earthquakes, are an infinite heap of scree and giant boulders with a mile between each shade-producing tree. I slowly learned that southern Crete is an utterly impenetrable habitat, at least in its first 100 yards or so from the surf. The hike was torture, but every now and then, from hundreds of feet above the sea, I caught glimpses of a beautiful turquoise cove with an edge of rounded stones.
At last, coming around a great bend of the mountain, I heard a babble of human voices. Expecting my first sight of Sfakion village, I was stunned to see otherwise. A long stony beach lay before me and upon it shone a crowd of brown-skinned, naked bathers. There was no sign of a road or a village by which these hundred nude bathers could have gotten there.
It was no mirage. Mystified, but overheated by the arduous hike in the Grecian sun, I approached the blue water as if edging through another portal like the Iron Gates. No wind was on my back this time. I stripped off my clothes. The sea was cold. I dove in like a bird.