...the awesome authority of nature...      

The Samaria Gorge


To begin our decent through the gorge, Sandy and I joined a coach service to the Omalos Plateau which sits high in the Lefka Ori or White Mountains, the largest mountain range in Crete.

And what a ride! The road is finely laced with narrow windings and twistings overlooking sheer drops and deep chasms and ravines, exhilarating and frightening on downward curling hairpin bends. On scary mountain trips like this I usually concentrate on the number on the back of the seat in front.

Few people actually live in these isolated mountains now, although we did pass one man loping through a pasture cradling a gun in his arms and with a dog at his heels.
Forward and upward to the magnificent and spectacular plateau of Omalos; and it is breathtaking. Surrounded by the mountain peaks which seem to touch the sky at seven and a quarter thousand feet and being the second most notoriously high mountain of Crete, we were in awe of its presence.

It is thought the plateau might have once been a lake but over aeons it dried away and eventually became a grazing ground used by shepherds for their flocks of sheep and goats. Yet not only were there brave herders there but also there were mountain folk well known locally for producing delicious cheeses and growing grain and potatoes. Nowadays the plateau is deserted and although a few shepherds do go there during the milder months, they abandon the mountain in winter because it is far too cold for livestock. In older times, the plateau was a shelter from waves of invaders to the island, and a stronghold during two and a half centuries of  Turkish occupation.

It was almost time, but before we began our decent through the gorge, it was important to stop for breakfast on this impressive plain. So we sat in silence and enjoyed local yoghurt and honey and water, overlooking that stunning gorge.



Right on the brink of the gorge and contrasting against the bank of greenery, our gaze was drawn to a small contrasting burst of yellow and we were amazed and delighted to realise it was a rare flowering Mountain Bee Orchid, something we'd been told to look out for on our adventure but something we had little hope of encountering, let alone delighting, in amongst the pretty cluster growing at our feet.


  We began the downward climb of five hours and twenty kilometres through woodland and over streams trickling through the gorge, a stumbling downward descent through the split across this fascinating island.


The very first and most overwhelming sensation was the dense perfume from the pine and wild sage that was to stay with us all day. Another was the constant gurgling from tumbling mountain streams spurting from beneath huge boulders almost appearing out of nowhere, so absolutely crystalline and glittery and icy and pure that we simply stopped for a few moments to take it all in. A whole host of creatures came to see us.
Dogs, rabbits, wasps, goats, sheep, butterflies, humans, all up there on the roof of Crete, even a wildcat, but the only fliers were buzzards and wide-winged black carrion crows gliding in the sky crowing high above the crags.

Behind, across the gorge from where we stood, ran an imposing wall of fascinating stalagmites on the outside of an angry craggy rock face, towering as far as we could see and hardly changed since prehistoric times. Below, the eerie sight of people in long strings gingerly threading their way in single file down steep paths through the trees and cross-hatching the slopes over the stepping stones, up scree paths and dodging dislodged rocks and gasping with fearful wonder and admiration of it all - and down, down and down towards the coast.



     Beautiful, imposing trees, some truly muscular, huge, growing up through sheer rock, having split their boulders apart by gradual increase in bulk or maybe from swaying leverage after storms; the awesome authority of nature.

  At that point, there was little wild life to be seen apart from the occasional chaffinch and hosts of tiny purple and violet rock flowers, dandelion and a strange five-petalled white mountain flower, rather like a snowdrop, hugging dolomite stones and dust. But then, who knows this ancient place? Gradually the blissful silence of nature returns as people stand without words, tight-lipped, gazing in wonder at all this ordinary co-existence and natural order. Many walkers clambered down the pathways careful not to stumble, talking loudly, checking the time while others sat deep in thought, possibly comparing their lives in concrete and manufactured fantasy with this tribute to life in reality.

   Bread, sardines, feta, tomatoes, cake and water made our lunch beneath a sign in English and Greek explaining how the Samaria Gorge was once a refuge for the Cretan resistance under persecution from the occupying German forces during the Second World War.

   After lunch, onward but much easier now with more waterfalls and startlingly clear, gushing green onto pale fawn rocks splashed deep brown by the wetness and forward through leafy green areas fertile with sensuous life. The narrowest part of the gorge is three metres wide and an artist's easel. The lasting impression for Sandy was of how each of her senses was thoroughly intensified as soon as she stopped analysing.


me, an insect...

   The moment we reached the shore we stripped to our underwear and fell into the pounding waves, to be buffeted and pummelled and pushed and picked up and rolled in the luxuriant sea like so much flotsam and jetsam. The sea was merciless and threw us about and it didn't take long until, exhausted, we saw our chance and ran, literally dragging our legs through the foam and out of the water before she could drag us back for more.

It had been quite a day. The Samaria Gorge had been surprising in that it not only taught us quite a lot, but it also made us question our thoughts and beliefs.

We climbed some rocks at the side of the beach and became quiet as we watched a colony of ants running over its surface.

Sandy spoke quietly, 'Ants are always hunting and gathering, aren't they? They're always busy - and yet they seem to enjoy themselves . No big changes over time, yet a completely settled existence. You know, sometimes I wonder whether our big mistake was when we started buying and selling - and worshipping Mammon. To think we actually start wars, killing innocent people, ignoring the needy in our own countries, and claiming foreign lands as our own - and all for money and status. I think insects will outlast we humans, considering our disregard for the very environment we depend upon, If only the human species would aspire to the psychology of other animal species with their natural instincts and innocence because maybe then we might reconsider our utter madness before nature flicks us off like we do an insect on our body.'




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