„A likely story – and probably true”. – Groucho Marx (1949)
During their vacation, many travelers long to catch up on things that they cannot do in everyday life. In addition to the usual beach life, alcohol-drenched jeep safaris, buggy tours, scooter trips, hikes and boat trips, these include riding crocodiles and swimming with horses. And nothing could be easier!
There is an aircraft on the runway headed for Crete, and it will take off as soon as the engine problem is solved. A goose, now deceased, had strayed into the fan. Since everyone is already on board the plane, all passengers are able to witness the necessary operation performed by the technical staff. Thanks to the airline for this!
Dr. Livingston: And among all these waiting people, there is one who has fallen asleep and set off into the realms of dreams – an elderly gentleman in the company of his young wife who affectionately calls him „Daddy“. Just now, coming from the beach, he steps through three huge stone gates and into a jungle. You can tell by his equipment, including a tropical suit, a Stetson Troutdale hat, long stout boots, a vasculum and a rifle, that he is on a scientific mission as an explorer of the caliber of a Dr. Livingston.
From the sea the surf is roaring, in the background you can see a volcano throwing clouds of glowing ash into the sky, and the whole scenery is bathed in a mystical light and the fog of steaming fumaroles. The jungle is filled with the chirping, trilling and calling of birds and the rushing water of a nearby waterfall. Hummingbirds fly around and you can’t imagine a more peaceful atmosphere.
Caught in the quicksand: But suddenly, as he explores the area off the trail, our adventurer sinks into a quicksand layer. His companions retreat in horror as a giant spider – obviously the experiment of a mad professor – crawls out of the forest towards „Daddy“, ready to devour him. Immediately a pair of hairy legs gropes for the victim whose life is no longer worth a bulrush. But at this critical moment, „Daddy“ manages to get firm ground under his feet, pulls up the rifle and fires a well-aimed shot at the monster – the mad professor will not be amused.
But „Daddy’s“ situation has not really improved – on the one hand he is up to his chest in quicksand, in a jungle full of dangerous mutants, far away from civilization and potential help, while dusk falls, on the other hand he sits in an airplane and balances a glass of coke above his crotch. Daddy must have nerves of steel. For hours he now fights on two fronts, but in his efforts to free himself from the quicksand the glass of coke gets out of balance.
Take Off: The good news is that the plane has finally taken off. The engines are humming, the pilots are smiling and winking at each other, because the goose is no longer stuck in the fan, and, high above the clouds and shining in the sun, the airplane is heading for its destination. Cheerfully rattling away, the cabin crew prepares the service.
Then a scream that can’t escape from the plane bounces off the walls, and its amplified echo races through the cabin, threateningly high and shrill: „Daaaddy, you wet yourself”!
And so it is. Daddy has lost the fight. His pants show an annoying, big dark stain of spilled coke in the area of the fly, and it has spread to the seat.
Had this all happened in zero gravity, in a spaceship, our hero would have had another chance, but now „Daddy“ and „Mousie“ are trying not to stick to the seat forever, so as not to jeopardize their chance to leave the plane and to avert an early end of their vacation. Daddy’s efforts to free himself from the quicksand could not have been performed more vigorously.
The attack of the attacking things: We are not traveling in times of cholera, so a general two-week quarantine in Crete is unnecessary. No, what we are currently dealing with is a influenza with a beautiful name. It lurks on German pork hocks, in chewed-out chewing gum, on discarded school sandwiches, in speech bubbles, and it threatens those who like to roll around in the gutter. It crawls from your shopping cart over the rubber hand guard until it finds a piece of unprotected human skin to bite on to, and then sneaks up your sleeve to your nose where it starts to itch awfully.
Virus screening: After we happily landed in Heraklion, everyone coming from the airfield lined up in the queue in front of the airport building, but thirty of us were lured away by the beguiling chants of sirens in white coats who then tormented them with cotton swabs. I will never forget their moan and groan while everyone else was mercilessly driven to the baggage claim.
Nobody was interested in the QR code of the „Passenger Locater Form“ required for entry (there were no scanners either). The second digit, 1 or 2, of the printed numerical code determines whether, after a day of self-isolation, you will enjoy a carefree vacation or a two-week quarantine locked up in a hotel room assigned by the Greek authorities.
The rental car – and I do not recommend the following incident for imitation – was prepared in line with the requirements of infection protection: Steering wheel, gearshift lever, indicators and other levers on the steering wheel, as well as the digital display (being a touch screen) were thickly wrapped up in cling film. I first thought that it was a new car and the factory had forgotten to remove its delivery protection.
No need to say that it was impossible to operate all the delicate switches for wipers and dipped headlights, but what the heck, it never rains in Crete and the sun (or moon) is always shining. Only a lunar eclipse would have caused a problem. When my conversation with the employee of the car rental agency had progressed so far, I tore out the complete plastic mesh and drove off – accompanied by the horrified moans of this well-meaning person. I will probably stay on Crete for a bit longer now: in jail. But hey, prisoners usually work in a quarry, which corresponds perfectly with my professional background.
The Tour – 88 km | 2.483 vertical meters | Catégorie 1
„The cholera had broken out; Quarantines were used everywhere, and the devastation caused by the great floods made all travel … impossible. But „alea jacta erat“ – and who was ever able to escape his kismet? I voluntarily forego the countless advantages and enjoyments that my life in the eternal city offered me in order to open up a new field for my literary work in the distant, unknown south.“ [Elpis Melena – Erlebnisse und Beobachtungen eines mehr als 20jährigen Aufenthaltes auf Kreta – , Hannover 1892]
Newton’s law of universal gravitation is a fine thing. The pull that a bar of chocolate, for example, exerts on us is reciprocated by us attracting the mass of the chocolate. This is certainly one of the reasons why chocolate is so popular. On the other hand, events that lie in the future can also exert a pull through a sequence of directed actions, increasing their probability of occurrence and bending reality in a certain direction.
Alone in weightlessness: For example, let’s watch a bike messenger in a narrow street. Pretty annoyed, he rides behind a car, starting and stopping in search of a parking space, becoming increasingly impatient, accelerating and braking abruptly as well. In the event of an emergency stop, he is catapulted into the air via the front wheel, until he hovers weightlessly high above the car at the apex of its trajectory. Here he clearly feels the mass attraction that the car exerts on him and falling down he sees himself falling onto the roof of the car. Due to the unexpected impact, the driver of the car panics, fully floored the throttle and races through the city with the bike messeger, clinging to the roof of the car.
But no, it turned out differently – the car drove away. And at that moment our biker, like Icarus once, gravitationally messed with the whole earth. He crashes towards the center of the earth onto the pavement of the street. That’s called bad luck!
Mirtos: And when the traveler went over the sunlit promenade of Mirtos, up from the waterside through alleys that are adorned with flowers, entwined by wine and headed for the exit of the town, in order to climb the 20km in westerly direction on hot asphalt – up to the pass, and to the village of Ano Viannos – in this moment he did not know what was written for him in the future, what burden was imposed for him on this trip.
And as the traveler left the sweet life of this sunny place behind and stepped out of the shadow into the light, through golden and white daisies, he had no idea that the pull of something big and sinister was already about to take effect. The air pressure and temperature dropped abruptly and a strong wind came up.
The Tour: On the southern slope of the Dikti Mountains, the road from Mirtos to Ano Viannos starts off steeply with a 10% gradient, then ascends further in wide arches with gradients of 6-7%, featuring three terrain levels until you reach the plateau and the pass at 730 meters in altitude. Through olive groves and past vegetable gardens, past outcrops of phyllite schist, marl, limestone, mafites of oceanic crust and occasional pillow lavas, this well-developed, varied 22-kilometer route from Mirtos to the west takes you into the increasingly barren Garique, to Ano Viannos (560 meters above sea level).
But already at Amiras, dark clouds came over the mountains and several short showers pelt down.
[For days, cold air masses have been coming from the north, from the mountainous regions of the Balkans, across the Adriatic, the Ionian and the Aegean sea, absorbing water vapor over the Mediterranean.
The strong temperature difference between the warm temperatures of the sea surface (> 24 ° C) and the very low temperatures of the higher atmosphere creates a strong buoyancy. The warm and humid air masses rise rapidly and condense in dense cloud eddies that transport considerable amounts of water.]
From Ano Viannos, heading west, the 10-kilometer route to Martha only features two short climbs and take you 150 meters in altitude downhil. At the roadside, a carpet of pink thyme, yellow and red gorse lights up on an ocher-colored marl ground and there is a fine odor of sage.
Upon reaching Martha at the southeastern end of the Iraklion Trench, the track turns to the north. Via the village of Thomadiano, and past Embaros to the village of Panagia, then passing Nipiditos, Agia Paraskevi and the military airport, proceed for another 22 kilometers from Martha to the larger village of Kastelli at 340 meters above sea level. The new Kastelli International Airport is under construction on the western side of the valley.
The beauty and magic of the Cretan alpine mountains are now revealed in the ascent from the Iraklion Basin near Kastelli to the east. On this 15 kilometer long, remote route – via Lythos and Aski into the mountains, to the pass and back down to Avdou – you drive through the soft terrain of the phyllite-quartzite nappe with outcrops of slate, phyllite, quartzite, limestone and the Mesozoic Tripolitza – Limestone, for 300 meters in altitude uphill. The diverse cultivation areas for olives, crops, fruit, and wine bear witness to the richness of the soil.
Almond and fig trees line the path, the colorful beehives shine brightly from the lush greenery and the mimosas are still in bloom in October. Lythos rises like a castle above the ridge against the backdrop of the steep Dikti Mountains.
Roaring thunder from the mountains are followed by heavy thunderstorms, so that the cyclist soon trembles for his life in the warm embrace of an olive tree in the thunderstorm.
Back on the rain-soaked road, it takes artistic driving skills to stay in control of your slithering tires and manage the downhill stretch from Aski to Avdou in the valley.
Avdou is a tranquil place that has retained it rural, typical Cretan character. In the narrow alleys, Vine tendrils and Bougainvillea grows from the houses, and all-around you can feel that the inhabitants take pride in the floral splendor of their gardens.
The Aposelemis Lake And The Sunken Village Of Sfentili
At the right-hand bend at the entrance to Avdou, just at a level with the olive mill on the right side (visit possible), the approach to Lake Aposelemis and the submerged village of Sfentili branches off sharply to the left. About 3.5km, you drive first on asphalt, then along the lake, on a well-developed gravel road to the sunken village.
An unreal atmosphere emanates from this place, a scenery that is really worth seeing.
Located between Avdou and the village Potamies the artificial Aposelemis lake, extends from the southeast to the northwest. With a usable water volume of 27.3 million m³ and a surface area of 1.6 square kilometers, it currently forms the largest water reservoir on Crete.
The dam (type rockfill with clay core) with a length of 660m and a height of 56 meters is founded on the phyllite rock of the phyllite-quartzite nappe. The lake is fed with the tributary of the Aposelemis River and with water from the Lassithi Plateau, which is supplied via a 3.5 kilometer long pipeline.
Sfentili: After the dam was completed and the lake was successively filled up in 2012, the 13th-century village of Sfentili, presumably named after its first inhabitants, the Sfendilos family, sank into the floods.
Depending on the fill level, the houses and the church of Agios Theodoros emerge from the waters of the lake like an old whale overgrown with shells. During the relatively dry period around 2019/2020, when the water level of the lake was low, the former inhabitants cleaned up the interior of the small 14th-century Byzantine church which features murals by the Fokas brothers, and held a service.
A Ride On The Crocodile And Swimming With Horses
Cycling from Rethimno to Meronas in the summer of 2014, the path led me past the Potamies reservoir near the town of Voleones. It was hot, the birds were chirping so cheerfully, the grass swayed gently in the breeze, and on the shore of the lake I found an inviting place to linger. Nothing was more tempting than a refreshing dip in the splashing waves.
Just about to step into the shallow waters, I noticed a crocodile in the reeds. At about two meters in length, it was about the same size as the inflatable bathing utensil so popular with children, but it looked very real and was obviously very much alive.
Okay, I must admit that even small dogs scare me – you never know what they’re up to. The good thing is, that dogs swimming in the water aren’t quite that dangerous. Though, mean as they are, they could swim up to a rubber dinghy from behind, then bite and pffffffffhhhhh!, bring the passengers into distress. But what about a sneaky crocodile that is in its element in the water and also feels at home?
His name was Sifis (Cretan for Joseph) and was of the finest, aristocratic descent, probably from the Nile and had been abandoned here in the reservoir. At that time, it already had a Facebook page with 10,000 fans. Perfectly aware of its celebrity status, it turned away indignantly, and disappeared in the lake with just a few slow tail movements.
I did without a bath in the lake. [Sifis died in the spring of 2015, probably due to a cold snap, or for another reason, because crocodiles, unlike other reptiles, are conditionally warm-blooded, so they can regulate their body heat within limits.]
A swim in the Aposelemis reservoir near Avdou is also not recommended. Its banks are very steep, partly covered with sharp stones, so, if you have to leave the water quickly to flee from crocodiles, this will not be easy to do.
Odysseia or swimming with horses
But Crete provides an alternative for you. If you don’t want to ride on crocodiles, you can swim with horses instead. So if you are finally fed up with pedaling, cycling and climbing, Avdou offers the opportunity to ride in a sporty and technical demanding manner AND to swim with horses.
The sympathetic and ingenious entrepreneur Manolis Fragkakis and his lovely wife Sabine have created a wonderful oasis with a hotel and top restaurant at the foot of the Dikti Mountains near Avdou – The Country Hotel Velani: https://www.countryhotel.gr/.
The kind Maitre de Hotel Nikos, provides excellent food and, as an intimate connoisseur of Greek and Cretan wines, will advise you on your choice.
Sabine is the head of the posh riding stable and riding school. So, if you have ever served in the cavalry, you will find an equivalent interlocutor with outstandig level of expertise. Horse riding in Crete – Odysseia Stables: https://www.horseriding.gr/.
The sympathetic riding trainer and tour guide Vladimir will teach you all you need to know about horse riding, equestrian sports and will show you clearly where the rubber meets the road!. You won’t miss the crocodiles! Go for the adventure.
Thunder Storm and End – Up to the Lassithi Plateau
Dark clouds pile up on the Dikti mountains and when the water-saturated warm air from the sea hit upon the cold air layer from the mountains, severe thunder storms raged at night.
The rumble and roll of thunder increased steadily and for an hour after midnight, the sky and the mountain ranges around were, as bright as day, bathed in the dazzling light of a gigantic, flickering neon lamp while the lightning bolts crashed down all around.
A nearby tree exploded into dust and arrow-like splinters and from the haze of ozone, sulfur and smoke the bizarrely twisted trunk of the felled tree appeared like a black silhouette.
Torrential rain poured into the coastal plain in the north. From the motorway bridges near Heraklion, an impenetrable curtain of water and mud was stretched from one side to the other, from which stones rained down on the cars. Streams of mud flooded the streets and pushed all belongings aside like a gigantic bulldozer, moved cars, crushed doors and shop windows, flooded cellars, and destroyed olive, fruit and vegetable plantations. Hailstones the size of table tennis balls fell on the north coast and on Heraklion, so that in the morning a 40cm layer of snow remained and made traffic impossible until it was cleared. The airfield was closed. People cried in the streets because the end of the world had come.
To the Lassithi Plateau
As you leave the village of Avdou at 220 meters above sea level, the steep and winding ascent to the pass at 890 meters in altitude and the Lassithi Plateau lies ahead of you.
On this 13-kilometer stretch, the road leads through the rocks of the phyllite-quartzite nappe and features two terrain levels with gradients of 6-7%. The last 4-kilometer road section up to the pass, where gradients of up to 10% provide a final challenge, is cut into the Tripolitza limestone.
After crossing the pass, the winding 1-kilometer descent will send you dashing down to the plateau at high speed, and soon the first houses of Tzermiado come into sight.