100 km | 1.689 vertical meters | Catégorie 1
(…) As Noahs Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, itself in the Caucasus.
There, as soon he unloaded his animals, the bible tells us,
he began to be an husband man
and he planted a vineyard, and he drank oft the wine,
and was drunk! (Julian Curry, A Guide To Wine, 2003)
The place for which I can say that I was a wine drinker from then on, is not in the classic wine regions of Bordeaux or in Friuli. No, from the moment I left the plateau around the small village of Ziros in Eastern Crete, on a swaying bike and an uncertain course, I had become a wine drinker. The circumstances were similarly dramatic as for Noah, and involved a flood, as well – a flood of wine, that is. And just as the Bible in the Book of Genesis tells of the Flood and Noah, we now know the reasons for this, ultimately geological event that led to Noah becoming a wine drinker.
The talking map: It all began with the purchase of a map. An ordinary road map you will assume, but there is more to it. Just like Harry Potter, who bought his magical books at „Flourish and Blotts“ on Diagonal Road, I chanced upon a small bookstore in Chania with creaking wooden floorboards and old-fashioned shelves packed with tons of books. Standing at the long table in the middle of the store, I immersed myself in an issue of the Cretan Journal by Edward Lear. Soon, however, I noticed a faint rustling and shuffling, and heard a soft whispering sound behind me. More precisely, it was a buzz of noises and quarrelling voices of unknown origin.
None of the customers was responsible for this hubbub, nor the sounds of the bustling town coming in from the street, nor did anyone seem to share my perception. From the corner of my eye I saw the books’ cloth and leather-bound backbones puffing up and prancing up and down the shelves. The guidebooks at the entrance were the main speakers, and the geographical maps of Crete crept out of their covers. Horror struck me, and I even tried to push one of the maps back into its envelope to prevent it from escaping, whereupon it protested loudly.
Like me, you will never have heard of talking maps. And yet there it was there, right in front of me: my first talking map. Today, I take this helpful resource for granted and am no longer the kind of traveler who painstakingly plans his trips down to the smallest detail. No, the ether alone, as medium of my dreams, thoughts and all occurrences, is enough to tell the map my wishes and to determine the next route. If I imagine, for example, a huge gorge where a daring man has built a castle or a palace with a menagerie full of exotic animals, surrounded by the most beautiful gardens, the map will infallibly guide me to this place of marvel. And then, as a guest of these magical places, I find it difficult to elude their warm hospitality and to continue my way on.
The Maps Advice: So, when I wished to visit Kato Zakros in the east of the island, the map led me from Chania to Kissamos in the west instead, to Sougia in the south, up to Spili in the north via Argiroupoli, then to Kalamaki, Lendas, and, finally, to Mirtos further east in the south.
During this quite confusing but eventful first week, I did not get any closer to my destination. There was still a distance of 100 kilometers to cover until I would reach it. So I asked my map quite frankly when I would finally arrive in Kato Zakros. The answer was: „Ziros tomorrow.“ This was not my desired destination, but it was close to it.
Mirtos – Irapetra – Ziros Plateau: Let me tell you in advance that I have no pleasant memories of the ride from Mirtos to Ierapetra and along the coast further east.
Imagine you commute to your workplace early in the morning as you do every day. You are sitting on the train, and from the neighboring track the illuminated windows of the opposite train shine through the foggy gray and displays the same scene day after day: A group of dock workers with their beer bottles, dozing off after a long shift, one of them leaning his head against the steamed-up window pane, his derailed face turned towards you like a distorted image of his fatigue, and all of them are trapped in a somber absentmindedness.
In this exhausted state I tediously swung my leg over the saddle, lifted the rucksack from the ground. I squirmed and tortured myself to stretch my arms into the straps, fixed them and left the enchanting village of Mirtos behind me.
Against all odds: After crossing the river, the road from Mirtos to the east leads along fine layers of limestone and marl and ascends a narrow hill some 60 meters in altitude. (Outcrops of evaporites with gypsum north of the road).
Ramrod straight and across a few hills, the road proceeds through the coastal plain with the villages of Neos Mirtos, Ammoudares, Stomio, Gra Lygia, and Potami. The area is packed with greenhouses for bananas and tomatoes, and you will pass arable fields for cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, chili and pepperoni.
Fruit wholesalers, silo plants, stores for agricultural, soil cultivation and irrigation technology, as well as petrol stations, car dealers, repair shops, supermarkets, cafés, furniture stores and timber merchants line the road. Between them, you can catch a glimpse of the sea, the stony beach and a few dust-covered tamarisks. Dimmed by the exhaust clouds of the trucks in the gray of dawn, this 15-kilometer artery of the local land trade stretches all the way to Ierapetra.
Just behind Ierapetra, the road swings eastwards to the 20-meter high coastal terrace, then proceeds parallel to the coast via Koutsinari and Ferma until it eventually unveils its beauty at Agia Fotia, featuring two 50-meter climbs and downhill passages along grandiose conglomerates and marls of the Neogene. Towards the coast, holiday resorts line up, accompanied by restaurants, supermarkets and car rental agencies. On the rising coastal terraces, olive groves and greenhouses dominate the scenery.
Traffic- Madness: The level of traffic is mad. Vans, buses and cars will constantly overtake you at high speed. The huge trucks transferring goods along the coast towards the east and as far as Sitia are scary, and their overtaking maneuvers can be life-threatening. It is advisable to pull out and brake in time to let these monsters pass each time you hear their diesel engines roar behind you.
Further To The East: Following a 35-kilometre ride, the highway to Lithines and Sitia branches off to the north coast just ahead of Koutsouras. Turn right at this junction and take the old coastal road leading eastward along the villages of Koutsouras, Makry Gialos, and Analispi. Once you have passed these popular tourist regions and left Analispi, traffic decreases significantly.
As a harbinger of the nearby mountains, the road now rises to the 40-meter elevation line and proceeds along the coast via the villages of Lagkada, Kato Nero, and past the monastery of Kapsa. Enjoy the short downhill section to the beach at Goudouras before heading north into the mountains. You will now perform a magnificent climb of 1,000 meters in altitude, surrounded by the barren mountain landscape, all the way up to the Ziros plateau.
Attack in Ziros: Both water bottles were empty, and my thirst forced me to the nearby village of Ziros. Coming directly from the south, I approached the village via the plateau through the wheat fields and vineyards. I entered Ziros, went across the main square and past the gas station, then turned left and had already shot past a small cafe restaurant and a mini market, the actual destination, and the last houses of the village were already insight.
So, I braked heavily, and when I turned my bike around, the front tire so unfortunately hit a stone that its high tire pressure of 120 psi accelerated the stone like David’s slingshot and sent it off on a fateful journey.
The sinister „plop“ sound as the stone wedged under the tire flew up, and its impact on one of the café tables merged into one event. Glasses, coffee cups, a carafe of wine – everything crashed to the ground. Even a small bouquet of marguerite flowers lay there, like a sad symbol of senseless destruction, murdered by a stranger.
Don Quixote in Ziros: The stoutly built Cretan farmers who sat at the table jumped up in anger, their hands clenched to fists, because it was all too obvious that I was responsible for this attack.
Fully aware of this incredible and unfortunate series of events, I was paralyzed. I put my bike on the ground at the side of the road, raised my hands, more to show that I did not carry any other weapons, and approached the table, smattering excuses in my poor Greek, humbly bowing and asking for forgiveness – but without success.
Meanwhile, a woman had started to pick up the shards. I followed her into the café, got out of my rucksack, the wallet, the next bigger bill, and unmistakably told her to put on whatever those poor victims wanted to order, to becalm those who were shamefully insulted by me.
Saving my life and getting drunk: So, it happened that I too – undeservedly – found a seat in this narrow street on a chair. Once out of a deep exhaustion and emptiness, a tiredness of the mind and absolute depression, on the other hand, to wait and see how the situation with my opponents would develop. Just a minute ago I had entered this place as a proud knight, now my future seemed to resemble that of beaten and battered Don Quixote, who’d be expelled from the village.
But the Cretans calmed down, and the catering probably helped them to understand that I had not thrown this stone on purpose. The farmers handed me a glass of wine, fetched my bicycle, and passed it around from one peasant paw to the next like a whimsical piece of bric-a-brac. They asked how much I had paid for it and whether I considered selling it. Soon enough, we were served a bottle of wine that outshone everything that had been drunk before and even managed to cheer me up again. The afternoon passed by, accompanied by lots of laughter and friendly gestures until, one by one, our little group went home. I eventually filled my water bottles, and left, as well.
Bismarck already knew that there is a providence that protects fools, drunkards, and children, and I definitely kept my guardian angel pretty busy as I raced down the serpentines to Xerokambos, elated by the wine, until I arrived safely in Kato Zakros that evening.
One more route option is recommendable. From Ziros to Kato Zakros through the Sitia Mountains: To complete the tour described above with starting point from Ziros, via Chandras, Voila and Sitanos to Kato Zakros, you may also continue to ride across the plateau to the west, heading to Chandras and through the magnificent Sitia Mountains.
At Chandras turn right at the roundabout, proceed uphill through the village, past the church and on to the little playground (road sign „Voila“). Here, turn right again and enjoy a short downhill passage on an easily accessible sand path that leads you to the southeast, as well as a rest at the medieval village of Voila. For this ride through a spectacular mountain scenery with challenging climbs and perfect downhills, refer to tour description 8.7 “Mirtos- Chandras- Voila- Kato Zakros”.