I arrived in Heraklion, the capital of Crete around 10pm and took the bus to my hostel which was about 30 minutes away. Something of note – keep your bus ticket handy with you. Even if the bus driver takes it in the beginning, sometimes some one randomly hops on at a stop and takes it again. In Heraklion, it’s cheaper to purchase your ticket before you get on the bus where as in Rhodes and Santorini you always bought it on the bus. A 70 meter walk down a cobblestone alley brought me to Manos Studios – where I would stay for the next three days. The friendly owner quickly gave me a run down of just what to expect.
I decided to stay in Heraklion the whole time but had I planned it better, I probably would have stayed in Rethymno or Chania. I was pleasantly surprised with the capital – it had a fountain in the city center that was filled with shops and markets. It was also home to the Archeological museum and Palace of Knossos – the oldest city in Europe. But, it had a bit too much activity for me and was run down. None the less they had amazing pita gyros.
My second full day in Crete, I set out to the gorge. The gorge was one of the first places I found when deciding if I wanted to go to Greece. The pictures blew me away and I knew I wanted my trip to include an epic hike of some sort. The 16km gorge is not too much uphill, which is very welcomed in the 85 degree heat, but it is rocky and steep at times. A bonus is the incredible breeze you get when you are walking through the Iron Gates.
The bus to the gorge picked me up at 6:55am a few minutes away from my hostel. There was a 20 minute stop at a less than average restaurant, before dropping us at the start of the gorge 2.5 hours later. I was feeling rather competitive that day (pitta) and wanted to be the first one on my bus to finish. I made it to the halfway point just shy of two hours and reached for the 2 euro sub I had purchased the night before. I had every last bite before I got up to hike the rest. In the summer the trail is pretty crowded but for a few moments after I left the Samaria village – where most people stop to eat the lunch they packed – the trail was still as night. I slowed my pace to take it all in.
Towards the end, the sun starts to beat down so when you finish and see ice cream, fresh orange juice and a cold beer or water, you know the gorge and you have become fast friends.
From there it’s about 2KM to the ocean town of Agia Roumeli where you can dive into the sea and wash the hike away. I’m not sure much beats submerging in the ocean after 4 hours and 45 minutes of hiking. Post swim, there are a few restaurants to choose from. Since you walk through the gorge and not back to the starting point, you take a ferry to where your bus is waiting. Just before 10pm I arrived back at my hostel almost skipping – a surprise after a day like that – maybe it was the accomplished feeling of making it out alive, or simply that here I was in the middle of Greece, seeing the world and loving even the long seconds on a bus ride. I slept fantastic that night. The next day I would head to the mountains with no idea what was in store for myself.