Having booked a holiday in Paleochora in May and hearing/reading about the Samaria Gorge Walk, we fancied doing it. Mrs DB and I have been walking loads of miles over the last 3 months including half a dozen 8 to 10 miles walks to prepare for the Samaria Gorge
We arrived at Paleochora and apparently the Gorge had only opened the day before and although there is one local bus that goes there, it had not started.
At our reps meeting, if anybody wanted to go, an excursion was running the next day. Another couple spoke up and thought it was far too early in the holiday to go and Mrs DB and I agreed and asked if a similar excursion could run the following week.
She explained to us it was a serious walk and there is no way back once down in the Gorge, except by donkey (a service i understand you may have to pay for) there are no roads down to the bottom of the Gorge and the only way back is by the 17:00 boat at the harbour.
Her advice was to treat the walk as if you were a small child without a care in the world and not to worry about missing the boat back as we would all have plenty of time. She also said that it would be a smaller boat back as the number of people would not warrant using the bigger boat. Now that bit did worry me, as I get sea sick if I open a tin of sardines and the boat takes 2 hours. The penalty for missing the boat is the cost of a night’s stay in the harbour village and tickets for the next 17:00 boat.
The couple who wanted to go on the Samaria Gorge walk cycled up to us one morning and said have you heard that the local bus to the Gorge has started running and it’s only 6.40 euro’s and the boat tickets are 12.50 euro’s each
which is much cheaper than the 35 euro’s tour. The trouble was the bus left around 6:15 am in the morning and one has to buy the boat tickets down in the harbour and I was not sure what happens if the boat was full.
We were not keen on getting up at 5:30am and preferred the tour which left at 7:30 am. We decided to pop along to Sabine Travel on the Tuesday to find a trip had left that morning and no other trips arranged.
So we waited till the Wednesday meeting of new clients to see if anybody else was interested then found out that the bus only ran on, yes Wednesday’s and Saturday’s. So that left us with just Saturday or bust. (At the end of our holiday the bus was running Monday's as well)
So I went and spoke to the chap in Sabine travel and told him I was interested in going and he went to great lengths to put on another trip for us. After ringing round and getting favourable replies we heard at 8:30pm on Wednesday evening that the trip was on for tomorrow.
So Mrs DB made some sandwiches, I got some bottles of water and we made a check list ready. Hiking boots, packer macs (it's cold at the top of the Gorge), camera, ticket receipt, money (for accommodation and new boat tickets should we not make the boat or Taxi fare home), rugby shirt with sleeves, sun tan lotion, mossie repellent, hats, mobile, sandwiches and water. (May be worth considering a spare pair of shoes if you have them, recommended by the other couple)
At 7:20am we strolled to the Travel office and another English couple were waiting and we introduced ourselves.
Thinking that we may be the only ones going I said glad you decided to go but eventually two other couples turned up. The minibus to take us arrived and once inside the van, the driver said “if you have any problems let me know” (any problems, what did he mean I thought). Anyway he exchanged our receipts for boat tickets.
My camera was in the light rucksack bag under Mrs DB as we set off. Well we drove into the mountains and the views were stunning, I would have loved him to have stopped just to take pictures. The roads were well, “brown trouser roads”, nothing like I’ve ever been on and occasionally a thin wire fence just pointed out where the edge of the road disappeared. I just asked Mrs DB for my camera and the driver asked if there was any problem. (Ahh I thought people often get scared)
The journey took an hour and 10 mins and we reached the summit of the Gorge and i remembered saying,, the journey through the mountains alone was worth coming. I was quite surprised at the summit as there was a cafe and toilets at the top and a coach had already parked. Having been told to avoid the toilets in the Gorge, not too good, the ladies joined a queue of coach people.
So this was it, there was a view point at the summit with a large mountain towering above from the other side of the gorge
To the left of the viewpoint, there was a small hut, where one purchases a ticket for the cost of 5 euro’s which allows you to enter the Gorge and the ticket acts as a receipt to hand in at the end so that they know if anybody is stuck in there. So you can't prebook them
Advice read the back of your ticket and not just put it in your pocket, as it has Ranger points marked on it. Also not sure if mobile phones work, Rangers use walkie, talkies but worth taking down a contact number.
Some of the coach party tried to walk down without the ticket and were stopped. To go down the Gorge there is a stone staircase some of it well worn, which winds 1200 feet down the mountainside. One had to be so careful, that one did not trip over large stones jutting out of the staircase. Wooden rails were at the side to help and stop one falling over the edge.
The first thing I noticed was my toes were thrust to the front of my shoes as the steps angled downwards and were not level, so when attempting it, tie your boot or shoelaces tight or you will get blackened toes
So we started the descent along with a couple from the minibus, occasionally stopping to take in the views, however, there was not much room for passing and taking in the ambience of the place, as often the fit guys from the Rhineland were treating it more as an endurance test and always trying to get passed.
The descent continued but we were ok and just enjoying it
Certain parts of the walk had cages over the top to stop falling rocks but the views kept coming to stop and look
Other parts just had a notice saying, falling rocks don’t hang about lol
A WC sign did point to over the edge of a cliff but it was some way further down the walk
At certain points along the walk, there were mountain springs to refill your bottles
On the higher mountains, there was still snow on the peaks
As we neared the bottom of the Gorge a rescue donkey was strategically place to take anybody suffering, back
to the top.
Finally after walking 2.5 kilometres just walking down the mountain side we reached the river bed which took us 1.5 hours and according to the experts we had done the worse part so we were happy .....yer right
Now the river appeared and disappeared in certain sections and stepping stones had been placed to cross the river in places, some made easy, others with the chance of getting a booty.
One path had a more secure set of stones to cross but a mistake and you could be thigh deep in cold water, where the less secure path could wobble one into 6 inches of water, the choice of route was yours
The path was constantly cobbles and stones but walkable and we eventually came to a picnic spot marshalled by rangers, toilets were available and the lady from the couple we were with, told me, it was marginally better than going behind a boulder.
We decided to eat our sandwiches here and I took more pictures
There appeared to be a couple of cottages that had been abandoned, one was used by the rangers
Finishing the sandwiches we then continued going up and down paths covered with boulders and gradually Mrs DB's hip was being to hurt from the continual pressure of stepping down from these boulders
Eventually we reached the 8 kilometre marker and I asked a ranger, how much further it was to go. "Another 7 kilometres left", was the reply and a further 3 kilometres beyond the Gorge down to the harbour.
Mrs DB was slowing and it was 13:00 and the couple we were with were becoming anxious and asking me, how long did we have to get to the boat, I did say we had plenty of time, as the boat didn’t leave until 17:00 and the path should get better soon.
I tried to lift Mrs DB pace but it was not having much effect and now it had started to rain. I told the couple to go on as Mrs DB was struggling
Soon we were greeted with heavy rain and thunder echoed down the valley. So we put our packer macs on but from the sheer effort we were putting in, they became as wet inside as they did outside.
The water began to get faster and the ladder bridges put across the river were not to Mrs DB’s liking and although the bridges were built to take one at a time, we were holding hands behind one another and taking steps across in tandem
In the background we could hear the odd rock loosened by the rain, clatter down the mountainside and crash into the river. It was now 14:30pm and I calculated we had to be out of the Gorge by 16:00, to have a chance of catching the boat
Eventually we arrived at another picnic (not so for us) area, Mrs DB hobbled to a loo, whilst I watched two rangers stretch their walking crooks cross their necks, as they looked up at the rocks falling into the river.
Another lady was pointing to her balloon size knee to a ranger but whatever the advice given to her, she continued
I was later told by the other couple, that they were all ushered on by the rangers at that point, as they feared one of the ladder bridges may get swept away.
We hoped at this point there was not too far to go............
Well the rain had now stopped and we put our packer macs away, we had no time to rest, if we were to get the boat, we were praying that the path would keep away from the river, as boulders were bigger walking on the river bed.
Some of the walkers were relaxing in another picnic area but with the pace that we were doing, there was no time for us to rest.
We passed the remains of and ancient village
Soon, we were forced to take the path down to the river bed again and after stepping down over the boulders, I was coming back to help Mrs DB down each one.
The Gorge had many curves in it and in the distance, I could see sunlight on the side of one cliff, could that be the end, well it picked our spirits up as we negotiated each boulder at about a kilometre an hour
But as we reached that point, it was just an illusion, as the Gorge just continued to twist and turn and appeared to go into infinity. Some way now from the last ranger post and not knowing how far it was to next one, (or even if there was a next one), the tension for me was immense, knowing Mrs DB was struggling and we somehow had to get through this, Mrs DB and I sat down and I said to her this must feel the longest day of our lives, she agreed and said, “Not sure if I can go on much longer”. So I was now faced with either going back for help to the last ranger post or going on, until I hit the next one.
We drank some water and Mrs DB said, “No let’s keep going”.
Great numbers of people from, I assume coach parties, keep passing us, we had to let them through each time, as we were holding them up and once the last in the line had gone by, we could slowly continue.
Annoyingly sometimes there would be a beauty spot and they would all stop and take photos and hold us up, of course they would then speed off.
The cliffs were still giving the feeling that we were almost there only to present us we another 300 metres of boulders to climb over.
But eventually the mountains narrowed and the Iron Gate was in front of us
This is considered the highlight of the Gorge I did snap a few pictures for just the hell of it but poor Mrs DB didn’t even realise we had gone through it.
But was concentrating more on the 12th ladder bridge that we had to get across, to find the next path along the cliff edge
Finally we could see a little hut and a ranger, it was the end of the Gorge and we handed our ticket stub in at exactly 16:00, seven hours after we started, no ecstasy for us just a thank goodness we made it.
I asked what the road was like going down to the harbour, as we still had 3 kilometres to do, “not very good”, was the reply. A cafe at the end was selling teas etc but we just had to carry on to have a chance of getting the boat. So we did a 1-2-3-4 step like Dorothy in the Wizard of oz, to pick up the pace and we passed a tree on my left it said ‘bus to harbour 100m’, we walked about 200m and there was no bus and I said to Mrs DB, ‘I bet it runs in the summer’.
A little further down the path I saw a road with a small cafe, ‘Is there a bus to the harbour’ I asked. ‘Yes he said, “Do you want tickets they are 1.5 euro’s”. “Yes please, will the bus be long?”, I asked. “5 mins and would you like some fresh orange juice”, he replied. The man put about 30 orange halves through a machine and made a litre of juice and poured them into two glasses.
It was the best drink of our lives and as it went down, the minibus turned up. We board the bus and as it rattled down the road, we passed all the people that had passed us ½ hour ago.
We reached the harbour and I saw our boat, I turned to Mrs DB and said, “I think it will be my turn to suffer now and took a Kwell".
But to tell you the truth I felt too exhausted to be seasick
After 2 hours of waves on the sea, the boat arrived at Paleochora and Mrs DB wanted us to be last off, as the boat and quay kept parting and she thought she may not be able to get off.
A colleague was in the harbour taverna having complete it the day before and a local said ‘here come the boat from Samaria, you can tell, because they walk like this’, giving an impression of a gait leg walk.
We got off the boat and went arm in arm down the high St, the travel agent waved his arms and said, ‘everything alright’, “Well we will be tomorrow”, I replied.
Although Mrs DB's hip cleared up after the walk, I had to help her off the chair bed for the next three days We both said, ‘never again’, thigh and calf muscles are used to their limits and ached
Were we glad we did it, Mrs DB said ‘no’, for me well the jury’s still out.
I heard it’s been done in under 2 hours, now there’s a challenge
PS this is a walk that 3000 people a day attempt and complete in high season, I not sure how many fail but we were nearly two of these unlucky ones and yet we had spent months preparing for it