Friday, July 8, 2011

Kourtaliotiko Faraggi and Preveli Faraggi (Gorge)

Κουρταλιώτικο φαράγγι

The entrance to the gorge is Gorge is located on the south side of Crete, in the Rethymnon Prefecture. The lower part of the gorge is also know as the Preveli Gorge because it ends at the Preveli palm forest and beach. south of Koxare, which is about 23 kilometers south of Rethymnon. There are steps leading down to a small church situated within the gorge. There is a paved path that you can walk on and enjoy the view of the river and the small waterfalls, but the paved path does not continue through the entire gorge.

Crossing the gorge is not recommended without a group, or at least without an experienced guide. Most of the trek is through the river, and at times the water can reach your shoulders. When the river is high, some parts are too dangerous to cross and an experienced guide will know which spots need to be avoided, and where to take a detour. Also, crossing this gorge requires a great deal of teamwork, especially in the lower section. In addition, there is no bus or taxi service from any entrance or exit point of the gorge, and you can’t just walk back up the way you came- the river will push you the other way. A tour group will have a bus waiting at the other end to pick you up.

If you are going to cross the gorge, keep the following in mind:

You are going to become completely soaked. I purchased a dry sack before the trip, and it was invaluable! I stuck it inside of my backpack, which of course was dripping wet at the end, and everything inside stayed completely dry.

Wear good hiking or tennis shoes, but keep in mind that these will be soaked by the end of your trip.

Also, if you are going to bring a camera (which you should) it MUST be a waterproof one- and you should make sure that it is on a cord that you can wear around your neck because you will need both hands free throughout most of your journey. Some things that should go inside your dry sack include a change of clothes and shoes, a beach towel (for the beach afterward), a bathing suit (if you are not already wearing one), sunscreen, and some snacks.

You should also make sure to have a bottle of water with you- while you are in a river, I’m not sure the water is safe to drink.

Another option for visiting the gorge (without having to wade through the river) is to take a boat from Plakia or Agia Galini to Preveli Beach. From the beach you can walk through the palm forest and into the lower part of the gorge on the path beside the river. The river winds through the beach and ends up in the Libyan Sea. Make sure you come prepared with plenty of sunscreen and a beach umbrella since you will most likely spend the entire day there. Typically the boats drop visitors off in the morning and then return around 5:00 P.M. to pick them up. There is a small snack bar on the beach if you choose not to bring a lunch.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Richtis Gorge

Richtis Gorge is located between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia in northeast Crete. The landscape inside the gorge is so diverse- it feels as though you are walking through a mix of coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and jungle! The highlight of this gorge is the 15 meter waterfall. If you decide to cross the gorge, you will need to wear shoes with good treads- waterproof hiking shoes would be ideal because you will be walking through some streams, but we walked in our tennis shoes and did just fine, although our shoes were completely soaked. You will also need a bathing suit and towel if you are going to swim beneath the waterfall.

You can access the gorge through the top entrance which is just east of Exo Mouliana, or through the entrance at Richtis Beach. Whichever way you go, keep in mind that you will have to hike back the same way you came. There is no public transportation or taxi service to and from the beach entrance.

The top entrance is easy to find- Just after you exit Exo Mouliana, going east toward Sitia, you will see a sign on your left and a parking area. You can park here, but it is quite a walk to the entrance of the gorge. The small paved road that starts at the parking area goes all the way to the entrance. Follow it all the way down, and when you get to the fork in the road take the one on the left. Eventually you will get to an old stone bridge, and there is a clearing to the left of it where you can park your car.

The trail is fairly easy, but there are a few tricky spots where you have to climb over some large boulders. You will also be walking through some streams filled with tadpoles, and over some rocks covered with frogs, so take care not to step on them! The hike to the waterfall from the top entrance of the gorge takes at least one and a half hours.

The hike to the waterfall from the beach entrance takes only about half an hour. The path is just as beautiful, but the drive down to the beach is quite scary if you are afraid of heights. The road to Richtis Beach starts in Exo Mouliana. You will see a sign pointing to the road as you drive through. If you get from one end of the village to the other without seeing it, you have missed the road, so just turn back around. The road down to the beach is very long- I have no idea how many kilometers, you will wind through olive tree farms for quite a while before driving along the cliffs which go down to the beach. Be very careful as you drive on the road here, and honk your horn as you go around turns so cars coming the other way can see you- the road is very narrow and there are no guard rails. As you near the beach you will see the clearly marked bottom entrance of the gorge. You can park your car here and then follow the path. This walk is not only shorter, but it is much easier, with no boulders to maneuver around.

Once you reach the waterfall you can take a swim, and there is a picnic table where you can eat and rest.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Milonas Gorge

The Gorge of Milonas is located east of Ierapetra, north of the village of Ferma. It is not a very well-know gorge, and it is tricky to find. The few websites that describe the gorge do not give very accurate information on how to access the gorge.

When we set out for our excursion, we figured that once we got close to the gorge, we would be able to ask one of the locals for exact directions. We stopped at the very first supermarket inside of Ferma and asked for directions. The owners told us that they had no idea, but they knew that the path had been cleared the day before, and they offered to call someone who might know. The woman who they called did not know, but then she offered to call someone else for us and then call us back! When she called back, she told us that the president and vice president of the local cultural association were actually taking a couple of photographers from a travel magazine through the gorge, and would take us with them!

They sent us down the road to the president’s mother’s café to wait. She treated us to drinks while we waited, and then Manolis, the president, came along and picked us up. From there we went just west of the village, and took the first dirt road on the right. After driving up the road for a few miles we came to a spot where you can turn off and park your car instead of continuing up the mountain. From there we could see the beginning of the path into the gorge.

The path is relatively easy to walk, although there are some slippery parts, especially where the dirt is loose. After about 10-15 minutes of walking on the dirt path, we came to some stone water ditches that were built in the 1960’s to carry water from the waterfall. Walking along these was easy, except for a couple spots where small cliffs jutted out. Manolis brought a small ladder so that we could climb down, around, and back up onto the path.

From the start of the path, it took less than 30 minutes to get to the waterfall. Once we arrived, Nikos, the vice-president brought out tsikouthia, orange juice, and fruit and we relaxed and chatted beside the waterfall.

The waterfall forms a small pool which is perfect for taking a dip on a hot day.

Afterward, we returned to the café- I believe it was called Katerina’s. There we were treated to coffee, more tsikouthia, and very tasty cheese pies with honey. I highly recommend stopping here for a bite to eat- in addition to having delicious food, the owners were so warm and friendly and made us feel so welcome!

Manolis and Nikos are working to make the gorge and waterfall more accessible to visitors. They plan to post signs marking the entrance to the gorge. It is a very pleasant walk and the waterfall is absolutely beautiful. If you are ever down in the Ierapetra or Markigialos area, it is definitely worth it to visit Milonas Gorge.