Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wow, I feel like Rip Van Winkle coming down from the Cretan mountain to find the countryside I left completely altered. England seems to have fast-forward the entire spring season. My garden, which I left in winter mode, is now florrid; my camellia’s come and gone, and the horsechestnut whose blossom candles I watch from my study window slowly unfurling is in full leaf already. What’s going on? My body’s back in Frome, but my head’s still circling Gatwick. And there's a whole week I didn’t have time to put on my blog…
Hora Sfakion to Loutro is the section I’d remembered as easy but it’s trickier with a rucksack – even dangerous on the high-crag narrow paths with a freak wind whipping the sea-spray into white spirals which hurtle ferociously across the water towards the shore. Maybe, Peter says, this bizarre phenomena was the origin of the legend of the Drossilites, ‘dew-shades’ supposedly the ghosts of nineteenth century murdered warriors, who haunt this shore-line...
Loutro is a place I know already from leading writing courses here, a picture-postcard village where exclusivity is cherished, music frowned on and topless bathing banned. It’s charming but a tad boring so we spend our day off here clambering across the headland to the tamarisk beach at Fenix.
From Loutro to Agia Roumeli the path is intermittently perilous until beyond the marble beach of Marmaris. Around 4 hours into this 7-hour trudge, the scrubby garrigue gives way to an exquisite pine forest above a turquoise sea. This stretch of coast with champagne-pale sand and turquoise sea is where Apollo made love to the nymph Akakalline, so besotted he forgot about his fiery chariot and made the whole world darken for a day. Here's where we meet our first walkers: a German couple kitted out in lycra shorts, headbands and trekking poles. We exchange chat, feeling like smiling hillbillies in our casual gear.
Agia Roumeli is still blinking blearily in pre-season sleepiness; the Samaria Gorge – its raison d'etre – isn’t open until May so the unexpected heatwave finds these pragmatic farmer-hoteliers hurrying to finish re-whitening walls and re-blueing paintwork. This is the site of old Tarra, and the tiny Byzantine chapel of Saint Paul near here is built on top an old temple – not to Apollo, though. To Poseidon, the god of elemental energy, Georgios tells us. He talks of his decision to exchange his previous work-hard-play-hard ethic for 17 years of monkish life on this beach: 'Do not think, "I'm sacrificing something." The money you can get back. You can never get back time'

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