Female & Solo Hiking on Crete. Days 3-5: Kampos - Elafonisi - Paleochora
Whenever I have to make up my mind, I spend way too much time agonizing over my options and possible consequences of each decision. But this time there was no problem.
The night before I got picked up in Kefali by the wonderful owner of a rental in Kampos. If I went by the E-4 trail, I would have to retract the exact driving route from the day before. Some 12 km over a paved road, mostly uphill to Kefali and then an extra 10 km to get to Moni Chrissoskalitissis. After a second-long consideration, I came to a conclusion of a big “NOPE”.
I am fine with occasional road walking but I try to avoid it as much as possible. Unfortunately, this time there was no option for a road-free trail. I decided to at least cut down on the length of the walking and to keep to rarely used back roads.
I chose to walk west to Kampos Bay and then turn south and walk to Moni Chrissoskalitissis along the shore. I thought it should be much more pleasant walking than along busy road I already saw.
I ate a nice big breakfast at the tavern – an omelet made with 5 eggs and fresh tomatoes. I got also a “Greek Coffee” which basically means what we call the “Turkish Coffee” in Poland – hot water poured over ground coffee. This time I got filtered one so no coffee grounds. Most of the local taverns didn’t have any kind of fancy coffee makers… which makes sense, as they are horribly expensive.
The weather was gloomy and there was rain in the forecast. I had a sore throat and worried about getting sick. The lady at the tavern offered me a cigarette and started to smoke her own. Indoors. Time to go!
I walked from Kampos on a serpentine road down towards the shore. Very soon I started to get glimpses of angry waves beating onto the rocky shore. I turned south and moved along the shore through olive groves, passing fancy summer houses.
At one moment it started to rain hard and I was wondering when my feet would get soaked. I didn’t worry about the boots but my pants got completely wet and I started to feel water trickling down my legs.
But just then the rain stopped and the heavy winds helped with getting my pants dry. That’s where the light and fast-drying pants win over any kind of water-repelling heavier kinds. Within 15 min they were damp but didn't sticking to my legs anymore and maybe half an hour later they were basically dry.
I stopped for a break at a nice church with covered terrace in case it rained again. Soon I moved again and hoped to reach a tavern in Livadia. I hoped it to be open as on a map the village seemed somewhat bigger. Alas! All closed.
When I was about to leave the village I saw a local pub/tavern on my left but as it didn’t look very inviting, I thought I would move on. But someone inside saw me and the owner run out and invited me in. I inquired about coffee and walked in. To be honest, I was really in need of a restroom, so I shouldn’t be too picky.
There were three more gentlemen inside in addition to the owner. It was a tiny place and definitely not made for tourists. After I saw the toilet I was sure it wasn’t even for more picky locals (Do you remember the infamous toilet scene from Trainspotting? It wasn’t far off). But it was good enough and had toilet paper - what else should I need? :)
I got my Greek coffee (no filter this time) and soon got also a shot of home-made honey raki. It was still before noon but I guess drinking hard liquor in the morning was nothing unusual to the owner. I don’t normally drink hard alcohol but I as I felt infection creeping in, I thought that maybe such a shot could kill all bacteria or viruses that are moving in into my throat.
The owner, using a few basic words in English and generous hand gesticulation, tried to offer me a car trip to beautiful places in the area. I declined politely, emphasizing that I walk. I said I was walking to Moni Chrissoskalitissis and that I was all fine. He was pushing a bit but finally, he gave up.
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I moved on and was happily on my way for a while when the owner drives by and stops next to me offering to give me a ride. I was seriously creeped out by it and was trying to politely decline.
He kept saying “no problem” and in the end, I agreed. He again offered to show me around, and I again declined. He was laughing and telling me some things about the area in a mixture of Greek and English and at one moment put his hand on my leg for a second or two. I felt the heat of rage and fear growing inside of me, not knowing how to react. I wasn’t sure if it was something of a normal, accepted behavior in Greece or not. I was seriously unsettled and just wanted to get out.
I was glad the ride was pretty short and soon I was in Chrissoskalitissis. He stopped by a tiny hotel with “rooms” but I wasn’t sure about it and hate to be pushed into a decision by strangers. I also wasn't planning on staying in a hotel again as I needed to keep my budget under control.
He took me down to the monastery and let me out (I had visions of some serious criminal behavior). I was so glad to see him gone but kept looking around, worried he was waiting somewhere.
After some time I relaxed and walked around the Monastery. It was closed, so there wasn’t much to do.
Originally it was this place that was considered the beginning of the E-4 trail, so I felt it was good to be here. I considered for a moment going to the hotel but it was still early on – about 2 pm and I knew I there was no reason I shouldn't wild camp this day.
Consulting the map I had and the description of the E-4, I could be in Elafonisi in about 1,5 h and then there was supposed to be a forest which I hoped would be the perfect spot to wild camp.
For a while, there were trail markers taking me on a dirt road south, not far from the shore. The dark clouds were gathering again and the wind was blowing heavily. After a mile or so the dirt road disappeared but for some time there were red pain blobs marking the way. And then they disappeared, too.
The terrain was hard to walk but what’s worst – very hard to discern a path. All and nothing looked like a possible route. I was trying to walk in the correct direction meandering among round thorn bushes, bigger and smaller rocks and some other plants. I was crossing a big area of rough goat pastures with no paths anywhere. There were no trees or bigger objects protruding from the ground to put markers on – so if there were any on the ground (on smaller rocks) it was very easy to miss them.
I used the ViewRanger to walk in the direction of a path/road I saw marked on it, navigating the rough terrain. After a while, I hit a goat fence (again!) and had to walk along it to try and find any kind of gate or a hole. I was scaring goats and battling strengthening winds to finally find the dirt road marked on the app. The marking on the tourist map was such a lousy job, I don’t know how anyone approved publishing it! You can’t let people use it and let them get lost (well, you couldn't really get lost around here but still) in fenced off area.
It was getting darker with the low clouds adding to the effect. When I was getting close to the Elafonissi beach I finally reconnected with the trail! Yay! I wasn’t as happy when it showed me the path was down a vertical drop.
I am serious! I could see myself climbing it up but down? With the heavy backpack? I was walking back and forth trying to find the easiest way down, retracting my way a few times not willing to risk a fall. Finally, with my face to the cliff, I started to climb down on a sand-covered rock. Just when I reached a ledge, I lost my footing and painfully hit the ground with my knee, and the backpack almost went over me. I grabbed a rock to stabilize myself. I almost rolled down because of the backpack’s weight!
After that, the walk down was easier, although I was all shaky and nervous. The sun was setting and I had to find a place to camp as soon as possible.
The trail was leading over rocks and boulders, a hole in a goat fence, right next to the very angry sea. When I hit some bigger sandy patches I decided to find one that looked the best and pitch the tent, all plans about “cedar forest” forgotten. I searched the area around and quickly accepted a flat sandy spot for the tent.
The next day I saw there were some better spots a bit farther away but I didn't want to risk pitching tent in total darkness.
The wind was howling and I set to find heavier rocks to hold the tent. There were not much of natural barriers, I tried to hide a bit but it was hard. I knew I needed some seriously heavy rocks to make sure I stay in place.
Although the beach is generally very rocky, it was hard to find good sized rocks. I pitched the tent, used all rocks and stones I found to hold it down and hoped for the best.
I couldn’t cook anything – I didn’t have much water and it was too windy to even try boiling it. So it was dry and cold dinner for me.
What followed was one of the scariest nights I experienced while wild camping. The winds turned gale-strength and the whole tent was shaking violently. I was scared the winds would break, shred and utterly destroy it. I was already thinking about possible options for when it would give in. I 'm not religious so I couldn't pray but I hoped the TarpTent producers did a good job.
I hardly slept that night. I tried to quiet the noise the tent was making by listening to music, but it didn’t help much. The anxiety levels were through the roof.
I woke up before the dawn I started to pack as fast as possible, planning to stop for a breakfast later on. There was supposed to be a picnic area with water well in the “cedar forest” so it would be perfect.
I can’t describe how beautiful the place was – wild, gloomy with first pinkish rays of rising sun. The shore is rugged and made of black rocks, sand and islands of stunted trees, bushes and some hardy grasses. I moved on, admiring this unbelievable place with each step I took.
I know that Elefanisi beach is a tourist favorite but I am so happy I could see it the way tourists rarely see it: at sunrise, with angry, wild waves beating on rocky shores, lead-colored clouds low on the horizon, the pink sands dark.
When I reached the famed cedar forest I saw how wrong my vision of it was! I had an image in my head of an actual forest. This was a dark fairy tale version of it. The trees were twisted into fantastic shapes, battling harsh life on the seashore. It was a labyrinth of fascinating shapes, thorn bushes and dried branches.
I didn’t find any picnic area so I just walked on.
The wind was making walking hard. For a long time, the trail (now finally very well marked with yellow and black blazes) lead over rocks and boulders. There was no easy path walking whatsoever. There was a lot of jumping from rock to rock or walking and sinking in soft sand or gravel.
The path took me up the hills for a while, over narrow paths covered with loose sand and stones. At one moment I again slipped and hit the ground painfully. My right buttock got stubbed by a protruding root. After that walking was far from pleasant.
My next goal was to get to the Agios Ioannis chapel. I hoped that I could boil water there (there was a sign of water source on a map) and cook some breakfast. The winds were making walking hard, pushing me off the path and I knew stopping to cook anything in the open would make no sense. A chapel's walls would provide some kind of wind protection.
When I got there I saw that there was a key in the lock. I didn't plan on going in, but it looked like an invitation. I opened it and walked in.
It was the first time I was inside of that kind of rural chapel. I wasn’t sure if it would be accepted that I was there but hoped my need for some kind of a shelter would be understood. I loved the raw interior of old stone decorated with images of saints and the holy family.
I filtered water from goat's drinking basin and made myself oatmeal and coffee. It was lovely to be in a place that was quiet, dry and safe. I also took this opportunity to check what my accommodation options looked like in Paleochora. I went through them all to check if any have bathtubs. I dreamed of taking a bath! But for whatever reason, Cretans don’t believe in bathtubs (at least for tourists). I booked two nights and could relax. I knew I was getting seriously sick and needed a day off.
I was ready to move on.
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The trail from the chapel on took me on a wide dirt road but even here the winds were making it hard to walk. I didn't have to worry about being blown off a hill, but I was struggling to keep my walking straight and sometimes had to stop to just get the harder gusts pass.
After a while, the dirt path hits a paved road in Koudoura. From there it was 8 km of road walking to Paleochora. Most of it was on a bigger road with cars going fast and cutting corners. It was unpleasant and annoying. I hit Paleochora on my last feet.
Traveling in January to summer destinations meant all my accommodations were with no heating. Some of them had heaters combined with AC some had nothing. Right after the sunset, it was getting cold very fast which combined with being tired meant shivering from cold. A hot shower can help but only for a short moment. I buried myself under a comforter and blankets to try and get warmer.
The next day I slept in and woke up to a full-blown infection. I felt feverish and all my body was aching. I found a pharmacy and bought whatever meds I could. It was a lovely, sunny and warm day but I walked around in my down puffy, I just couldn’t get warm.
I wandered around the town a bit and really liked it. It is obviously a tourist destination with many hotels and restaurants of which many were closed for the winter, but it’s big enough to have a regular life in off-season, too. I could do some shopping and rested a lot. Infection or not – I had to move on the next day.