On July 28th 1978 I was in Loutro on the southern coast of Crete. I was spending a couple of weeks walking and hitching in western Crete before heading for Asia.
I was up well before dawn to cross the little bridge away from Agia Roumeli and start the coastal path to the east. The best part was the first, in the dawn light along the water's edge to the Byzantine church of Agios Pavlos which stands isolated by the coast. Thereafter I no longer had the trail to myself but had to share it with three German students; I didn't walk with them, but I was always aware of their presence. After Agios Pavlos there was a beautiful stretch through pines as the sun came up. Then it was more open and more barren with the path climbing higher away from the shore, and more than once I lost my way. The day became quickly hot and sunny and there was very little wildlife to be seen. As well as the Germans there was activity in the water. There were fishermen in a little caique off the coast, attempting to fish using dynamite, so there was a little explosion from time which ruined the silence but added to the atmosphere. Eventually I came to the first Loutro castle, only three or so kilometres before Loutro itself and I had thought I had not reached halfway. There was a perfect beach for swimming, ideal as midday approached. In Loutro I took a quick look around and found a place to hang my hammock.
Loutro was a small harbour off the roads completely, but serviced by boat or trail. It had been a bigger and more important town in the past, with remains from many periods, Ancient Greek, Roman, Venetian, Turkish. It sits opposite Tobruk in Libya and had trade links there. That year there was a small colony of Europeans camping out in the ruins and swimming off the rocks near the stony beach. A few were hippies but most were the usual run of young summer foreign visitors. There was very little new building among the houses in the village, a couple of cafes, a couple of restaurants and one or two places renting rooms. In future years Loutro would clean up its act and ban camping.
|Cafe by the Dock: My picture taken in 1983|
Next day in the evening I sat outside the cafe by the dock which was run by an old couple and only had two tables. The day had been relentlessly hot and seemed timeless as I had not seen a watch. I saw an older man with grey moustache, net hairpiece, green serge trousers and leggings, heavy boots with two leather straps and black over-shirt. He was leading a donkey with supplies in woven bags, plastic bags and feta tins to carry them off into the mountains. The people of the village sat around to talk. The Sofia, the passenger launch to the town of Chora Sfakia further to the east, was tied up at the dock. A larger boat was anchored much further out and little boats had gone out to collect supplies or sell fish maybe, some boats had even come from along the coast.
|Old Agia Roumeli: My picture taken in 1983|
Some days before, I had taken a series of little lifts getting from Chania up to Omalo, through pretty, sleepy mountain villages and slept the night on the terrace of the hotel with the moon rising about midnight. The walk down the Samaria Gorge was by contrast disappointing, feeling like a charity walk, it being Sunday and hundreds of Greek and foreign excursionists filling the staircase and narrow defiles. Agia Roumeli at the sea was often derided as a place to stay but I enjoyed it after the last boat had left. I slept on the sand and ate and socialised in a friendly taverna. I walked up to the castle in a cooler evening air and got a different perspective on the place, seeing the old, dying traditional village on one side and the new village by the sea, built at first to accommodate families moved from the village in the gorge and then developed, only slightly, for tourism; the concrete Rent Rooms blocks were certainly unappealing. Another day I got up early to walk back up the gorge to the old, cleared Samaria village; I looked for a side trail and when far enough up it for silence and solitude, I sat under the trees and wrote in my notebook:
Now sitting in what seems like one of the wildest places I've ever been, narrow steep rocky gorge, a little way up, full of little trees of different sorts, sounds of cicadas and water coming through the trees. I've walked up through prickly abandoned terraces thick with herbs, through blackberries and overhangs, past deserted houses and a church. I'm day-dreaming of wild places I've been, when suddenly a kri-kri, lovely, vicuna brown, white below, long straight horns, stops by water where I can see it as I write.
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