Day 11 – Moving House
The temporary towel that I put up last night to block some of the sand entering my hammock with the gusting wind worked – but only to a degree. I still woke covered in sand, in a hammock very much filled with sand. It was tolerable, but far from enjoyable.
The weather was starting to improve, but being unsure how long that would actually take, we decided to scout for a new campsite. It turned out to be remarkably easy, and a few minutes later, we shifted the camp a short walk further up the hill – but this time in the valley, rather than on a crest. It was an amazing space, this time free of juniper tree spikes, and a large flat area to comfortably walk around on. In the process of moving ‘home’, I found that the arts-and-crafts decorations had been taken down and disassembled. It turned out that an older man that was also staying in this area thought that we’d abandoned it, and was just trying to clean up the camp site – though, I still believe he just found it a little too creepy.
We realised that we were rapidly moving up the property ladder, starting with a small apartment, and now in this larger villa. Soon, we’d end up with a country manor, and the thought of that much upkeep was too much to bear.
Speaking of upkeep, the ‘floor’ was littered with pine needles, which ideally needed to be raked. Since I had all the time in the world (or at least a few lazy hours), I was able to hack something together from pieces of wood, some string, and a Swiss Army Knife. I won’t lie, I was rather proud of my creation – which actually worked quite well.
We spent the rest of the day picking up trash (actual trash, not decorations) from the hills, and swimming to cool off. It was a perfect recovery from a long day of hiking yesterday.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but this beach, like many other beaches on this island, is a naturist beach. As in, clothing is optional. Much like bathing in the hot springs in Japan, it takes a little time to get comfortable with being naked in public – though, here in the bright daylight of a sunny day at the beach (and without a modesty towel), it’s a little longer adjustment period. But, as everyone else is comfortable in their own skin, it didn’t feel too awkward – other than being the whitest thing in sight. Actually, the tans on some of the longer term ‘residents’ was remarkable. It was such an incredible feeling to be able to swim freely here, too, unaware how restrictive swimwear feels.
Even though the bikes yesterday had been laughably bad – and especially as we still had to pay actual money to rent them – a plan was hatched to go back to Metochi for dinner. But, like other Gavdos plans, the plan didn’t go to plan.
After about a kilometre of riding in a comically uncomfortable position, I realised that the rear tyre was more-or-less flat. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far to ride back to where we’d picked the bikes up from. Even more fortunate, the owner of one of the bars/minimarket in Ai Giannis was driving up that direction anyway, and we were able to score a free lift.
The food looked amazing yesterday, so it was definitely something that I had spent the day looking forward to. I’m food motivated. Today, with an empty stomach, I was able to sample all the things that sounded amazing yesterday – except their special cream pie/cake thing (which I’ve forgotten what it actually was, other than being made from fresh milk/cream, and supposedly amazing).
Once again, goat was for dinner, and once again, it was amazing. There were also several other dishes, including large quantities of feta. And raki. Always raki after dinner. It was good enough that I would have felt satisfied if I had to walk here from the campsite (and walk back, too).
The moonrises recently have been phenomenal, in part due to the strong winds and hot temperatures. I was eagerly awaiting tonight’s, as the restaurant was perched up high with views towards the east. Right on cue, a dim red glowing ball appeared on the horizon. I only had my phone with me, so excuse the quality, but the extreme colours were unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It truly looked like a (very) dim sunrise. Soon, half of the restaurant had also taken note, and were out trying to capture this stunning sight.
Eventually the moon was high enough that it had escaped the marine layer around the horizon, and it was once again a shining white ball – which I took as a cue to make our way back to camp. The restaurant called a taxi, and ten-or-so minutes later, a well-loved Peugeot 206 came to pick us up. That was less of a surprise than the shirtless man waiting inside, who it looked like we’d dragged out of bed, just so we didn’t have to walk for an hour-and-a-half back to camp. My friend laughed at my expectations of Gavdos, and that this shirtless taxi driver should be shocking/surprising to me still.
Day 12 – Three Churches Hike
It was a win/lose kind of realisation that our campsite no longer is greeted by the morning sun. I was able to sleep in a little longer, but I missed being woken to watch the sunrise. This had a knock-on effect of being late to start the day, which meant the hiking started much later than it probably should have done.
The winds had almost stopped over night (as had been predicted), and the seas were starting to calm down quite significantly. Before the hike started, we stopped for a quick swim, since it was going to be a hot, hot day, with lots of time spent inland.
#1 – St. John’s Church
From the beach of Agios Ioannis, aka St. John’s, we had to climb up to the church that looks over the area. There are two options to get up here – either blaze your own trail and scramble up the steep hills above the beach, or walk further towards the west to Lavrakas, and take the gentler path upwards. Always keen for adventure, we took the goat track up. It was amazing to walk through the footings of some older houses that have been converted into campsites. We mused that it’d be a fine location to take over next.
I’d seen the church sitting proudly up on top of the hill a few times now, clearly visible from most of the beaches in the area. There was something beautiful about it, this white and blue building that looked so out of place here, on top of a remote hill, on an even more remote island.
There wasn’t much inside, other than some semi-modern iconography, and the charms of people seeking cures for various ailments. But, it did provide some escape from the sun, which was well and truly entering full force now.
#2 – St. George’s Church
The trail from St. John’s got significantly harder to follow, with a lack of cairns and a soft sandy surface. It wasn’t helped by taking a somewhat freestyle approach to the navigation. But, after carefully watching GPS, we eventually found (stumbled upon) the trail between St. George and St. Nicholas’ churches.
St. George’s church felt much, much older and simpler than St. John’s had. The construction seemed primitive, lacking the clean lines, and curved roof. It was also much smaller, even though St. John’s had hardly been large itself.
It proved to be a good spot to have a quick break, with shade and signs of water (the only I’ve seen on this island). Across from the church was a makeshift greenhouse, which was supposedly built (and occupied) by a researcher from Manchester – though, we later learnt that he was forced to leave after money ran out.
#3 – St. Nicholas’ Church
From St. Georges, there was a well defined trail that climbed up and away from the river, towards the higher parts of the island. This meant climbing again, and with the scantest amount of shade to give a break from the sun. We were both really missing the wind that had plagued us the last couple of days.
St. Nicholas’ church turned out to appear even older, though exceptionally well made. Unfortunately there wasn’t any indication on just how these churches were – they could have been 50 years old, or they could have been 500, I honestly couldn’t tell.
This church was a lot closer to a road, and unsurprisingly, appeared to have more signs of regular use. It was just as simply furnished/decorated as the other two had been, too, with simple paintings of icons. It also provided a respite from the heat, giving us a quick recharge before the next section of hiking.
From here, it was a long stretch of walking along unsealed roads to the town of Kastri. It was honestly surprising to see what, for all intents and purposes, was a town. There were quite a few buildings here, shops, and even some restaurants. Even though we were headed to a highly regarded restaurant for lunch, I couldn’t help pop in to buy some Greek pastries from the small bakery – I absolutely love spanakopita.
Lunch was at Gogos, which I’d heard was really hit-or-miss. If the owner was in the mood to serve you, the food was fantastic. If not, you might not get a table. Fortunately, we were served. As the food is all freshly cooked, the menu changes based on what she is able to source daily. I honestly felt a little hot/tired to have a large meal, but at the same time, the part of me that wants to eat and eat and eat and eat was keen to try everything on the menu. A compromise was formed.
In my infinite wisdom, I deleted the photos that I’d taken of the lunch (probably because they were rubbish), so, enjoy this one taken from an Instagram story. The food was good, but not great. I love cheese, but it might have been just a little too much for me.
I was in the zone of being rested enough to want to get up and keep moving, but not so rested that I was melting into the chair, and refusing to move any further. From here it was a nice wooded hike across to the west coast of the island. It was another nicely marked trail, with clear markings, and even signage showing distance covered (and distance yet to go). Being wooded, there was also shade, making the slow uphill grind that little bit more bearable. Actually, if I remember correctly, the hardest part was elevating my heart rate with all that rich food sloshing around in my stomach.
Along the way, we came across the remains of what looked like a small village, with the semi-crumbled walls of several buildings. It felt so out of place to see this now, but I’ve been told that the island was once a bustling community, with tens of thousands of residents living here! It was also said that the climate at the time was quite different, with more frequent rain. After this was mentioned to me, I started to be able to see that the land was indeed terraformed, with clear terraced walls that had been built to flatten the land.
Off topic, but I was also told that the island is littered with ancient graves/burials. So much so that recently tourists were visiting with metal detectors, searching for these ancient burial sites to recover artefacts (which they were then smuggling – or at least planning to smuggle – off the island). All over the island there are pieces of broken pottery, which are said to be from ancient times. And this sadly remains mostly uncharted, with a lack of resources to fully research and investigate the island’s history.
Even further off topic, but it just popped into my head, the island is said to have been the island where the goddess Calypso trapped Ulysses for seven years in Homer’s Odyssey!
The woods opened up, and I could once again see the sea – as well as the beautiful towering mountains of Crete, and the nearby islet of Gavdopoula. There seemed to be more signs of animal life than human, with goats and their kids running amok (I think goats are one of my favourite animals, because they just don’t seem to give a damn, like a true anarchist).
Rather than continue straight down to the beach of Portamos, we took a slight detour back to see the lighthouse. The actual lighthouse was closed, but the area surrounding it was freely open for tourists to wander around. At the time of construction, it was the farthest reaching lighthouse in the world! No doubt helped by the fact it stood high upon the cliffs on the southern side of the island. It had been restored and modernised, and I believe it is still in use (and powered by what looked like a giant array of solar panels).
We returned back down to Ampelos, which is the end of the paved road in town. There is (infrequent) bus service that stops here, and the plan was to spend a little time in Potamos, before catching the bus back to Ai Giannis. Here we came across some buildings, that if it hadn’t been for the old lady standing in the doorway (and the satellite dish), I would have assumed was another farmhouse ruin.
From Ambelos, it was several kilometres downhill to the golden sands of Potamos, which was the original plan for camping. Once again, the trail was in fantastic condition, with no second guessing as to where to head. It also had distance markers, however, they seemed to fluctuate, causing more confusion than assistance. The trail zigzagged down countless switchbacks, flanked by steep cliffs to either side.
Even though we’d been hiking all day, neither of us were feeling too tired, and now that we could see Potamos, there was an extra spring in our step.
The beach was beautiful. I’d comfortably assert that it was the most beautiful on the island, which is filled with beautiful beaches. The golden sands stretch across a wide and shallow cove, filled with beautiful turquoise waters.
It was also flanked by cliffs on all sides. This had the dual effect of making it beautiful, but also difficult to visit. The official trail would require returning back up to Ambelos, and a long detour to get back to Ai Giannis. However, there was previously another trail that linked the northern end of the beach with the trails near Pyrgos and St. George’s Church, which we were hoping we’d be able to find – and that we’d be able to comfortably/safely hike, as the two beaches are quite close as-the-crow-flies.
But, first, time to enjoy the rewards of a day of hiking by relaxing in the beautiful waters here! With the wind gone, the waters were nice and calm, especially since the bay was quite shallow. It was such a shame that the original plan of spending a few night here didn’t work out, as I could imagine it would be blissful – not that Agios Ioannis hadn’t been.
The beach wasn’t entirely uninhabited, as we came across a few others – including one couple that had just come down the path from the northern edge of the beach, filling us with a sense of hope that it was going to be possible to hike back to camp.
As we were starting to get ready to try and find the trail up, we happened to run into a man that had been residing here in a driftwood shack for the past several months. The timing was perfect, as he was about to make his way up this very trail. He reassured us that it was a safe route, and that we’d have no problems climbing it. I felt even more reassured seeing him doing it in a pair of thongs (beach sandals). And, he was right, the route was quite easy, and relatively clear to follow with cairns – though, I didn’t have time to help build additional, as I had to keep up with our new guide.
We might have made it to the top of the cliffs, but we still had to find the trail that took us back to Pyrgos. Thankfully being such a barren island, picking landmarks was quite easy, and once we crested a small hill, we could see St. George’s church down in the distance. We also started picking up the occasional cairn, reassuring us that we were on the right path.
From the river near St. George’s, we parted with our new friend, and then made our own way along the dry riverbed. As we hiked, we were constantly aware that the sun was setting. We were also aware that we had not thought to bring head torches… I was torn, I wanted to indulge in another sunset (I really wanted to watch it from the hill by St. John’s, but it was too far to make before sunset, and too difficult/dangerous to get down in the dark).
Knowing that we’d gotten back from Pyrgos once already in the dark, we knew that we’d be able to do it again. The only difference is the moon is now rising significantly later in the evening. But, I still had plenty of life left in my phone, which had proven to be more than enough to make out the more dangerous sections of the trail.
We sat, ate the food I’d been wise enough to buy earlier from the bakery at Kastri, and watch the sun set at Pyrgos one more time. Since we didn’t want to get caught in the dark, we didn’t go down into the cove, nor stay for the full evening’s light show, as it was still nearly an hour’s hike from here back to camp.
And that is what we did, power hiking back to Ai Giannis (Agios Ioannis) under the warm post-sunset glow, and it was as beautiful as ever.
But, even when attempting to walk at a decent pace, we couldn’t outrun the daylight, and soon we were enveloped in darkness. The moon had yet to rise, so it was now exceptionally dark. Thankfully most of the trail follows the sandy coastline, and we’d managed to get a fair distance before needing to use the flashlight on my phone.
The rocky section between Lavrakas and Ai Giannis would have been too dangerous to have attempted in the dark, but with even a feint glow from my phone, was easy to make out a safe passage back to camp, and safely made it back to the sandy beach at Agios Giannis.
The bonus of the moon being late to rise was that the stars were now on full display. I disabled the flashlight, and just absorbed the celestial views above. It was majestic, and never gets tiring, no matter how many times I’ve looked up at it. There was now no time constraints, so, while the skies remained dark, we just lay on the beach and stared skywards. It was probably also the first time I had hiked under the glow of the Milky Way, and it was incredible. Having the full moon out the past few days has been both welcome illumination, but also a nuisance blocking these views.
But, before long, the glow of the moon started on the eastern horizon, and before long, the stars retreated. It’s meant to be a paradise for astronomers, with clear skies far from any light pollution. I’d have loved to have brought my tripod, as well as a nice wide-angle lens to be able to photograph these skies, but the though of carrying an additional few kilograms all the way here made my knees ache.
Unfortunately, the weather was predicted to turn sour again tomorrow, with winds picking up again, and this time it was predicted to last even longer. The problem with the winds is that the ferry that runs between Gavdos and Crete stops, essentially trapping you on the island. While it is tempting to be like Ulysses, and be trapped here for seven years (or even seven more days), I had a flight back to SF in a few days, so rather than risk it, the Gavdos section of the trip was cut a little short.
This did leave a few things undone, like a sunset from St. John’s church, or a full evening of watching and swimming under the Milky Way (or acquiring that large country manor up in the hills overlooking the beach), or spending a few nights of solitude at Potamos. There was always going to be more that I wanted to see than I’d have time to do – which is true of almost anywhere I visit.
But, all wasn’t lost, it did mean I got to return to spend an extra few nights in Loutro!
But, the ferry was tomorrow evening. We still had this evening to return to the taverna to drink with all the new friends I’d met here, so that is what we did – after having a cold shower in the dark, of course.
Day 13 – Last Day in Paradise
I was starting to adjust to sleeping in hammocks, which was rather unfortunate, as it was the last time for the foreseeable future that I’d spend a night in a hammock. I woke feeling a sense of sadness to be leaving. I have heard, and will agree, that it takes a few days to get into the rhythm of Gavdos. I felt like that was just starting for me, and now I was leaving. I understood why Greek friends I knew would come back year after year – and for weeks at a time.
But, it wasn’t over yet, I still had until 5PM to enjoy the island, and this meant (thanks to my black-magic sunscreen) lazing in the sunshine, enjoying the warmth until it was too much, then floating in the sea, until that became too much. It’s so rare for me to relax when I travel (I get to enough of that in my regular life), that it had taken me until now to fully embrace it.
It seems that we weren’t the only ones with the idea of leaving the island before the next storm cycle started, as the shuttle bus to the port wasn’t large enough to fit everyone on, and they had to call in a second bus for the additional passengers – and then like a slapstick comedy, several buses appeared to pick up what was likely only a half-busload worth of additional passengers…
Just as I felt a sense of loss at leaving Loutro a few days earlier to come here, I was now feeling the same at leaving Gavdos to return to Loutro. I did find this article, that was written over 10-years earlier a much better description of Gavdos than I’m capable of writing.