05.04.2015 - 07.04.2015
From Chania, we drove to Elafonisi through the mountain villages of the Enneachora, including Vlatos, Elos, and Kefali. Most of the tavernas and small hotels were closed, and many of the smaller villages seemed almost deserted. At first, the mountain Gods smiled upon us with good weather, and we stopped for a walk in the countryside outside of Topolia. It was a bucolic and tranquil scene as we wandered down the dirt track toward the river.
At one point we had some company.
And the Spring flowers were starting to pop.
We then went to see the cave church of Agia Sofia, high on the hillside above Koutsamatados Ravine.
Further on, in Elos, we stopped for lunch at a simple restaurant run by a mother and daughter. They served up a very tasty boureki, a zucchini and potato, and cheese dish that we had eaten at Chicken Ltd., but in a different form. By then the weather had deteriorated, as it so often does in the mountains, and it was cold enough for them to make a fire for us.
From there we made our way to Elafonisi. None of the distances are very far in Crete, or Creta as they spell it, and even though the roads are narrow and full of curves, it doesn't take long to get from place to place. In Elafonisi, the sun was out, and it was warm enough to lie on the beach. Surprisingly, there were some other travelers sunning themselves as we did for an hour or two.
Elafonisi is famous for its shallow turquoise colored lagoon, where there is a small island connected to the mainland by a sandbar.
There were also some striking volcanic rocks on the beach
We found a small hotel and spent the night. When the sun went down it got quite chilly, and as with so many places in Crete and southern Italy, they are not really set up for cold weather. We asked for extra blankets, but could have used even more than they gave us. The next day was overcast and windy and seemed to promise rain, so we decided not to spend another day at beach. Instead we went back into the mountains, but this time took a different route, along the western coast to Kissamos. The weather improved somewhat, and the views along the route were stunning, as the road weaved in and out over high cliffs close to the sea.
Kissamos, a small provincial and rather nondescript town, was big enough to have a few hotels that were open, and we found a place to stay. After a disappointing lunch, one of our only poor meals in Crete, we went off to see the Balos Penninsula, as suggested by our host at the hotel. Although Balos was mentioned in our guidebook, it was downplayed compared to Elafonisi. When we got to the beginning of the peninsula, the track narrowed, became rocky, and it was no longer paved. Given the balding tires we had on our rental car, we decided not to chance it, and started walking.
The main part of the peninsula is uninhabited, and has been set aside as a national park. It has rocky peaks, scrubby trees, and volcanic rocks jutting into a turquoise and deep blue sea. There is another peninsula on the other side, which frames the wide bay of Kissamos, and it is easy to see why the Minoans created an ancient port on this site because it is protected on three sides.
After 20 minutes of walking, and noticing a number of cars coming back from the point, a young Italian couple stopped us and asked us how far to the end. We didn't know, but they stopped another car, and were told 1/2 an hour. Realizing that we would never make it by walking, I asked them if they would mind taking us. No problem. They were a delightful couple living in Milan, though originally from Calabria. Francesca is a high school teacher and Carlo a chemical engineer. It actually took more than 1/2 hour to drive out to the end, and then it was another steep 1/2 hour walk down to the beach. But what a spot. The trail led down the rocky, windswept scrub, much like the English moors. There were expansive views over the sea, and a rocky island attached to the mainland with a sandbar. Scattered about were other small islands, also with cliffs and scrub which seemed plunked down at random.
Our Italian friends took this shot of the happy couple on Balos beach
As the clouds moved back in, they scraped the top of the highest mountain on the peninsula, and then were blown out to sea. The sun went lower on the horizon, and backlit the clouds, creating shadows over the silver and cobalt water, as the waves washed onto the sandy shore. Goats scampered about on the nearby rocks, and aside from an uninhabited shack on the beach, it was a totally wild place.
It felt like the end of the world.