The busdriver prefers a turbulent driving style so someone is fumbling around with handkerchiefs and plastic bag. But we sit in a sufficient distance. If you look outside you forget all unpleasant things. As higher up one gets the more copious the vegetation grows for up here they have more water for irrigation and the climate is less hot. At the slopes of the hills there are olive groves, fields of artichockes, vine terraces and original mountain villages. The highest location is at Lithines which is placed picturesque at the top of a hill.
Soon we see the sea at the north coast ahead and then reach the town of Sitia. At first we have to attend some official duties as to get money from the bank and to buy (hot gravel) sandals for me. In the shopping lane we meet a cyclist-couple with panniers. I am interested and ask them, what kind of cycle tour they perform. They come from Zuerich/Switzerland and have started at Herakleon one week ago. Accomodation is no problem near the coast. And during the hottest period of the day one always finds an olive tree to lie in the shadow. "Happy journey" and we stroll towards the Venecian Castell.
Sitia is built on a slope and nice stairs lead up to the castell. But it is deserted, everything closed and nothing to be seen. We look for the church combined with a school and a tarmac basketball field as well. We find the door closed and we turn off as we hear a crie "Hello" from another open door. An assistant looks hopefully at us and we offer some coins to him. We get two small candles in turn which we can lighten at the other candles sticking in a shell filled with sand. "Now we are engaged" I say to my wife (our youngest daughter just ends her high school graduation...).
We go down again, buy some oranges and bananas and sit in a cafe for a cappuccino. Some final words to Sitia: the town of Sitia is not historic but has some atmosphere by it's houses which look like a heap of matchboxes.
Back at the bus station I purchase two tickets for Koutsouras and wonder why the tickets back are cheaper. A glance on the map: the name of our village is Koutsunari! May be the conductor will not realize this...
We sit at the very front of the bus so we can look out of the front shield. As I just try to shoot a photograpy of the village Lithines the bus driver kindly slows down the speed. A first decent prove of the Cretan hospitality. But the conductor is attentive and we have to pay the rest for the route Koutsouras to Koutsunari.
Today we choose a seat at the gravel beach. You must pay for it and the conductor is Stefanos, who appears at about noon. But if someone is just absent from his place to swim or to sit in the restaurant, Stefanos turns a blind eye and accepts the guests taxe free. But it is not quite fair to take an advantage of it.
While we have enough stuff to read, sit in the sun or in the shadow or go for a swim, there is nothing else to report of our activities. But at the neighboured club "All inclusive" there is much activity all over the day. At 10 am they start with water skiing and you can distinguish between dilettantes falling into the water all the time and experts swinging in wide courses or turn around in the air. Meanwhile the surfers are busy to climb steadily back on their board and wind up the sailing entanglement. At best they success in "Stand upright at wind stagnation". But soon they get tired and must walk back to the club pulling their board behind.
A blond Dutch boy is the animator and conducts his victims from the beach. When he enters a surf board he proves to be an artist. Moreover some canoes and sailing boats navigate around and when one of it overturns there is something to be seen again. In the afternoon you hear the distant disco music. Games (Bingo or Quiz) are organised, you hear whistles and incentive shouts. Another water attraction is the yellow rubber banana which is drawn over the sea in a high speed. The driver of the boats tries to turn over the banana by sharp bends. And the grown-up passengers yell like madmen. But sometimes the banana glides softly through the waves: then the mamas are invited.
Once in our holiday we have walked over to the club to take a glance inside. There are various pools and diwans with a "criscross" (Zieharmonika) mechanic for the sun shelters. At the quiz they just have asked for the Bulgarian banner. At the mountain bike fraction they clean, oil, polish and maintain the high tech bikes for the next go-up-by-jeep-downhill-by-bike attraction.
We return to our place with the sun shelter built of blue painted garden hose. Later I start to prepare for tomorrow and get the hired bike from the neighboured rent shop. The woman there is German (I will tell her story later). She asks "Where will you go with the bike?" "Up the mountains to visit some villages" "OK, it's beautiful up there but mostly gravel roads".
Seven Mountain Villages
The great day has come and I start at 6 pm. Heidi opens one eye and murmurs something of failing brakes, but I don't care, you always will come down... Sure, I am a little bit excited, but this feeling is gone when you start. This day I will sweat, get lost, push uphill, push downhill, hop on gravel - and no one will intervene: that is freedom. But I must be careful not to get a heat stroke and too less drinking, I have 1.5 L lemonade and some snacks with me.
I run down one km to the junction towards Agios Ioannis, a small village at the end of a valley built like the nest of a swallow. We have seen this village far above during a walk at the coast. I start to push the bike, and this very slowly not to run out of power too early. When it turns flat one can ride again and soon the last houses of Koutsounari lie behind. The village is 9 km ahead. The road winds its course along the slopes and is nearly flat. The crossing valleys are surrounded, no traffic at all. Sometimes a sound in the bushes. But when inspected, it turns out to be a leaky black waterhose by which the water is lead from the reservoirs to the fields. It seems they have utilized every spring and rill to collect the water for the olive groves.
After one hour near Ag. Joannis I overtake 2 hikers. "He should order the coffee already" I hear them chat. I say "Good morning" and then must mobilize all of my strength for the street gets steeper and I am not allowed to push in sight of the two hikers. After the next bend I jump off the bike. When I reach the village the hikers come around the corner already.
Now the sun rises and the village gradually lights up. To make a nice photo I climb up a wall. I have missed to take the dogs into account. Fortunately they are on chains, but they bark as loud as possible so early in the morning. I fear to make the whole village awake and hurry on. But after a more thorough inspection the village seems to be a ghost town. Many houses are not inhabited and turn to become ruins. The village roads are stairs, so I resign from more research and ride on.
Now the road is gravel. And then I see what I had hoped for: an old bearded local on a donkey. I overtake him (them), "Kalimera!" and after 50 m jump off the bike, gasp at my camera and just am fast enough to shoot the photo.The donkeyrider gives no reaction and turns to a rocky path, but this picture will accompany me for years (and the internet readers).
The road leads steep downhill. So the ascent before was in vain. At various spots the road forks and it is convenient to read the trace of the tire profiles. We cross a small george and then go uphill again. At the slope a black suited woman scratches among the plants. And there is a technical monument: they have converted a disused lorry veteran to a gravel mill. From now on the pines are black cripples, victims of a forest fire. If you read about it in the news, how many hectares and so on, it is not so impressive as to watch the dead trees as individuals, which have needed many years to queeze their roots into the smallest crevice. And then they have burnt down within minutes...
Finally there is a signpost showing the funny name of the place: Skinokapsala. And that's just where I wanted to go. The next stage is more simple. A wide tarmac road leads up a jagged valley. Many of the black water pipes again. I argue about the ecological aspects. Isn't it better to utilize all the water than to let them run into the sea? Sure, but the "natural" wet spots cannot survive, ask the frogs. It's not to me to judge about those things - the local people have to live here.
I head for the next village named Orino. Among the black tree corpses a colorful floral carpet has spread out. Bell flowers, popies and finally a field of spotted orchids. Then a pickup comes along as I just continue to push up a slope. The pickup stops, the side window is dropped and the driver asks "How you feel, where you go?" I say "Orino and the way on". "Keep right, good time" so this was another nice experience. I walk up the last meters to the village.
Time to look at the sun. This shines nearly vertical from above but I do not suffer from anything, no thurst, heat or exhaustion. The 1.5 L lemonade soon will be emptied.
There is another story about Orino. Some weeks later back at home I had a look into a guide of Crete at a bookshop. And I found a certain remark, that if you come to Orino in the late May at noon you could admire thousands of butterflies in the "Butterfly Gorge". And I sit there just at this time and think of pickups...
Now we go on, zigzagging up again to a pass. And if you reach the summit it is difficult to decide where to go. You can choose a path at the slope of the high valley or apruptyl run down again, zigzagging as well. No sign but a village deep below. So I run down but soon the fingers and ankles hurt from the brakes. And sometimes the path is washed out, too steep or roughly paved that you have to walk even downhill, you may spell this "downstairs" as well.
Finally we reach the valley and burst in just amidst the central place under the shade of a large sycamore tree. Some old fellows sit, drink and play cards. Some other individuums sit around, just as busy. You feel to have been run just into the private living room of a family. There is a shop and I can complete my drinking supplies. The name of this village sounds like music again: Stavrohori, this means I am at schedule.
But then I miss a fork to a gravel path, stay at the tarmac road and so enjoy to come to the place Lapithos. But the road furtheron would lead to the northern part of the island, so I must go back and push up the steep gravel path. But then you can ride again among olive trees and cisterns, a wide view to the coast, where the sea and the sky gradually merge.
The next village is Agios Stefanos and there is a road back to the coast. But its much time yet and I can continue to Pefki. High above to the left on a peak there is chapel. I wonder how to get there. Now there is a beautiful way down, a brand new tarmac road and this may be unknown until now. So I can fly and must overcome to shoot a photo of a strange rocky goatshed or a nice view to the coast.
Back down at the sea level there are 20 km to go back with a slight headwind which cools down a little bit. At 3 pm I am back again, 60 km in 9 hours and more than 1000 m of height difference. I am content - be sure that this was one of the most impressive cycle days of my life - but I promise to my wife, that this was enough for the rest of these holidays.
It's just time to wipe off the last sweat out of the wrinkles of my
eye as there two known individuals look around the corner: Heidi and
They have hired a car and are more mobile than we. We success to get an
additional room for the night at the hotel so we can prepare for a
evening at our terrace. But first we have to inspect the supermarket -
guess why. And after dinner we enlarge the romantic atmosphere of
stars and half moon by some candles as you use them to warm up the tea.
But there was no tea in our cups...