When I visited Crete in 1980, there was (of course) no internet and no pay phones, let alone mobiles. And few English-speaking Cretans. So, I would never have been able to co-ordinate Captain George and his goat to collect us in his speedboat from the port at the end of the Samaria Gorge and whiz us along the south-western coast to Lissos, site of ancient Roman remains.
Some things don’t change in 33 years. There is still limited public transport to this ruggedly beautiful part of Crete and ferry and bus timetables still change without notice. When I was twenty, none of this mattered; there was no need to plan anything. My descent through the Samaria Gorge, the longest and, arguably, most spectacular gorge in Europe, coincided by complete chance with the arrival of the last Anendyk ferry for the evening. It took us eastward in golden, fading light, calling in at the little fishing port of Loutro, with its twinkling lights. No roads lead to Loutro. I should have disembarked - travellers to this region, I was told after, will always find a bed. I would just have to return! The next morning, I caught the only bus back to Chania, the gracious town that most tourists make as their base to explore the region.
Thirty three years later when we wanted to do this same trip in reverse, en famille, the ferry and bus connections were not so good and we couldn’t chance it with quite the same abandon. We would have to wait five hours at one tiny port (in probable baking heat) for the ferry heading west. But now, in 2013, both Captain George and the taxi man Jorgos de Boer, and their mobile phone numbers, can be found on the internet, and a Greek SIM card works perfectly despite the glorious isolation of the region.
Our trip was all organised months in advance. George and Jorgos both emailed me back promptly, confirming their availability and charges. On the day, we had the cash ready, the Greek SIM card in my phone and our Anendyk (yes, the same) ferry tickets. All good to go.
We rose early with the sun. There was even time for a quick kayak in the translucent waters of Loutro Bay. We stood on the deck of the ferry as it cruised along, parallel to the dramatic limestone cliffs and caves that dot this magnificent coastline. I called Captain George from the ferry, to confirm. No problems, see you at 12 noon. The limpid blue waters of the Libyan sea were so clear you could see downwards to infinity. As we glided into the little port at the end of the Gorge, I spotted the boat that had to be George’s, waiting for us, right on 12 noon. I lied about the goat. But there are pictures of him (Romeo, the goat) in George’s pamphlets. ‘If Romeo fits,’ George said, ‘he comes too.’
We couldn’t chat much with George as the noise of the speedboat was too loud. It was an exhilarating trip. I have a few shots taken at lopsided angles on my mobile, mostly azure blue and towering rockface plunging straight into the sea. George remembered we were Australian and pulled in at Tripiti, where scores of mountain goats, bells clinking, scattered to reveal a little red-roofed chapel set half into the rocky side of the gorge. A plaque there honours the people of Western Crete for the sacrifices they made to provide safe haven for Australian, New Zealand, British and Cypriot soldiers who were evacuated from this very spot on 19th May, 1943.
The rest of the day went without a hitch. At Lissos we viewed the Byzantine church and the Roman temple with its mosaic floor. There were Roman temple columns just strewn about, just there, and higher up, a spring and fountain. After a refreshing swim we took the track towards the village of Sougia, climbing steeply up a red rockface - now in scorching heat. It was so worth it for the view! The descent was through a more sheltered gorge dotted with pines and shady plane trees, giving us the occasional spectacular glimpse through to the beach. We arrived at the welcome blue parasols of a tavern; it was as if they were waiting to serve us a local iced lemonade. And Jorgos’ taxi slid into view just as we were squaring up the bill.