Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Thursday, June 9, 2011—Kissamos-Kastelli, Crete, Greece

Finally made it out of Kolymbari yesterday; my cold was still very much around, but I did feel well enough to travel and establish myself somewhere else.

I’m now in a town called Kissamos-Kastelli. It’s quite a bit bigger than Kolymbari. The Lonely Planet Guide lists it in the high three-thousand population range, though it feels considerably bigger to me, a little cramped too. Like Kolymbari, this is intended to be a short stop. I’ve come here to see an archaeological site and check out the archaeological museum here, both of which I’ve already done. I’ve already bought my ticket to my next destination, a small beach-side settlement called Falasarna. More about that place later …

Yesterday I made the long hike to Polyrrinia, which is a complex multi-component archaeological site in the hills overlooking this part of the coast. Like my last attempt to hike to a site, this trip was … problematic. First off I was still fighting my cold (I still am); I was still a bit feverish and definitely still off my game. Another problem turned out to be the weather. I had originally planned on doing this hike in the late afternoon/evening, but clouds and a strong breeze moved in cooling things off considerably (we even got a little rain). So I decided to head out in the middle of the day, figuring that there was no need to wait to late because there really wasn’t any heat to avoid. A few kilometers into things, though, the clouds and much of the breeze vanished and the sun and heat returned with a vengeance. Added to this were the facts that the terrain was very much uphill most of the way out and the site was farther away than the Lonely Planet guide implied (Lonely Planet is great at helping you to find a good place to stay or a nice restaurant, but I’m remembering that they’re pretty iffy when it comes to anything backcountry). I again also still had my cold, which, combined with all the rest, made for a very tough hike indeed.

Still, this time I made it to the site, or at least part of it anyway. As I mentioned the site has more than one component and I ended up checking out those that were at lower elevations, which featured remains of Dorian and Hellenistic, as well as some Venetian period and even more recent stuff. The acropolis, which is the most spectacular part of the site complex, I skipped. Getting there would have meant at least another forty minutes of hiking (straight up hill, going in) and I simply couldn’t do it. Or more accurately, I had absolutely no desire to hike one more foot than I had to. This turned out to be an OK decision. I saw pictures of the acropolis in the Kissamos archaeological museum, and while it looked interesting, it certainly wasn’t a must see by any means.

Acropolis or not, the site was pretty disappointing. A big problem is that it’s not being kept up: there is plant growth obscuring most of the remains. Also, there is no interpretation, except for a handful of very basic signs. Now, I have a background in this stuff and I wasn’t always sure what I was looking at. It must be a very frustrating experience for the traveler with no archaeological training …

My experience getting to the site, in hindsight, was pretty funny. As with other cultural attractions, I found little in the way of signage pointing the way to the site; once I left town I really had no idea whether I was on the right road or not. As I was heading towards the site, though, I saw the acropolis atop a hill. As I approached this hill I saw an unmarked cart path heading up the mountain. I decided that this must be the path up (I wasn’t going to miss my trail the way I had back on the Rodopou Peninsula). This trail did lead to some side components of the site, a cave that had been used for all sorts of things since Minoan times and a little hermit’s hideout that’s of much more recent origin. But it didn’t lead up to the main parts of the site. Realizing this, I embarked on what to turn out to be fairly long journey along criss-crossing cart and goat paths which FINALLY dumped me out up at the main parts of the site.

Once there, I found to my surprise not only a little parking lot but a small café as well; if I would have kept going up the main road another kilometer or so I would have found the marked road leading to the site. I was sort of mad at myself at this point. I mean, I could have avoided a lot of fairly tough hiking if I’d gone just a bit further down the road. But then if I hadn’t gone my way I would have missed the site’s lower components. So I guess it was a wash. Long story short, after checking out the site, I sat down in the café and had a cold, much-deserved bottle of Mythos (a local German-style lager—nothing spectacular but a more than solid beer) while being surrounded by the middle-age German people who seem to be everywhere on this island.

I know I said this before, but this will DEFINITELY be my last hike of such difficulty. Round-trip it turned out to be 17 KM, not the fourteen stated by the Lonely Planet guide. Uphill hikes like this in this heat are simply not fun—and I’m already tired of making them, and bitching about them.

Like I said earlier, other than this site and the town’s archaeological museum there’s really not much here for me. The town’s pleasant enough, in a hot, slightly hectic kind of way. But the beach can’t be very good; its pebbles stretch for miles to the east yet I can hardly anyone there enjoying it. So I’m off to Falasarna, a backcountry beach spot, which is supposed to be one of Crete’s major chill-out zones, where I’m going to sun, swim, read, and hopefully meet an interesting person or two.

Speaking of people, so far everywhere I’ve gone has been surprisingly empty; it’s just about high season but there are amazingly few travelers. It will be interesting to see if this changes as the summer rolls on. I get the feeling that Greece’s economic/political woes that have been so much in the world’s headlines are keeping people away. This could mean good prices for me (I got my current room for half of what it was listed at). These problems might make things less interesting, though: a certain number of fellow travelers are needed to make a journey like this come alive. For Greece’s sake too I hope I’m wrong about people backing off from this place. People here depend so much on the tourist industry. I read on the plane coming over that 57% of Crete’s workers are in the service industry and the numbers seem to be similar or even more stacked in that direction in other regions. That’s a lot of lost income if a summer doesn’t pan out.

No comments: