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(>Pictures at the bottom!)
“We fled south to Crete and found winter! Snow up to 600 meters above sea level… (but first one after the other. 😉 )
After a long night on the ferry we reached Chaniá on Crete in the morning. The sun was already laughing at us since the morning hours and we enjoyed the warmth on the deck of the ferry and felt like on a small cruise.
In Chaniá we bought enough food, refuelled and wanted to have our gas bottle refilled. But also on Crete no gas bottles brought along are filled and grudgingly we had to buy a new 3 kg gas bottle. The salesman recommended that we should definitely go to the west coast, because there we would see the most beautiful sunsets of Crete and even of Greece. So we drove along the north coast in wonderful weather conditions towards the west, but often turned off the main connection and enjoyed the extensive olive groves, the view of the nearby mountains and the wide sea below us on side roads and paths. Everywhere they worked diligently in the olive plantations; whether picking or already cutting back the trees.
The further west we drove, the more barren the landscape became; the olive cultures were only to be found in the valley cuts and the wide and mostly bare slopes were cultivated with many herds of sheep and goats.
Finally we reached the west side of Crete and a little north of Sfinári we found our place with a wonderful view of the sea spreading westwards. Yes, the seller was right: the sunset was really wonderful and we sat in our chairs for a long time and watched the last rays disappear into the sea on the horizon.
But what we could not guess that evening was that our arrival day would be the most beautiful one on Crete! Already the next morning, the first drops fell on our car as we left. Luckily we reached the drive through the creek furrows back onto the tarred road without big problems – they were very washed out and with a little more water a return trip would probably have been more problematic.
Apart from rugged slopes and settlements, where we always wondered what keeps the people in this area, there were huge greenhouses covered with plastic foil on the flat fields, where all kinds of vegetables are grown. How and over which roads all the products are transported, we asked ourselves again and again, because the roads are partly very narrow, steep and exposed.
The southwest corner was not very inviting for us; the wind blew so strong that a stay outside the car was rather uncomfortable and only kept the kite surfers happy. Also our idea to camp here was soon blown away by the wind and we didn’t feel like hiding in the car or camp compartment. We decided to continue our trip over the southwestern mountains and climbed up many steep passages. The way led us again through and over a barren mountain landscape, where there is probably no other possibility to get away from the landscape apart from sheep and goat breeding. We don’t hope that the large herds will overstrain the barren landscape and the areas will be overgrazed, but the very bare areas could prove our assumption right. West of Palaiochora we reached the sea again and, in contrast to the mountainous landscape, here at sea level all kinds of things are grown in greenhouses.
Due to the weather we looked for a good place to stay overnight and found it on a closed camping site where the visitors cut the olive trees and collected the money for the owner. Shortly afterwards it rained so much that we were happy to have a safe place to stay for the night! During the following night the rain was pouring down so heavily on our pop-up roof and we hoped that everything would stay tight until the next morning.
On the whole island the weather forecast for the next days was very bad, a lot of rain, fresh temperatures and strong gusts of wind were announced. At the southeast coast it should remain dry despite the strong low over the Aegean Sea. Our decision was soon made: rebook the ferry for the onward journey to Rhodes and as soon as possible to the eastern south coast!
When we made our decision, we had no idea that we would be ploughing our way through slush on this big circuit across Crete and that the sea on the north coast would throw the waves far over the coastal road; it was a journey through extreme conditions that suddenly made the sun paradise of Crete appear in a different light. In heavy rain and squalls we reached the eastern part of Crete and were glad to have found a place to sleep in a hostel. We studied the weather forecasts still and still: The vortex of the storm remained almost stationary in the Aegean Sea and continued to provide a lot of humidity and fresh wind. Our question turned more and more to the “where to” and what would be the best.
Despite the low over the Aegean Sea we drove further along the coastal road to the east, roamed through many places which are inhabited by only a few people during the winter time and reached, after the last town Sitia, the northeast tip. In Sitia there was still a certain amount of activity, otherwise we were almost alone; Crete seemed a bit ghostly and deserted in this part and season.
From the northeast corner we went across the countryside to the south coast, and even on this route we only met a handful of cars. In the many small villages we had again and again the impression that mankind would have died out. When we reached the south coast the picture changed from abandonment to busy activity. In thousands upon thousands of greenhouses, where probably for many EU countries cheap vegetables are produced, we worked diligently and the fresh goods were transported away with huge trucks.
Ierapetra, probably the “vegetable centre” of the south coast, we roamed only briefly, as we neither needed a tractor nor a cultivator, and drove further along the coast to the west; there, the weather is supposed to be a little better.
We alternately crossed rows of greenhouses or empty holiday house settlements, where in summer time thousands and thousands of holiday guests enjoy their holiday time at the sea with a lot of sun.
During a drive into the mountains we were again stopped by the fresh snow and forced to turn back; from 600 metres above sea level there was already snow! For our jeep a little bit too much; off-road tires – unfortunately they are no winter tires – and also snow chains we had no with us; we capitulated! On the way back to the coast we reached by chance the memorial place of Viannos, where at the end of the Second World War the German Wehrmacht wiped out the population of several villages in one go. About the reason one still puzzles today!
Thoughtfully we settled down on the coast near a chapel for the coming night, looked out over the open, peaceful sea and asked ourselves what can move people to such deeds; there is enough room for everyone and actually everyone wishes the same; a peaceful time on this earth.
Except for the wind, the weather situation calmed down, so that we could again head towards Sitia via side roads and paths. Besides the navigator, our mobile home on the paths was also very demanding; steep, muddy and exposed, we went over the mountains back to the north coast, where the ferry will take us to Rhodes.
As a result of the stormy sea, the departure was postponed from Saturday noon to Sunday morning, i.e. we had to be in the harbour at half past four. The trip from Sitia/Crete also took its time; our ship headed for various islands and was quasi responsible for the fine distribution. So we could enjoy our mini cruise in sunshine and without any luxury until late afternoon. The bustling activities at the respective landing stages were always very spectacular and provided some variety.
We postponed the visit of Rhodes, the capital of the island of the same name, right to the end of our island trip. But before we went on the island tour, we did, or rather wanted to do two things: book the ferry crossing to Marmaris/Turkey and go to the Swiss consulate for the stolen identity card. Already when we booked the crossing we got the first “Hello”: The ship does not always sail, is often cancelled and if thick clouds are over the Aegean Sea, it certainly does not sail! Oops!
And the consulate; well, we found this relatively fast in the swarming of the old town and the wonderful sign with the Swiss cross promised again Swiss quality. We needed another hour to get a parking place nearby. And then the surprise: There was nothing left in the building and in the office next door we didn’t even know that something like this was supposed to be here. Probably the consulate was retired and the consulate was closed quietly and secretly; just Swiss quality!
So we started our tour around the island of Rhodes clockwise and in sunshine we steered along the southeast coast from one orphaned resort to the next. Whole cities of holiday resorts were built at beautiful corners, which probably won’t be that wonderful during the main season, as too many people are chasing the sun, sea and as much fun as possible. Again and again, we left the coastal road and curved some paths up into the mountainous landscape in order to experience something different than just hotels and holiday resorts between the sea bays.
First of all: Besides Crete, Rhodes is also a true off-road paradise, where you can drive everywhere. The heavy rainfall until mid-January had also turned many roads on Rhodes into pure burrow sections and often we had to defuse individual sections with a shovel. But very often we had to give “forfait” and turn around 180° and drive the whole bumpy stretch back to the next possible turn-off or path variant.
Beside shovel, saw and other ideas we once had to pull our jeep out of a mud hole with the winch after laborious preparations. The work dragged on very long because there was no suitable anchoring possibility, as this had to be shovelled out of the ground first in a lot of manual work.
During the whole work I (Tom) always had the feeling that we were being watched, but unlike in North America, nobody offered us any concrete help. After the “digging action” we had to go to several washing stations until someone agreed to clean our car from the biggest dirt; either the electrical system was broken or there was no water available.
Along the coast in the very south, many fields reach directly to the sea, alternating with deserted and wide beaches, as well as agriculture followed by extensive forests. We drove through many places that were picturesquely built on steep mountain sides and often there were roads and paths where there was no getting through for us. The difference between east (tourism) and west side (countrymen/agriculture) was also striking.
Of course we climbed – on four wheels of course – to the highest point of Rhodes, the 1215 meters high Attavyros and wanted to enjoy the sunset up there. Unfortunately the wind almost blew us off the mountain and only halfway up it was finally more pleasant in an open pine forest, where we set up for the night by a fire.
In the beginning, the time we had to spend on Rhodes due to the ferry crossing was emotionally very long and we had an oppressive feeling of imprisonment. In the end, time literally flew by and we had to hurry the last few kilometres to Rhodes (city). No more off-road adventures where shovel, saw and rope would be needed and no more visits to wineries, as the import of alcoholic beverages is limited for our onward journey.
The visit of the historic old town of Rhodes was a short one. At the time of our explorations many places were closed due to seasonal influences. Everywhere we worked and the buildings were rebuilt or renovated for the coming season. So we could concentrate on marvelling at the old buildings and the possible spending of money in the many souvenir and tourist shops was spared.
Finally, Wednesday, the weather was favourable, rather windless and Chantal did not yet receive any SMS that the ferry connection was cancelled; we were glad to leave the island and continue our journey on the “mainland”. A little nervously we steered in Rhodes into the international port and were a little tense. How will the crossing be and what can we expect over there in Turkey?
Soon a small boat with red flag and half moon rocked into the harbour; well, we’ll continue!
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