rock climbing in flip-flops?

Rock climbing in flip-flops wasn’t what I had in mind when we planned a trip to Crete, but sometimes it’s good to have surprises…

Last week we went island hopping for a few days – swapping our lovely Cyprus for Cretan village life. The third night was spent on the lower slopes of the island’s highest mountain, where we sat gazing across a vast panorama of hills and sparkling lights, with the sea a dark blue haze in the distance. At our backs there were rock-strewn mountains, while the sound of bleating sheep and the tinkle of goat bells were the only noises to break the silence. It was perfect. Made even more so since we had returned from the village laden with food and wine… some of which was free!

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On an early evening sortie up the canyon next to us, we wanted to see what was around the corner. The corner proved elusive and after a series of hairpin bends, where we spotted broken barriers above the sheer drops below and hard to negotiate rock falls across the road, someone was all for turning back, except there was no safe place to turn. At the top of the canyon, there were fields full of fruit trees, which was surprising in such a desolate landscape. We hunted for gaps in the fences or overhanging branches so we could scavenge some of the tempting green and red apples that were lining the road, but just out of reach. There were none. Slightly deflated we turned around and headed back down the treacherous road. As we started to skirt round a white truck parked by the field loaded up with crates of apples, a man stepped into our path with his hand raised signalling us to stop. A young girl at the back of the truck, smiled and said, “wait please.” We did as we were told and seconds later the man, appeared by the car his hands holding out huge red and green apples. What an unexpected gift! We took them and thanked him and he went off to fetch more… loading us up with a good supply. Munching on the fresh fruit while we negotiated the bends, we felt well rewarded and very grateful for the farmer’s unexpected generosity… but there was more to come.

In the village down the road half an hour later, we went in search of two essential ingredients: pizza and wine. After a few false starts we found a little cafe-come-shop and asked if they had bottles of wine. “Yes of course’” they guided us to the back, where two locals were sat on high stools watching the football on a TV screen above the bar. Bending down the barmaid filled a small glass from a large box with a tap, just in front of the counter. “Oh, we really wanted a bottle though”…we said uncertainly, feeling a bit like secret alcoholics.
“Taste first”, she ordered.
We sipped. It was very pleasant. We nodded our approval and said, “Do you have a bottle?”
An empty plastic water bottle was found behind the counter and this was filled with the red nectar…until we said ‘stop!’ That will be 3 euros.
Wine. Check.
Now for pizza.

Eventually after trying three more small shops, we found one with pizza in the freezer, while we chose tomatoes, cucumber and debated over onions, the lady at the till said, “please,” offering us freshly harvested grapes piled on a plate, that a little group of them were tucking into. They were all sat around the counter – a lady in black with a big smile nodded and a man in a long blue robe and a grey beard was smiling and munching cheese. I took a grape, but she shook her head and handed us each a whole bunch with a napkin.

Tucking into our pizza and wine, followed by grapes and apples under a starry sky, we decided we liked Crete very much and we were touched by the generosity of strangers. The next morning we watched half a dozen eagles soaring just above us, which was an extra treat. The place we were staying translated as ‘the observatory of the eagle.’

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The trip was full of little adventures, mostly on narrow switch back roads without barriers and steep drops below. After a particularly harrowing journey like this that seemed to go on forever, we arrived at the top of some cliffs above a wide sandy beach. There was a way down via a steep sandy bank which turned into a sand dune and took us neatly down to the crashing waves and lots of what turned out to be naked people sunbathing or charging into the water. Ignoring the big-bellied men strutting proudly down the beach swinging their wares, we enjoyed a refreshing swim further along the bay. An alternative way back, was partly up a sandy bank, which then turned into a steep rocky scree slope. A couple had headed up it a few minutes earlier and I was told it would be easy. Bag slung over my shoulder and carrying a straw hat, the hot sand was a doddle, but as we trailed up the rock slope slithering to find a foothold in flip-flops, I was instructed not to look down. Mistake. What looked steep from below looked terrifying from half way up and although someone thought there was a path – there wasn’t. As going up was definitely easier and safer than going down, I carried on putting one foot in front of the other, my arms trailing monkey-like ahead of me to grasp any rock that looked sturdy enough to hold…and eventually I reached the ridge at the top. Thank goodness I was wearing clothes.
Rock climbing in flip-flops. Tick.

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Other Cretan highlights included a rainy gorge walk and a boat trip to a former leper colony. It was a fun week but as we touched down on our own Mediterranean island and drove on the familiar roads back, it felt good to be coming ‘home’.