Thursday. GT2 Day Twelve. Aptera, Crete, Greece.
Today is Emily’s “inaccessible beach” day. We have chosen Glyka Nera because it is close to us, relatively speaking, and is the highest ranked inaccessible beach on Crete, and because it has the super unique feature of having fresh water from snow melt coming from the top of the White Mountains flowing through an underground river that goes right through the beach. Really interesting stuff, it is not often that you get to go to a beach that actually has something unique going on with it. We did a lot of research on it last night and it seems from watching videos of it that it is going to work out pretty well. I did a bunch of research on the boats and found that the only ones listed are around thirty Euros, which is ridiculous for a five minute trip, but the walk is not supposed to be bad from Sfakia. I showed Emily pictures of the desert cliff trail and she thought that it looked like the way to go. I warned the girls to bring sensible shoes as it was a serious hike.
Dominica was super anxious to have us out of the house. She is tired of people and wants a day to herself. So for no other reason, she woke us all up really early and rushed us out the door. Emily and I had all of our timing set up ahead of time, alarms, plans, etc. But Dominica had been insisting all day yesterday that we had to go super early, but had no reason for thinking so. And kept bugging us to set an early time to commit to being out the door. So we can tell she has had it with having people around.
Because of that, we were probably on the road by eight thirty. Without Dominica, the drive down isn’t bad at all. She is the only one that really gets sick on the mountain roads. Madeline isn’t affected at all and uses her phone the entire time no matter what the road conditions are. Without Dominica in the car, Emily is able to ride in the front making it that much better for her. So she doesn’t even need any motion sickness medicine on the drive.
Last time that we drove to the south shore, we took the western pass through the White Mountains. Today we are taking the eastern pass. It is supposed to be seventy five minutes from Aptera where we are renting a house to Sfakia where we catch the trail head to Glyka Nera.
The drive through the mountains was gorgeous, which is not a surprise after how great it was last time. If you can handle the mountain roads, the views are just spectacular. I really enjoyed it.
About halfway there we came upon Imbros Gorge, which Dominica had been telling us about. It is good that she did not come with us as the drive along the gorge and down the cliffs to Sfakia would have been way, way too much for her just from being in the car, let alone doing anything else. Imbros Gorge made for some wonderful views and something very different from what we have seen around Crete previously. We stopped at a panoramic parking area where they were selling drinks and food. The girls got freshly squeezed orange juice which they said that they have never had anything like before, which is weird because they get freshly squeezed orange juice regularly, but they said that this actually tasted like drinking an orange and that what they are used to does not. I got some coffee and ordered a Sfakia style pie with spinach and fennel which was fantastic. The girls were not able to eat anything that the little restaurant had, spinach, fennel, onions, cheese, all things that they struggle to eat or won’t try. But my food was wonderful, really glad that I tried that.
The little outdoor restaurant had amazing views, and also a mother goat and two babies that hung out there. So the girls got pictures. The babies would sit on the tables, too, which was hilarious.
We did not stay long. Just long enough to do pictures and for me to eat. Then we drove down the cliff to Sfakia itself. The girls were hungry, having not eaten anything on the drive, so we went into the tiny village and the girls looked for a restaurant for lunch on foot while I found a place to park.
Lunch on the beach was really nice in Sfakia. The girls both got hamburgers that they said were really good. I got a veggie pita thing that was really amazing and cost only two Euros and eight cents! Big pita full of veggies and French fries! While we ate we could see the expensive ferries going to and from Glyka Nera. No additional boat options were readily visible to us, so we stuck to the hiking plan. Sixty Euros to see a beach is pretty excessive.
We drove the other way out of town. To get to the trail head on the E4 for Glyka Nera you go west out of town and up the main road till you hit the first switch back. There is room there just above the switch back to pull over to the side of the road and leave the car there. There were probably five other cars there when we parked, so it was clear that we were in the right place, and the trail sign is right there and totally obvious. It is recommended that you put rocks under your tires as it is a rather steep incline for parking.
We grabbed our stuff and got started on the trail. Neither girl had paid attention to anything that we had discussed or the pictures that I had shown (in Madeline’s defense, only Emily had seen pictures of the totally exposed desert rock cliff and she had relayed this to Madeline as a “forest trail” which it was anything but) and so had not through through what a desert cliff rock trail would be like and had not brought the shoes that I had told them to bring, so were hiking in sandals! We saw some elderly hikers go down the trail just two minutes in front of us so figured if they could do it, we would have no problem at all being young and reasonably fit, the girls have just recently been doing their crazy athletic band stuff in the summer heat, so this should be nothing compared to that exercise wise.
It turns out that neither girl has ever been hiking before. I had no idea, it is such a super common activity for me growing up. Whether going to Letchworth for the afternoon, or vacationing in Bar Harbor, Maine or going to the Green Mountains, or the White Mountains or whatever, it’s just part of being a kid. But they had no experience with trails, trail markets, what hiking a trail would entail, etc. This made things a lot harder.
The hike down the E4 trail was hard. First of all, the sun was unrelenting so we were just cooking out there. That always makes things hard. Second the descent is pretty dramatic, so there is just a lot of physical exertion to safely lower yourself that amount of distance. No way to do that without pushing your muscles a bit. The trail was way, way longer than expected. On maps that we had checked, it was shows as being much flatter and only a third of this distance or so. But in reality it was all switchbacks everywhere so we were covering the same ground over and over again that the maps had not shown. This wasn’t “hard” but made for a far longer walk than we had anticipated. And the trail went down and back up many times, so there was a lot of climbing and descending the same altitude several times, adding to the exhaustion. And by not being experienced hikers, the girls moved very slowly so the process took far longer than you would normally expect. We easily were out there for an hour to an hour and a half. But someone who knows how to hike and is in good shape would probably do it in something more like half an hour. We also kept stopping to take pictures and I would spend a lot of time filming the girls walking the trail, so that slowed us down a lot as well. If we had been doing this in sixty degrees on an overcast day, that alone would have totally changed the whole situation.
The whole way down the trail, our only mishap was one slip by Madeline in a totally safe area while she was filming herself walking and all she did was hip-check a boulder rather hard, she didn’t even fall on her butt completely. But we were absolutely exhausted by the time that we finally got down to the beach level. We were hot and drenched in sweat, and our muscles were just worn out. Talk about exercise! But the entire hike was only about two thousand steps according to my watch. So while it was a ton of physical exertion, it was not very far in steps whatsoever.
Once you get down to the beach level, Glyka Nera that you want to go to and the taverna located there and the water closets are on the very farthest side of the beach. You have to watch through an entire “on the beach” nudist colony before you get to it (I had warned the girls of this, too, but it turns out that Emily thought that I was warning them that there was a “new” beach, not a “nude” beach, which doesn’t make any sense, but that’s why she was so shocked when she saw loads of naked old men walking around the beach.) Madeline had understood and like me, had no idea how Emily was surprised. It was pretty hilarious.
Madeline decided that she needed to get under an umbrella and put on sun screen. Probably needed that before the long walk in the exposed sun, in reality. Emily and I headed straight for the water, we were so hot we just wanted to get into the water and cool off. Getting into the water proved to be pretty difficult, however, as the rocks of the beach were very painful. They were hot, but that wasn’t too much of a problem, the real issue was that they were sharp and hurt your feet to stand on them, on the beach and in the water. And once we hit the water, it was so cold.
Glyka Nera’s claim to fame is the fresh snow melt running into the water from the beach and boy do you feel it. The water at this beach is way colder than elsewhere on the Libyan Sea. You can instantly see the blurry swirls in the water from the mixing of the cold sweet water and the warm salt water. The rocks under your feet are cold and if you stand in the right places you can literally feel the icy river flow from between the rocks and up between your toes! A bizarre and very unique sensation.
We stayed in the water for a long time. The sun was so hot and the water so refreshing. Madeline never decided to get in, though. So just Emily and I hung out for a long time.
Up on the beach itself, if you dig down just a few inches you actually dig into the river itself and you get flowing pools of fresh cold water. People do this and use it to clean themselves, I washed out my shirt this way, and to put their drinks in to cool them down! What is most amazing is not that the water pools, but that the water will literally be flowing by from one side of the pool to the other, in the direction of the sea. The painful to walk on rocks here are very smooth (because they were washed there from the underground river obviously) and because of their shape they allow a huge volume of water to just flow through unimpeded, but with their top side staying hot and dry. So you walk around on the beach like normal, without it being obvious that there is an ice cold river just six inches under your feet over the coarse of the entire beach! It’s just amazing. And because of this, there are trees that grow right there on the beach in what would normally be too hot, dry, and salty for trees to grow.
While on the beach I went to the taverna to get us iced teas to drink while laying out. From the beach side I was able to find out that Delfini operates reasonable boat access to the beach and is just four Euros per person to take. So I arranged that and surprised the girls with a boat to take us back to Sfakia at five thirty. They were pretty happy about that. Although Madeline said that she actually would prefer to hike back up the way that we came, and I was totally down for that, too, but Emily was definitely one hundred percent on board with just taking the boat back.
That made the rest of our beach afternoon pretty leisurely. I think that today was the most sun that we have gotten for this entire trip. Madeline said that I was pretty red all over by the time that things were done. Madeline really enjoyed that goats would hang out on the mountain behind the beach and would even come down and drink from the fresh water pools on the beach right in the middle of the people.
The boat back leaves from the taverna and was tiny, maybe seating ten people. Just a fishing boat with a bench in the middle. But the ride was quick and easy. But like the gorge and cliff drives, and the hike down, the boat was another thing that Dominica could not possibly have handled today.
Dominica was at home having her own adventures. A cicada came into the house while we were away and Dominica spent a long time screaming and panicking about what to do about that.
We got back to Sfakia and walked up to the super market where the taxi call desk said that we should just walk the two kilometers back to our car because it was too close to bother with a taxi. But we were all hot and tired, and I was getting sore from so much hiking in a swim suit, so we had them call a taxi for us. It is three Euros to call one, and six Euros (which is the minimum) to go two kilometres. So nine Euros and five minutes later, we were at the car. It is easy, you pay the taxi stand at the super market ahead of time, so there is nothing to deal with.
We got back to our car and started the seventy five minute mountain drive back to Aptera. A long, exhausting day. But we accomplished a lot of stuff.
It was dark when we got home. The girls basically went directly to bed. Everyone is so tired. I stayed up for a while and worked.