Thursday, 31 March 2011

Meeting Zeus and a Cretan Goddess

  Nancy Snipper
Snake Goddess

My brother Jon and I are very different. He’s quietly curious and knowledgeable. I’m overly-excitable and annoying. But we have one thing in common: the quest for adventure. He needed little coaxing when I asked him to come to Crete with me.   With thumbs-up and a subtle smile, he signaled he was game for the ride – lucky for me, given the dangerous roads we had to drive.  
Barely having time to bid my dogs good-bye, Greece swept us up as swiftly as Apollo’s chariot traversing the heavens. Sky-high and safe, we snoozed in Air Transat’s wide seats offering great leg room. Jon and I are no spring chickens, so we both appreciated the comfy nighttime flight that rejuvenated my usual jet lag.  

Chania, Crete
I stayed on in Athens while intrepid Jon headed for Chania, Crete where I would join him three days later. We would drive along Crete’s southwestern shore, and swim in its lovely Libyan sea and hike like Hercules.
Checking into a darling hotel named Plaka, I was surprised by it cozy affordable charm and quiet beauty. Its location put me in the middle of Midas gold: shopping, dining and ancient sites.  I had the best of both worlds:  a lively Plaka neighborhood outside; tranquil Plaka Hotel inside.  My room offered a breathtaking view of the acropolis, but it got even better atop Plaka’s roof garden. An awesome 360-degree view of Athens revealed itself. Two hotel feasts: the view and breakfast!
It was time to meet Jon. We were both set on doing some spectacular hiking in southwestern Crete’s incredible gorges. Our favourite hike was Imbros Gorge, Four hours to the finish line with a beach to reward you. No matter the gorge, a treasure of floral magnificence unfolded. Orchids poked out of crevices dug deep into the earth. Oleanders, lilies and poppies appeared among intimidating boulders.  Our feet were treading over billions years of time!
No trip to Crete would be complete without serious caving, so Jon and I set out to find the Ida cave – birthplace of Zeus.  After driving hours to reach the foot of Mount Psilaritis’s 2,456 metres, we stumbled upon the legendary cave.  What a disappointment! We were staring into a black cavern with no opening to explore. I went red with rage. Never one to interfere, Jon let me have a go at the god. Carefully stepping down the stairs leading into Zeus’s rock hovel, I cursed the God in broken Greek. We had traveled over 1000 kilometers (I allowed myself poetic exaggeration) and all he could give us was a dank cave, an old Cretan goat and some crows flying overhead. Albeit, their cawing supplied some eeriness, but we deserved better! Even the off-tune lute music we had heard the night before in a hotel high up in  Monasteraki village and the priest we had met in Meronas who requested I stay thirteen days to convert me into a good Greek Orthodox girl  was more interesting than this. Crete has over 2000 caves. Why did this one have to be a dud?
The next day I realized Zeus had been present, for he gave us an unforgettable gift. It happened while we were trying to traverse the waters along Kourtaliotiko Gorge.  Suddenly, a beautiful nymph-like lady appeared.  “I’m Sylvie: follow me,” she said, waving.” This goddess guide led us out of the gorge. We were ascending into unknown territory.  “Welcome to my home, she smiled.” It was a cave covered in flowers with running water, even fire. Stretched out over one of her cave cushions, Sylvie cooked us our first cave meal: keftedes (meatballs), tzadziki with herbs picked outside her cave and yogurt with honey from the gods.   Lulled by Sylvie’s magical manner, we nicknamed her Calypso – Odysseus’s kidnapper.  Our hiking was put on hold. My ‘Ode to a Cretan Urge” was being fulfilled right here.  As stars twinkled and Sylvie smiled, the black hush of descended. We were a trio in a land resonating with minotaur myths, impenetrable mysteries and surprises that confound the imagination.

Kourtaliotiko Gorge