Yesterday certainly, did not start with me feeling on top of the world! We had had Chris and Pauline (Dutch friends recently returned from the Netherlands) round for supper on the previous evening and considerable quantities of vino had been quaffed and the next morning, didn’t I know it!
So it was a bit of a struggle to get over to Koutsounari for midday to meet up with Rich and Shona for a trip to the mountains in their 4WD. Ever since we first came to this part of Crete we have wanted to get to the top of Afentis Stavromenos (commonly known as Thripti, after the village which nestles in a mountain plateau at the base of the final summit). It dominates the landscape of Eastern Crete and when we lived in Ferma, we looked out onto its southern flank from our kitchen window. Now we are in Kavousi, we can view the peak from the north-west when we are at the beach in Tholos. It stands at 1,476m and as such, is a tad higher than Ben Nevis.
Sheila, our daughter Rosie and Sheila’s tennis partner Margarita tried to climb it once from our house. They took the Minoan path from Kavousi to Thripti village to a height of about 850m where I met them with the car (for the return trip) and we all set out for the top.
Unfortunately, the route is not well posted through the straggling village and it took us a long time to find the correct path and by the time we got to the foot of the final ascent (very steep scree and rock) with still about 500m to go, everyone, including me was completely knackered. So, we re-traced our steps, sank a beer or two in the local taverna and left the summit for another day.
To be honest, I think my days of scrambling up that final ascent are over but Sheila is still keen and just waiting for someone to challenge her to do it (meaning some one fool enough to accompany her!). It really is a walk for the spring or autumn when the weather is suitable but a good clear day without wind is also required as well. So far, this year, neither the conditions nor the company has been forthcoming.
So, when Rich and Shona suggested a trip to the top in their Suzuki Jimny, it was too good an opportunity to miss. The mountain is topped by a communication mast and small chapel with a dirt road which zig-zags up from a somewhat better dirt road connecting the mountain villages of Thripti and Oreino. At first sight, it is hard to see how the road can penetrate what seems like an impregnable wall but eventually as we crept higher and higher around ever sharper and steeper hairpin bends, a way through the rocks appeared and suddenly we were in a different world – a truly lunar landscape of unforgiving greyness.
However, before we got to the top, to our surprise we had to descend to a bleak upland basin at which point the walking path from Thripti joined us before the final half dozen hairpins up to the summit car park. We left the Jimny there, next to the rammel of unsightly buildings surrounding the radio mast, to walk the final few metres to the chapel.
Just above the chapel is the Greek equivalent of the trig point which served as a useful resting place for at least one of the party – literally sitting on top of the world!
We even saw a vulture but no one got a picture!
Although the day was a little hazy, the view is stunning – a true 360 degree panorama and we spent half an hour or so with no one else there, just enjoying the beauty of the day and the wonderful solitude of the mountains.
The Chapel looked well-kept, even well-used and was the usual mix of icons and other religious paraphernalia.
Then, poor Rich had to negotiate the return journey back to the main road which allowed the rest of us to take a few photos of just how spectacular a road it is.
And then it was back to Kimeri taverna in Koutsounari for a late lunch before heading home to watch the results of the Greek General Election with Walter and Brigitta who are just back from Germany. Pleased as we were with the unexpected decisiveness of the result, the celebrations were muted on my part at least, due to the excesses of the night before!
Today, the weather has broken and we have had heavy rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. Just as well we were not up the mountain today!
Many thanks to Rich and Shona for laying on the entertainment, especially Rich who did the driving, hair-raising (and open-mouthed) to say the least.