My visit to Crete (Greece’s largest island) was mystifying for many reasons. One of the well-known landmarks in this legendary island is the Samaria Gorge which is reportedly the longest gorge in Europe. We did not hike the gorge on that trip but I would like to return to Crete someday and hike it with my husband and Boy Scout sons. My relative, a native of Greece, has hiked it three times and has led school groups through it as a volunteer for the Red Cross. I interviewed my charming and lovely relative about her expertise on the Samaria Gorge.
What inspired you to hike the gorge? Describe the terrain.
I hiked it three times; once with the Red Cross team escorting 15 secondary school kids. I enjoyed the scenery changes going down. At the end of the 13 kilometers it becomes very difficult because you walk on large stones. There’s a lot of animals and trees. You see the water coming down from the mountains and the huge rocks over you. The change in scenery was the most exciting thing. You go down many steps made out of stones and have to be very careful because there are many accidents that occur. Broken hands, broken legs….It’s very hard to get out of the gorge if you’re hurt. They use small donkeys. (Other animals can be seen along the landscape.)
I’ve heard they use helicopters, too.
Yes, they do. Many hikers are from Europe—Belgium, France, Switzerland….and they want to explore more of the gorge, so they get off the path. This is extreme—it is not an easy gorge. You must follow the directions of the leaders.
Did it require special training to hike the gorge?
How long did the hike on the gorge take?
6 1/2 hours, 7 maximum with 2-3 stops and a snack. You get time to relax and take pictures. You can’t stop anywhere because others are behind you. The paths are very narrow and dangerous. There are many avalanches and you can hear stones falling. They tell you to not turn your head up when you hear the rocks. Some people want to see where the stone is coming from. You have to protect your head.
Is it free to hike the gorge or is there an admission price?
Did you encounter dangers or accidents?
One lady sprained her ankle going down because she wasn’t wearing the right shoes. Good shoes with the proper toe is important.
Do people camp there?
In the middle of the gorge, at the 7th kilometer, there is the Samaria Old Village. Once a year, they have celebrations and people camp during the night and have liturgy during the day. It was a very nice moment. I think the churches were called Agios Nikolaos, St. Irene…–they were small churches. After the 13 km in the gorge, you walk 3km more to end up in Agia Roumeli village with a marvelous beach.
How has this experience enriched your life?
Oh!–I experienced many different feelings! I was very scared in the beginning that I wasn’t going to complete it in 6 hours but I did it in 5 1/2 hours. Going with the school kids make it quicker because they are running and it was dangerous and we were trying to hold them back. You feel like you are in a different country—I couldn’t believe I was in Greece. I met a lady while volunteering for the Red Cross and we’re still close friends since that time. I was so full of happiness that I managed to go through the gorge. We made so many friends because we were trying to help others. It was a unique experience.