It's all about the Euros.
When I was Googling places to hike on Crete, this Greek National Park rose to the top of the search engine. Many websites announced it to be a "must see" destination. How could I resist?
So... I pointed my battered and gutless rental car to this splotch of green displayed on my Crete map. Little did I know a multitude of tour buses occupied by Wannabe Wilderness Warriors would be converging there at the same time.
I consider myself to be a connoisseur of quiet pretty places. I spent last summer gliding along on many earthy trails. I saw beauty all around me. I felt so at ease, I was even sleeping peacefully. All was good in my world.
I tried my luck in the Hellenic Republican. On this hike, the Greek Gods weren't handing me their blessings. This might be the reason.
The country of Greece is undergoing a financial crisis. Unemployment is running at an unfathomable 23.2%. This is the highest jobless rate in the Euro Zone. Tourism is a major industry. It creates service jobs and brings in a year round influx of cash. Making Euros off of hikers is one way to stimulate the economy.
Hence, lots of determined Germans, gossipy French, fashionably dressed Italians, families with dour looking children in tow, two beer guzzling Dudes, and one Wandering Wondering Jew were all forced to occupy the same dicey 16 kilometers (10 mile) descent at the same time. I often said "Excuse Me" as I squeezed by in search of a stretch of solitude. I've seen New York City streets that were less peopled.
For my fellow trail companions, their amble to the Libyan Sea and village of Agia Roumeli would end with a ferry ride followed by a bus back to their starting point in the city of Chania. A very long drawn out and pricey day.
I decided to spend the night in Agia Roumeli and turn around and hike out the following morning. Sort of a Greek version of a typical Grand Canyon experience. Let me tell you, this seaside village is no Phantom Ranch.
Right away, I noticed a vibe I hadn't experienced before in Greece. Shopkeepers, restaurant owners and even hotel clerks looked upon the worn out trekkers like hyenas circling a maimed gazelle. We were all fresh meat and they were coming in for the economic kill. It turned me off for my stay there. I was fleeced a few times in less than 16 hours. I.E: I was charged €17 for two eggs swimming in an ocean of olive oil, three pieces of stale toast and a cup of tepid coffee. At least the proprietor said "thank you" when I called him on it. (Not all the merchants were like the above description, I just ran into the few bad gyros!)
I then shouldered my backpack and headed uphill feeling used and violated. After paying €5 to a Park "Warden." I entered the gorge. It was quiet enough to hear my own crunching footsteps. I was enjoying the moment knowing eventually the downhill hiking hordes would appear. I passed rest areas devoid of people. Their empty picnic tables and cigarette ash trays awaited the coming crowds.
I made it 8 kilometers up before I met my first seagoing walkers. I began counting. The result surprised me. In a 8 kilometer (5 mile) survey, I saw 650 humans. (Margin of error plus or minus 3%). Believe it or not, this is the low season for visitation. On a busy day, there's over 1,500 adventurers cramming the trail.
Sadly, the Samaria National Parks administration has lost sight of their own management goals. From the Park's brochure:
"Visitors have the occasion for a deep, true and meaningful contact with the natural landscape, plants and animals, opening themselves up to nature."
More like opening up your wallet/purse!
I understand the Park's plight. Theirs too many jobs and much needed cash on the line. I also know that this incident is the exception instead of the rule. Most of my hikes have been uncrowded and relaxed.
For the most part, Greeks are helpful, friendly, honest and generous. They enjoy smiling as much as I do too.
This by and large has been a really great break from my usual journeys. I've already marked Greece as a return destination one day.
From a seaside village with a name that looks like Hora Station to my Gringo eyes,
About the photo with the ladder on the rock. I suppose you climb there in case of a flash flood.