We are back from a long walk in the beautiful Sfakia.
Since our trip to Crete is outside the normal tourist season, we have had limited options in possible day trips. However with the help of an extremely friendly and engaging lady at the Chania Tourist Information, we have managed to plan a full day to the Southern part of Western Crete.
We begin the day by joining the Cretans in the early hours at the bus station. After a wake-up coffee and lots of greasy breakfast pastry, we board the 8:15 AM bus to Hora Sfakion, the main town of Sfakia. On the trip, the bus drives through the beautiful and snow-capped Lefki Ori Mountains, while the bus-driver is listening to a terrible radio station where the marvellous rock tunes from Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix are constantly disrupted by a speaker, who talks over the songs. Every time I get caught up in a new song, he starts babbling, screaming even, pushing the song to the background. Did he never hear about speaking in between songs?
Around 10 AM we exit the bus at the village of Imbros along with a few other tourists, but it doesn’t take long before they have moved past us down towards the Imbros Gorge entrance and for the remainder of our walk, we are alone. Just us and the beautiful and dramatic nature of Imbros Gorge.
Imbros is one of numerous gorges stretching north to south through the mountainous Sfakia, which have been created as a result of weathering of limestone and erosion along a geological fault.
Imbros Gorge starts at the village of Imbros at an altitude of 740 m above sea level. At its narrowest, the gorge is 1.60 m while the rock sides reach 300 m at their highest. Eight kilometres long, it is a pleasant and beautiful walk which we do in around 2.5 hours, taking pictures at every conceivable spot and angle. Unlike the parallel running and much more trafficked Samaria Gorge, Imbros is easy to navigate and doable for anyone with solid footwear. The gorge ends at the village of Komitades, where a woman greets us and asks us about our walk.
But Imbros is so much more than an easier path for those tourists who cannot take the daunting route down Samaria as cattle on a string. Since ancient times and until a paved road was created through the mountains, Imbros Gorge was the principal connection between Chania and the Southern Coast of Crete. As such it is not merely a touristy track, but a central part of the infrastructure on pre-modern Crete.
Furthermore, it was central in the evacuation of allied forces following the German invasion of Crete in May 1941. As the Allied Forces were about to lose the Battle of Crete, 20,000 Brits, Aussies and New Zealanders were evacuated through the gorge, 13,000 of them making it to Hora Sfakion and Allied ships bringing them to safety in Egypt. The remaining 7,000 were captured by German forces or went into the hills in hiding. Of these, some left the island on later boats while others joined the Cretan Resistance Movement for the next four years.
Thus, walking the trail of Imbros Gorge is also a walk through history and war. The Battle of Crete was bloody and disorganised on the side of the Allied Forces. While many civilian Cretans fought hard against the Germans. The Cretans have every right to feel proud of their part in securing and assisting so many soldiers through the difficult terrain of Sfakia and in their own civilian attempt to stop the Germans from occupying their island.
The gorge itself is beautiful, lush and green for the most parts and pleasantly cool. Goats are grassing the hills side, their mahs heard bouncing off the rocky hills. Halfway through is a small cottage-like structure for rest.
I couldn’t help comparing our walk down Imbros Gorge to our exploration of Barragh Canyon in Wadi Rum and the famous Siq in Petra. I must admit I find myself rather privileged to having had such wonderful memories. But our day on the Southern coast of Crete is far from over. In front of us awaits 4.6 kilometres of trailing the coastline to the fishing village, Loutros.