This is the second of a three-part post about the trip to Balos Beach on Crete’s far-western Gramvousa Peninsula, and the way back from it.
It is a true statement that what goes up must come down. But if you are making the trek to Balos by car and on foot, it’s the other way around: Whosever goes down that two-kilometer trail must come back up it, no matter how difficult that may prove to be.
There are a couple of ways to avoid this during the tourist season, that is, roughly mid-April to mid-October. The first is to board one of the boats heading to Balos from the city harbors at Kissamos or Chania. These excursion vessels will bring you right to the sandy beach and lagoon that have made Balos one of the most famous beaches in the world. The second is, having driven up the rocky road to the small parking lot atop the Gramvousa Peninsula, you hire a so-called “donkey taxi” to take you down and bring you back up. My wife Oksana and I are more of the “DIY” type, and so, a few weeks ago, at the tail end of the season, right before winter weather set in, long after the boats and donkeys had gone back to harbor and corral to rest, we went out to navigate the entire trip on our own.
The path down to the beach begins right beside a short stone wall and what appears to be an advertising sign (photo immediately below) that has been there for 20 or 30 years, but has not succumbed to the weather that attacks it from time to time. The first part of the walk takes you through some rolling meadow-like and foothill terrain offering some of the freshest air you’ll ever breathe and some of the most beautiful natural sights you can imagine. Here, as on the rocky road you have already traversed in your car, you will encounter Kri-kri goats, the famed and quite friendly symbols of Crete. (I say “friendly” because I have never had anything but pleasant meetings with these beautiful animals. But if some idiot were to choose to test the Kri-kri’s patience by hauling off and, say, throwing rocks at it, it might well put its ramming horns to use. It is a wild animal, don’t forget.) After awhile, the footpath that has been cut naturally into the landscape turns into a walkway and retaining wall, with stairs, that someone has built by hand. The construction job usually is quite impressive, you get the impression that Minoan practices have been followed here, but never forget that you are out in the wild. The “sidewalk” is not lacking in the occasional, if not frequent, bump, hole, or missing stone, and the stairs are not calibrated to make your each and every step the same as the one before. In fact, the footpath provides every bit as much a rocky ride as does the rocky road on the other side of the mountain. Keep your eyes glued on where you’re going, be prepared to slip or trip, don’t try to take it any faster than what you feel is entirely safe. If you want to stop and admire the views of the lagoon and beach that eventually open up below you, take a rest, sit down. Stop and lean against something – catch your breath while the landscape conspires to take your breath away again. After a good 2 kilometers descent, the manmade stairs peter out and turn you over to a sand dune through which you slip and slide downwards for another 50 meters (50 yards +/-) or so before finding yourself at water’s edge. That story, of the water and the beach, will come in the next instalment of this three-pronged blog.
Let me just say that the trip back up, as I hinted above, is, well, no blithe trip to the beach. At times the ascent is quite steep – it may have been relatively easy coming down, but it’s not so going up. When we made the trip on Dec. 20, it took us 50 minutes, with numerous stops, to make it all the way back up the mountain. Were I not so hard-headed, it would probably have been to my advantage to take it even more slowly. There are plenty of places to stop and sit; and that view out over the beach, lagoon and Sea of Crete, is always there to take your mind off your sufferings. In any case, by the time you get back to home base in the afternoon or evening, you’ll surely remember nothing of the suffering, but everything of the majestic beauty you have encountered.
Text and photos © John Freedman, 2020.