Monday, 2 June 2014

Gorging on Colour

You may be pleased to know that there wil be no nostalgiafest today. For reasons known only to my parents, they decided to give the Samaria Gorge a miss. Given my brother was only 6 and the gorge 16km long, perhaps they were wiser than I knew. Anyway years later their idiot daughter found herself getting up at 4.30 to go for a gentle stroll in the mountains. Not just that but persuading a pre teen and a mad saffa to do similar. 

I don't often see sun rise and here it is a visual delight, a light show to rival any I've seen; the black-white limestone screen of mountains with a rainbow projection. As we hit the Askifou plateau we had reached the yellow/green stage and the cornfields waved in coloured empathy. As the coach doors opened it seemed that the fragrance also coloured the air. Mint green as invigorating as the breeze. 

We needed to go higher and the greens turned to blue; likewise mint turned to pine. We had clearly reached the Cretan alps. The White Mountains stretched high above us, dizzying in aspect, but our path led down. The entrance to the gorge gaped and we disappeared one by one, carefully, slowly, into the resinous gloom.   

The going was hard underfoot but looking up was breathtaking. Between the black green Calabrian pines and bright blue, the sheer sharp white mountains soared.

Still, down we went and the trees oddly started to thin until the rocks showed through, a dry, dessicated white. In parody of the tumbling froth, the stones sat in mid movement on the river bed. Many hands had created works of art from these pebbles, piling them up from large to small. Even the tree branches were covered in pebble 'moss'. It seemed that these sculptures were the only way to reduce the magnificence of the mountains to human scale.

Further down the gorge and we found the rainbow's end. The endlessly high walls were golden; liquid gold flowed over the pebble nuggets. Criss-crossing the pure stuff, the burbling echoed our giggles. By the eighth kilometre the laughing was more hysterical but, still, we laughed. The prize was the iron gates, where the ravine was a mere three metres wide. The rickety wooden path bridge carried us through the gap.

However, despite all that had gone before, the best was yet to come. The geological story that the rocks were telling us, and everyone who listens, is endless. They relate the power of the earth, the compressing heat, the lives of the fossilising creatures within - everything both in its place and transforming into something else. Like the piled pebbles and wobbly people, balance is sweet. 

And so, what about the end of our journey? We had traversed the longest gorge in Europe, lost most of our dignity and anticipated the muscle pains. But I salute the sanity of my parents for allowing me to find this gorge, myself, the hard way. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Holiday Pinks

It's that time of year again; when London and I spend time apart to 'find ourselves' or 'take a break' for the good of my health and sanity. Recent trips away have revolved around significant birthdays - not the one on Decenber though, that was just bloody minded contrariness - so it was nice just to book and not worry about being another year closer to mandatory tummy control bikini bottoms. 

Crete was the choice of the youngest travelling companion. A dour doom merchant of drama queen proportions.  Or a pre teen Yorkshire Saffa ... Middle name 'caaaan I have a saaaaandwich?'. For as long as I've known him he has been obsessed with Greek gods so I was determined to bring him to the place where history, myth, civilisation combined to change my life at the same age. 

It was also my first time on a plane, first time not on a windy tent holiday and the first time I experienced the sea as a gentle warm blue bath. It was also where I had my first holiday romance. So it was a pretty momentous holiday by anyone's standards. 

My dad had worked some legalistic miracle for the hotel owner - or indeed had his own romance - but we somehow got invited to a family christening way up in the fragrant spiky island interior. This solemn ceremony in a tiny ancient chapel led to an explosively festive affair which carried on way into the night. A group of kids welcomed me and my younger brother, as we giggled at the ridiculous dancing adults. Music filled the air as thickly as the scents of the rosemary roasting lamb over the fire. 

In this atmosphere the beautiful young man and I kissed, and we held hands for the rest of the evening. When ever we saw one another in the hotel kitchen we would smile shyly and I imagined a life in permanent sunshine with him. At 12 the hopeless dreamer could hopelessly dream. 

So when I heard the voices and traditional music last night - as well as seeing grown adults dancing with red faces, I was transported to another time and place. Where holidays experienced as a child were actually life changing and inspirational. 

Still, even now, the child in me imagines the sea and rocky inlets sheltering ancient traders and fishermen, the purple mountain crags jangled with goats bells...whilst the lithe young men practice bull fighting and the bare breasted women waved snakes. 

I don't know what this young chap will take away from this holiday. Already his swimming confidence has grown, apparently the food is divine, and today he will walk the longest gorge in Europe. But nothing is more important than the opportunity to learn, travel and be inspired.