The weather has been sunny, hot, and calm the past couple of days. Wiltrud and I drove up to Kalikratis from Kapsodasos – the road has now been cleared of stones, but of course they’ve been pushed onto the narrow shoulder, so if another vehicle is coming towards you, you have to be very careful when pulling to the side. On two bends part way up there are now benches with trees planted beside them, so you can sit looking down to the Frangokastello plain pretending you are viewing it from an airplane. It was hazy out to sea, but we could just make out the shape of Gavdos.
The hike from Kalikratis to Manikas (the small grazing plateau above Skaloti) is challenging (i.e. for masochists), as the “path” is little more than a rough goat track in many places, lined with spiny spurge and other prickly plants (so long trousers are highly recommended, as are hiking poles). The hike starts at the church just south of Janina’s café. The way up to the saddle is marked by cairns on the right side of the valley, although lower down the markings are harder to find. The trees have just come into leaf in the mountains, and their fresh green colour was beautiful with the sun shining through them.
As we walked up, we found some small Cretan tulips and yellow orchids (Orchis pauciflora) in the same spot, and in other places a bee orchid, a white quadripunctata orchid, several anemone hortensis and cyclamen. Yellow tree flax was growing though some bushes, and there was a lot of blue milkwort (Polygala venulosa) poking out of several kinds of shrubs everywhere. [flower photos in the next posting]
At the top of the saddle there was a welcome breeze, and clear views down to Kalikratis and to the south. Two small green plateaus break up the rocky terrain (a rough dirt track leads from Manikas to the furthest one). As we crossed the path transversing the slope, we looked back to view the snow-covered Lefka Ori in the distance.
Although the terrain is rocky and dry, some interesting flowers can be found in the shade of the larger rocks along the path, including a few orchids and even a late fritillary. Sheep were grazing high up under hostile-looking rock formations. The views back showed more of the Lefka Ori in the distance and the western wall of the Asfendou gorge.
The path eventually meets a dirt road which winds down past very full small reservoirs and old stone-lined wells. The path then leaves the road at some metal feeding troughs, cutting down to a narrow gap which leads to the lovely and atmospheric ruins of the old upper settlement of Manikas, suspended over a green plateau which hosts a few trees, a church and a few old houses. There is a dirt road that leads down to Skaloti; the old footpath down the gorge branches off to the left of that road.
After a picnic in the shade of a maple tree by the ruins, with only bird song breaking the quiet atmosphere, we retraced our steps. We were surprised by a bulldozer smoothing out the dirt road leading to Manikas which had been very badly damaged from the winter rains in places. Back in Kalikratis, we enjoyed a fresh lemonade at Janina’s café (she is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays). The quince trees are in bloom all over the village.
We arrived back in Sfakia, where it was still very warm, in time for a quick swim before sunset.