Orino Gorge

The Orino massif is pierced by a vertical gash, the resulf of thousands of years of erosion. Until a few years ago it had been covered by a luxuriant forest of pine trees which well suited the name “dasos gorge” the forest gorge. Today, the forest has been swept away by a terrible forest fire and it has returned to its geological denomination, “Orino gorge” or more romantically, the “butterfly gorge”. You will come upon many of these lepidopterans in the wet oases and the underbrush as you hike along the stream that traverses the gorge.

Excursions in this polyhedral canyon can be adapted to the strength and intentions of the hiker. An hour of pleasant walking leads to the first check - point, the small church of Saint Demetrios, after which the tenacity of the excursionist is put to the test by an uphill hike lasting another two hours. But perseverance is rewarded by stupendous vistas and the constant presence of abundant waterfalls. You start our hike at the Koutsoura nature reserve, which is located along the road from Ierapetra to Makrighialos. A kilometer before Makrighialos, Koutsoura Park is clearly marked on the left. The park has hectares of reforested land, a vast clearing that serves as a parking lot and a refreshment area with a lovely wooden chalet with benches and tables under the pine trees. An oleander - lined road takes you toward the folds of the mountain after walking for ten minutes, near a large, blue tube marked IGME, a waterworks breather pipe, the trail becomes narrower and wends its way among the first boulders. As you hike uphill, the view is ruined by the sad spectacle of the cliff sides that were devastated by a forest fire in 1993, sad and oppressive evidence of human error. But, amazingly, this desolate landscape carries within itself the seeds of its future catharsis: near the shattered trees, others are miraculously rising up intact with thick foliage. New, timid shoots of life peep out from the ground, miniature pine trees, already straight and proud, and shiny green saplings of small kermes oak trees – quercus coccifera.

The trail is often blocked by enormous tree trunks but in the continuous ups and downs of the trail there is vitality and lush greenery along the streambed. Aromatic bushes of oregano, sage and thyme, shrubs of rock roses and mastic trees, a profusion of white and fuchsia oleanders, all reveal the powerfull will of nature to carry on. The ravine is naver monotonous, it rises among the recesses of the rocky walls it leads back downward into small oases of vegetation – the first chastetrees with their violet spicae, pungent tufts of wild asparagus, broad aromatic fig leaves – and is fed by modest trickles of water that slip along the limestone and aren’t yet able to transform themselves into a proper waterfall. Only in one point is our passage blocked by a boulder, an impediment which is easily surmounted with the help of a wooden ladder that leads solidly and safely up for a few meters. After hiking for half an hour you come upon a hollow that is completely overgrown by a cane thicket. A light wind shakes the canes, causing a subdued jangling noise the only real sound is the characteristic call of the partidges which are distrurbed by our presence and rise heavily into the air from the underbrush to find refuge in the inaccessible crags. A brief climb and you find ourselves underneath an enormous, ancient pine tree, whose twisted branches create a natural arch and offer respite from the strong sun. the canyon walls have narrowed, the red trail markers, which have helped you follow the right path, herd you in single file along the uncomfortable wall of the waterworks, leading to a rural setting of olive orchards and cultivated vegetable patches. After a good hour’s hike the first part of our excursion is over; you are near the whitewashed chapel dedicated to Saint Demetrios. You rest near the belvedere in front of the church, with its stone fountain, long table and wooden benches. The fountain promises fresh water but you are unable to make it work. From a nearby field, a farmer comes to our rescue. He is accompanied by a boy who is around six or seven years old, with whom you share some dried figs and chocolate snacks. You visit the chapel, which appears to be very old. The external lunette has a painting of Saint Demetrios in armor astride a bay horse, about to lance an infidel who our Cretan interlocutor promptly identifies as a “Turk.” Inside the chapel there are a great many icons dedicated to the saint, whose name is often accompanied by the attribute “stereanos” – he who watches over the prosperity of fruit trees, the abundance of harvests and the multiplication of flocks. You can’t help but associate the name Demetrios – or Demetrius, Diocletian’s martyr – with Demetra, the Greek goddess of fertility, who the people of Crete believe was born here, and note how the osmosis between sacred and profane is still very present in the Greek - Orthodox religion.

You resume your hike among the olive trees on a well-cultivated plateau. Below, the local farmers have planted vegetables along the banks of the rushing stream. The trail continues to lead upward and stops at a small wooden bridge that daringly rest on a high cement wall and connects the two banks that would otherwise remain separated. Bright yellow arrows peremptorily conduct you downhill through a small thicket of brambles to the left bank of the torrent. For a quarter of an hour you have no other choice than to wade, sometimes with your hiking boots immersed in the water, sometimes balancing on the uneven rocks in the stream as you steady ourselves by holding on to the flexible canes of the rushes. The yellow trail markers have disappeared and have been substituted by red spots that advise hikers to avoid following the increasingly impetuous water of the stream and to begin hiking further up on the left-hand side of the canyon. You savor the pleasure of hiking uphill and down, often ending up in picture - perfect oases with sandy bottoms, small waterfalls with smooth stones, shady plane trees, an abundance of violet campanulas and the tall stalks of Bear’s Breeches – acanthus spinosus mollis which inspired the ornamental motifs of the Corinthian capitals in ancient Greece. Finally you sight the vivid colors of the first butterflies. After an hour you reach an abandoned dam, a tall smooth platform green with moss that is barely veiled with water. Higher up, the peak of Mt. Askordalia is clearly outlined against the sky. In a few points the trail becomes tricky and very steep, the protective guardrails of the only forested portion, with its tall, solitary pine, trees, have disappeared. For a brief stretch the ridge offers few handholds, only a couple of large stones and the crumbly earth, but it is only for a moment. Soon the canyon relaxes and your destination is at hand; just beyond the ravine to the left is the high, safe, paved road leading to the mountain village of Orino. Undergrowth redolent of myrtle hides a vigorous waterfall from view, but guided by the sound of the water you penetrate the vegetation until you come upon a rocky hollow that slows the impetus of the water, imprisoning the waterfall for a moment in a deep pool before releasing it and funneling it through a round hole in the rock. After two hours of hiking, a barbed-wire fence explicitly marks the end of the excursion.