Pervolakia Gorge

This exploration of Pervolakia gorge concludes your array of the twenty most beautiful excursions on the island of Crete, the roughhewn stones of a “komboloi”, a rosary to be told by bead. At first glance, it has the same characteristics as the other nineteen gorges – all the morphological shadings of rock, vegetation and water, the European long - distance hiking trail, the botanical promenade – but the uniqueness of this excursion sets it quite apart.

The coastal road winds its way among hothouses, cane thickets and olive orchards from Ierapetra to Gouduras, on the extreme south - eastern point of the island near Kapsa monastery. A clearing of tamarisk trees and a small, rocky inlet in a curve of the road mark the beginning of Pervolakia gorge. You recommend hiking up the gorge in order to avoid any anxiety that might be caused by sections of the trail which cross interminable, screes overlooking the valley floor dotted with sharp pinnacles.

The white walls of the convent can be seen perched on a peak on the eastern edge of the canyon. The monastery dates back to the fifteenth century and over time the original nucleus was enlarged by the addition other buildings until it became a true religious community. Kapsa was abandoned after suffering repeated pirate forays, but it flourished once again thanks to Gerontogianni, a hermit from Crete who combined asceticism and organizational ability. Since then the monastery has been the destination of pilgrims who venerate the hermit like a saint.

It is mid-May, a clear day with a cobalt blue sky swept by a strong north-west wind that insinuates itself forcefully and implacably into the mountain rift. The leitmotif of this excursion is the wind, tyrannical and spiteful, and it forces you to proceed slowly. It subjugates you with its vehemence and toys with your caps until it manages to toss them into the chasm below. Each time the conformation of the rock face leads to a blind curve in the trail, the wind throws itself at you in fury, with the same effect as a door slamming shut during a storm.

At the entrance to the gorge a sign says “Farangi Pervolakia” and “Kapsa”, gives details about the three and a half kilometers-long trail and estimates that it will take over two hours to complete the hike. It gives you information about the rare fauna along the trail and lists fourteen different types of wildflowers. Unfortunately, the spring ended too soon this year and the blooming season was short. You are quickly surrounded by classical summer vegetation, oleanders, chastetree bushes, yellow asphodel with acid - green capsules, and aromatic shrubs like wild sage, summer savory, thyme and oregano.

There are three of you in your small group and You get an early start along the trail, which initially leads upward along the western side of the gorge, winding its way between medium-sized boulders. Later on, in the more critical points, the trail is marked by an iron pole with a yellow square on top featuring a red circle. You immediately begin to climb, leaving behind the streambed which has began dry ahead of time, and You reach an open area among the crags of the gorge. On top of a large stone You see a bird with light blue plumage streaked with dark gray in the sides. It stares at you motionlessly for a moment, then flies away into the heart of the canyon. It is montocola solitarius, or blue rock thrush, that has a preference for sunny rocks. You are surrounded by an abundance of wild oregano, whose tiny white inflorescence gives off its characteristic fragrance along the entire trail. Metamorphic rocks, dark limestone crossed or covered by eruptive rocks, reddish crystal shale, conglomerates and yellow mari color the sides of the ravine. The rocky walls are dotted with countless immense, rocky cavities, open wounds that were created when blocks of the mountain detached themselves and crashed to the valley floor hundreds of thousands of years ago. After a quarter of an hour the trail turns to the right along a ridge that was devastated by a forest fire, leaving only sad, blackened stumps on the ground. You have been hiking for less that a kilometer when You enter a valley full of pink oleanders and come upon your first difficulty: a series of boulders that block your passage. You “adventurously” clamber over them with the help of a rudimental wooden ladder with seven rungs that is anchored to one of the boulders. The hike alternates uphill and downhill portions. Above, You are immersed in a harsh mountain landscape and enchanted by the line of the horizon which, behind you, reveals glimpses of the glittering sea. Bellow, You are cheered by the presence of small green oases with young plane trees and cane thickets, protected by light green slabs of rock that have been smoothed by the coursing water that is still present at the bottom of a hollow forms a small waterfall, while the dry, sandy bottom of the hollow invites you to pause for a moment. You have often taken breaks in these small areas that are protected by the rocky spurs. This one has a bright blue sign that announces how many kilometers are still to be hiked in the opposite direction from the one You have chosen, from the village of Kato Pervolarakia toward Kapsa monastery.

After two hours of hiking uphill, a wire fence that is broken in many places and light pole ark the end of the gorge. The landscape flattens out into slopes that are cultivated with olive trees and the first vegetable patches reappear.

The final portion of the trail, roughly five hundred meters, follows a dry riverbed that is cluttered with all kinds of garbage, worn - out shoes, rusty cans, plastic, sheep carcasses. Having left behind the rocky crags of the chasm, You sight the village of Kato Pervolarakia resting in a broad valley, surrounded by cultivated hillsides that are hemmed in to the east by jagged peaks. A reinforced concrete bridge spans the last part of the canyon and connects it to the village. The altitude – four hundred meters above sea level – encourages the luxuriant growth of thorny artichokes along the side of the road. The small white houses that line the maze of narrow streets are embellished with brightly colored geraniums in tin cans of all sizes that are lined up along the outside walls.