Rozas Gorge

Our exploration of Rozas gorge came about in a casual and unexpected way because your original plan had been to go for a hike in the gorge of Gonies. Leaving Malia and driving in the direction of the lassithi plateau, after ten kilometers you come upon a crossroads and descend toward a plain in which excavations are busily underway for the construction of a large artificial reservoir. You reach Gonies and as is your wont, you search for a local person who can give you more detailed information. You discover, to your great disappointment, that the entire canyon can be driven through by car. Our interlocutor, a farmer with a sun - burnt face, consoles you by suggesting an alternative excursion, the “farangi Rozas” – the pink gorge. Just outside the village you turn left at the “Ammos Ceramic Worrkshop” and follow the wooden arrows for two kilometers until you reach the beginning of this small ravine wedged into the folds of the gorge of Gonies, in which you have irremediably lost interest. Rozas proclaims its importance with a signboard featuring a map of the area, a few indications regarding its practicability and level of difficulty, “fairly easy if the excursionist is in good shape”, a note on the botanical species present and the customary – and apt – request to respect the wildlife. This area is a land of goats, there are pens everywhere you open the wide – mesh fencing that bars the entrance to the trail and close it again behind you. You hike through a stand of oak trees and then the trail leads you for about ten minutes along the dry bed of a winter stream, among oleanders and the yellow and green umbrella - like inflorescence of succulent leaves of seafennel – chritmum maritimum. You are roughly 300 meters above see level and continue upward along the wide rocky steps, accompanied by frequent groupings of dracunculus vulgaris – dragon arum. These flowers are flaunting their summer plumage their dramatic violet bracts have been transformed into flashy cobs striped with green, yellow and red. A high wall of wavy, metamorphic rock looms above you to your right the sunlight brings out the fuchsia tones of the rock, revealing the origin of the gorge’s name. there is a solitary, inaccessible grotto halfway up the rock face inside you can see two formations of stalagmites and a rope mysteriously hanging from the roof of the cave. After half an hour the gorge narrows and the trail continues along a hollow in the rock. You are protected by a wooden railing bellows you, a chasm. You come upon another clearing with oak trees and listen to the crackling sound of acorns beneath your feet and the rustling of wings as a large bird is frightened by your passage and takes flight. Above you, among the rocky peaks, large birds of prey that nest in this area are on patrol, gyps fulvus – griffon vultures. The birds quickly plunge toward the valley bottom in search of quarry then rapidly ascend once again, drawing large circles in the air. The clear sky is crowded with other, less aggressive birds: young Eleonora’s falcons – falco eleonorae making their first attempts at flight and timidly trying one or two circles in the air as, suspended and immobile, they let themselves by transported by the wind before they quickly return to their haven among the rocky spires. After half hour, you go through another rudimental iron gate and come upon your first obstacle, a miniature, circular amphitheater made of smooth rock, whose stairs you climb Without a doubt, the rainy season transforms this drop, which is a few meters high, into a spectacular waterfall. Once you reach the stony platform above, a sign written on the wall informs you that your destination is only a kilometer away. Another modest climb and you enter an area of damp underbrush that is full of vine-infested shrubs. A rudimental picnic area has been created here with two long, rectangular boulders placed at right angels to each other. You seem to be at the end of your excursion because your passage is now blocked by a gully, but then you see your final destination, a wooden belvedere at the top of the rocky mountain. You are rather perplexed since the vertical drop seems fairly imposing, but wooden parapets – that are actually in fairly bad shape – and a hint of a path climbing the mountain in hairpin curves convince you to continue on. Above you, you can already see the clear outlines of the massive, ancient windmills of the “Seli Ambelou” pass, one of the historical entrances to the Lassithi plateau. You recommend that excursionists be very careful when attempting this final, very steep portion of the trail. But once they reach the belvedere their efforts will be rewarded by the sweeping vista of the valley floor. You allow ourselves time for a quick snack. You are now at 600 meters above sea level and it has taken you an hour and a half to get here. Remembering the difficulty you encountered during the final part of the hike, you decide not to go back down into the gorge. You walk through a woody area for a few hundred meters and then, on your left, you glimpse the first house of the village of Kera. In a welcoming tavern you ask how you can return to the beginning of Rozas gorge. A group of elderly of people, who are sitting and enjoying their first raki of the day, after a brief confabulation with the owner of the tavern advise you to go to the nearby monastery of Kera Karidiotissa and from there take the white road leading to Gonies, passing by way of “Apotyposis”. It is already one o’clock, the sun is beating mercilessly down on the stones of the convent, insinuating its way among the whitewashed cells, invading the flowering hedges and the small courtyard in front of the main church and tempting you miraculous icon of the Virgin Karidiotissa. This holy image has a turbulent history. It was stolen for the first time in 1498 by a Cretan wine merchant and after various adventures at sea, was taken to Rome and conserved in the church of Sant’Alfonso in the Esquilino district of the city. But the people of Crete, many of whom come here every year to venerate the icon on September 8th, prefer to believe the local legend. According to this legend, the icon was stolen by the Turks and reappeared at the monastery after having miraculously “fled Constantinople, together with the column and the chain that had shackled it in place. Today, the column is located in the courtyard in front of the church, protected by an iron fence, and the clain is safeguarded inside the church, next to the icon.

After this interlude, you resume your hike, this time following a double sign that indicates Gonies and “Apotyposis” along a wide, easy unpaved road that borders a fertile, verdant valley alternating low, pounded hills with rocky peaks. After a quarter of an hour, you come upon a rocky outcropping that protects the chapel dedicated to “Panagia Theotokou”, This is where the Virgin, as was fleeing Constantinople, is supposed to have rested, leaving her imprint “apotyposis” – in the rock. From this point on the road descends rather monotonously to the valley of Gonies and after a good hour and a half, you return to your starting point at the beginning of the pink gorge.