In the Morning
The plan for today was to drive to the Psychro Cave, which according to legend is the birthplace of Zeus. However, as is often the case with mythology, more than one place is reputed to be the birthplace of Zeus. So let’s not get too hung up on that part of the story.
We had a substantial breakfast, as is becoming the habit, and on the way out I went to collect the keys for the car. It was a little white Fiat Panda.
By the time we were ready to leave it was more or less 10 am. The initial challenge with the car was getting used to the controls. Obviously it had the steering wheel on the left side, but also it had a manual gearbox, which I’m not really used to now. And in comparison to my own car, it was a bit underpowered. That meant it took me a few goes to figure out how much welly to give it to reverse up the steep incline of the hotel car park. After that initial issue, I tried always to park at the top, where it was flat.
Anyway, we hit the main road heading east and after 10 minutes stopped to fill the car up with fuel and to buy some water to carry with us. We continued on past Heraklion and Malia before heading uphill.
The Psychro Cave is on the edge of the Lasithi Plateau – a high endorheic plateau in the middle of the island. Endorheic means that there are no natural outlets for water. The plateau is about 890m above sea level, and we climbed all of them in the car, naturally. In fact, you have to climb over a mountain pass and then descend into the bowl that holds the plateau. It’s quite strange to see. After a couple of days on Crete we were used to everything looking a bit parched, but here it’s an oasis of rich vegetation. They have snow up here (sometimes until May) and all that water stays here because it doesn’t have anywhere else to go. That means in summer it’s warm, sunny and the soil is wet. Perfect growing conditions for numerous crops.
Anyway, enough geography. Psychro Cave is around the south side of the plateau (we entered at the north side), so we had a bit of a drive around. Then in the correct village we headed up a steep bit of hill to park in a fairly tightly packed car park filled with marshals, tat shops, and other cars.
I was aware that the cave itself was uphill from here.
Psychro Cave is significantly uphill from the car park. It was maybe 600m across the level, but a good 150-200m of climbing were involved. The walk up was a struggle to be honest, because it was our first major venture out in the daytime sun, plus Venus wasn’t feeling great. It took us a while.
Thankfully, when we reached the top and paid the entry fee, we were treated to a deep limestone cave that was dark, damp and cold. That was quite a relief after the strain of walking up the hill.
The cave contains several chambers and is accessed by a steeply descending (and then ascending) set of concrete stairs. It’s filled with some reasonably familiar limestone cave formations – stalactites and stalagmites (“c” for ceiling, “m” for mud). We’d seen something similar a few years previously in the Grottes de Medous in the Pyrenees. As with the Grottes de Medous, you’re not supposed to use flash photography inside. However, there was nobody here to check whether you did or didn’t.
The walk back down from the cave was a bit quicker and we took the opportunity to sit at a cafe to have ice creams before jumping back into the car.
On the drive back, I’d planned that we stop to grab a few geocaches as we drove back around the plateau edge. That seemed reasonable as we weren’t in a hurry.
The first we stopped for was in a restaurant. Whilst technically it wasn’t necessary to buy anything, we took the opportunity to grab some lunch. It was a beautiful setting.
We grabbed four more caches in the valley floor before beginning the climb back out. I ignored one cache at the base of the climb because it was going to involve doing some hill climbing. So we continued up the hill to a pull off at the top of the mountain pass. This was at the windmills of Seli Ambelou – several ruined windmills on the very top of the mountain ridge, presumably where the wind is strongest. The windmill buildings were stacked up along both sides of the ridge. We decided here would be a good place to take a few landscape photos, so Kas and Ami wandered off to do that while I went for the only cache in the village.
On the route back we took a different road, which brought us out past the “Acqua Plus” waterpark that the hotel advertised day-trips to. This bought us out on the main road somewhat to the west of where we’d been in the morning, and as a result the drive along that road was rather shorter.
We got back to the hotel at about 4:30, which left us quite a while before dinner.
While the girls were getting ready, Kas and me retired to the terrace bar for a cocktail or two. I tried ouzo with lemonade and lime juice. It was kind of like mouthwash that gets you drunk. Not entirely unpleasant.
Dinner was fairly quick as the girls were pooped, so Kas and me both retired quite early too. The plan for the following day was an afternoon drive over to Rethymnon.