The island of Crete has around 3000 known caves but it is believed that there is two times this yet to be explored. It was clear from my first trip that there was a lot of untapped potential on the eastern side of the island.
When I got around to asking why the Cretans (yes they actually describe themselves this way) had not done more exploration Yiorgos explained that there were so few active cavers on the island that they only had four active members in the main club on the eastern side of the island. They had more than they could possibly explore in their lifetime so did not care when a load of foreigners came and bagged them.
The same crew went returned to the island, but this was more of a couples trip. Jay was joined by Amelia and Andy had married Mesh. They were out there on their honeymoon! In fact both Yiorgos and I were unable to attend the wedding in Reading, but were able to join the newly married couple in Crete on their honeymoon. All were rather touched that they wanted to spend their honeymoon with friends.
Yiorgos had obtained some equipment for exploration and this time we went to the village of Dafni some way west of Karidi in the middle of Crete’s eastern mountains. It takes around an hour to drive between the villages. Dafni was Yiorgos’ home village and I was put up in his family’s house. They were shepherds and mainly farmed olive oil in the summer months. Time spent exploring the mountains was frequently cut short when some task needed to be accomplished on the farm. We still found a decent selection of caves and started pushing some of them. We were also helped by another shepherd called Michaelis.
Whilst I was over there the Greek had their version of Hidden Earth in the village of Karidi. This had 120 attendees and all the features of a full English Hidden Earth. They even set up a via ferrata in the cliffs above the village. I broke the ice with many of the clubs by doing a presentation on behalf of the BEC on English caving. The Greeks are where we were in the 60s; they have found a lot of cave and are considering how to look after it and provide guidance to explore it. Seeing how the English model worked was of interest to them.
I used the experience to meet a lot of local cavers and made enquiries about setting up an expedition for the next year.
There are two caving clubs on Crete. The Hellenic Speleological Society is the smaller of the two clubs and spends the majority of its time exploring the numerous canyons that score the landscape. The larger and more active club is SPOK (stands for something Greek). The committee for SPOK were very welcoming and I forged some strong links with them. They had an excellent tackle store in the island capital Heraklion. I had visited this in 2012 to return equipment. It is an anonymous door in the middle of the shopping district. Inside are some steps you climb down to find a large space with lots of gear, a toilet and an honesty bar! SPOK were keen to host us and as well as pledging a number of their members to our cause they gave us full access to their tackle store. Very generous.
I returned to the farm to help prepare for the village panigiri and harvest the grapes for next year’s wine. They really do stand in a vat and stamp on them to get the juice out!