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Whilst absorbing a few beers with the Reading University Caving Club I fell into conversation with a new member called Yiorgos. He had come over from Crete to do a PhD. It turned out that he was both a nice chap and a keen caver in his local club back in Greece. After a few more beers Yiorgos kindly volunteered to host a trip if we ever wanted to go and visit the island. Well, once this was out there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity, so I checked he really meant it the next morning and set about making some plans.

In 2012 I visited the eastern side of Crete with Andy Kusak, Meyres Yalvak (Mesh), James Bouchard (Jay) and Yiorgos Gadanakis (surprisingly no nickname). We stayed in the village of Karidi.

For those wanting to visit the area Karidi is the centre of caving on the eastern side of the island. The village has a population of about 40 generally older residents and is partially deserted. They have quite a few empty buildings and very kindly let us use the old village police station and another building as our base. The locals have been hosting cavers for around 16 years. They have grown quite fond of this rather odd collection of individuals that arrive on their doorstep. They have somehow raised the funds to convert the police station into the island’s only bunkhouse. This sells the place short as they have done a great job and it offers plenty of room and good facilities to caving groups visiting the area.

If you go to Karidi you will need to buy all of your own food in the area’s main town Sitia. Other supermarkets outside Sitia are generally overpriced tourist traps. However stalls on the side of the road tend to be pretty cheap and you buy directly from the farmer. The village does have a kafenion (coffee shop/bar).

We were utterly spoilt by the locals. On the first day we got a bowl of fruit, then another bowl the day after, then an entire watermelon, then our tea vanished whilst we were underground and was replaced by a huge lamb banquet produced from one of the huge wood fired ovens and some homemade wine . The kafenion was a similar affair. It took us nine days before we were able to buy a drink for ourselves. We never managed to buy one for anyone else!

We used our fortnight on the island to explore the local caves. These are very Yorkshire in style and up to 260m in depth. They are plentifully furnished with threads so slings are essential. There were a few Petzl hangers which were still in good condition at the time of writing this article. There are very little in the way of speleothems, however there has been extensive flowstone deposition and then re-erosion forming some rather pretty shapes in the rock and some interesting patterning.

Cave Name Co-ordinates Elevation Depth Notes
Ano Peresteras N35 08.238 E26 09.528  606 Approx. 100m Sump – 1m freedive if water low, 20m if not – line not affixed!
Dadulas N35 09.092 E26 10.867 515 260 Deepest on eastern side
Oxo Latsidi N35 07.390 E26 09.090 668 100m approx. Horizontal
Peresteras Contact SPOK 668   Large entrance. Peresteras means pigeon. May also be called Cato Peresteras
Simigdali N35 09.850 E26 11.830 514 120m One shaft – between wind turbines
Sikia N35 06.554 E26 02.085 461 110 Pretty
Honos Sitanou N35 06.877 E26 08.909 539   Pretty
Honous Honou N35 09.137 E26 09.680 615   Full of dead sheep!

  

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Honos Sitanou by Yiorgos Gadanakis

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Honos Sitanou by Yiorgos Gadanakis
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Dadulas by Yiorgos Gadanakis

I should note that these co-ordinates have been taken straight from the records of a local club (SPOK) and may be flawed. We used their details to find Peresteras and spent quite some time looking for it before ringing and confirming some different co-ordinates over the phone from another member of the club!

There are also some gypsum caves in the area. These are very small and extremely unstable.

35 S 406654.76 m E 3885322.80 m N elev 601
35 S 406588.82 m E 3885056.59 m N elev 563

We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the island and Yiorgos made a fantastic guide. The highlights of the trip were visits to a few panigiri (village parties) and some rather wobbly journeys home in the early hours, in the car of a local. In Crete it is still considered acceptable to drink neat spirits for 7 hours and then drive home along mountain roads with hairpin bends. There are rather a lot of roadside shrines, looking like tiny churches. Each one of these represents an accident where there was a death or a near-miss. Quite sobering when someone points them out to you.

Henry Dawson

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