I’m a nervous flyer but I quashed my fear with prosecco and my nerves dissolved as we landed in stunning Chania. We had dinner at a restaurant in the old town, and the waiter brought us free chocolate cake and a small carafe of raki as if we were old friends. This gesture set the tone for the holiday: friendship and free stuff.
Our SwimTrek was based in Paleochora, a lively little town in the south of the island. After a morning acclimatisation swim, during which we were split into 3 groups according to speed, we set off with Damulis, our boat captain. The water was turquoise and my fellow swimmers were lovely, looking out for one another as we swam and making sure that everyone kept up. Sitting on the bow of Damulis’s boat as we bounced home across the bay I experienced that sense of freedom and exhilaration that only a SwimTrek holiday can bring.
That evening, after a delicious dinner followed by a free nutty chocolate dessert and raki, we went shopping. Paleochora comes to life in the evenings with lively bars and restaurants spilling noisily onto the pavement and shops open until late. There’s also free stuff. A simple bag purchase turned into a sociable encounter with a shop owner who plied us with samples of his homemade jam and my new favourite tipple, coffee and ouzo.
The wind was up the next day and we had to stick to the bay for our morning swim. I’m a relatively inexperienced open water swimmer and to me the swell still seemed scarily big. What kept me in the water and out of the support boat was the encouragement of our fantastic guides Trish and Caoihme, along with a fellow swimmer’s valiant under-water rendition of ‘I got my mind set on you’. I started singing too, fixed my eyes on the finishing point of Damulis’s boat and went for it. During our afternoon swim the waves were just as big but, spurred on by my morning’s success, I loved it.
The next day, after a 5k swim, three of us went running. During our 5K vertical run up a nearby hill it started to rain so hard that we could barely see and we were sloshing through torrents of brown water. My running companions were far fitter than me but, just as when we were swimming, they stuck with me. The rain had eased as we squelched back down the hill and we checked out the scenery, including the ubiquitous poly tunnels which are dotted around this part of the island. Our nosiness was rewarded by a gift of an enormous bag of tomatoes from the grower.
Bad weather conditions meant a spectacular hike the following morning followed by another choppy swim. The next day the weather was even worse, torrential rain and fog and even a water spout that danced across the bay during the morning swim. We took it easy in the afternoon and enjoyed an extended lunch made longer by free orange cake and raki. That evening we toasted a fantastic week over dinner followed by free raki and huge plates of grapes. The weather had been dodgy and we’d had to be flexible with our swimming routes but, thanks to our wonderful guides and the new friends we’d all made, none of us wanted to go home.
The following morning there was just time for an exhilarating swim in the bay before we had to say a sad goodbye (and can we please have your jobs!) to Trish and Caoihme. On the flight home I was gritting my teeth through some mild turbulence when a small bottle of prosecco appeared. It was a gift from a fellow SwimTrekker who was sitting further down the plane and knew about my flying phobia. Friends and free stuff, it’s what great holidays are made of.