“I need a hug!” I thought repeatedly last Sunday afternoon.  I was in a small rental car with coworkers trying to go up a steep, rutted “road” to a Minoan peak sanctuary above Anatoli, Crete, the largest island in Greece.

A man wearing a backpack looks up a short incline at the station wagon on top of the dirt path strewn with rocks and ruts.

Sometimes we had to walk up rocky inclines.

It turns out that the mountain roads here on Crete are not the paved roads I’m used to, but more along the lines of a farm path.  I was lucky that my professor, who was driving, was very comfortable on any road, or path in this case, and never got worried.  As you can see, we did have to get out a few times so the bottom of the car could get over rocks or up hills, but we never had to push it.

A view of Crete: the dead long grass beside the road leads to a steep rocky drop. Over the rocks you can see a green hill criss-cut with light gray roads and speckled with dark green trees and dark gray boulders. The hazy bluish-brown mountains beyond fade into the ocean to the left and light blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. All that is framed by the upper edge of a car window.

The glorious countryside of Crete on a sunny day.

This was taken out my car window as we went and can show you how high up we were (along with one of the amazing views we saw on the way).

A black circle emphazes a barely visible white cross peeking over a rocky hill.

So far away…

We were trying to get to the peak of the mountain where a pilgrimage church now sits.  I circled the cross in this picture which I took about halfway up the mountain.

A picture through a windshield of a SUV driving winding mountain roads taken between the driver and passenger of the car.

Our Guide

We had been going on the gravel path up the mountain for about a hair-raising hour when a pair of locals drove up in a Susuki jeep and asked what we were doing.  I don’t speak Greek so I don’t know what they said, but it was agreed that two of the five of us would ride in their car to the peak to make it easier on our car.  A few minutes later the professor decided the road was impassable for our small car and we would have to walk up the mountain the rest of the way.  He backed down the mountain road (“I’m not looking, I’m not looking” was going through my head as I resolutely faced forward) and he navigated to the side of the road to park and we got out.  By then the locals had noticed we weren’t following and came back to see why.  After another conversation in Greek, we got back in the car and drove down the mountain.  They were going to lead us back to the actual road used for the yearly pilgrimage made to the modern church at the top of the mountain.  About forty minutes later we were off the rutted gravel road and onto a road paved in a white stone.  It wasn’t as smooth as an asphalt road, but it was much less nerve-wracking than the gravel road had been.  I never did get my hug that day, but by the time we got to the peak I was no longer worried and didn’t need one.  The professors along all agreed that next time they would try to get a sturdy Susuki jeep instead of the small European car they had gotten this year.  The jeep was much better for the less used roads that archeologists (which we all are this summer) use to go to less traveled sites.

A small white square building sits on a gray stone wall overlooking the mountains of Crete that fade into a faint ocean and vast blue sky as fluffy white clouds roll in from the right.

The pilgrimage church now on the peak of the mountain

Anyway, the locals drove us up to the church, shook our hands, and drove off to whatever had brought them up the mountain in the first place.  Here is one part of the two-part church that was built on the mountain peak.

The bottom of a huge white cross faces the city on the island far below the mountain it stands on.

Overlooking Ierapetra

Do you remember the tiny cross I circled in the picture above?  This is that cross from the peak looking over Ierapetra, one of the biggest cities on the large island.

A lady in a blue shirt and dark jeans stands at the edge of a rock outcropping overlooking the majestic mountains of Crete in the background and the city far below to the right.

Looking out over the largest island of Greece

Millennia ago ancient people made the walk up that mountain to worship someone in some way.  To be honest, I was more interested in the amazing views of Crete than in learning about the archeological finds that had been discovered at the peak.  What I did hear gave me the impression that the ancients came to worship their thundering sky god. You can see why that site is a great place to worship a sky god, so far above the life-giving fields and sea.  Modern people who fly in airplanes may be used to a view from hundreds of feet above sea level, but the ancients who may have traveled on donkeys only if they were rich would never have seen a view like that in everyday life.

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