I’ve started this writing I don’t know how many times, each time thinking that our journey would have nothing more to say. We are sitting in a Force 7 (see box) on our way to the lift out point and knew that a strong north wind was coming so we have stocked up and are in Petali islands off the south Evia coast. We came to this one, Megalo Petali, at the beginning of our trip, so in a way we are bookending neatly. It’s just the conditions that are different. Now the water is much warmer for swimming but, unless I want to risk getting blown out to sea and back to Kea, it’s not an option. So we are doing ‘useful things’. Yesterday was spent cooking and sucking up nasty black bits from the bottom of the diesel tank. We have let masses of chain out and feel pretty safe but all the same we have reefed the sails in case we become unstuck.
In just under four weeks since we left String and Ben in very windy Mykonos, we have really been bagging islands in a serious way, some we just touched on even if only to swim ashore and walk on the beach, on others we could spend a little longer. We have had two visitors, my cousin Alistair for a week and overlapping by a night, our friend Carole. We had lovely visits with both and packed lots in. However I’ll begin at the beginning at windy, windy Mykonos, our task was to get down to Kos, in the Dodecanese to meet Alistair. We flew on a sleigh ride down the channel between Naxos and Paros – saw the fin of a dolphin but nuf fin else – sorry! For the first time this year as we were bounced around on the sea; we were life jacketed and clipped on – serious stuff.
In the warmth of the early morning with the sun rising I swam ashore to place my feet on Naxian sand – a perfect start to the day and my swim with snorkel revealed a wonderful sea bed. It was picture book pretty with starfish, anemones and flat fish, wriggling their way down into the sand in a futile attempt to become invisible.
Then there was another 55 miles to go, wondering as I sat in the cockpit, how Cleopatra or Helen had felt as they crossed these seas. And so we came to Astypalea. Here you can visit, if so inclined, a different church every day of the year. This is hardly unique given the propensity for Greeks to build churches. We walked up to the Chora, traditional windmills marched along the saddle beside us and above, on the summit, was a Venetian Castle. Once it held 2,500 people within its walls, they had fabulous views but were probably too busy to notice. These were great waters for pirates, they were pretty common in the Mediterranean. It seems that between them and the islanders there was an uneasy, or maybe it was an easy, like a Mafia type arrangement, a toleration of activity in return for protection. Our descent was eased first at the bakery and then by a Greek Australian from Darwin who insisted on giving us a ride in his car to the bay of Livadi. We have met many “Livadi”s – it means meadow.
We sailed on to Kamari on Kos. It was not love at first sight but after three or four visits here we realized that it had become our Epidavros and we had grown quite fond of it. Kos was a fine place to pick up visitors but not to cruise around – a good stepping off point to……….
Tilos at which:
An old lady artist with and old blind dog lived at the top of the village; a sturdy lady, out of breath, talked very quickly about pygmy elephants as our bus waited; a taverna took advantage of us as the stream of revenue was drying up with the end of the season; a boat came to us unbidden, we held her until her owners came; we shared a falling star.
In the south west, almost landlocked and hidden from view until, doubting there is a way in, it suddenly opens up to reveal a large bay. We were amazed how many boats were here. There is a monastery and retreat rooms for visitors to enjoy the peaceful surroundings. Peaceful, that is until the tourist boats come and let out their masses, they mill around, take photos, buy coffees, occasionally visit the church and then stream obediently back on board to leave the place suddenly quite again. The contrast is so great it is as if a flock of noisy starlings have come for a while made their busy chatter and then just as quickly moved off again. There is a special corner in the museum given to things that have floated miraculously into the bay. It is said that you can put your message in a receptacle and throw it into the sea far away, with a wish to the Saint and it WILL get here. Of course there are different classes of receptacle from up market wine bottles to plastic water bottles, from simple makeshift wooden boats to grand replicas. But all have the common aim of making requests and pleas for the intervention of the Archangel Michael. I should think by the time he gets all these, the problems will have been solved, however it’s a lovely idea. A dramatic, new road carved out of the rock takes the bus, complaining at every successive sharp bend to the town. Thankfully a good lunch and a bottle of wine meant that I wasn’t conscious for the return journey.
Along with Santorini and Milos, Nisyros is an extinct volcano. Here, so the story goes, Poseidon in giant-killing mood threw his trident but missed his target, Polybotes, and Poseidon infuriated by this hurled a huge chunk of rock from Kos which successfully buried his enemy right in the centre of the island, forming its crater which is 4 km wide. Why in this heat, did we think we needed a sauna!? Because it was there, a natural stone cave where the steam from the centre of the earth comes up from cracks in the ground and makes a natural sauna – it was so hot we did not spend long there. Higher up an old town, earthquake ruined but beautiful to wander around and later sit with coffee to look out into the crater below where hot dry winds blow and the dry cracked earth is ochre, verdigris, red and yellow. There was an amazing modern church, covered in painted icons built almost in the sky – New York money.
The houses carved out and set into the rock at the base of the cliffs almost looked like a film set. At first sight there was no one to be seen, it looked deserted. It didn’t change much but when we went ashore there was an old couple out on their balcony who urged us to go up the kalderimi, the mule track, to the chora. From down below this looked absolutely perfect, an exact circle of white icing on the top of the cup cake of a hill. Deep rumblings of a kitten purr on the heights of the Kastro.
Once named Oinos (wine) after the delicious stuff they produce. A small blowy anchorage right at the mouth of the harbour. The little shop saw us coming and opened just for us, the only thing we wanted, the wine was not available.
The anchor cradled a rock on the hard sea floor, turned on its back and slid. WE pitched, we rolled, we banged against the swimming buoys. I wanted so much to be STILL. We took the bus to the Chora, the drop steep down in to the sea was breathtaking. A walled castle area had little mews houses with a military air and wonderful ceilings - great slabs of heavy rock held up by tree trunks. A series of little squares all shaded delightfully from the sun. And terracing everywhere, and a mule plodding along the track.
Blessed solitude in a bare and beautiful bay. A charter boat then came and anchored within spitting distance which is what I was doing in my mind. Thankfully they departed leaving us on our own – how selfish we are. In the morning we swam and we think we saw a monk seal.
In the dark against a starry sky, 3 churches and a palm tree blazing like a firework chrysanthemum. Reminds me of the Starry Night paintings by Van Gogh
Ferries come and go and I have a sleepless night having grandson number three!! Thomas Matthew.
A discerning island seemingly in control of herself, no unfinished buildings here but lots of the lovely dark orange thick sand of childhood. It was gentle, quiet and peaceful. An end of season sleepiness a place to re visit another time.
Frilled and ruffled coastline. Where frogs are silent at Perseus’ request. Zig Zag alpine route up the mule track to the Chora, generous Panayiota gave me a little brown jug made in Crete.
An unexpected joy as we found our bay and dropped anchor to just stay one day, then two, then three who knows how long? Swims before breakfast, a walk to the hot pool, the water trapped by a rough circular wall of rocks placed at the waters’ edge, our very own Jacuzzi. Drinking Greek coffee, metreo while in front on the harbour’s edge yellow nets spread out in the sun to dry, on returning a flash of blue and gold over an azure sea. Maybe we’ll stay another day. “nobody comes to Kythnos” says Durrell. He must not have noticed the beauty of the wide panorama of burnt brown hills bisected by the dry stone walls so beautifully made, he must have missed the huts built in the same style and not heard the soaring birds or seen the blue, blue sea.
Our last island this year
We first anchored here in May at the beginning of our year’s travels and were blissfully unaware that we were anchored off a Bronze Age settlement, where amazing things have been found and are now housed in the museum at Ioulis. Yet another amazing place, walk up the steep tarmac street, under an arch and turn to gaze at the tumble of houses stretching up into the sky. I think the locals sitting at the café as you enter must get a kick out of the impact they see on people’s faces. It was quite different from other Choras. It could have been a mountain village in Spain or France, the houses, one on top of the other, but this time red roofed. We visited the museum and there we saw life size female figures, no doubt about their gender, bosoms rendered enormous above tiny waists, billowing skirts and arms raised as if dancing. Over 50 of these have been found in our anchorage settlement. But the thing I most wanted to see was the Lion of Kea. To quote McGilchrist “one of the largest and earliest pieces of monumental sculpture from the historic period in Greece” and there it is! For 25 centuries it has lain tucked into a curve of the hill, under a mule track, resting in the sun, reclining on its great lump of slate surrounded by terraces of olives. As we walked to it we passed men and mules carrying supplies to workmen engaged in repairing the stone walls that edge the track and restoring a minute church.
The media spread alarm and distort the true picture with the result that people are wary of coming to Greece. Trouble is centred in a tiny area in Athens. True the people of Greece are suffering from austerity measures and increased and unforeseen taxes but kindnesses and a friendly welcome are as widespread as ever. And the weather is wonderful still.
We’re drinking in the light and the sun and the outside life before turning our thoughts to closed shutters and fires. Not all bad. I love the variation.
Till next spring
Jinti and Andy
Click this text for August, September & October positions
Serifos - yes in the Chora
Click this text for August, September & October positions
(On the Beaufort Scale, Force 7 is a near gale, the sea heaps up, foam streaks cross the waves and the wind blows at 28-33 knots or 51-61km/h, described as very rough).
Carole and Alistair overlap by a day
Tilos - checking the depth
Cultural break on Symi
Nisyros - looking back at Tilos
Sirens off Nisyros …
…attracting passing sailors
As far in as we could get in Sikinos harbour
Folegandros - another Chora !!
Kifnos - Jint goes for the freebe hot bath
Kea - competing lions
Kifnos - a good lunch
.. and so the sun sets on another season.
News received of Thomas Matthew WB’s arrival
Ios - at the top of the Chora