Thursday, May 31, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
It was weird, though, taking off from Heathrow without Ian, after having been tied so closely for the past several weeks. I could almost feel the pull--a mixture of anxiety and excitement--tugging at my heart, as we passed up over Scotland on the way to Iceland, Greenland, and the frozen (still, thank goodness) north.
I'm so lucky--there's no one else I know with whom I could even consider spending four months on the road--no one who makes me laugh so often and so freely; no one who can diffuse my irritations so successfully (as I hope I successfully diffuse his); no one whose habits so comfortably meld with mine. It never once occurred to him to ask that I not take this trip, leaving him, the more social one, alone in a youth hostel with a bunch of strangers on this holiday weekend; it never once occurred to him to even suggest that it wasn't the best possible thing for me to do for both of us. I often find myself looking at him sideways as we tramp along, awed at my good fortune.
Regardless of our perfection as mates, it's useful sometimes to have separate experiences (helps with dinnertime conversation), and we've both been looking forward to this weekend of individual pursuits.
As our plane turned back south at Edmonton, I realized that the pain of our strange-feeling separation had drifted away and I was only looking forward to seeing my dear friends. But I'll be glad to be back with Ian on Tuesday.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
We're hoping to be able to collapse into sleep the moment the ferry pulls away from the dock here in Ermopolis (which is, by the way, a gorgeous Venetian-era city curved around a long bay) on Syros, and get our almost 4 hours before having to navigate our way around Piraeus in the middle of the night to find the airport bus. Quote from the Lonely Planet Guidebook: "Whatever you do, don't sleep out in Piraeus. It's by far the worst place in Greece to do this."
We plan to keep moving, so at least we have the appearance of wakefulness, even if we're asleep on our feet.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Amorgos is a supremely comfortable place for me to be. Is this some past-life familiarity showing itself? Or the fact that I've been here three times in the past ten years, so I've built up quite a bit of this-life familiarity? Maybe, but more than either of those things, I think it has to do with real life sticking around while I'm here.
Greece has a well-deserved reputation for being an idyll, what with the fresh foods (not to mention the olive oil and baclava), sun, clear blue waters, glowing architecture and friendly people. Our time on Folegandros completely lived up to Greece's reputation. Not a single thing marred our week (Ian would say with the exception of a couple mosquitoes, but they bit him and not me, and this is my blog). Here on Amorgos, though, we've gotten lost, it poured down rain for a day, we've had colds, there wasn't any hot water in the shower (it's solar heated and did I mention it poured down rain for a day?), and the power went out. And yet, after we're done emailing at the internet cafe, as we belly up to the bar to pay, the proprietor pulls out a plastic water bottle of liqueur that his dad made (raki flavored with honey and cinnamon) and pours us each a small shot. Or we hike for several hours across the top of the island and down to the other port and then, pleasantly tired, we have a couple Fantas, play some Euchre, then after awhile order some creamy-smoky melitzanosalata (an eggplant dip), all while sitting on a covered terrace looking out over the harbor. It costs us about $10 for our afternoon. "Yasas," we say to the little old men and ladies we pass on our hikes, and they break into smiles. "Yasu, yasu!" they say back. "Kalimera!"
Amorgos feels like home because I live when I'm here. I'm not just experiencing the pleasures of vacation; I'm also experiencing the inconveniences and irritations of everyday life, along with everyone else. And I love it.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Ten years ago on Amorgos I had my first experience with the relativity of hell. I have been fortunate in this lifetime to not have experienced real hell—awful, mind-soul-body-searing Dante’s Inferno-style hell—so I can say with breezy assurance that true hell is all about perspective.
Ten years ago, I arrived here on a late boat in late September and was met on the quay by the typically bewildering crowd of domatia owners. One caught my attention more closely, offering a room for the low low price of whatever number of drachmas it was that equaled $10.60 per night in 1997. “How close is it,” I asked warily. I’d been taken pretty far from the ferry on a couple other islands (once balanced unsteadily with my ponderous pack on the rear of a sputtering scooter) and I was tired of lugging my bag back to boats. “Only 50 meters,” she said. I didn’t believe her for an instant, but was too tired to extricate myself from our tacit agreement and find a different place, so I fuffed and resettled my bag, and plodded into a narrow alley after her.
“Here we are,” she said, two moments later at a gated courtyard. She held the gate for me, then opened the door to a room, took my passport (collateral for my rent) and left me.
I dropped my bag right inside the door and went to look in wonder at my palace.
I was in a tiny room with a single bed and an antique desk, maybe six feet by ten feet in size. A second door led out the back corner, and I went through that into a broad hallway, where a large refrigerator sat silently, cord unplugged and dangling from its handle, and from which three more doors exited! Through the door on the left I found two more beds, a wardrobe, and large windows that I ignored for the moment. Through the next door to the right was the bathroom, one of the largest and most commodious I’ve seen in Greece (which meant it was about 6’X6’). And through the final door, past the fridge, I found a little kitchen with a burner, a table and chairs, and a sparse but nevertheless complete stock of utensils and dishes. My own little apartment! Heaven! Ferries to and from Amorgos were relatively infrequent so my choices were to say two days or a week. I decided to stay a week.
The next day, I opened my bedroom windows onto a vacant lot and left them open until after dark, and that’s when the heaven became hell. As I snuggled into bed, pleasantly exhausted after a day of hiking the old donkey roads of the island, I heard it. EeeeEEEeeeeeeEEEEEEeeeee. The insistent, orbiting whine of a hungry mosquito. I batted blindly around in the dark and the whining stopped. Well, okay! That was lucky! I drifted off. EEEeeeeeeEEEEEeeeeEEEeeEeeEEEEEEeeeee. Whack! I slammed awake, shot on the light, and peered around the room. There—I saw it! I climbed on the bed, and after flailing about only a short time, managed to kill the bugger. As I knew it would be from the itch on my thumb, it was already bloody. I snuggled back into bed with satisfaction, read a few minutes to calm down again, and turned out the light.
EEEEeeeeeeEEeeeeEEEEeeeeE. On with the light, up I jumped. This time I saw TWO of the devils, hovering up near the ceiling, driving me mad. I got one, jumped around on the bed and furniture for awhile, and eventually, almost sobbing with exhaustion and relief, got the other. I collapsed into bed again and turned out the light.
EEEeeeeeeEeeEeEEEEeeeeeEEEEEEeeeeEEEEe. Almost screeching with frustration, I slapped the light back on. Two more, diving and swooping up the wall behind me. I gave up and buried my head in my blankets. I origamied a long, narrow, tortuous path for air through the sheets around my mouth, and finally fell asleep. For ever after, I only opened the window during the day, and closed it many hours before I expected to be in bed.
The next day I decided to buy some food at the local grocery store so I wouldn’t have to eat out all the time, and in the spirit of curiosity, I opened the fridge. A wall of stench slammed me in the face and I slammed the door. What the hell was that? I wondered as, gagging, I opened all the windows in the place (noting with relief that it was still daylight and so I was presumably still safe from the Midnight Whining Marauders), and plugged in the fridge, assuming that extra cold things couldn’t smell quite so bad as clearly long-forgotten warm things.
I went about my day, letting the fridge cool down, and the memory of ugh rotting something recede a little from my mind. When I opened the fridge again later in the day, I used the technique of nose closing I’d learned as a young child using pit toilets on boat trips in the San Juan Islands (you close your nose at the back of your mouth, at the soft palate, and only breathe through your throat, thus saving yourself from smelling the awful pit toilet smells . . . it’s a technique also employed when using a Neti pot), the combination of cold and nasal acrobatics allowed me to investigate the situation. Yep, in the bottom drawer, someone had left, at some point, a plastic bag with some kind of meat in it . . . and it had rotted. Hoo boy had it rotted. I slammed the door again and retreated outside where I gulped in clean, oregano and bougainvillea-scented air and came up with a battle plan.
I went back inside and grabbed an extra plastic bag, then girded myself, armed my nose, and in one motion flung open the door, whipped open the drawer, pulled out the rot and twisted it into the new plastic bag, slammed the door, and raced outside where I deposited my prize into a garbage can in the courtyard.
This, I realized, was hell. Here I was in this paradise—the absolute perfect place, a $10-per-night apartment of my own with separate rooms and a kitchen and a comfortable bathroom and even the floor tiles that I liked best (a composite of some sort of green cement and all different colors of stones, shaved off and polished so you could see into the hearts of the pebbles) . . . but as soon as I was lulled into enjoying it SNAP! A mosquito was screeching in my ear and biting my eyelid, making me look like I’d been in a brawl, or an appliance, louring and grunting in the hall, was attacking me with poisonous gases.
Still, the steep, stark hillsides topped with craggy boulders, the peekaboo beaches, and the teeny sylvan glades where surreptitious springs drip quietly into mossy, frog-filled pools are addicting, and three years ago when Ian and I came to Greece together for the first time, I insisted we come here.
During our trip last time the hell was a bit more prosaic than ogre refrigerators (I don’t remember a problem with the mosquitos, either . . . but then Dimitri’s Palace isn’t quite the Shangri-La that my first place was . . . so the torture of what might have been wouldn’t have been so great anyway). Instead, it was merely a bad map. Or, rather, a map that was evidently optimistic about what it called a “trail.” It wasn’t that bad, though; after wandering around a bit in the rather thorny underbrush and following a goat track that showed very clearly that goats are a lot shorted than humans, we did eventually come out on a road near which two friendly donkeys were penned and wowie, do we love the donkeys! I leaned over to scratch one on the forehead between her inquisitive ears and she immediately went lop-eared with pleasure, her eyes half-closed, leaning into my hand. So, a bit of hell for the scratched ankles, a bit of heaven scratching the donkey.
All told, Amorgos was our favorite island from the six we saw in 2004, and so here we are again.
And, again, our hell was really due to a bad map, or, to be generous, to our insistence on following “Category 4 (thin dashed line)” trails, which include “footpaths whose course is less obvious, or in places difficult. These routes are aimed at more experienced walkers.”
Category 4 seems to, rather than show trails, suggest directions one might walk. The directions aren’t suggested with any clarity, though, so you may—no, you are likely to—find yourselves in a similar predicament to ours.
We decided we wanted a fairly easy time of it a couple evenings ago (both of us recovering from colds), so we chose to walk out to the lighthouse we’d seen upon entering the harbor on the Milk Run Skopelitis, which is on Cape Profiti Ilia. Of course, there is also a church, the Profitis Ilias Church. The map suggested that the walk might take around one hour, and a two-hour round trip struck us as perfectly reasonably given the states of our healths.
Of course we got lost soon after leaving the paved road at the end of town, but we don’t turn back, oh no, so we kept going, over rocks and under thorns, stubbing our toes and getting scratched and irritable, arguing about what, exactly, constitutes a “stock breeding yard” or a “lime kiln”. We did make it to the point, and enjoyed touring the church and the old lighthouse, and marvelling, yet again, at the precipitous places sheep seem to like to hang out. We enjoyed a snack of fig and sunflower seed bar, studied our map and the surrounding area, and determined that our route home would be much easier.
And for awhile it was. We finally found something that looked very like “old stock breeding yards”, and skirted it as per directions. And kept skirting. And kept skirting, and eventually decided that the directions must have meant, although they did not say, and of course it wasn’t clear from the trail itself, that we should’ve skirted to the west and not the east. Well, we weren’t going to back track, particularly when it wasn’t entirely clear that we should, so we went on, letting ourselves through a gate (which we carefully closed again), and marching down a long field next to a rusty old fence. “At least we’re both up to date on our tetnus shots,” I remarked to Ian.
The field went over a slight hill, and we thought we were in the clear . . . but no, at the bottom of the field was a gully, and in the gully was another fence. And the fences were designed to keep goats out, and I’ve already hinted that we’re a lot less athletic than goats. Back up the field we went until we came to a rudimentary gate (a slightly less tied-down section of rusty fencing) and squoze through. We continued downhill in the direction of home . . . and came to another fence. This fence had a gate into the yard of something that looked like a house, which may or may not have been in use. We tried to skirt it, but that was clearly not going to get us anywhere. We returned to the gate and hurried through, tying it carefully. Okay, well, a house must be outside the seemingly endless fences!
No. Even though we couldn’t see fence from there, we hiked up three or four crumbling terraces and found more fence at the top. This fence we managed to climb over, in a slightly bent-down place that seemed to have been used for that purpose before.
This continued for, I kid you not, at least the next half-hour. Every time we thought we were out, we saw another fence. Eventually we came to a place where we could see, far below us, the end of the cement road we’d walked on at the beginning of our two-hour round trip, 3 ½ hours before.
“We have to just go down,” said Ian, as we scanned the steep terraced hillside, looking for anything clearer than a goat track. I just grunted in agreement. I’d already started swearing at the fences, and at Amorgos, and at the map, but not at Ian. I followed him as he angled steeply down, until he pulled up short at the top of a cliff-face/pile of boulders maybe 50 feet high, at the bottom of which lay our destination.
“I think we just have to do it,” Ian said. “It doesn’t look that hard.”
I tightened my day pack on my back and noted to myself that while I was a good rock climber, I was wearing sandals that weren’t terribly tight, not rock climbing shoes, and the day pack would definitely change my center of gravity. And I was recovering from a cold—at the stuffed ears/runny nose stage. In other words, self, no heroics. A part of my brain was grimly amused that I’d reached a point in my tether, almost to the end perhaps, where it seemed reasonable to climb down a cliffside to get over a fence.
As you know, we made it down safely, and were actually quite proud of ourselves. And, in our last days here, we’ve agreed to not go beyond “Category 2 (line of long dashes)”, which “corresponds to wide and very clear footpaths that have been purposely laid. On the whole, these are the most commonly used footpaths.”
And of course we’ll be coming back to Amorgos in the future.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Some of the local wildlife--cute little kitties.
Friendly local dogs (glad they're chained).
For some reason, it's weird to see geese paddling in salt water as if it were a lake.
Look! A frog! In a pool of water! In the Cyclades!
Happy Mother's Day!
I think I'd be afraid of letting small children use these stairs . . .
Note how the boat level and the horizon level don't match. L would've *hated* this several-hour journey. It was a pretty big boat to be so tippy. For so long.
Look closely--it's a goat in a boat!
Thursday, May 17, 2007
At the beach.
Stopping to tighten everyone's saddles. It was just before this stop that I noticed Fedra's roundness and lack of withers--every time we trotted, I was pretty sure the saddle was only staying on with luck.
Self portrait on horse.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Amorgos is wetter than many of the other Cyclades. For instance, it rained here once or twice over the winter, and there are at least a handful of springs around the island. It's a long narrow mountain range, covered with crumbling terraces in the lower elevations, and with some surprisinly tall olives and even an oak in some of the narrow, steep valleys. The hilltops actually look a lot like the Scottish Highlands, only tilted a bit. Amorgos isn't quite all acute angles and precipices like Folegandros, but it's far from flat. Anywhere.
I do have a couple pictures of Fedra the horse and--wonder of wonders in the Cyclades--a frog, in a spring-fed pool of water--but I can't seem to get them off my flash drive right now.
My cold has progressed . . . on to Ian . . . so all's pretty much going as expected here. We'll be on Amorgos another 5 nights, and then we'll be starting on our way to a new part of our adventure . . .
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I was thinking the other day about how long it had been since I was been on a horse (maybe two months? Maybe less? Can't be bothered to do the math . . .), and how I didn't really miss it, surprisingly enough. But then we got to Naxos, and everywhere we went--literally--we saw a sticker for Naxos Horse Riding, "horses for advanced riders and beginners," with a number to call. All of a sudden, my familiar prepubescent obsession with horses came back with a vengeance, so I called, and joined yesterday evening's sunset ride (Ian got a haircut and did some works). Iris Neubauer asked on the phone how much experience I had and I said "30 years", and she sounded excited and promised me a horse that would be fun to ride.
Iris is German, so the whole thing was incredibly well organized, and she was right--she had horses for beginners and for advanced riders, and everyone in between. I was put on Fedra (Phaedra), a lovely white and freckled Lusitano/Andalusian mix who was taller than the Naxian horses most people were on, and not quite as bomb proof (read: more fun to actually ride.). The most beginner of the group was a late middle-aged British man with one prosthetic leg; both of us had a great time, and felt that our mounts were chosen well for our abilities. Fedra was built much like my dear friend Shadow--i.e. no withers and very round after her winter of not too much work--and would probably have been a perfect horse for bareback riding through the waves, if we'd been allowed to remove saddles.
Our ride wound through rustling, creaking bamboo forests (I have a scrape across one cheek from an errant, wind-blown stalk that makes me look at bit like the Joker), around fields full of world-famous (so we were told) Naxian potatoes, and eventually onto the beach for a sandy gallop and a trot back through the shallow waves. Fedra really was pretty calm through everything until we got to the beach, and then some flapping flags freaked her out and she pranced around a bit and pretended they were going to attack her. She was irritated at me for not letting her gallop ahead of everyone else when we galloped (we were second in line after the guide), so she pranced around a bit more and tried to kick the horse behind her. At the beach we paused for 15 minutes at a cafe and had sodas and water and used the bathroom; when I got back on, Fedra, impatient to be on the move again, started digging holes in the sand with her left front hoof. This was all fine until she caught her foot on some long slender stick which evidently reminder her of a snake; she leapt around a bit like a big goof for a few seconds, but then calmed down again and the return home was uneventful.
On the ride I met a young American woman, K (or C?) on her first trip to Europe. She joined us for dinner, which allowed us to order more than the usual two dishes, and, since we had someone to talk to, actually made dinner last more than about 20 minutes. Also, the proprietor gave us a a 1/2 liter of wine on the house (to go with the 1/2 liter we'd bought), then dessert on the house (something his children had made up for his wife to cook for them--cookie crust, thick custard middle, pink jello top), and some little shots of Kitron, the local liqueur, also on the house.
In all, a fine Naxian day (aside from the fact that I have a cold).
And a couple corrections, which Ian pointed out (my fact checker, i.e. me, isn't as careful when she's typing directly into blogger at an internet cafe): The place we stayed on Folegandros was Anemomilos Apartments, and our conversation about St Pantalaimon actually had me saying "St Pantalaimos," to match "St PantaMIMEus," because that's what the St was called on our map. But I think everything else is more or less correct.
Thanks for reading!
Sunday, May 13, 2007
House for sale on Sikinos!
Late ferry unloading on Sikinos (we were at the one restaurant in town, looking down on the scene)
Ian coming out of our bathroom in Lucas rooms. Note the interesting shelf and mood lighting above his head.
On the ferry to Naxos, where we are now Conversation: Ian: "I seem to remember a place that I think is a barber shop . . . or it's a gyros place." Me: "Yeah, I know what you're talking about . . . I can't remember either."
Turns out, the place is Mustache Gyros. Yum.
Here we are on Sikinos now, at the lovely and friendly Lucas Rooms.
A carving on a random stone in the middle of an old footpath. How old? Could be days, could be millenia.
This tractor is likewise old.
And this donkey is about to add to the population.
Another sweeping view.
Calin scratching a friendly goat. After she was done, her hand smelled like cheese.
The Church of St Pantalaimon, in its pastoral setting.
The pool at our hotel. The rock was really cool to play on.
Sheep will graze anywhere. Here, they're below our bedroom window.
Breakfast on our balcony.
Late evening, everything turns blue.
This truck was evidently here when they repaved the road.
Bell tied to keep from ringing in the Meltemi, the wind from the north that blows all summer because of the Sahara.
The view from the top of the highest peak on Folegandros, which I hiked up a couple days ago. In the far distance is the Panagia chuch above Hora, where we stayed.
Brave little flower!
The courtyard of the church of St Pantaleimon. Conversation: Calin: "Who's Pantaleimon the patron saint for?" Ian: "I don't know." Calin: "People who play Charades." Ian: " . . . " Calin: "Oh, I'm sorry, that would be St PantaMIMEus." Yeah.
Ian hiking down a hill. Or up a hill.
Wading in clear, clear water.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
We're always smugly exausted and can't believe we went so far by the time we get home.
Yesterday afternoon we set out in a new direction, following a trail to a little settlement, and eventually planning to hit a beach, then wend our way along an easy (i.e. paved) road the one km from the beach to the port, and catch the last bus the 3 kms back to our clifftop home. As we reached the middle of open, hot, thorny countryside, we came upon a quartet of middle-aged Europeans; two Brits, and two French.
"Are you out for a long walk?" the British man, wearing hearty hiking boots, shorts, and a purple tank top, greeted us.
"Well, uh, I guess so." Ian and I were non-commital. We have no idea how long our walks are. We usually forget to have a watch with us, and frequently we lose track of distance as well. "We're planning to take a trail down to Livadi beach."
"OH!" said the man. "You can't take that trail in those shoes! It's a trail, but it's like hiking there," and he waved at the rocky, thorny hillside behind us.
We tried to explain that we hiked every afternoon in such conditions, but he would have none of it.
"We walked up it," he said, "and the trail's easy to see, with piles of rocks and red paint dots marking it," (way more information than we usually get for trails!) "but it's way too long. And those shoes won't work."
"Maybe you should walk up that hill to the church up there instead," his wife suggested. "That would be nice."
"We would be completely lost, wandering around," the French man said, "if we hadn't found these people." His wife nodded, and also looked askance at our footwear.
"Mmmhmm," we said, and "Have a nice walk back." We parted company, found our trail, and had a glorious afternoon leaping down a rocky track, then swimming in the clear chill waters of Livadi Beach.
The patronizing of the English man was very, very mild . . . and therefore practically unnoticeable . . . and so therefore all the more irritating. "The thing that gets me," Ian said, "is that he said it was too far."
But then, I'd probably feel superior if it was two pounds to the dollar instead of the other way around.
Monday, May 07, 2007
A few things I'd like to share:
1. Doing laundry in a sink by hand is tedious. However, it does allow for the upper body workout mostly missing from our hikes.
2. We're staying in a place called Anememolos Apartments, on the top floor, in a little studio. We have a sweeping, flying view off the top of a cliff out over ridiculous swimming-pool blue water. Misty distant dream islands float on the horizon, which appears to be rising up as your eyes follow it, presumably due to the shocking drop to the rocky beach directly below. Looking landward, thousands of years old ghosts till hundreds of acres of steep terraced hillsides. Sheep graze contentedly on a precipice below our window. The shower is like showering in an airplane would be--there's a tiny porthole window that looks out over open air and sea, no land in sight at all. Also, the shower is about 2 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet square, so it's about the same size as an airplane shower would be.
3. Our morning breakfast is Fage yoghurt (10% fat, YUM), with fresh fruit and local honey, eating on our flying verandah.
4. Donks (to borrow a term from Swallows and Amazons) are everywhere, comical ears pricked forward, snuffling at my cupped hands with their velvety muzzles, carrying old men and water along precarious trails to even more precarious flocks of goats, greeting each other joyously at dawn across the curved, steep, echoing hillsides.
And some Words of Wisdom:
I was out for a solitary hike yesterday morning while Ian worked. At one point, I turned west across the ancient terraces, choosing to avoid the church and farmyard to the south ahead of me. I lost my way, but after bumbling along for a bit in the thorns and granite and slate gravel, I came upon a clear track leading back in the direction of home. Soon, to my relief, I came upon a pile of donkey poop blocking the trail (goat poop, we've found, is no indication of a safe route for huumans). As I stepped over the pile and continued, I thought "Ever so often, a pile of shit lets you know you're on the right track."
And then I thought "Whoa, Calin. Deep."
Friday, May 04, 2007
The valley we walked through . . . four times in two days . . . part of the reason I'm tired . . .
Half litre of rose.
The catacombs (unofficial. Empty.)