Symi, Greece:  Looking back and looking forward

In early April in recent years I have headed to Greece for the summer.  Not possible this year because of various ongoing issues.  There is still a degree of uncertainty about when I’ll get back to the islands but, trying to think positively, I’m aiming for end of April/early May.

Therefore this is just a brief look at what Symi is like at that time of year and a reflection on how I plan to spend the summer over there this year.

May is the end of spring in the Greek islands.  Flowering plants hasten to complete their cycle by setting seed before they and the landscape are scorched by the blistering summer heat. Nowhere is this more so than on the Dodecanese island of Symi, reputedly the hottest and driest of the Greek islands.

During May 2016 I was in the throes of my Annus Horribilis with walking severely restricted and a stint in hospital on Rhodes, so there are very few photos.  Those below are some of the many taken in the first week of May 2015.

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Much of the landscape on Symi is limestone, this a small artistic cairn marking a path through it

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In places early May is the time to see orchids, including Orchis Sancta, the Holy Orchid

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Taking a closer look at the delicate flowers on each stem

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Many times taller than the orchids are the wild hollyhocks

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Colourful in early May, in just a couple of week’s time this will be crisped and brown

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Scarce Swallowtail  (Iphiclides podalirius) draws nectar from a lone cornflower swaying on a long stem

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Hidden among twigs, a mantis is generally only spotted if it moves.

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Oertzeni lizards (Lacerta oeertzeni) locked in a passionate embrace

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Dramatic seed-heads 3-4 inches in diameter.

I can’t sit around soaking up the sun and holding down chairs in a taverna, I need to have a goal, a project on the go. Ants in my pants as well as in the kitchen if everything isn’t cleaned meticulously and screwed down tight.  And sometimes even if it is …..

I spend much of the time on the islands writing when I’m not trekking in the mountains.  I finished my first book ‘Greece by bus’ in the summer of 2015 and had a limited print run at the end of the year.  My second book ‘Greece Unpackaged’ was printed in a limited run at the end of 2016 and one goal for summer 2016 is to publish it on Kindle.

The main aim for the spring and early summer this year is to further explore Symi and look at a couple of issues in particular.  One is to visit and examine more closely ancient settlements on the island.  Linked to this is to plot the location of natural springs and water sources ….. which some think don’t exist. The ambitious outcome of that I hope will be a third book – ‘Symi off-piste’.

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Initially identified from satellite imagery and then located on the ground, one of the fortified structures way off the beaten path. I hope to map this and other similar fortifications.

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Dressed marble in the middle of it shows a degree of sophistication prior to its construction

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In October 2016, my last day on Symi, I visited the ‘permanent’ pond at the deserted village of Gria …. only to find for the first time since I went there originally in the year 2000 that it was completely dry.

A lot of questions.  A lot to explore.

Posted in Greece, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Spring, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Banff, Canada: After The Fire

The fire on the night of 28/29 December dramatically changed the focus of the trip.

With nothing but what I was wearing when I evacuated the hotel into -25oC, the priorities for the next few days were somewhat heavily circumscribed: replacing toiletries; replacing basic clothing; applying for emergency passport ….. tedious, exhausting, but necessary stuff.

With two and a half weeks still to go it also meant replacing basic skiing gear, the main purpose of the trip. Additionally, I replaced my netbook computer so I could communicate with the outside world but not the smartphone because in Canada they are all locked to a provider, there is no sim-free option.

After spending more time shopping than during the last 25 years in total, I had enough to have a change of clothing and to get back to skiing, though I didn’t replace any of the winter trekking gear.

I lost both my SLR camera and the compact (Canon SX720) I carry in my hand in Greece and my pocket in the Rockies.  That meant that I also lost the memory cards with all the shots I had taken up to that point.  They were downloaded every day onto the computer but ……   The two which I posted on my blog to wish folks a Rocky white Christmas are the only Pre-Fire photos to survive from the 2016-17 trip.

So, having given up on the shopping and with painful new ski boots adjusted almost every day, I got back into the mountains and managed to take a few phots to look back on.

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The burnt-out top floor of the hotel from Banff Avenue,  blue sky showing through the smoke and water stained windows.  My room is on the left.

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Looking along the length of ‘Downtown’ Banff Avenue from my new room in the sister hotel.  That’s not smoke but air venting into intense cold even in the mid-afternoon sunshine. The road covered in compacted snow from frequent fresh falls.

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At the top of the other Banff Avenue, an easy groomed run at Sunshine Village.

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Looking down the frozen river to Mount Rundle from the Town Bridge over the Bow

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Deep snow at the top of Sulphur Mountain

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Looking along the boardwalk to the old weather observatory on Sanson’s Peak

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Some of nearby peaks are dramatically craggy

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The new interpretation centre and restaurants seen from Sanson’s Peak

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Back at the hotel and cloud behind Mount Rundle is set on fire by the setting sun

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…. which also lights up ice crystals inside the double glazing

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Banff, Canada:  ……… and then the hotel burnt down

If I may quote  HMQ speaking on British TV in November 1992, for me and for many others I’m sure, 2016 was an Annus Horribilis, a horrible arse of a year.

Returning to Banff in early February to continue to try to put into practice some of the skiing skills I had been shown in January but not reinforced, I fell heavily and dislocated my shoulder (see).  Visit to hospital, no more skiing, so I opted for the early bath and flew home after only a week. (see)

On the flight home I picked up a virus infection which laid me low.

A visit to the doctor to sign an insurance claim form to recover the considerable medical and travel expenses incurred by the injury led to tests because I visited so infrequently.  When the results came back I was shipped straight to the Emergency Assessment Unit in the local hospital because I was misfiring on two cylinders, a side-effect of the virus infection.

The diagnosis was confirmed and medication prescribed. An echocardiogram scan was recommended but there seemed to be no urgency as I heard nothing about an appointment.

So, after clearing it with the doctor, in April I went to the Greek island of Symi for the summer.  Operating well below par I tried to build up stamina with daily walks.  Until things went badly wrong.

Deciding that I was so below form that I should return home, I booked a flight and walked down to the harbour to book my ferry ticket.   It was a 15 minute walk which took 6 days.

Whisked off to Rhodes hospital by the Hellenic Coastguard, what the much vaunted NHS had failed to treat in the UK was dealt with very efficiently and expeditiously by the Greek health service. I was electrocuted, checked, tested and discharged.  Once again firing on all four cylinders, back on Symi I went wild, took to the mountains, slower than usual but considerably more comfortable than for the couple of months previously.

Months of more scans and tests in the UK, an increase in medication, and it all got more complicated.  The side effect of one of the drugs can be internal haemorrhaging so when signs appeared in the pan it was back to the surgery then off to hospital to swallow a camera to check for the Big C.  Side effect of the other drugs can be damage to the kidneys.  More tests showed that for the first time in my life I had anaemia, so more tests for that.

This is just a quick skate through the trials of the first 10 months of the year.

There were also many sadnesses including the death of a good friend on Symi, and concerns about the health of family and friends.

It all changed the shape of the year completely.  Became a paranoia, almost an anger wrought of frustration.

The planned trip to Banff for Christmas skiing with my daughter and her husband was a beacon on the horizon, an end to the hassle.

Didn’t quite work out.

Flight delays meant we arrived on 18th December rather than 17th after a lot of stress caused by British Airways inaction and an enforced overnight stay in Slough.  Frustrating and disappointing, late-night shopping required for essential items because we didn’t have our hold luggage, not eating until nearly midnight.  But unlike Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we weren’t yet in the Slough of Despond.  We had our skiing gear in cabin luggage. Result!  The day after we arrived we were out on the ski hill in fresh and falling snow.  Great!!!

However, sadly, there was more shopping in Banff because three of our five bags didn’t arrive until 21st.  More essential items needed.  Receipts carefully kept ready to make a claim from the airlines for additional costs.

When the bags came it was like Christmas as we were reunited with our stuff.  Four days later we had a great Christmas Day, skiing followed by Skype to the family and a meal in the hotel.  Really good.

Then the hotel caught fire.

A relatively early night, ready for an early start to the ski hill next day, just after 2 am came a thunderous banging on the doors along the corridor.  Thinking at first it was youngsters up from Calgary returning to their rooms after partying in the Dancing Sasquatch, at first I ignored it.   But when it continued, became more urgent, I opened the door to an RCMP officer saying that the roof was on fire and to evacuate immediately.   We were on the top floor.  There was a smell of smoke.  RCMP officers, who had spotted the fire from the main street, banging on doors further along the corridor were in a billowing haze.

We left.

Don’t mess with this stuff.  Get out. I grabbed trousers, shirt, sweater, ski jacket, boots …. and opened the door to my daughter’s hammering, afraid I was sleeping though the rumpus.   I have slept through much louder disturbance so a justified concern.

It was right that we got out straight away, ours were 2 of the 10 rooms completely destroyed., the fire raging out of sight in a roof-space directly over our heads. Had the RCMP not spotted the fire and taken immediate action it is likely all three of us would be dead from the smoke.

We evacuated into the car park at below minus 200C.  Some ran out in night attire and bare feet.  One elderly lady refusing to leave, not wanting to be told what to do, was pushed into a wheel chair and carried down the stairs protesting.

No-one was hurt.  Inconvenient.  Uncomfortable.  But all 297 guests were evacuated safely and accounted for.

The strange thing is that the brain processes these things in relation to what has happened in the past.  Sure, I grabbed clothes knowing it was very cold outside but still couldn’t think beyond this being a false alarm.  Years as a Health and Safety officer with regular fire practices meant I knew there were no practises at 2 in the morning.  But I also knew that there were occasional false alarms with someone’s elbow landing in the wrong place.  And Christmas/New Year in Banff is party time with merry inebriates thinking all sorts of nonsense is funny, including setting fire to waste bins and punching fire alarms.

The unquestioned but false assumption was therefore that after an hour or so out in the cold we would all be filing back inside with the perpetrators identified from the alarm point triggered.

On this occasion not so.  From the car park at the back the flames and plume of smoke could be seen clearly and were growing.  This was for real.  A fire engine arrived, then another.  Firemen set up hoses and got up onto the roof.

That’s when it started to sink in.  The past is not always a guide to the present.  Why didn’t I grab my passport?  And my cards and money?  And my phone?  And my computer?  I couldn’t go back now.  The flames were getting huge, licking hungrily 20 feet into the night sky, feeding on the wood and other flammable materials.  The firemen up on the roof pumping hundreds of gallons of water.  We didn’t know at the time but they also removed six 100 pound propane cylinders which had they been compromised would have made things far worse.  The flames were doused but the smoke billowed more.

I lost everything.  All I had was what I stood up in plus my reading glasses which for some reason I picked up subconsciously as I left.  I had a shirt, a sweater, a pair of pants, pair of trousers, socks, boots … and a ski jacket. And my ski season pass attached to my jacket.  That was it.  Nothing else.  We had had our stuff for a week before it was destroyed.

It’s a strange feeling suddenly having nothing.  It numbs the mind which races to try to catch up with the new circumstances.  Tries to work out what has to be done.  Your brain tells you there are millions of others in the world to whom this is happening, made destitute by violence or natural disasters, but being from the privileged world, this doesn’t sink in.

We were evacuated to a temporary emergency centre in the sister hotel to the one we had been staying in.  We dozed leaning on tables in the restaurant. That was when we had the first inkling of the generosity of the community in Banff.  A friend who worked in the hotel due on shift at 06.00 came and searched us out and took us back to her house to spend the rest of the night more comfortably and then fed us breakfast.

Brewster’s, the hotel company, went over and above to provide help and support at a personal level from the president right through to off-duty employees coming in to help out even though they knew that with no hotel they may have no job. Shops, restaurants, bars in the town all offered big discounts as we sought to replace necessary items and went to eat.  There was a very real sense that this is a small community which cares and offers practical help.

The days which followed we spent trying to prioritise replacement of essentials.  First was to replace medication.  I had already had to visit the pharmacy because other than the medication I needed for the trip and the next day everything had been in the misplaced hold luggage.  Now I had to visit a doctor to get a prescription for the rest of the stay.  You pay for medical care in Canada.  The fee for issuing the prescription was reduced by more than 50%.

It has been, and to a diminishing extent still is, a traumatic time but the trauma has been offset by the overwhelming sense of generosity of the community.

I was leaving a shop after buying another bit of ski gear (I lost the lot, except skis stored in an outside locker) when I accidentally bumped into a guy coming in.  I apologised.  He said “Why are you apologising?  Only Canadians do that”.  I replied “I guess I’ve been coming over here long enough to have picked up the politeness”.  He said “We call it the Canadian stand-off:  After you!,  No, no, after you”.

At the end of the day (I do love clichés) what we have lost is just ‘stuff’.  No-one was hurt.  What we have gained are a glimmer of understanding of what it is to have everything stripped away in an instant and life-long friendships.  For us it’s a First World problem.

It will be difficult to recover from the trauma but it will fade.  What will remain will be the memory of the generosity of the people of Banff.

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Part of the front of the hotel after the fire

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… and that was my room, blue sky showing through the smoke and water smeared windows

Many articles about the fire on the internet, including this one from the local newspaper The Crag and Canyon

http://www.thecragandcanyon.ca/2016/12/29/fire-at-historic-mount-royal-hotel

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Banff, Canada:  A Rocky white Christmas

A change of scene.  And what a contrast.

After a journey during which British Airways and Air Canada seemed to conspire to cover themselves with ignominy rather than glory we arrived in Banff a day late and minus three of our 5 bags.  But we had made sure we had ski gear in hand luggage and the temperature here in the Canadian Rockies had soared to a toasty minus 15 rather than the minus 35 which it had been for the two weeks before we hit town.

It snowed every day for the week leading up to Christmas, making for good skiing.  Then Christmas Day dawned cloudless, a fabulous day for skiing with the bonus that most folk were wrapping themselves around turkey and pud rather than cruising the slopes.

It’s still 25 December here though not for folk in Europe. So Happy Christmas in retrospect.

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The forecast is for blue sky again Boxing Day and then more snow leading up to New Year.  With a season pass there are no restrictions on which days we ski so it’s a matter of picking which days will be busy on the slopes and doing something else rather than dodging the crazies.

Happy New Year in prospect

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Symi:  focus ….. and losing it

I don’t consider myself an adrenalin junkie, though I know some who disagree.  But one thing which I have learned from ‘adrenalin sports’ (white water kayaking, paragliding, climbing ….) is the importance of maintaining focus.  Lose it and there are consequences.  Shoot the rapids, relax mentally, capsize. Once on the Tryweryn in North Wales I lost it and capsized coming to the top of Bala Mill Falls.  Fortunately the adrenalin kicked back in, I rolled up literally on the brink of the falls and managed to paddle back upstream.  It was dubbed by onlookers as ‘The Electric Roll’.  Have a great flight on the paraglider  in difficult conditions, relax as you come in to land … ouch!  Once in the Alps after soaring to several thousand feet I missed a humongously large landing field and landed ignominiously in a chalet garden.  No injury but serious humiliation.

I’m not the only one, it’s a fact well known in outdoor pursuits. After a major personal achievement the adrenaline suckers you into thinking that you are indestructible.  Sadly, some have died.

Though not generally thought of as an adrenaline sport, rambling around the mountains in Greece on your own and in summer heat needs focus, especially if you go ‘off-piste’ as I do most of the time.

I became mindful of the insidious but potentially devastating effect of dehydration after tackling the Four Peaks Challenge in the Lake District in a heat-wave (yes, we used to have them in Grey Britain) when two friends dropped out after 33 miles and with 15 miles and another peak still to go the fourth became delirious and sat down in the middle of nowhere and wouldn’t/couldn’t go on.  So now I always carry lots of water.  Even so, one recent summer on Tilos I developed a urine infection because of dehydration (a fever, dizziness, weakness, disorientation).  Thankfully I turned back before I was too committed to the route.  I have been even more careful about taking on enough water ever since.

Walk a route with which you are familiar and it’s easy to become blasé, and careless.

When I’m on Symi I often spend the cool of the morning tapping away on the keyboard and then give-in to itchy feet and head off for a walk towards midday, trekking into the heat.  One great short route I have sussed out and now do regularly is from my start point in Horio up to the ridge and then a gradual drop down into the harbour at Yialos.  I have found a way to avoid all but a few metres of tarmac.  It’s a very enjoyable route with dramatic views and enough challenge on the tarmac-avoidance bits to add sparkle.

I have walked it often enough to know it well.  Nevertheless, one day it went mildly wrong despite clear portents.

Always bleary-eyed when I wake up I backed carefully down the ladder-steep stairs into the salon, down the few steps into the courtyard and into the kitchen.  Lifting the up-turned washing-up bowl in the kitchen sink before turning on the tap to fill the kettle for my caffeine-fix I found myself looking at a Symi Spider.  Until that point I had regarded them as mythical.  I had had close encounters with tortoises 30 cms plus, lizards nearly as long, various snakes up to 2 metres, but spiders no bigger than in the UK.  This was orders of magnitude bigger.  And very hairy.

My immediate reaction was “Oh! That’s a Caetopelma Aegyptiacum, a Cypriot Grey”.  Well, not really.  My initial reaction was actually: “I can’t run the water for a coffee with that there”.  I didn’t find out the rest of it until afterwards.  Now I know it’s the largest spider native to Europe, a species of tarantula and though its bite can be painful, it’s not fatal.

Between 12 and 15 cms across (5-6 inches) I didn’t fancy picking it up like I do with most spiders.  Instead I got a pint glass and tried to put it over the top of but it was too big.  So I nudged it with the edges of the glass until it retracted its legs over its body and then slid a sheet of paper underneath.  Easy from then on.  First thing was to get the camera.  Next, I carried it outside and let it go on the garden wall at the side of the house.  Finally, I could have my caffeine fix.  It served to focus my mind earlier in the day than normal.

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The Symi Spider in my kitchen sink about 6 inches across before I nudged it to get it inside the beer glass

Fairly buzzing I couldn’t settle to write so headed up through the narrow alleys of Horio to the open mountain on an old but reasonably well preserved kalderimi to The Viewpoint. (Symi Walk 1).

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Narrow alleys in Horio

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leaving the village and rising steeply up rough steps to reach ….

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….. The Viewpoint

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Looking down to the main harbour from The Viewpoint

I’m always focused when I get to that point, partly with anticipation of the stunning view which never ceases to have the ‘Wow!’ factor, partly because last year I surprised a snake which reacted by striking at my sandalled foot.  It missed as I leapt backwards and then disappeared rapidly down a small hole (the snake disappeared down the hole, not me).  Since then I get my camera out every time I approach The Viewpoint, hoping to renew the acquaintance.   Sadly, yet again there was no sign of it.

The kalderimi continues unmistakeably and enjoyably as described in the first part of Symi Walk 2 to pass Agia Paraskevi on the left.  From the monastery with its shady courtyard, the kalderimi improves, surfaced to facilitate access to a recently renovated house  a couple of hundred metres further uphill, but  which the cynic in me says was funded by the EU on the pretext of being required to facilitate access to the church.

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The path is through rugged and in some places aggressively sharp limestone ….

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…… but is always very clear with the occasional tree offering shade

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…… until it reaches the shade at Agia Paraskevi

Immediately after the house is a dirt path which going off to the right (N 36o 36’ 28.2”  E 27o 49’ 35.8”).  Despite having taken the path many times, on the day I missed it because I wasn’t focused, my mind wandering onto all sorts of other things such as the spider and the snake.  If your mind is wandering, your feet follow, in this case eyes fixated by the well-surfaced kalderimi continuing straight ahead. My subconscious kicked in fairly soon, told me I was off my intended route, and I backtracked thankful that there was no one around but feeling foolish nonetheless.

Though rough, the path is clear as it first goes level and then drops down into a gully before climbing up to rock slabs, another dramatic viewpoint looking straight down the valley to the harbour at Yialos.  The path, increasingly broken up in places, continues unmistakeably up to the tarmac road along the ridge.

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turn right onto a narrow dirt path

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drop down rightward into a gulley

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…. before rising up to rock slabs and another great view

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continue on once-well-made kalderimi

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reaching the end of the kalderimi at concrete track leading to main tarmac road

Reaching the tarmac road is the start of the next stage of the route, completely different from the rough but clear kalderimia so far.  This is the ‘Tarmac Avoidance’ bit, much more difficult to find, very rough underfoot …. but a lot more fun than the alternative which is to trudge the road for a couple of miles.

From the point where the path reaches the tarmac I go up to the right, first over agricultural mess – bits of timber, fencing etc – past a number of large eucalyptus trees.  Mind suddenly focuses again.  The first of the trees was buzzing loudly.  In full flower it was the focus of the huge numbers of bees brought to the island at this time of year to take advantage of the thyme and the eucalyptus, both much sought-after specialist honeys commanding a premium price on supermarket shelves.  Bees don’t really freak me out but in such large numbers I find them more unnerving than anything else I encounter in the mountains.

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turn right and go uphill under eucalyptus trees, no path

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Flowering for  only a short time the eucalyptus trees attract thousands of bees in turn

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Reaching a high point with views across the narrow channel to Turkey

A brief sit down on the rocks at the top to take in the view and munch on a nut bar, then I headed down over broken ground parallel with the wall and fence trending leftward back towards the tarmac. On reaching the road it’s only a few metres before turning off it again and onto an old but very little used mule track.

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Reaching the tarmac, follow it for a few metres

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… before turning off over rough ground

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…. to reach the start of the mule track marked by paint spots on a telegraph post

A few paint spots confirm the route but do not help finding it.  At first there are the remains of stone markers along the sides, passing stone walls but soon you need to be able to read the ground and see the line of the path.  I have walked it many times but close attention is still required.  Wander away from the line and it is difficult to find again.

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The path follows the fence downhill until striking off to the right

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Aiming for the wall in the distance marked by a triangle, at first the remains of the old track are fairly obvious

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…. but soon there is no alternative to reading the ground

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Reaching the wall the onward path is once again clear from trodden ground

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…. confirmed by paint spots as the edge of the drop is approached.

On reaching the edge of the steep drop the route starts to zigzag sharply to make the gradient suitable for laden donkeys.  For a short distance the downhill side is marked by rocks but soon it’s a matter of looking out for a line threading through the old terraces where ground which is more compacted by the passage of feet and hooves.

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The next target to aim for is the gap in the fence way below (indicated).  Initially the mule track goes off to the left and is clear but soon deteriorates.

I became blasé again.  It wasn’t so much that I lost focus but that I was paying more attention to the line of the path and potential variations to it rather than to my footing.  Result, I trod on a stone which twisted, throwing me off-balance.  I recovered easily but not before banging my shin on a sharp limestone rock jutting out.  Thin skin and anticoagulants meant there was a lot of claret.  Again.  Getting used to the problem by now, a single expletive polluted the air then I just sit down on a rock, took the first aid kit out of my rucksack and started the well rehearsed process of staunching the flow.  This time it was superficial but over a large area releasing lymph as well, so rather than leaving it open to the air, my preferred option, I applied one of the few remaining hydrocolloidal dressings in my pack and make a mental note to restock.

It’s was a relief to reach the gap in the fence and the beginning of the final phase of the route.  Following the wall around to the right the track soon gives way to a faint path and leads around to a small col with a Byzantine stone wine press on the left and an ancient olive press which makes a great place to stop for a banana and a siesta.

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Follow the wall around to the right.  Note: there is a way to this point by following the road, shown coming in from the left.

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Reaching the large stone slab of the ancient olive press

From here the path back to Yialos, skirting high above the western side of Nimborio Bay, is much clearer and will be described in a future blog.  Indeed, the intention is to write up the whole route to add to Greek Island Walks, though in a different format to those included so far.

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The onward route from the olive press is more trodden and therefore much clearer

 

This is probably the last blog about Greece this year.  Hope you have enjoyed it. I’m off to Canada in a couple of weeks and so will be writing about the Rockies in winter.

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Seven years. Missed no less

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Blue sky in the distance

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….. but that’s not the focus today

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Posted in Grey Britain, Landscape, Mountains, Photography, Pontypool, Reflections, Wales | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Nisyros:  Rock around the volcano

Signs on roads and footpaths around Nisyros point to ‘The Volcano’ in English and in Greek.   Arrive by boat in the harbour and you are offered coach trips to The Volcano.  A bit misleading that because by the time you arrive you are already standing on it.  The whole island is a volcano.  Or more strictly speaking, it’s part of a very much larger volcano which blew its top many years ago when it encompassed what is now Nisyros and the western end of Kos, the sea between being the now submerged caldera.

The ‘remnant’ volcano of Nisyros is classed as potentially active and is still grumbling away.  Thermal springs emerge around the island at places such as Mandraki’s Hochlalos Beach, Avlaki, Palloi and the medical spa at Loutra.   Indeed Hippocrates, he of the oath, sent patients from Kos to the spring in a cave in Palloi, also used by the Romans.

What is referred to as ‘The Volcano’ is the Stephanos crater at the western end of the 3 kilometre-long caldera, adorned by a coach park and taverna, but there are a number of other smaller craters and active hotspots nearby.  The main caldera, Lakki, is the most seismically active but there are a number of smaller apparently dormant calderas including those at Nifios, Kato Laki and two between Siones and Evangelistra.

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Zooming in on the Stepanos, Polyvotis and Alexandros craters from near Nikia, 1000 feet above

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…. and zooming in still more showing people on the floor of the Stephanos crater ….. it’s big!

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Part of the wall of the Stephanos crater

These calderas offer some of the most diverse and spectacular trekking I know, much of it on ancient routeways because the immensely fertile volcanic soils meant the island was once very densely populated.  Old pathways and kalderimia link ancient settlements, habitations, chapels and monasteries.  It’s a great pleasure to revisit old favourites and discover ‘new’ routes.

This year much of my walking focused on the main caldera and the active craters, old pathways going around much of the caldera at a high level with kalderimia zigzagging down to the caldera floor from the villages of Emborios and Nikia, and the monastery of Agios Stavros perched on the rim.

I am a self-confessed ‘vrachophile’, a neologism derived from the Greek βράχος  (vrachos) – a large mass of rock, and φίλος (philos) – friend. Sounds so much less suspect than petrophile, πέτρα (petra) being a stone or small rock.  I don’t go around hugging rock, certainly not when there may be anybody looking or unless I’m climbing, but I’m fascinated by them and do go around photographing them.  Repeatedly.  Obsessively.

This blog is about rocks around the caldera on Nisyros not from a geological or geomorphological perspective but aesthetic, a fascination with shape and texture, imagination running riot.

The whole of the island is made up of volcanic rock varying from famously hard black obsidian to very soft off-white pumice.  Some of the most spectacular features are lava pinnacles, thrust upwards during eruptions and sculpted into fascinating and weird shapes by gases exploding out of them.

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A huge pinnacle like a beaked dinosaur towers above the path on the way eastwards from Nikia, touched by early morning sun

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The scale is shown by the Blue Rock Thrush perching on the top

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Looking back to Nikia, the lava beast seems to be haughtily standing guard over the village

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A short distance further and another prehistoric beast tops a crag above the old pathway, Stephanos crater 1000 feet below.

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Then the dramatic pinnacles of Parlettia, topped by an ancient fortification still in use during the Crusades.  Another prehistoric beast looks out over the caldera

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The access to Parlettia involves a modest rock climb, the crags reinforced by stone walls

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Yet another snarling beast watches the access point

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At the side of the kalderimi from Nikia to the caldera  a rock like the helmeted head of an alien from science fiction watches Parlettia

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….. eying the beast watching the caldera

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While near Emborios a giant hound keeps watch

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Nowhere is the effect of the gas breaking out of the molten rock more evident than in the 60-foot high lava bubble at the side of the path from Emborios to Evangelistria (scale shown by the person in the bottom right of the photo)

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Detail of part of the inside of the bubble

Drop down to the caldera floor from Nikia and turn west towards the Stephanos crater and cross barren desert to reach a ‘hotspot’ with bare rock heavily coloured by sulphur and fumaroles encrusted with needle-like sulphur crystals formed as boiling gases emerge.  The surrounding rock is heated not only by the sun from a cloudless sky but by the underground furnace that is the magma chamber.  It’s too hot and sulphurous to linger long but it draws me back time after time.

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As it nears the caldera floor the kalderimi, for most of its way rough stone paved passes through a zone of recent activity and strewn with loose rock encrusted with yellow, white and red sulphur

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Looking up one of the small sulphur encrusted gullys

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Heading towards a hotspot

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Sulphurous gas from a cluster of fumaroles emerging from rock blackened by the heat

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The gases from a hotspot near the head of a large gully

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Approaching with some circumspection shows delicate and colourful crystal formations

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Some are like yawning holes reaching up from the centre of the earth

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But don’t put your hand closer than about 30 cms – the gas is near boiling point

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Looking down the gully to the main caldera floor, finer material forming a stream bed

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The caldera floor near the main crater, true desert

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The fissure in the caldera floor opened by seismic activity in 2003 shows the nature of the ‘rock’

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