There are great walks on many of the Greek islands I know. Symi, Tilos, Kalymnos, Amorgos, Hydra ……… However, I have often said, become a bit boring about it maybe, that the most spectacular walking/trekking I know is on Nisyros. Despite what a lot of people and websites say, it’s not an island with a volcano. The island IS a volcano.
And you can get up close and personal.
If you are staying on the island, rather than coming in on a day-trip, the early morning (08.00) bus to Nikia, one of the two villages perched on the caldera rim overlooking the still active craters, gives plenty of time to do precisely that, get up close and personal. If you know where to go.
Brief pause there. It is a mistake to think that the island has just one crater. OK, it’s great, more dramatic than most people have ever experienced, to drop down the path from the coach park and walk across the floor of the huge Stefanos crater, then climb back up and have a drink in the oasis which is the taverna. The day-trip coaches stop here so it’s an easy win. But there are at least another four craters, a bit more difficult and time consuming to access.
Drop down the old kalderimi from Nikia and as you get closer to the floor of the caldera the smell of sulphur gets stronger. In some years there are active fumaroles at the side of the path and the sulphur smell is even stronger. This year it’s wafting from elsewhere.
There are reminders that this is not a Disneyland but a living place. The earth is breathing. It has a long history of settlement. Many old abandoned stone-built houses have survived earthquakes because of their barrel-arch construction. But there are also many small things. A wooden gate into a homestead with a simple but very efficient wooden bolt across it. You won’t buy those in B&Q! A snake skin sloughed as it slithered into the thick stone wall of a long-abandoned house right on the floor of the caldera. People lived and farmed here into the 20th Century. Some on the island people still remember as children staying with grandparents in the caldera during the summer. It’s still farmed now: turkeys, chickens, cattle, pigs all roam free.
Reaching the bottom of the kalderimi from Nikia, turn left (westwards) close to the cliffed side and you are walking across desert. The western end of the caldera is the most active and the ground is hot not just from the scorching sun but from below. Sparse vegetation. An occasional stunted tree. Shiny white ‘soil’ washed down in winter rains. It’s another, alien world.
The low-angled morning sun starkly outlines where the ground is breathing out its sulphurous gases. Need to be careful not to get too close, the ground is hot underfoot even through thick-soled walking-sandals. I can only cope with the gases for a relatively short time before they make me feel unwell.
Get closer and there are myriad brightly coloured fumaroles. They look, and indeed are, very delicate with their thousands of bright yellow slivers of sulphur crystals. Put you hand over the top and you’ll withdraw it pretty quickly. The gases are painfully hot. Look inside the black interior: that narrow tube goes a long way down! You get the feeling that with a powerful enough torch you may be able to look all the way to the centre of the earth. Well, at least as far as the magma chamber.
Pull back and look at the bigger picture. The sides of the craters with white and red sulphur as well as yellow. A canyon cut by a river in winter rains. Dried and cracked seasonal lake-floor.
I know nowhere else remotely like this. It holds a pervading fascination. That’s why I keep coming back. It changes every year but the impact is still the same. I’m hooked.
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