Nisyros: pushing along in ancient landscapes

Thursday and on my own again.  I felt the need to do something a bit more extreme than usual, push the limits a bit, prove I’m still alive and not just vegetating.  One of the effects of being on my own has been to make me push myself harder physically, I suppose as a distraction.  Some people lose themselves in their work, I lose myself in the mountains.  Not literally of course, I like to know where I’m going and where I am.

But sometimes it’s good to get off the beaten path, not that paths around here are that well beaten but at least with most of them I know where they are.

Or so I thought.  I decided to walk up to the ancient, abandoned monastery of Siones in a ‘hidden valley’ and then back to the Evangelistra monastery via that and another hidden valley.

I started out following a thin path which I have walked a number of times but always in the opposite direction and with increasing confidence about being able to distinguish it from the myriad of other thin paths on the terraces of the mountainside.

Time for another confession.  I use the pedometer which Ruth and Tim gave me for Christmas every day and as a means of pushing myself physically.  It records steps very accurately and also records what it terms ‘aerobic’ steps.  The aerobic steps recording is triggered by walking at more than 60 paces a minute for 10 minutes and then continues to record them unless you slow down for 60 seconds or more.  Triggering the aerobic steps has become a challenge over here because the paths are so uneven and rough.  But I managed it at the start of the walk and set about yomping along what was a clearer path than I remembered it being.  Fair zipping along I was.

Until I realised that the terrain I was passing through at high speed and to which I wasn’t paying that close attention was not familiar.  The path was still very clear but going where I didn’t want to go, downhill and not up toward the col.  I decided to follow it and see where it ended up.  My guess was that it was going to a smallholding of which an increasing number are being renovated and cultivated.  This was confirmed by the occasional tyre track from a  scooter and the odd bit of new wire fencing.  That indeed turned out to be the case so I turned round and yomped back again to a point which I recognised …. and found the right path going off very faintly uphill to the left.  The thinner path of course slowed my progress significantly but at least it was going where I wanted to get to.

Moral?  Even in this landscape which reeks of timelessness things change.   You can’t afford to switch off mentally and just walk.

I reached Siones in good time.  The place always seems lost in the past.  Farmers still use it to dump the odd sack of something and there is modern agricultural detritus scattered about but that doesn’t detract from the impact of it.  The approach to it is through terraced fields still filled with ancient strains of barley and oats, nowadays cut by hand as straw, winter fodder for animals.

Thistles 6-8 feet high with giant flower/seed heads barred the way close to the complex itself.  Closer inspection showed many very large beetles of varying types were on the tops, some evidently chewing their way downwards and consuming the flower heads.  Others I guess just having fun.  Walking over here I carry my small Canon S95 in my hand the whole time so I can photograph things without having to take off the rucksack and get the big SLR out but with small things swaying in the breeze I stopped and used the SLR.  Much better shots.

Giant thistles on the approach to Siones

Some beetles seem to munch their way through the flower heads: these ones over a centrmetre wide

Others a re more colourful and just seem to be having fun: these ones a centimtre long

…. though sometimes life is harder than you would like

The monastery complex seems to deteriorate more every year.  In particular it is sad to see the 18th Century frescos in the tiny chapel being more damaged after every winter. What was even sadder was to see clear evidence of extensive rat activity in the chapel.  For the first time it didn’t excite me at all and I didn’t take any photos of the interior.  I sat in the ‘avli’, the inner courtyard, and had my banana and nutbar

The ‘avli’, or inner courtyard, of the ancient Siones monastery

There is no path from the monastery onwards.  This was what excited me on Thursday, the prospect of once again finding a way up through the vegetation-choked to the col and then down onto the floor of the other hidden’ valley’.  In truth neither of them are valleys but really extinct calderas once used for farming but now just home to a wide variety ‘crop’ trees: olives, figs, walnuts, capers, almonds and who knows what else that I didn’t recognise as food.

As mentioned, I carry the small camera in my hand the whole time.  Some years ago, walking along the path leading back to Mandraki we had seen a big rat snake on the high stone wall at the side of the path and I have kept an eye open for it ever since.  I have not yet succeeded in photographing a snake in the wild but live in hope.  Eyes peeled today in hope if not expectation.  No rat snake but a very large lizard shot off and only partly managed to hide itself in the holly oak.

Big Liz not quite well hidden enough: scale shown by the leaves of the holly oak which are about 1 cm across

A tiring walk more because of the difficulty of the terrain than the distance covered but very satisfying.  And very glad to get back to the hotel, grab my swimming things and head for the beach for a swim.  Very refreshing.

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