Greece 2011: back to the top of the world on Kalymnos, and then to Symi

Another megablog, just to put you off completely.  The same problem as before, needing to wait until I got to the internet-connected town at the other end of the island.

I started this from the Hotel Olympic on Kalymnos en route to Symi but there was a major problem with The Plan.  More of which in another blog.  For now, for the rest of my time on Kalymnos.

Monday, and having been cut off from the internet since I got to Kalymnos, here I decided that a visit to Pothia was a priority in order to check and send e-mails, check bank accounts and to blog and, as a secondary consideration, to try to find nutbars, the Emborios Mini Market not having any.

Problem was that I had to compile the blog before I left but, in the event, I managed it comfortably.  I bought tickets on the way to the bus and then suffered increasingly cramped conditions as the bus passed first through Massouri and then Myrties and Hora picking up vast numbers of unlikely looking climbers and a host of ‘character’ locals.  What was surprising was the large number of people trying to get on the bus without knowing that you have to buy tickets before boarding, making ‘old hands’ like me feel smug having already sussed the system and impatient to be on our way without being delayed by laggards.

Once in Pothia I headed straight for the Hotel Olympic where, amazingly, the Australian- Greek girl in reception remembered me instantly and shook my hand and welcomed me back, enquiring after my welfare.  How do Greeks do it!!!!  They seem so interested in people and able to remember them after even the briefest acquaintance.

So I spent the rest of the morning accessing and replying to e-mails, posting that very long blog, and checking bank accounts on-line.

That done I came out of the hotel and decided to go up the mountain on the Italian Path and try to find the chapel so clearly visible on the skyline from all angles around the harbour but not shown on the maps.

The chapel may not be shown on any maps but having taken the plunge and gone off the incredibly well-paved Italian Path there was a not indistinct and occasionally marked ‘normal’ mountain path leading meanderingly to the chapel.  The door was chained and padlocked but the views from the side of it were dramatic, vertically down to the harbour and over the town.  I wasn’t in a hurry to leave.

Looking down to the harbour from above the church

.... and the view in the other direction

But eventually I did in order to catch the 17.00 bus back to Emborios.  With only two buses a day you don’t want to make get left behind!!

Back at Emborios by 18.00 and it was quick change into swimming cossie and then down the 100 yards to the beach and another great swim.  That’s ‘great swim’ purely in the sense that it was very enjoyable, not at all in terms of any athletic prowess exhibited.

Then a very enjoyable meal of curried chicken, mouth-wateringly fabulous, after which I sat up talking with friends until 02.00.  You would think I would learn by my age!  But no, it seems not.

Tuesday saw a very sluggish start after a day’s shopping and blogging and climbing mountains …… and, OK, sitting up chatting until 02.00 in the morning.  Shame really as I had big plans for the day.  I was going to repeat the walk up Oros Profitis Ilias but then instead of going back to Hora, to drop down the other side of the ridge to the floor of the Vathy Valley and return to Pothia via the Italian Path to catch the 17.00 bus back to Emborios.   Ambitious!  Particulalry so as I couldn’t start in the cool of the day but at 11.00 when the bus got to Hora where the walk began.

There was only me and a family on the bus leaving Emborios but by the time we had reached Hora it was more than usually crowded.  Most people get caught out by the ticketing system and try to get on board without having first bought a ticket in the periptero (kiosk) so that the driver can tear it in half, keep one for the records and give the other back to you in case an inspector gets on I guess.  It’s a similar system to that in Athens except there its more mechanised.

The problem is that people try to get on in groups and with rucksacks and Big Luggage and then have to get off again to buy tickets, pushing through the crush of people behind them also trying to get on.  They then run to the periptero, buy tickets and run back to the bus passing the people who were clamouring to get on behind them only to have met with the same problem.  The bus can be delayed at certain stops for significant number of minutes while this process takes place and then, increasingly resembling a sweaty sardine tin, lurches off once more with those standing clutching the rails in a desperate attempt to avoid being thrown around the inside.

The bus is used by tourists but also by many locals, some of them quite elderly and infirm.  Chivalry is not dead and in most cases those in need of a seat are offered one.  But one elderly guy seems to repeat the same pattern every day.  Obviously a local and equally obviously familiar with the system, he gets on opposite what I assume is where he lives in the middle of nowhere but always proffers coins not a ticket.  The driver is not allowed to take coins but a woman on the bus seems to have a bundle of tickets so the driver holds out the coins he has been given which the woman takes, gives the tickets to the driver who then tears them in half and gives the half back to the guy.  He gets on clutching a  plastic bag  and crumples into two seats.  As the bus fills up he then gets out of the seats to let others have them  and sits on the floor by the middle door until he gets off in Hora.  It works for him, so why not?  I bet he’s looking forward to the end of the tourist season so the locals can have their bus back.

Having got off in Hora I then headed by the ‘steep’ route up to the top of Profitis Ilias, this time taking notes and GPS readings in order to write it up in the walks guide.  The pace was therefore necessarily slower than on Friday so I arrived at the top reasonably fresh and ready for the long drop down into the Vathy Valley.  Even with the delays of recordings I got to the top in 1½ hours, had a banana and set off down before 13.00, giving me 4 hours to make it down to the bottom, along the Valley and back over the ridge to Pothia.  I reckoned that was plenty of time but couldn’t be sure.

Typical well trodden path

Then a cautionary tale of over-confidence.  I was fairly bouncing along the well-marked if, in places, somewhat indistinct path. I reached a hairpin bend and thought I saw the line of the path and started on the next section only to find that I hadn’t been paying anywhere near enough attention and I was sliding down loose scree.  Rather than try to get back up the scree I decided to cross it and try to pick up the path further on.  More difficult than I thought.  No real problem even though I was wearing sandals but it was slowing my progress and I still had a long way to go down to the valley floor.  But my line was right and I eventually spotted the stone terraced edge of the kalderimi just above me and scrambled  up to it, very thankful to be back on track.  From there on I paid more careful attention to the red spots and arrows as they guided a course zig-zagging through the thorn-scrub vegetation.

While crossing the scree I did however come across a piece of terracotta from some kind of vase or flask.  It was later identified as part of a water flask, probably used by shepherds, not very old at all but interesting to have found it.

The neck of the water flask

There had been a very pleasant breeze on the top of the mountain but the valley floor seemed oppressively hot.  A half-hour walk along a track down the valley and then, after a sit under an olive tree for 5 minutes to eat my other banana to fuel me for the climb, I headed back up to the ridge-top via the very good kalderimi known as the Italian Path.

The amazingly well stone-paved Italian Path on the high plateau

I arrived back in Pothia at 16.00, plenty of time for a frappé before catching the bus back to Emborios and another very enjoyable swim.  I will miss the closeness of the swimming when I leave.

Another big day planned for Wednesday, this time to walk the length of the Emborios ridge taking, in a couple of the peaks I didn’t climb last Saturday, following the path shown on the map to its conclusion ….. and taking notes and GPS readings to write it up in the walks guide.

View of the Telendos Channel from the road trudge

I think I must be getting my fitness back now as I got from Emborios to the church at the top of the col, a distance of 5 kilometres and a height gain of 300 metres, in less than an hour and still had plenty of legs left.  It’s pretty boring walking along the road for that distance but it means that a lot of ground can be covered quickly and the views are spectacular to say the least.

From the church the path is a completely different walking experience, all the joys and frustrations of a narrow mountain path in Greece.  The frustrations?  Principle among these are the Greek gates.  The local style, the ‘vernacular’ to use an architectural expression, is about 18-24 inches wide, consisting of a thick wooden frame with wire mesh stretched across set in a stout wooden frame with a wooden lintel and barbed wire stretched across at neck height (if you’re 6 foot tall like me).  The hinges are usually made from anywhere between 3 and 6 pieces of car tyre which means that it takes some strength to open the gate and then it whacks you in the backside with considerable force as you stoop to go through it. This is, of course, always assuming that you have the nous to manage to undo the fastening which seems always to have been done up from the other side with twists of rusty wire and positioned so that it is almost unreachable from the side you are coming from.

The first of these on today’s path is only about 5 minutes up the mountain from the church and was so difficult to negotiate that I was shouting imprecations against the local goatherds into the wind.  I redid the fastening in a more user-friendly fashion once I was through but it took about 10 minutes to crack the puzzle and I daresay that by the next day it had been put back as it was.

A typical tyre-hinged whack-you-up-the-bum and garrote-you gate

Another frustration on this particular path is that sections of it are alongside a chain link fence which not only has sharp twists of wire all along its top at shoulder height but also a strand of barbed wire.  You don’t want to let your shoulder get anywhere near it yet the path is tight up against it in places.  And then there are the straining wires which prevent the fence being pushed over and inconveniently stretched tight across the path at garrotte height.

However, not only did I manage to negotiate the path without being attacked by the fence and without my ankles being too badly savaged by the thorn scrub, but I actually enjoyed the walk hugely.

Looking down from the path on the ridge-top across the road and along the Telendos Channel

It had been clear from walking along it on Saturday that in places the path was a well-made, if not well-maintained, kalderimi, with retaining walls along the steep mountain side to maintain a consistent gradient as much as possible.  What I hadn’t spot until now was that the path which seems to meander onwards through the thorn scrub on more level ground is in fact marked for much of its length by parallel lines of stones and boulders spaced about 3 metres apart.  At some stage in history this must have a been a major highway.

Part of the built-up kalderimi on the steep flank of the ridge

Example of the parallel stone-lined path on level sections on the ridge

Carefully constructed earth-dwelling - by ants??

I followed it to its end on a section of mountain named ‘Patela’, presumably because it looks from some angles like a kneecap.  The top is marked by a crumbling trig point and a couple of large heaps of stones, presumably the remains of buildings, and affording great views including across the narrow channel to the North between Kalymnos and the island of Leros.  My guess is that the summit was used as a look-out post by the Italians during their occupation of the island in the first half of the 20th Century and that the path was laid out and built at that time.  There is certainly no better place to keep an eye on the Leros Channel.

Looking across the narrow channel to Leros

Brisk walk back to Emborios, altogether another walking day of about 19 kilometres like yesterday.  And yet another great swim.

Thursday began with a bit of a shock.  I think I’m losing my grip.  I’m certainly losing my grip on time.

I was downloading photos from the cameras onto the computer and sorting them by date for filing when it struck me that it was 1 September.  That wasn’t unexpected because I realised that yesterday was 31 August and the two facts are concomitant.  Then suddenly it flashed to the front of my brain from the dark recesses at the back that I had made arrangements to go to Symi on Friday 2 September and booked accommodation accordingly.  All well and good, I had remembered in time rather than after the event.

But, and this is very big BUT, I also had it fixed in my mind that I was going to Symi next Tuesday and had booked 4 days accommodation in the main town of Kalymnos, Pothia, at the other end of the island so that I could spend time exploring walking routes down there before I left.  What a lemon!!!!!

I confirmed the arrangements with the hotel on Symi and concluded that I had better call in the hotel in Pothia, explain, and claim decrepitude.  I just hope that I worked out the times of the ferry to get to Symi correctly.

So, trauma over, readjusted plans set in place, I could set about the business of the day.

…. which was to walk around to the furthest beach around the headland and then try to find a way up the cliff face to the ridge-top.  I was looking for a walking route rather than rock climbing so that it could be incorporated into a circular route taking in the path along the ridge top which I recorded yesterday.

It was a great walk but I didn’t find a route up the cliff despite some rock scrambling verging on climbing.  The problem was simply that local famers have put fences across the 2 or 3 likely routes to keep the goats on particular parts of the mountain.  The issue was simply that if potential lines of approach had been made goat-proof there was no way that I was going to compete.  If the goats couldn’t get up then nor could I.

I skirted the base of the cliff for quite a way, great fun.  Those who are interested in my welfare will be pleased to know that I was very restrained at times and didn’t commit to climbing up something which I was not confident that I could down-climb.  The consequences of not being able to go either up or down were quiet severe.  The target was to follow the cliff around to the Kastri, the ancient fortification built into a natural bowl of towering , very steep and overhanging rock.

Caves in the small small gorge long-time used for animal enclosures

Gate in fence right under the cliff

Olive tree high under the crags, an indication that this extreme fringe of Europe was once home to lots of people

Impressive crags

Yes, straight down there was part of the route I took

Close-up of the stone walls of the Kastri lost against the crags

So my walking from Emborios ended as it began, with a visit to the Kastri,  as I said when I first got here, a very impressive and nostalgic place.

Then a very chilled end to the day and to the stay In Emborios.  A drink sitting at the water’s edge, Shirley Valentine style, followed by yet another fabulous meal in Paradise (Harry’s Paradise) with friends.


Great end to my stay in Emborios

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