After the Easter celebrations it was back to the mountains and a change of plan.
On Tuesday I caught the morning bus to Chora, the old village above the harbour, then set out to walk up a narrow gorge and to the top of the highest mountain on the island, Profitis Ilias. Mountains in Greece rarely have paths to the top unless there is a reason to go there. Climbing to the top of something just “because it’s there” doesn’t cut much ice with most Greeks but building monasteries and churches on the top of mountains does, particularly if it happens to be the highest mountain on the island, or in an area on the mainland. If there is a monastery there will be a path.
Passing through the narrowest part of the gorge, towering cliffs topped by the 4th Century castle rebuilt by the Knights of St John in the 15th on my right, I heard behind me the deep thump of an explosion. There had been many explosions in Pothia on Monday which I took to be devices left over from Sunday evening but I didn’t expected it to continue on Tuesday. This was a deeper sound than the others and the percussion wave seemed to roll up the main valley possibly indicating a larger amount of explosive charge.
Looking back over my shoulder I saw that the island’s quarry was opposite and, knowing a little about these things from monitoring quarry blasts as part of my work, I put it down to resumption of activity after the Easter Weekend holiday. A few minutes later there was another. And then another. In my experience quarries don’t work like that, two maybe three blasts a day at most even when supplying large contracts. This was more dynamite throwing but the sound was different, a fact that I put down to the greater distance attenuating the higher frequencies, only the deeper rumbling carrying this far.
It was a hot day and the climb sustained, the path becoming steeper and more rugged the higher it went. I left the main path and followed the goat-track alternative, scrambling up dramatic rocky outcrops while trying to spot the goatherd above me whistling to his animals to collect them together. The bells around the goats’ necks gave a flat, tinny ‘clank’ as they moved but on the jagged, broken mountainside I could see neither them nor their keeper.
High on the mountain I reached a small pasture, fresh-green with Spring growth rather than the crisped brown of high summer, around a cluster of wells fenced off for safety. The goats, numbers depleted by the traditional Easter Sunday feast of Μουούρι) (Mouri, whole goat stuffed and roasted in a large clay oven) were being gathered. No sign of the goatherd though I could still hear his whistling.
I am still very unfit and not yet acclimatised to the heat but I got to the top in 1½ hours, relieved to find a bit of shade on steps at the side of the monastery in which to sit to eat my banana and nuts. ‘Filoxenia’, traditional Greek welcome and hospitality for strangers, was shown by the fact that not only were the monastery and the church open but there was a cupboard containing all the necessary ingredients and kit for making coffee, with a notice saying so in English as well as Greek.
Another guy reached the summit as I was leaving, fully kitted out in big leather boots, thick woollen socks up to his knees, thick twill trousers and a thick long sleeved shirt. I was wearing my customary sandals, shorts and singlet and on the way up had been perspiring profusely in the end-of-morning sun; this guy must have sweated pints. He was English of course.
On the way back down I visited the tiny chapel of Agios Ioannis Theologos (St John the Theologian) built onto a cave with a very simple white-washed interior. Small and isolated though the chapel is it is still kept clean and candles are obviously lit regularly.
I went back down via the main path, a little longer but easier going than the goat-track, making it a more or less circular walk rather than out-and-back, pausing to inspect local wildlife.
Arriving back at Chora with plenty of time to kill before the second bus of the day to Emborio I decided to go down to Pothia for a well earned beer. I had heard explosions rumbling around the rocky slopes on and off all morning and into the afternoon. Down in the town they were a whole lot louder and, as the afternoon wore on, became more frequent. These were not firecrackers but dynamite explosions. At times there would be a rapid salvo of some ten or a dozen in quick succession. I wandered along the seafront to try to locate the source and they seemed to be coming from houses at the northern corner of the harbour, the location given away by the tell-tale puffs of smoke after each.
“Some guys getting together to drink beer and have a party. Using explosives left over from Sunday.” said Dimitri later. They are only small, about 300 grams. Still enough to blow your head off” . Though small by the standards of Sunday evening, exploding a few feet above the harbour they would certainly make any party go with a bang. Must have been a ‘Bring Some Dynamite’ party. Close your eyes and looking upwards you could see through your eyelids the curving flash of light streaking rapidly overhead in advance of the slower sound wave. Kalymnians like throwing explosives and around Easter it seems they are reluctant to let tradition go.
Another, longer walk on Wednesday, more about which in another post.
Change of Plan? For various reasons I returned to the UK earlier than expected. Now back in the grey and wet but reluctant to let go the memory of the sunshine and the warmth of the hospitality.