I’m back on Symi now, very busy trekking and photographing in the mountains with a friend. Some unusual shots to follow. A good number of ‘Wow!’ moments.
But first, a brief snapshot of Kalymnos and more particularly of Emborios, a small village at the northern tip of the island where I spent the last week. Outstanding place. It is the embodiment of the Greek concept of ησυχία(isichia) – total peace and calm, tranquility.
A bit of a ramble. The Greek word for castle or fortress is κάστρο(kastro). An ancient fortress is usually known as the παλεοκάστρο(paleocastro, ‘paleo’ = ‘old’). However, the very old castle near Emborios, built into the crags towering above the village, is known locally as Kastri. It has a special atmosphere and I head up there as soon as possible after arriving on the island. I went there more than usual this visit.
But first, a bit of context. The crags are an impenetrable barrier rising 1000 feet and, together with the many other limestone crags along the spine of the island, attract climbers from across the world, especially in April, May, September and in October when the island hosts an international climbing competition.
I trekked up to the Kastri almost as soon as I arrived in Emborios. A 10 minute walk along the road back towards Pothia as far as the first sharp right-hand bend, turn left up a rough track at the house selling thyme honey and then about 20 minutes hard pull up a narrow path, negotiate a Greek Gate into a fenced compound and finally a rocky scramble up to the base of the crag. Taking advantage of the lower temperatures of late spring/early summer there were about 16 climbers in the towering curve of rock behind the tiny castle.
Used to having the place to myself, I didn’t linger. I’m a climber and, in the vicinity of crags and other climbers, I felt somehow diminished by being relegated to a mere observer, almost like a voyeur just watching people. Instead I dropped down and followed the base of the cliff to below a large cave. When I reached the rock face below the cave entrance I decided to climb it to maintain my self-esteem and dignity. I knew I was pushing the limits of acceptable risk but went for it anyway. I walk in sandals with climbing-rubber soles so I had plenty of confidence in their grip on the rock but, as is often the case, the tricky bits were on the loose scree above.
The cave was impressively large, a huge scallop out of the mountainside. What took the shine off my sense of achievement was that, after risking life and limb clambering up (I like to exaggerate occasionally), the mouth of the cave was fenced in for penning sheep and goats. It was therefore obvious that the farmer climbs up there to maintain the structure and access his stock. Part of his everyday work. The massive cave has probably been used for centuries. Nevertheless, despite my efforts having been put in context, it was a great place to be as the sun began to sink behind the ridge. I still had a sense of satisfaction.
The Kastri is so special a place that while I was on Kalymnos, I climbed up there every day after my walks in other parts of the island.
Then it acquired a new significance. Frustratingly, the telecom masts on the headland beyond Emborios didn’t support the Greek ‘European Vodaphone’ SIM card I had bought for the MiFi I was using to get internet access from a 3G signal on Symi. There was virtually no signal at all in the village. My UK Vodaphone smartphone contract offered a totally unappealing £3 a day deal for use in Greece. It’s time for an end to this extortion.
I was told that there was a Vodaphone-enabled mast above Massouri, a much larger settlement further along the coast, but the signal was masked by an intervening island. I knew the Kastri had a fabulous view down the Telendos Channel towards Massouri so one evening I took the MiFi and my tablet for a walk. I perched on a rock and switched on. Brilliant! Strong signal. Good internet access. So from then on I went up to the Kastri just before sunset each evening to check e-mails and use Skype.
I suspect that the signal might be unusually strong because the rock face behind the fortress is curved and may act as a receiving dish, focusing it. Whether that is true or not, it was certainly a stronger 3G signal than I get in most places, including on Symi in line of sight and barely a kilometre from the mast as the waveband whizzes. It is also, most certainly, one of the most dramatic places I have sat to get my WiFix.
On a couple of days the weather was inclement as it can be in spring even in Greece But dark cloud affording dramatic backdrops and any rain soon stopped. Each day it soon cleared so my evening visits to the Kastri were under blue skies with sharp visibility after the rain.
As on Symi, there was a lot more colour than later in the summer when the vegetation is crisped and with the greater variety of habitat there was a greater variety of wildlife, some of it spectacular in appearance.
If you go to Emborios you have got to visit Harry’s Paradise:
In fact, it’s worth going there specifically for that reason. No other excuse is needed.