Summer seems to have settled into Symi in the last week. Temperatures in the low twenties and rising. Mostly clear skies. With a gentle breeze walking in the mountains just about perfect.
Walking with a friend for who, like me, the landscape and the wildlife are more important than getting from start to finish in the shortest time, has been good. We saw a lot on every trek, culminating in a 7 hour hike to a mountain top monastery and back, seeing an average of one tortoise every hour. One per two week holiday is generally considered good. But, as I’m now fond of saying, more of that another time.
First, a less demanding walk up to the spine of the island with some great views of what is acclaimed to be the most spectacular harbour in Greece and then a drop down to the harbour before the long pull back up the Kali Strata. Not a ‘wild’ walk in that is not ‘off piste’ but much of it on old paths not often used now.
The route begins with a half hour stiff climb up to what in my opinion is the best viewpoint on Symi. First, through the alleys of Horio, the old village, and then onto a kalderimi where donkeys are still in evidence transporting produce ….. and leaving their calling cards. The muleteers, or μουλαρές, follow them through the village and out of courtesy clear up the droppings from the stone-paved alleys but not on the open mountain. Shame some dog owners don’t have the same consideration.
From the viewpoint the paved kalderimi winds through jagged limestone rock continuing to overlook the harbour and its early season activity far below. Tear your gaze from the main event to the small scale and ‘nature’ is lurking behind you waiting to pounce.
Having passed the small chapel of Agia Paraskevi divert right onto a narrow path dropping down briefly into a shallow gulley before rising up onto slabs of rock with yet more views, now looking along the length the harbour and over into the Pedi Bay as well.
Taking time to look around the agricultural terraces bordering the slabs and, again, at the micro-scale there was much of interest including the last few Dragon Arums which have been taking it in turns to flower for a few days each over a 6 week period, still as dramatic as ever. Unexpectedly there were also a couple of types of fungus both of which looked edible but without my Phillips Guide I didn’t want to run the risk of getting it wrong.
Having clambered over the slabs the path becomes a more formal kalderimi first on stone-built terracing and then between collapsing stone walls before reaching The Tarmac which skirts above the army camp …. photography expressly forbidden by road signs. Averting one’s gaze from the camp, but noticing a guy of middle-eastern appearance squatting at the roadside and talking secretively into a mobile phone, the great shade tree at Rakouniotis monastery is soon reached.
Just as we rejoining the road after taking a rough shortcut to avoid a hairpin bend we spotted a small tortoise seeming hardly large enough to fend for itself. Then a drop down more steeply through extremely fissured and water-eroded limestone where plants struggle for moisture and soil but cling on, before turning onto a dirt track bordered by fields growing cereals, ripe and waiting to be harvested. Different growing season, different harvest time in Greece and Northern Europe.
Turning off the track onto a very thin path where an ability to ‘read’ the ground was needed. It was fine while on the path but stray off it even by a couple of metres and it is difficult to find again. It follows and cuts down through old agricultural terraces with many goat and sheep trails ready to mislead, leading nowhere. Follow one for too long and the path is well and truly lost.
It heads towards a gap in a stone wall and steps dropping down into the top of the gully which deepens in the Gorge leading down to the Bay at Nimborios. As I reach the gap peripheral vision picked up slight movement. I stop. It freezes. Not knowing what they were my wife and I used to call them ‘Dragon Lizards’ because of their appearance, now I know they are Starred Agama, Stellagama, also known as Painted Dragons because of their ability to change colour …. and their appearance.
This specimen was about a foot (30 cms) long and mostly black. Holding the position it froze in, but watching me carefully, it waited until I took my eye off it to move my feet and then disappeared into one of the many fissures in the wall. A good time to stop for a bite to eat …. and wait. After not very long it emerged again, suspicious and ready to dart back into the wall, it did just that as I moved again.
As I changed position to try to get another angle I spotted small but colourful spiders on webs in the oregano. With my attention diverted the lizard came back out again this time from another fissure further along and on top of the wall. Deciding that it wasn’t threatened in any way even as I crept closer, it stayed out in the open and almost seemed to be posing for the camera. It was still there watchful but basking in the sun as we left.
There are at least 3 main options for returning from the gap in the wall. We chose a path high above the south side of Nimboriois Bay, interesting not least because it isn’t shown on the ΣΚΑïmap which claims to show “all the important trails of every region”. True the maps are better than others but they are not as comprehensive as they claim nor as, say, the OS maps in the UK or the IGN maps in France.
On the ground it’s a good path. There was little by way of colour now compared with Autumn when it is a mass of white squill but as we started to drop down towards Drakounda above Yialos the amount of plants still in flower increased and took on the appearance of a rock garden. As a bonus, shortly before joining the track from the Agios Georgios Drakouniotis monastery another tortoise ambled along the path towards us.