Symi: a trek to a waterhole in a desert

A week or so ago a friend and I headed back to the deserted settlement of Gria in the limestone crags high above Pedi.

As ever, the first part of the walk is through the narrow stone-paved alleys of Horio and then at the top of the village onto a concrete track from the Agia Marina cemetery rising gradually up the side of the ridge on the south of the Pedi Valley.  Concrete tracks are generally boring but the redeeming features of this are the views on the left across to Horio and the line of windmills on the ridge opposite and on the right the fissured limestone with its assorted wildlife.

Looking across the valley to Horio and the ridge-line windmlls

Looking across the valley to Horio and the ridge-line windmlls

At the centre of its web

At the centre of its web

..... and from the other side a lot more colourful

….. and from the other side a lot more colourful

One of the 500 species of  Bellflower (Campanula) in a small crevice in the limestone

One of the 500 species of Bellflower (Campanula) in a small crevice in the limestone

However, the main attraction of this trudge is what lies ahead.  The recently ‘improved’ track leads to a monastery often known as ‘Vrisi’ though I prefer the name ‘Zoothohou’.  The full mouthful of a name in Greek is«Βρύση»(spring or fountain) «ΖωοδόχουΠηγής»(of the Source of Life) and that explains the expensive track – to access the water supply.  The monastery courtyard has huge shade trees, very welcome in the heat of summer, and a tap with deliciously cold, sweet water coming straight out of the mountain.  Black plastic pipes are now draped the couple of miles across the surface to the village, the summer sun heating the water as it goes, rendering it undrinkable but presumably keeping tourists showered in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

Very well tended kitchen garden at the Zoodohou monastery

Very well tended kitchen garden at the Zoodohou monastery

The track ends abruptly at the steps up to the monastery, the way on dropping down from above the far end of the courtyard.  From here the once well trodden path is now ‘thin’, in places unclear and needing some ability to read the ground.  It winds its way first through a gap in the rocks and then further along the flank of the ridge before dropping down to cross gulleys and finally climbing up to Gria behind crags which tower above Pedi Bay.

The old settlement is long-deserted and fields lie bare with only drought-tolerant oregano and a few trees surviving.  Always arid this part of Symi is now bare rock and desert conditions.  Fig trees from which we picked fruit when we first came 15 years ago have now not only died but dried and disintegrated under the joint assault of cracking-hot sun and ants/termites.  Only one remains, bearing scant harvest.

Satellite image of the old settlement at Gria, the pond on the right.  The track of the route in blue

Satellite image of the old settlement at Gria, the pond on the right. The track of the route in blue

The last remaining fig tree on the right

The last remaining fig tree on the left

An old threshing circle of some size indicates that significant amounts of grain were grown here.  Now with oregano growing through it above barren fields

An old threshing circle of some size indicates that significant amounts of grain were once grown here. Now with oregano growing through it above barren fields

My guess is that the reason for this is a lowering of the water table by reduced rainfall due to climate change and water abstraction.  There is still a good depth of water in the stone-lined pond at the edge of the village but even after winter rains and before summer drought the level of the water has dropped significantly since we first came here.

Taken in 2001 this photo shows the rock strata on the far side of the pond were mostly underwater, now extensively exposed

Taken in 2001 this photo shows the rock strata on the far side of the pond were mostly underwater, now extensively exposed, water level a lot lower

Dragonflies were skittering low over the surface of the water, landing on rocks for a few seconds before taking off on frantic flight again.  I noticed that they homed in on the same two or three rocks so I carefully climbed down and perched low to the water to try to photograph them.  Though at times in danger of tipping forwards face first I stayed dry and the dragonflies got used to me being there, part of the background and no threat.

Brilliantly coloured, landing for a few seconds at a time

Brilliantly coloured, landing for a few seconds at a time

Very thin body looks almost drab from the side

Very thin body looks almost drab from the side

One of it's favourite bits of rock

One of it’s favourite bits of rock

... sometimes perching momentarily in the edge

… sometimes perching momentarily in the edge

After I had been balancing uncomfortably for a while, focusing on the manic dragonflies, a rat appeared out of one of the gaps in the wall followed by a snake in stealthy pursuit.  I managed one shot of the snake through an old rusty fence before it retreated, either because it spotted me moving to a better position or because its intended prey scarpered. I estimate it was between 5 and 6 feet long and my guess is that it was a Black Rat Snake on the basis that it was black ….. and in pursuit of a rat, which wasn’t black.

Quick shot of Black Rat Sanke

Quick shot of Black Rat Sanke

I moved from the delicate perch I had been on for half an hour or more onto sloping slabs of rock which dipped down into the water and which offered both greater comfort and a better view of where the snake had been.  Fifteen years ago these slabs were mostly under water but now were dry and a great place to bake in the afternoon sun.  The snake didn’t reappear so I lay back on the rock, pulled my sun hat over my eyes and … relaxed.

Looking across the pond from my new perch

Looking across the pond from my new perch

A loud croaking brought my siesta to an end.  Soon locating the source of the noise, again I managed just one shot before the amorous amphibians slid back into the water.

Hard at it

Hard at it

They appeared a couple of times after that but by then my attention had shifted to dragonflies which were homing in on a piece of floating sponge rubber as a base for laying eggs and indeterminate aerial activity.

On an approach run

On an approach run

.... what's going on here?

…. what’s going on here?

better side by side

better side by side

but then more aerobatics

but then more aerobatics

before  sharing a paltform

before sharing a paltform

When inactivity finally got the better of me we left the pond to its other life-forms and took a ‘path’ dropping steeply, in places vertically, down a small gorge to the bay at Pedi and a very chilled-out drink before walking back up to Horio via an old path up the valley.

The whole walk was about 5 miles rising to just short of 1000 feet directly above Pedi Bay, not taxing but very enjoyable.

The track of the oute

The track of the route

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4 Responses to Symi: a trek to a waterhole in a desert

  1. angechris says:

    Brilliant walk and blog. We’ve never been to the Monastery or settlement and pond. Would love to do it next time on Symi.

  2. 165bryn says:

    thank you again and again for such an interesting journey, and super photography.We pray for your safety each day and are glad to receive all the news.
    You mention [Climate change] in your letter; Does the scripture > ‘Whilst it remains seed time and harvest summer and winter day and night shall not cease’ mean that nature is always the same? ie Never changes -cannot change ? Or am I reading it wrong? Give me your expert advice

    Date: Sun, 25 May 2014 22:39:05 +0000
    To: the-evanses@hotmail.com

  3. Jen Barclay says:

    Great post, as always… Saw a couple of those beautiful long black snakes yesterday here in Tilos!

    • BarryH says:

      Thanks Jen. Seeing snakes is always a highlight for me. Black Rat snakes are very impressive. Haven’t seen any on Tilos yet but here’s hoping. Maybe when I come in the next month or so.

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