At the end of my stay in Greece last year I spent a couple of weeks on Symi and on the last day there visited a cave with a friend which she remembered having been to some 20 years previously. It was a pretty special day and we were both buzzing afterwards. I wrote about it in the blog at the time under the heading: ‘Symi: below the surface’ and a photo was included on the much-read ‘Adriana’s Symi’
I concluded the blog with the comment: “We would need to return another day with more appropriate gear. But not this year.” Come 2014 and I’m back on Symi for a much longer stay, so, within the limits of my 23kg baggage allowance, I packed some of the ‘more appropriate gear’. When a friend with a lot of experience of cave exploration came to visit it seemed the ideal opportunity to go back to the cave and explore it more thoroughly.
We had a great day.
The trek to the cave trek began with the much-loved walk up through Horio to The Viewpoint looking down to the harbour and then on the kalderimi past Agia Paraskevi to The Tarmac. Quickly across the road and onwards towards the monastery of Agios Ioannis Theologos (St John the Theologian) first on a concrete road then left onto a rough gravel track but soon, and for most of the time, on a rocky path meandering, sometimes obscurely, through the crags, climbing high above the col overlooking the fortress-like monastery of Roukouniotis.
A brief stop at Theologos to cool off under a shade-tree and then another half an hour to a small plateau and the entrance to the cave. We didn’t by any means have the gear that we would normally wear for going into a cave but crucially we had good quality powerful head torches, much better than the hand-held light I had last year. Climbing carefully down the loose rock into the cave at about a 45 degree angle we soon reached the point where I had turned back and now, with both hands free, we could drop down a short near-vertical pitch.
In order to do so we had to negotiate a mound of rubbish which had been thrown down the cave. It was obviously stuff left over after a church festival: plastic plates, plastic water-bottles, plastic cutlery and the like. Even worn-out shoes. Having carried the bottled water and other things to the festival why couldn’t they have been taken back empty? Why sweep the dirt under the carpet? Some of the rubbish had clearly been there for years because calcite flow had started to form over it. I regret to say so but it showed that at one time there was a lack of care for the environment evidenced in other places on the island but hopefully that has now been replaced by a greater respect for natural heritage.
Having dropped down vertically the passage continued to descend, turned to the right, out of reach of light from the entrance and was then blocked by rock-fall about 40 feet from the top. We could see perhaps another 10 or so feet vertically down with a stalactite at what seemed to be another bend. I could have wriggled into the narrow opening head first but it would have been a tight fit even for my wiry frame and extricating myself back upwards feet first would have been difficult. It really needs the rocks to be moved to widen the passage. As this is a ‘fault-cave’ rather than water-eroded that would have to be done very carefully.
So we contented ourselves with taking photos of the calcite formations in the passage. We had got passed the rubbish which had been thrown in from the entrance but it was obvious that others had been here before us and had snapped stalactites from the ceiling to take as trophies. Cave-robbing is anathema. Not only does it deny the opportunity for others to enjoy what has taken maybe centuries to grow but it destroys features which have intrinsic value even if no-one else ever came here. The largest of the stalactites would have been about 4 inches in diameter, not large in the global scheme of things but significant in a small cave like this. Smaller stalactites were intact as were calcite flows down the side-walls and the beginning of calcite ‘curtains’ on the ceiling. Given the low rainfall these features must have taken a long time to form.
After an hour or more we emerged from the cave, blinking in the sunlight and dazzled by the colour of the landscape and reflection off white limestone after the dull rock of the cave.
The plateau on the shoulder of the mountain has more to offer than just a cave. The views are very impressive, north over the island monastery of Agios Emilianos to the mainland of Turkey, another country, another continent and west to Tilos faintly visible in the heat haze.
Eventually we headed back, commenting on the gnarled trunk of a cypress tree and tiny pink flowers which we had missed on the way out, and then we spotted a Starred Agama, (Stellagama) showing why it is sometimes called a Painted Dragon by having turned blue. Its natural reaction in face of initial contact with potential predators is to freeze, hoping we can’t see it if it is motionless. Certainly, it is more likely to be seen if it moves as peripheral vision picks up movement. It watched us carefully with unblinking eye and when we got too close for its liking darted into a cleft in the rock.
From ‘Tortoise Square’, a broad level area by an old settlement in the col, we took an alternative path which would drop us down to the Rakouniotis monastery and almost immediately spotted a Lacerta Oertzeni lizard with a brightly coloured throat, again instinctively freezing to avoid detection.
Another surprise awaited us at the monastery. Though the fenced enclosure is often open offering shade, usually the doors to the monastery compound in the massively high protective wall is locked but now it was standing wide. Renovations are being carried out and the guy there allowed us to wander around inside. The Hochlakos black-and-white pebble mosaic courtyard and the ancient frescoes are impressive but more so is the intricately carved wooden iconastis, very reminiscent of the medieval oak rood screen in St Aeddan’s Church in Bettws Newydd in Monmouthshire.
Eight and a half miles round trip from the house and quite a few firsts. Another good day. Will I go back to explore the cave further? Probably!