I have been back to the UK planning to continue the blog about treks on Symi but mundane stuff got in the way. Now I’m on Nisyros and as always blown away by this place. Been out in the mountains every day, pushing the limits thanks to an optimistic report from the chief mechanic just before I left who reckons I’m firing on all cylinders, albeit, regrettably, with lots of additives.
I had intended, indeed planned, to write up a great short walk on Symi, but instead I’m writing about a great walk on Nisyros.
What I saw of it, the summer back home was good by UK standards but temperatures on Nisyros, though cool for August, are considerably higher (mid 30’s compared to 18-20oC) I usually build back up slowly to acclimatise to the heat but decided “sod that for a game of soldiers” and on the first full day went for a challenging trek from the caldera rim, down to and along the caldera floor, then up at the far end 2 ½ miles away and back to the coast at Mandraki. About 10 miles in all. If you don’t know, Nisyros is a volcano, nearly circular with a hole in the middle ….. and is classed as ‘active’.
I saw far more that was interesting and dramatic in that one modest trek than on any comparable route that I know. Anywhere! And as I was trying out a new camera I took lots of photos so this mainly a visual blog.
The trek began with a frappé in the Balcony Taverna cantilevered out over the northern rim of the caldera in the village of Emborios.
Some of the houses in Emborios have underfloor heating from volcanic vents and the path starts steeply downwards in a narrow alley a few metres from the taverna between some which are being renovated, showing cavernous fissures in the floor and arched subterranean rooms.
The first part of the walk down to The Tarmac is described in Greek Island Walks 4
The rough-paved kalderimi has been generally well maintained but over the winter major soil slips have done a lot of damage in some sections. The path zigzags down between narrow terraces supported by dry-stone walls up to 10 feet high. Alongside are signs of long-abandoned settlement.
Looking back on the right hand side the massive 60-foot lava bubble on the northern flank of the caldera can be seen through the trees.
As the gradient lessens near the bottom of the kalderimi the old houses are bigger and the architecture more sophisticated, barrel-arch construction having resisted the soon-to-be-very-evident seismic activity. Doorways may be low but the interiors are 8 feet or more high in the centre. Some are fronted by walled enclosures with gateways.
The kalderimi reaches the new tarmac road to the taverna at the side of the Stephanos crater but the old route continues straight across onto a raised causeway and then down between stone walls. Here there are signs of even grander settlement and a larger grouping of ancient houses than anywhere else I have seen apart from the two main villages. In one place there are about 15 dwellings built into the rocks and under terraced fields, completely hidden to view unless you go right up to them even though only a few metres from the tarmac road. Some have more than one room.
Like the other old houses, elsewhere on Nisyros, these do not show up on the satellite imagery of Google Earth because they are either under fields or roofed with local soil over the stone barrel-arches. There is even what would become known centuries later and in other places as a street.
It becomes clear looking around this settlement that there was a recognition of the superiority of an even older culture. As I found on Symi, individual pieces from a more sophisticated architecture are incorporated into the construction and more sophisticated artefacts are ‘collected’ even if of no practical use any longer. A number of these pieces are in houses near to what is undoubtedly a ‘throne’ or Seat of Authority, presumably where the head of the clan lived and presided .
But these houses are not entirely abandoned. In some colonies of bats have moved in. More disconcertingly, in one a 6-foot long snakeskin hung from the roof where its previous owner had presumably squeezed between stones to slough it. Maybe I should check what is slithering above my head in the rooves of these old houses more carefully as I grope my way inside.
As if that wasn’t enough interest. I continued from this ancient settlement to the southern end of the caldera and the craters. First stretch is through open woodland, mainly oak, olive and terebinth on a plain otherwise devoid of any other vegetation at this time of year. Even some of the deep-rooted trees have died.
In a short distance fissures start to appear snaking through the landscape, the result of a significant tremor in 2003 (if I remember correctly). Some are shallow, others up to 20 feet deep and maybe 50 feet wide. This was not a place to be when it happened as whole trees fell when the fissures opened and bleached animal bones lie in the bottom..
Reaching the active craters towards the southern end of the caldera I chose to climb up the narrow path to Polyvotis rather than the larger, Stephanos which attracts most visitors because it’s closer to the coach stop and the taverna. A narrow neck with an even narrower path separates the two Polyvotis craters which I guess at some point will merge. This is a strange world of vivid colours, sulphur encrusted steaming fumaroles, deep vertiginous canyons through stratified rock, and the cracked bed of the sulphur-covered crater floor which floods in winter.
How’s that for interest and variety on a few hours wild walking?