I don’t consider myself an adrenalin junkie, though I know some who disagree. But one thing which I have learned from ‘adrenalin sports’ (white water kayaking, paragliding, climbing ….) is the importance of maintaining focus. Lose it and there are consequences. Shoot the rapids, relax mentally, capsize. Once on the Tryweryn in North Wales I lost it and capsized coming to the top of Bala Mill Falls. Fortunately the adrenalin kicked back in, I rolled up literally on the brink of the falls and managed to paddle back upstream. It was dubbed by onlookers as ‘The Electric Roll’. Have a great flight on the paraglider in difficult conditions, relax as you come in to land … ouch! Once in the Alps after soaring to several thousand feet I missed a humongously large landing field and landed ignominiously in a chalet garden. No injury but serious humiliation.
I’m not the only one, it’s a fact well known in outdoor pursuits. After a major personal achievement the adrenaline suckers you into thinking that you are indestructible. Sadly, some have died.
Though not generally thought of as an adrenaline sport, rambling around the mountains in Greece on your own and in summer heat needs focus, especially if you go ‘off-piste’ as I do most of the time.
I became mindful of the insidious but potentially devastating effect of dehydration after tackling the Four Peaks Challenge in the Lake District in a heat-wave (yes, we used to have them in Grey Britain) when two friends dropped out after 33 miles and with 15 miles and another peak still to go the fourth became delirious and sat down in the middle of nowhere and wouldn’t/couldn’t go on. So now I always carry lots of water. Even so, one recent summer on Tilos I developed a urine infection because of dehydration (a fever, dizziness, weakness, disorientation). Thankfully I turned back before I was too committed to the route. I have been even more careful about taking on enough water ever since.
Walk a route with which you are familiar and it’s easy to become blasé, and careless.
When I’m on Symi I often spend the cool of the morning tapping away on the keyboard and then give-in to itchy feet and head off for a walk towards midday, trekking into the heat. One great short route I have sussed out and now do regularly is from my start point in Horio up to the ridge and then a gradual drop down into the harbour at Yialos. I have found a way to avoid all but a few metres of tarmac. It’s a very enjoyable route with dramatic views and enough challenge on the tarmac-avoidance bits to add sparkle.
I have walked it often enough to know it well. Nevertheless, one day it went mildly wrong despite clear portents.
Always bleary-eyed when I wake up I backed carefully down the ladder-steep stairs into the salon, down the few steps into the courtyard and into the kitchen. Lifting the up-turned washing-up bowl in the kitchen sink before turning on the tap to fill the kettle for my caffeine-fix I found myself looking at a Symi Spider. Until that point I had regarded them as mythical. I had had close encounters with tortoises 30 cms plus, lizards nearly as long, various snakes up to 2 metres, but spiders no bigger than in the UK. This was orders of magnitude bigger. And very hairy.
My immediate reaction was “Oh! That’s a Caetopelma Aegyptiacum, a Cypriot Grey”. Well, not really. My initial reaction was actually: “I can’t run the water for a coffee with that there”. I didn’t find out the rest of it until afterwards. Now I know it’s the largest spider native to Europe, a species of tarantula and though its bite can be painful, it’s not fatal.
Between 12 and 15 cms across (5-6 inches) I didn’t fancy picking it up like I do with most spiders. Instead I got a pint glass and tried to put it over the top of but it was too big. So I nudged it with the edges of the glass until it retracted its legs over its body and then slid a sheet of paper underneath. Easy from then on. First thing was to get the camera. Next, I carried it outside and let it go on the garden wall at the side of the house. Finally, I could have my caffeine fix. It served to focus my mind earlier in the day than normal.
Fairly buzzing I couldn’t settle to write so headed up through the narrow alleys of Horio to the open mountain on an old but reasonably well preserved kalderimi to The Viewpoint. (Symi Walk 1).
I’m always focused when I get to that point, partly with anticipation of the stunning view which never ceases to have the ‘Wow!’ factor, partly because last year I surprised a snake which reacted by striking at my sandalled foot. It missed as I leapt backwards and then disappeared rapidly down a small hole (the snake disappeared down the hole, not me). Since then I get my camera out every time I approach The Viewpoint, hoping to renew the acquaintance. Sadly, yet again there was no sign of it.
The kalderimi continues unmistakeably and enjoyably as described in the first part of Symi Walk 2 to pass Agia Paraskevi on the left. From the monastery with its shady courtyard, the kalderimi improves, surfaced to facilitate access to a recently renovated house a couple of hundred metres further uphill, but which the cynic in me says was funded by the EU on the pretext of being required to facilitate access to the church.
Immediately after the house is a dirt path which going off to the right (N 36o 36’ 28.2” E 27o 49’ 35.8”). Despite having taken the path many times, on the day I missed it because I wasn’t focused, my mind wandering onto all sorts of other things such as the spider and the snake. If your mind is wandering, your feet follow, in this case eyes fixated by the well-surfaced kalderimi continuing straight ahead. My subconscious kicked in fairly soon, told me I was off my intended route, and I backtracked thankful that there was no one around but feeling foolish nonetheless.
Though rough, the path is clear as it first goes level and then drops down into a gully before climbing up to rock slabs, another dramatic viewpoint looking straight down the valley to the harbour at Yialos. The path, increasingly broken up in places, continues unmistakeably up to the tarmac road along the ridge.
Reaching the tarmac road is the start of the next stage of the route, completely different from the rough but clear kalderimia so far. This is the ‘Tarmac Avoidance’ bit, much more difficult to find, very rough underfoot …. but a lot more fun than the alternative which is to trudge the road for a couple of miles.
From the point where the path reaches the tarmac I go up to the right, first over agricultural mess – bits of timber, fencing etc – past a number of large eucalyptus trees. Mind suddenly focuses again. The first of the trees was buzzing loudly. In full flower it was the focus of the huge numbers of bees brought to the island at this time of year to take advantage of the thyme and the eucalyptus, both much sought-after specialist honeys commanding a premium price on supermarket shelves. Bees don’t really freak me out but in such large numbers I find them more unnerving than anything else I encounter in the mountains.
A brief sit down on the rocks at the top to take in the view and munch on a nut bar, then I headed down over broken ground parallel with the wall and fence trending leftward back towards the tarmac. On reaching the road it’s only a few metres before turning off it again and onto an old but very little used mule track.
A few paint spots confirm the route but do not help finding it. At first there are the remains of stone markers along the sides, passing stone walls but soon you need to be able to read the ground and see the line of the path. I have walked it many times but close attention is still required. Wander away from the line and it is difficult to find again.
On reaching the edge of the steep drop the route starts to zigzag sharply to make the gradient suitable for laden donkeys. For a short distance the downhill side is marked by rocks but soon it’s a matter of looking out for a line threading through the old terraces where ground which is more compacted by the passage of feet and hooves.
I became blasé again. It wasn’t so much that I lost focus but that I was paying more attention to the line of the path and potential variations to it rather than to my footing. Result, I trod on a stone which twisted, throwing me off-balance. I recovered easily but not before banging my shin on a sharp limestone rock jutting out. Thin skin and anticoagulants meant there was a lot of claret. Again. Getting used to the problem by now, a single expletive polluted the air then I just sit down on a rock, took the first aid kit out of my rucksack and started the well rehearsed process of staunching the flow. This time it was superficial but over a large area releasing lymph as well, so rather than leaving it open to the air, my preferred option, I applied one of the few remaining hydrocolloidal dressings in my pack and make a mental note to restock.
It’s was a relief to reach the gap in the fence and the beginning of the final phase of the route. Following the wall around to the right the track soon gives way to a faint path and leads around to a small col with a Byzantine stone wine press on the left and an ancient olive press which makes a great place to stop for a banana and a siesta.
From here the path back to Yialos, skirting high above the western side of Nimborio Bay, is much clearer and will be described in a future blog. Indeed, the intention is to write up the whole route to add to Greek Island Walks, though in a different format to those included so far.
This is probably the last blog about Greece this year. Hope you have enjoyed it. I’m off to Canada in a couple of weeks and so will be writing about the Rockies in winter.