Nisyros:  Rock around the volcano

Signs on roads and footpaths around Nisyros point to ‘The Volcano’ in English and in Greek.   Arrive by boat in the harbour and you are offered coach trips to The Volcano.  A bit misleading that because by the time you arrive you are already standing on it.  The whole island is a volcano.  Or more strictly speaking, it’s part of a very much larger volcano which blew its top many years ago when it encompassed what is now Nisyros and the western end of Kos, the sea between being the now submerged caldera.

The ‘remnant’ volcano of Nisyros is classed as potentially active and is still grumbling away.  Thermal springs emerge around the island at places such as Mandraki’s Hochlalos Beach, Avlaki, Palloi and the medical spa at Loutra.   Indeed Hippocrates, he of the oath, sent patients from Kos to the spring in a cave in Palloi, also used by the Romans.

What is referred to as ‘The Volcano’ is the Stephanos crater at the western end of the 3 kilometre-long caldera, adorned by a coach park and taverna, but there are a number of other smaller craters and active hotspots nearby.  The main caldera, Lakki, is the most seismically active but there are a number of smaller apparently dormant calderas including those at Nifios, Kato Laki and two between Siones and Evangelistra.


Zooming in on the Stepanos, Polyvotis and Alexandros craters from near Nikia, 1000 feet above


…. and zooming in still more showing people on the floor of the Stephanos crater ….. it’s big!


Part of the wall of the Stephanos crater

These calderas offer some of the most diverse and spectacular trekking I know, much of it on ancient routeways because the immensely fertile volcanic soils meant the island was once very densely populated.  Old pathways and kalderimia link ancient settlements, habitations, chapels and monasteries.  It’s a great pleasure to revisit old favourites and discover ‘new’ routes.

This year much of my walking focused on the main caldera and the active craters, old pathways going around much of the caldera at a high level with kalderimia zigzagging down to the caldera floor from the villages of Emborios and Nikia, and the monastery of Agios Stavros perched on the rim.

I am a self-confessed ‘vrachophile’, a neologism derived from the Greek βράχος  (vrachos) – a large mass of rock, and φίλος (philos) – friend. Sounds so much less suspect than petrophile, πέτρα (petra) being a stone or small rock.  I don’t go around hugging rock, certainly not when there may be anybody looking or unless I’m climbing, but I’m fascinated by them and do go around photographing them.  Repeatedly.  Obsessively.

This blog is about rocks around the caldera on Nisyros not from a geological or geomorphological perspective but aesthetic, a fascination with shape and texture, imagination running riot.

The whole of the island is made up of volcanic rock varying from famously hard black obsidian to very soft off-white pumice.  Some of the most spectacular features are lava pinnacles, thrust upwards during eruptions and sculpted into fascinating and weird shapes by gases exploding out of them.


A huge pinnacle like a beaked dinosaur towers above the path on the way eastwards from Nikia, touched by early morning sun


The scale is shown by the Blue Rock Thrush perching on the top


Looking back to Nikia, the lava beast seems to be haughtily standing guard over the village


A short distance further and another prehistoric beast tops a crag above the old pathway, Stephanos crater 1000 feet below.


Then the dramatic pinnacles of Parlettia, topped by an ancient fortification still in use during the Crusades.  Another prehistoric beast looks out over the caldera


The access to Parlettia involves a modest rock climb, the crags reinforced by stone walls


Yet another snarling beast watches the access point


At the side of the kalderimi from Nikia to the caldera  a rock like the helmeted head of an alien from science fiction watches Parlettia


….. eying the beast watching the caldera


While near Emborios a giant hound keeps watch


Nowhere is the effect of the gas breaking out of the molten rock more evident than in the 60-foot high lava bubble at the side of the path from Emborios to Evangelistria (scale shown by the person in the bottom right of the photo)


Detail of part of the inside of the bubble

Drop down to the caldera floor from Nikia and turn west towards the Stephanos crater and cross barren desert to reach a ‘hotspot’ with bare rock heavily coloured by sulphur and fumaroles encrusted with needle-like sulphur crystals formed as boiling gases emerge.  The surrounding rock is heated not only by the sun from a cloudless sky but by the underground furnace that is the magma chamber.  It’s too hot and sulphurous to linger long but it draws me back time after time.


As it nears the caldera floor the kalderimi, for most of its way rough stone paved passes through a zone of recent activity and strewn with loose rock encrusted with yellow, white and red sulphur


Looking up one of the small sulphur encrusted gullys


Heading towards a hotspot


Sulphurous gas from a cluster of fumaroles emerging from rock blackened by the heat


The gases from a hotspot near the head of a large gully


Approaching with some circumspection shows delicate and colourful crystal formations


Some are like yawning holes reaching up from the centre of the earth


But don’t put your hand closer than about 30 cms – the gas is near boiling point


Looking down the gully to the main caldera floor, finer material forming a stream bed


The caldera floor near the main crater, true desert


The fissure in the caldera floor opened by seismic activity in 2003 shows the nature of the ‘rock’


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Nisyros:  All in a day’s trek

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.


From the Balcony Taverna looking along the caldera to the active craters at the far end


Zooming in on the craters, ‘Stephanos’ centre, ‘Polyvotis’ on the right


…. and zooming in even more on one of the many abandoned, and in this case derelict, houses in the caldera

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.


In deep shade at this time in the morning the paved kalderimi winds down past high, narrow stone terraces


Some dwellings are very simple, built up entrances to shallow caves or overhanging rocks


A common sight, carved stone top of a sterna with a stone bowl alongside.

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.


Lava bubbles in the cliff face


Zooming in on the largest, right alongside a path and about 60 feet high

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.


Stone gateposts at the entrance to the small enclosure in front of two semi-detached houses near the tarmac

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.


Grand entrance to a pair of ‘semis’


The houses


Like so many others, each barrel-arched and earth-floored


Others have rooms off to the side

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 .


A carved piece of stone incorporated into the entrance to one house


… a large dressed stone in the corner


… with a fragment of a fine white marble vessel inside


Outside the house, a threshing circle


… and the carved top on a sterna, a bowl of black lava more than a metre wide, and another fragment of the same fine white marble vessel


The Seat of Authority carved from a large rock incorporated into a terrace wall

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.


Part of a small colony of horseshoe bats


A closer look


They start to become disturbed sensing my presence .. so I leave


Sloughed snakeskin 6 feet long above my head


A closer look

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..


Looking through the treed but otherwise barren landscape, Emborios on the caldera rim behind


Zooming in on Emborios, the Balcony Taverna on the right.


The damaged houses zoomed in on from The Balcony in Emborios, almost certainly damaged by seismic activity evident in the ground  a few metres further on


Large trees dying in the extreme drought


… some trying to screw themselves out of the ground


At first shallow, the seismic fissures soon become deeper


…. and wider


Standing in the bottom of one of the accessible ones.

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.


The narrow neck between the two Polyvotis craters


One of the groups of sulphur encrusted fumaroles


… doing what fumaroles do – fume


Looking along the length of the main Polyvotis crater


Closer look at the cracked bed of the sulphur-covered floor


Looking down the upper section of the seismic fissure canyon


… and the lower section, maybe 80-100 feet deep

How’s that for interest and variety on a few hours wild walking?

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Symi:  Rambling around the past

WARNING:  make yourself comfortable and a cup of coffee before starting to read this.

If there is anyone out there hooked on Barry’s Ramblings and having withdrawal symptoms, apologies!  I have had people staying with me most of the time on Symi and have been out trekking in the mountains every day.  Very little time to write.

I haven’t been wandering aimlessly but when I haven’t been introducing people to the many walks on the island, or quaffing the occasional beer, I have been pursuing a pet project – trying to track down old settlements and piece together a pattern.  Scrutinise the Google satellite images, go off-piste, and it is surprising how many there are.  It’s a work in progress but somethings are starting to emerge.

The SKAÏ map of Symi, the best available though with significant omissions, marks ‘archaeological sites’.  Trekking little-used paths and scrutinising the track from my phone overlain on Google Earth a number of others have come to light.  None of these sites can be reached by using marked routes though most can be accessed by locating ancient, very obscure and ‘thin’ paths which I suspect are now only used by goats.

I concentrated on the northernmost part of the island and have indicated seven of these sites on the map below.

In the same way that ancient Celtic Christians hid their churches from pillaging Vikings sailing around the coast of Wales (most notably St David’s Cathedral hidden around a bend in the river and with a low, squat tower) so most of these defensive settlements are located in places hidden from view from the sea once plagued by pirates.  Though none is on a scale approaching the massive construction of the Paleocastro on nearby Nisyros, remnants of outer walls built with large dressed stones were an exciting find.

I can’t begin to put a timescale on any of these locations, I’m not even an amateur archaeologist, just an observer, but I draw a couple of conclusions.  The three sites marked on the SKAÏ map are labelled ‘Classic Period Ruins’, ‘Hellenistic Period Ruins’, and simply ‘Ruins’.  I can neither refute nor confirm any of this …. other than to affirm that they are ruins.  With one possible exception.

Sites A, B and C are clustered around Toli Bay and reached by going off-piste from the track down to Toli Beach.  Sites D, E, F and G on the Kokkinochoma Peninsula are reached by taking the well marked path (not shown on the SKAÏ map) up to the ridge-top Agios Nikolaos Stenou monastery, diverting off that close to the top onto a well-trodden but unmarked  donkey trail and then going off-piste from that.

Symi (north) 2

Sites around Toli Bay

A  Hidden to view from the sea behind a hillock forming a small headland this site is visible from the track recently bulldozed down to Toli Beach – if you know it’s there and look for it.  Built with stone from the immediate locality it blends in with the hillside.  Getting down to the site requires first negotiating the loose rubble pushed over the side by the bulldozing of the track and then picking a way over loose ground through dense oregano and thyme.

Much of the outer walls consist of three or four courses of large dressed blocks each as much as 1½ metres long and about ½ metre high and wide.  The entrance is on the landward side, no entrance directly down to the sea, and the walls were obviously built for purely defensive purposes.  A number of large dressed-stone blocks are scattered about in the surrounding vegetation.


The site seen from the track down to Toli beach


Zooming in


One of the well preserved corners


Large stone gateposts at the entrance to the site


Looking along the remains of the wall at the seaward edge of the site


….. and from the other end


B  The next site is very steeply uphill from the Toli dirt track. Having spotted a faint outline on the satellite image and gone in search of it last year, so knowing roughly where it was, this site can be seen against the skyline from Site A and indeed from part of the Toli track.  With walls built of similarly large blocks but in this case made of limestone it is probable that they would have blended into the craggy backdrop when viewed from the sea and without the advantage of modern optics.

Slightly smaller in area than Site A, with the main entrance also on the side of the enclosure, the inside is cluttered with rocks and smaller dressed stone.  Many large dressed stone blocks lie around the outside of the site showing that the walls must at one time have been much higher.  Scrambling around the inside of the site this year I spotted a large rectangular block with cut slots at each end and a shaped groove on one side which struck a chord with one I found at Site D last year.

A depression towards the back of the site indicates that at one time it may have been used for water storage though with limestone bedrock I guess it would have to have been lined in some way.  It would be interesting to revisit the site in the wet season.


Zooming in on Site B from the walls of Site A


Reaching the site after a steep climb


Well preserved corner, here built with limestone blocks


Looking along the seaward edge of the wall


Standing on top of it looking towards Site A which blends into the hillside


Many large dressed stone blocks scattered nearby


…. and in the centre of the site a very precisely cut stone block


This site is on the headland above Toli Beach and much smaller than the previous two.  The remains of the limestone building and walls again blend into the crags in which they are built.  It looks more like a small homestead rather than a defensive site.  It is reached by means of a well trodden but unmarked path, the start of which is obscured by, as so often on Symi, the thoughtless bulldozing of the track.  Marked on the SKAÏ map as ‘Ruins’ I trekked to it a few years ago but didn’t revisit this year.


Sites on the Kokkinochoma Peninsula

D  Like Site A this is close to sea level and hidden behind a hillock forming a small headland but differs from it in a number of respects.  It is reached by dropping down steeply from the ridge-top path along the peninsula over loose ground through dense thyme but there are thin remnants of an old path which can be picked up lower down the slope and even what may be an old ‘stone-on-a-rock’ route marker.

None of the walls are made from the massive stone blocks characteristic of Sites A and B and so no neat rectangular corners.  Rather they are built of random, undressed stones of varying size and geology.  It is more extensive than any of the other sites with multiple internal walls, a building which was clearly used as a dwelling probably into the 20th Century, possibly within living memory, and a communal bread oven in the centre of the enclosure.  It has two entrances, a ‘backdoor’ at the top giving access inland and a main entrance flanked by large white gateposts leading down to the beach.

There are a number of large white semi-dressed stones built into the random-stone walls at various points but most dramatic is a large, finely shaped rectangular block with the same configuration as that in the centre of Site B, cannibalised from an earlier structure of much greater architectural sophistication.

Some distance away in a stream bed filled with dense oleander and other vegetation is another walled enclosure, still to be investigated but possibly associated with water supply.


The site seen from the ridge-top path along the Kokkinochoma Peninsula


…. and zooming in for a closer look


Reaching the top entrance, ‘back-door’ of the site


The main entrance to the site shows the principal access was via the sea, not inland


The community bread oven on a prominent position in the enclosure


Looking from the bread oven up to the back entrance


Looking up through the main entrance


Walls built of random undressed stones


…. except for one piece cannibalised from earlier more sophisticated architecture


The remains of a dwelling which artefacts show was occupied in ‘modern’ times


The stone-walled enclosure in the streambed


E  From the top of the jagged limestone crags towards the mid-point of the ridge I had spotted what I thought could possibly be the top of another wall of large limestone blocks in a valley dipping away to the east.  Dropping down the donkey path into the col and then left downhill into the small valley, with dense thickets of oleander indicating more water than the surrounding arid mountainside, a very thin but trodden path led towards it.  Disappointingly it turned out to be simply an outcrop of rock.

However, hidden inside the oleander thicket is a tiny spring-fed pond with stone walls hidden from view from the crags above.  Once again low down and close to the sea but completely out of view from it, my guess is that this is another ancient settlement.  The steps leading down to the pond are well polished by feet and hooves though the number of wasps attracted to the fresh water put me off getting too close.

The walls don’t seem to form a defensive enclosure but rather a rampart on the side of the valley which could be defended if it ever attracted any piratical interest.  The construction is of random, undressed stone but a few slightly larger blocks scattered around had been cut and dressed.


From the top of the crag forming the ridge-top and then zooming in, what appeared to be another wall of large blocks … but is just a rock outcrop


The small spring-fed pond hidden in the oleander


The rough stone wall in the foreground is probably simply supporting the terrace behind but the wall in the background may well have been a defensive rampart.


Dressed stones indicate there may have been more sophisticated architecture.


F  The donkey path along the Kokkinochoma ridge drops into and finishes in a col with a small settlement which is still occupied and farmed with many indications of modernisation rather than abandonment.

Completely out of site from the sea it is clearly very old.  To the West the cliffs are virtually unclimbable because they are so loose.  To the East the col could be reached by climbing up the oleander-studded valley from sea-level in days when the sea was the main means of transport and communication.  Now the only access is by foot or donkey along the ridge top from the Agios Nikolaos Stenou monastery.  That the path is still used to transport produce, including honey, is evidence by the well trodden earth, donkey droppings …. and the fact that I have seen an elderly guy with his laden donkey heading down to the beach at Nimborio.

I have checked around walls of the settlement, avoiding being intrusive, but have failed to find any evidence of the ‘Hellenistic Period Ruins’ marked on the SKAÏ map.  It may be that the settlement are the ‘ruins’ in which case they may be the only Hellenistic ruins still occupied and with a photovoltaic power supply.  Certainly there is an atmosphere of antiquity about the enclosures and the buildings.  The extreme edge of Europe.


Looking down from the limestone crags to the settlement in the col


Zooming in on the oldest part of the settlement … and the photovoltaic panels


G  Set into the top of the jagged limestone crags from which E and F are viewed are what could be the oldest structures on Symi.  Into one crag a platform has been built, so basic in its construction that it makes me (in my ignorance) suspect it may be Neolithic.  It is very small, no more than 5 metres at its widest, but large enough to suggest it may be used for defensive purposes to protect a family or community rather than simply a lookout platform.  To get onto the platform requires some exposed scrambling and climbing.

On top of the adjoining crag and slightly higher is a structure which looks like a small cromlech or dolmen, a miniature version of those found throughout Wales and indeed many other parts of the world.   Certainly it is man-made not naturally occurring and if indeed it is a dolmen that would support the Neolithic assumption of the nearby platform.


The construction built into the top of the crag


On top of the platform


The dolmen-like structure seen from the direction of the platform


…. and from another angle.


Still a lot more wild rambling and investigating to do.

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Symi:  Going wild again

Flight back to Rhodes Saturday.  Ferry to Symi early Sunday morning.  A few hours putting the house back to rights after leaving it packed up in a hurry not knowing when, or if, I would return.  Sunday afternoon I took to the hills.

Only a short walk, about five miles, but it was intoxicating.  When you face the possibility that something you deeply enjoy may be taken away from you, the pleasure you get when you return to it is greater than before.  I wasn’t exactly skipping along bellowing the ditty from The Sound of Music but there was a bounce in my step and I was more than ever aware of my surroundings.

First up through the shade of the narrow, twisty alleys of Horio between old houses many damaged by war and left derelict as the owners emigrated to the USA or Australia.  Some survive intact and still afford the basic standards of maybe a century ago to the elderly of the village who have lived in them all their lives.  Increasing numbers are being renovated to modern standards, often for renting out to visitors.  Access up these alleys is tortuous, furniture must be built in the home or arrive in flat packs.  You find your way around by making mistakes and getting lost.

Extension cables stretch from house to house to provide power for tools until connection to the island’s grid.  Black plastic pipes are draped everywhere carrying water supply, a reminder that what is going to come out of the tap is hot enough to shower in, heated by 40 degree summer sunshine and definitely not for drinking.

Then, as so often, out of the village, onto steps leading up to The Viewpoint and a pause to soak in the panorama.

The route from here is a variety of kalderimia (donkey paths) and footpaths, sometimes enclosed between stone walls, sometimes built up on small terraces with flat slabs along the edge, sometimes so obscure as to require an ability to ‘read’ the ground with occasional confirmation by faded red and blue spots if you get it right.  All the time keeping an eye open for wildlife while taking in the broader landscape and making sure of every step.

I love this kind of walking and now it was all the more enjoyable because I was returning to it when I feared I might not be able to.


Narrow alleys, sometimes between renovated and modernised houses


…. sometimes bounded by continuing dereliction.


Rising up steep steps, sometimes narrow


…. sometimes broad


an alley crosses the stream bed of the Cataractis, a torrent in heavy rain but dry most of the time


Out of the village and rough steps rise steeply to ……….


………The Viewpoint


Looking over the main harbour


…. and over Horio, a tight mass of derelict and restored houses with a scatter of churches


Out on the mountain the views from the path are spectacular


The old kalderimi breaking apart but still edged in places by large slabs


In other places contained between stone walls


Sometimes just trodden earth but clear


Elsewhere requiring a a practiced eye to see it.


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Symi: going wild

I was discharged from hospital on Rhodes on a Wednesday, six days after having been rushed there by a combination of ambulances and fast coastguard cutter.  Engine management system rebooted, once again firing on all four cylinders, on the Tuesday I had been like a boy-racer gunning the engine as I paced two and a quarter miles along the corridors on doctor’s orders.

Back on Symi I spent Thursday doing chores in the house which I had left a week earlier to pop out for an hour to buy a ferry ticket.  I booked another flight so I could return home to show the family that I was still in the land of the living ….. and bought another ferry ticket.

Then on Friday, 48 hours after I left hospital and the day before I was to fly back to the UK, I went out for a walk with friends, excited to get back into the mountains though slightly apprehensive.   I had seriously doubted when I arrived on Symi in mid-April if I would be fit enough to venture beyond the easiest of short routes with minimum gradient.  I had tried not to be depressed as I sat on the balcony reading a book, looking at the mountain ridge and nostalging about the paths I had walked and off-piste routes I had explored.  Now I was reinvigorated, wondering how far I could push it on this, my first proper trek since Canada and having spent the best part of a week on my back tethered to an intravenous drip, ECG machine and oxygen supply.

First target was to go up to The Viewpoint (Walk 1 on the Greek Island Walks page of the blog).  It would be a test of whether electrocution had indeed given me back a fully functioning engine. It also meant taking my own advice that “If you only do one walk on Symi, this should be it!!!”.   I knew that up to now this year even this simple walk had been beyond my capability.

We followed the narrow, twisting alleys and steep steps up through the old village and then out onto the beginning of the kalderimi (donkey path) to reach the stunted tree overlooking the harbour, one of the best views on the island looking over Horio with the main harbour and Pedi Bay far below, and beyond that Turkey.


Panorama from The Viewpoint


Closer look at Yialos


….. and over Horio and Pedi Bay

Many years ago I adopted the ‘alpine principle’ in the mountains, setting a pace which I reckoned I could maintain to the top, avoiding stops which would mean lactic acid build-up in the muscles.  The pace I set now was steady though a little slower than usual but when we reached The Viewpoint, 200 metres ASL and 100 metres above the start point at Lefteris’s kafenion, I was hardly out of breath and brimming with energy.  So we agreed the plan I had been optimistically mulling over, to continue up to the ridge-top and a circuit back to the harbour.

Another 40 metres more gradual climb on the dramatic kalderimi to shade at the tiny church of Agia Paraskevi and, still feeling fresh and increasingly exuberant, a pause for a slug of water.


A rough stone paved section of the kalderimi overhung by a stunted tree finally killed by increasing drought


Shade at Agia Paraskevi

Soon after, a house on the left marks the start of a clear but more broken path forking off to the right and winding to slabs of rock looking straight down the valley to Yialos.


Looking from the slabs at the head of the valley down to Yialos


…. and a closer look at the main harbour, few boats this early in the year

Then on to the end of the kalderimi where it meets the tarmac, a short trudge along the road before diverting off to the right onto a little used, very rough and indistinct path dropping down steeply to the col at the top of the Nimborio gorge.

A large slab of rock here is an ideal place to sit for mid-day snack.  The carved stone is thought by some to have once stood vertically and to have had symbolic connection to wine production and it is indeed near to an enclosed Byzantine stone wine press.  However, my view is that its location near to the wine press simply indicates that there was an agricultural community here and that it is purely functional, the base of a primitive olive press.  I was told by a local historian that this was the function of a similar stone high in the cliffs at the fortified Kastri near Emborios on Kalymnos.


Ancient olive press

From the olive press in the col a good but narrow path tracks high on ridge along the western side of peaceful Nimborio Bay, impossibly blue and turquoise sea enticing far below.  Eventually the route drops down into the back of the harbour at Yialos and the prospect of a welcome drink.


Blue sea and a peaceful mooring in Nimborio Bay

We finished the walk a week almost to the hour after I was electrocuted in hospital. It was by no means the longest or the most arduous or the wildest of treks but five miles of kalderimi and rough path with dramatic views all the way was under the circumstances more than I thought a week earlier I would manage this trip.  Exhilerating!  Prospects for wilder walks looking good.

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Symi:  the 15 minute walk that took 6 days, or, Notes on How to Use a Bedpan.

And now for something completely different

“What are you doing? “ The tone was reprovingly incredulous, not inquisitorial.

“I need to use the toilet.”

“No!  The doctor says you must stay in bed.”

The nurse was much smaller than me and I was tempted to bully past her.  Two things stopped me.  The grim look on her face and the fact that I was tethered to an ECG machine and an intravenous drip both of which were plugged by short leads into sockets in the wall.

Facing me hand outstretched palm forward like a police-person on point duty and used to dealing with argumentative and voluble Greeks, a mild-mannered, quietly spoken Welshman like me stood no chance against the determination of Greek nursedom.  I sank back to horizontal on the bed like a scolded schoolboy caught out in a misdemeanour.


It began a couple of days earlier.  I had flown to Rhodes and crossed to Symi after agreeing with my doctor that the recently diagnosed health issue was not a serious problem and advising the travel insurance company accordingly.  The plan was to slowly increase stamina by short walks, adding a little distance or gradient each day.  It was depressing doing routes easier than those I would normally bother with even at the start of the season but I drew comfort from thinking positive, focusing on the end result.

Then the misfiring on two cylinders became unexpectedly and significantly worse and I decided I should return home sooner than planned. Flight for Saturday booked on the internet, Thursday morning I set out to walk the 15 minutes down the 100 metres of the broad steps of the Kali Strata to the harbour to book a ferry ticket to Rhodes for the flight.

Renting a house in Horio, in recent years it has been not unusual for me to walk down and then back up the Kali Strata two or three times a day as well as a trek in the mountains.  But this time I was in a bad way.  Struggling for breath, chest heaving, I had to sit on a harbourside bench to recover before doing the things I had come for.  Visit the ATM.  Buy a ticket. The stairs up to the accommodation office to pay my monthly rent were the last straw.  I must have looked bad too because friends in the office insisted I went straight to the doctor’s surgery around the corner.

From that point on everything was out of my hands, I was carried along on a wave of rapid and efficient action.  I was the focus of attention but a non–participant.

Laid out flat on a doctors’ couch in the small surgery, assessed by four medical staff, I was soon wired up to an ECG machine, intravenous drip and oxygen.

Transferred to a wheeled stretcher (gurney) and, with someone carrying an oxygen cylinder and the intravenous drip,  I was manhandled down the narrow alley to a waiting ambulance which whisked along the harbourside.

From the ambulance loaded onto a Hellenic Coastguard cutter, accompanied by the doctor, then at high speed down the narrow channel between Turkey and Symi, which it usually patrols picking up refugees in sinking boats, before crossing to Rhodes.

In Rhodes Kolona harbour transferred onto another trolley and into another ambulance for the trip through congested streets to Rhodes General Hospital, siren muted out of consideration for my sensitive hearing – and misfiring cylinders.

Unloaded, wheels down and fast along the corridor to the emergency suite, where, rather than demanding my credit card before they would let me in, as happened in Canadian Banff when I dislocated my shoulder, I was immediately attended by two consultants who rapidly concluded that I should be admitted.

Amazingly speedily and efficiently I was taken up to a ward via an X-ray and echocardiogram.  The irony of the latter is that the grindingly inefficient NHS back home took a month to tell me I am on a waiting list and by the time I have it the scan will have taken 4 months to arrange. There will be a further delay before I get to see a consultant to interpret the scan.  On a small island in Greece, with all its economic and refugee problems, the process took 15 minutes including assessment by a consultant who carried out the scan in the first place.  Not surprising that the WHO puts Greece 4 places above the UK (17 places above the USA!) in its ranking of health systems (see).

There then followed a process of sorting out the problem, starting with intravenous medication, the least invasive option.  Thorough, methodical, efficient.  Twenty four hours after being admitted the medics concluded that medication alone wouldn’t be effective and that something more was needed.  Quick explanation and I was wheeled down to a treatment and intensive care ward for electrocution (technically ‘cardioversion’).  Unfortunately I missed the fun bit because when they electrocute you they anaesthetise you first.  It would have been fascinating to see if it is like they show on TV, body arching on the bed as it convulses up and down.

When I returned to this planet it was far more peaceful and restful than it had been for months.  Electrocution had worked.  But to make sure, I was monitored 24 hours a day for the next 3 days before going back up to the ward.

For 4 days I wasn’t allowed out of bed on doctors’ orders.  That’s when I learned a new skill.

On the second day the batteries in my phone and Kindle went flat so there was nothing to do but lie on my back and imagine what pleasure and excitement there would be in watching paint dry.  The friend who came across from Symi with essential supplies, including tooth brush, towels, spare clothes and charging cables, neglected to bring any paint despite the fact that he is an artist.  But at least I could wash, read again, and communicate with the outside.

Then on day 5 I went back up to the ward, was untethered and encouraged to walk around.  Firing on all four cylinders once more, that day I walked two and a quarter miles of hospital corridors, glad to be on my feet again and unable to sit still for long.

End of the morning on day six I was let loose on the world.  Taxi into town. M&S for purchase of essential (very personal) clothing.  Visit to the washroom to change.  Frappé and WiFix in cool gardens across the road.  Blue Star ferry at 15.00 back to Symi and I returned to the house 6 days after I popped out to buy a ferry ticket.

Those notes on how to use a bed-pan?

1  Discretely

2  Carefully

3  As infrequently as possible

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Symi: not-so-wild walks

Well, I made it to Symi.  At first the weather was great, sunny with temperatures mid to high twenties.  One day it dropped to a chilly low twenties with heavy overnight rain depositing half of the Sahara on the island.  Always a mixed bag of weather at this time of year.  Take it as it comes.

Been meeting up with friends some who live here, some visiting.  Sadly I’m misfiring on two out of four cylinders and am reluctantly reconciled to the fact that walks are likely to be somewhat less than wild for a while.  But I’m working on it, trying to do a little more each day.

Knowing this would be the case I thought it would be a good opportunity to focus the camera on spring flowers which swathe the island.  Because of the extreme drought the flowering period for most plants is very short, survival of the species depends on getting seeds out there as soon as possible.  Winter 2014-15 was unusually wet on the island and so in Spring 2015 plants were in flower longer and later than usual.  This winter has not been so wet and it quickly became clear that most of the flowering has finished in sharp contrast with the same time last year (see last years’ blogs beginning here) when it stretched well into May.  But there is still colour to be seen and maybe more to come.



April 2015 there were carpets of cyclamen, now only  a few remain in flower in shady spots, this one in a dry-stone wall


Dragon Arums, one of the most dramatic with deep purple spathes up to 2 feet long, certainly the worst smelling, attracting bluebottles to pollinate them with an overpowering stench of rotting flesh.  Now only a few left in flower.


Wild hollyhocks, again just a few remaining


Brilliant blue of a bush legume.  Most are now in pod.


Spindly cornflowers sway on long stems in the breeze.


Pale blue, about two centimetres across and surviving in the most inhospitable soil


Flowers including Crown Daises (Edible Chrysanthemum)  remaining in a field of wild barley soon to be harvested for fodder


I dig this stuff out of my garden but in places the wild bindweed (convolvulus) is still in full flower

Early spring and few people around means that you get places to yourself, especially as there are as yet no taxi boats in the water.


Very few tourist boats in Pedi Bay, a lone fishing boat moored


Looking along the length of Pedi Bay, in summer usually a mass of gin palaces and sailing boats, Turkey clear just across the narrow channel


The beach at Agios Nikolaos out of season


… time to relax in the sun

Climbing the ridge towards Agia Marina and you are reminded not to take the breathtaking main harbour for granted.  Very few boats parked at this time of year, in a couple of months multimillion-euro gin palaces and wooden gullets will be crammed in to every inch of harbourside, some having to moor in the bay beyond.  But for now, the few there are can spread out.


One side of the main harbour of Yialos


Zooming in on the corner with the clock tower, the Italianate Police Station ….. and the new processing centre for refugees


A reminder that the ridge overlooking the harbour is made up of razor-sharp limestone.  Care needed


Posted in Greece, Hiking, Landscape, Mountains, Nature, Photography, Spring | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments