Dave and Gerry's Alonissos Island Information Site

Andrew Kerrigan's Alonissos Travelogue - July 2007

Alonissos Travelogue Part 11... OR The White Route: Sherds, Sherds and More Sherds

Over the years, I have steadily added my own touch to the standard Greek holiday activities of swimming, trekking and eating.  First there was fishing, a fleeting fad brought to an abrupt end when Maria arrived on the scene with her swift judgement that no man of hers should come within down-wind smelling distance of fish, nevermind 'murder' them.  Next, there was an equally fleeting love affair with geology which for the most part saw me needlessly burdening myself with interesting looking rocks in the course of a holiday's walking only to chuck them all away at Eleftheros Venizelos airport thus baffling passing geologists, and of course there has always been a healthy interest in cafes, with many an evening spent combing cycladic alleyways in search of the perfect view to accompany a sundowner... or two.

But none of these myriad ways to eat up time when not actually trekking or swimming can come close to the thrill of amateur archaeology.  I always had at least passing interest in exploring the rich variety of ancient sites to be found on the islands, but it was not until I met Maria that my wall climbing and earth raking took on a more serious air.  With 13 years spent studying the ancient artefacts of the Aegean, as well as practical experience of excavations, she was well placed to point me in the right direction.  Not that there was any great secret about it: all she did was make a casual remark while climbing up a low hill on the site of a Mycenaen Acropolis near Naoussa, Paros in the Autumn of 2004

"This place is full of pottery", she remarked. "Really!? Where!?", I responded whirling round and raking the panorama less it should fly off like some startled bird "Under your feet silly", she added tramping on ahead.

I looked down.  She was right; the entire site was strewn with fragments of rust coloured sherds.  What seems so painfully normal and obvious 3 years later - that even the most scrupulously excavated ancient site will contain traces of pottery - seemed like a revelation back then.  I bent down to take a closer look, picking up an interesting sherd and rolling it around in my hands, only to toss it aside when a brighter or bigger one caught my eye.  Simply put, this discovery was a revelation, and even more so when I found fragments of fine-wear vessels whose light black brush strokes made even Maria excited.

Since then, I have always kept a keen eye out for finds, especially while exploring the more remoter sites, and thus have unearthed such finds as fragments of bronze, cup marks and even obsidian flakes in addition to scores of interestingly painted sherds.  But I had never seen anything like the amount of sherds scattered around the unexcavated site of the classical era pottery factory at Tsoukalia.  Not only was the beach thick with ostrika, many of the chunks were sufficiently large enough to incorporate whole handles and lips.  Here are just a few of chunks that I found lying around.

However, despite this wealth of finds, I found the location of Tsoukalia to be a little disappointing.  Although initially impressive, on closer inspection the vast array of pottery appeared to be composed almost entirely of coarse wear, with few indications as to which period, ancient or not, they might date from.  Also, the beach too was a little uninviting as the prevailing northerly winds had raised the waves and chased a fair amount of rubbish into the bay.  So it was that having clambered about in the sherds for while, exchanging first one then another for a brighter, bigger chunk, I decided to hit the road again, this time bound for the picturesque chapel of Agoi Anargiroi.
Alonissos Travelogue Part 12... OR The White Route: Curiosity finds the Path

From the coast at Tsoukalia, an asphalt road winds inland up a gentle incline to connect after 30 minutes walking to the area around Mega Nero.  A little whiles before this point, at about 20 minutes from the coast, a dirt track heads off through the pines to the north in the direction of the little cliff top chapel of Agioi Anargyroi.  It is a pleasant, if storyless little jaunt, taking in ever more satisfying glimpses of the sea through the pines until one arrives after another 20 minutes or so to the chapel itself.

As you can see, it is a singularly picturesque spot - although one, admittedly, which is endlessly repeated throughout the Aegean - and must be even more breathtaking in the softer colours of a summer evening when the sun dips down low on the facing horizon.  It is also a blessed spot in that it is situated in the general locale of some secluded little coves, offering the, by this time rather exhausted walker, an opportunty to cool their feet in the Aegean.  To reach this area, known as Tourkoneri, one need only descend via a pleasant shady track through the pines which after ten minutes, will bring you to the grounds of a single house situated in an enviable poistion overlooking a sheltered bay.

You can just glimpse this house in the top left hand corner of the above photograph.  However, one cannot see this little cove, where I swam naked for half an hour or so in complete isolation, from the path leading down from Agioi Anargyroi.  In fact, on arriving at the coast by this path, one is met by a dirt road which, if followed, would take one back up inland eventually to meet up with a bigger dirt road running parallel to the main road through an area know as Rahes. This would be my route home; but before then, I fancied exploring the hidden inlets and coves on this part of the coast... but how?

The answer came, as usual, after a brief period of curiosity.

Leaving the house, I walked along the dirt road past the baking bodies jostling for a little more room on the tiny cove which was Tourkoneri proper, and up and a little inland on the dirt road.  Sensing that this was the same road marked on the map and that it would soon take me back in the direction of home, I sought a little shade under a pine tree growing at the edge of the road to get my bearings once more.  Looking up from my map at one point, I saw that I was actually sitting on the top tier of a stepped olive grove which wound around a little cove in an elegant arch, hugging the horse-shoelike contour of the land.  Not only this, but there, a couple of tiers down below me and only just discernable, was a path which followed the countour of the olive grove first inland then back out again on the finger of the opposite peninsula.  Once again, a little disinterested curiosity had shown me the way forward.

Getting up and following this path, I was led to a gate beyond which the path forked, with one route heading up onto a cliff-top path and another heading down the peninsula in the direction of the bay.  Taking this latter path, I found myself after 5 minutes at the secret cove snapped in the photograph above and, confident that I would have the place to myself for a good while, stripped off for a highly refreshing and much needed skinny dip.  Refreshed and ready for yet more walking, I took to the cliff top path in good time to admire the view of a tourist kaiki gliding into the bay below me, the passengers of which would have got an extra little thrill if they had arrived five minutes earlier.  From here, the path descended once more to the coast for the remainder of the walk, all the way to Megali Ammos beach in fact, alternately looping around little coves and out onto the rocky fingers of interposed peninsulas.

All in all, it was a beautiful and none-too-demanding stretch to top off what had been a long day's walking. So long in fact that when I got to Megali Ammos, I realised that this was as good a place as any to call it a day and head back to Patitiri on the wide road through Rahes...

... A route that I would revisit the next day on my way to Steni Vala.

Alonissos Travelogue Part 13... OR The Pink Route: Trekkers' Etiquette

The reader of this travelogue will by now be well-acquainted with the landscape and paths of Alonissos.  Thus there are no surprises to begin this, the description of the third and penultimate of my walks on the island: the route from Patitiri to Steni Vala.  This is particulary the case given the fact that the first leg of this walk is exactly the same as that of the white route, taking the walker from Patitiri to Mega Nero via a pleasant detour off the main road to the hora.  Indeed, after this stretch there is little else of note till at least half way to Steni Vala.  Which is not to say that the initial stages of this route are dull or in any way unpleasant.  It is rather that in comparison to what lies ahead, the route that takes one from Mega Nero to the half-way point on a quiet dirt road interspersed with short spells lopping off a bend or two via a quick jaunt through a glade of pines is simply a pleasant stroll...

Twin cypresses snapped on the dirt road through Rahes, stage 1 of the walk to Steni Vala

... the real work begins when this dirt road hits the main road at the northern edge of the region known as Rahes.

On connecting with the main road I knew I had a kilometre or so on the asphalt so I whacked on my ipod to enjoy Giannis Parios' Nisiotika in the kind of landscape that they were written for.  I must have got through about 4 or 5 songs by the time I reached the beginning of the footpath to Steni Vala.  Here at the right hand side of the road lay a sign beyond which a dirt path descended into a lush valley scarred by the grey stony vein of a dried up river bed.  I had found my way to the middle of the island and the sea, though visible to my right was not yet my immediate destination.  First I would have to follow the river bed for a whiles before ascending a table topped hill onto a rocky plateau.  This was more like it I thought, unhooking my earphones and silencing my ipod.

Then it was off down into the ravine, hopping from one smooth sun-bleached stone to the next and all the time looking out for the familiar red splotches of paint that would tell me when to leave this river bed and start ascending the dark bulk of the hill to my left.  After a little whiles, the way-markers appeared and I cut sharply north, first through an olive grove, then over a low wall, and eventually into the thick shade of some deciduous trees where I started my ascent onto the plateau.  This was exactly the kind of challenge I needed after the Sunday stroll along the dirt road.  The path was becoming steeper, composed now of exposed rock steps leading me, bouncing on the balls of my feet, with ever increasing levels of endorphines, ever upwards through a mosaic of sky and branches.

Hitting the top of the hill, I found myself, as the guide had described, skirting the perimeter fence of a stable stuffed with goats and surrounded by quacking ducks before entering out onto a dirt road... whereupon I came face to face with a lost Greek holiday couple in a car whom it pleased me to set off on the right path, with an appropriate wish I might add, in their own language.  That is the thing about Greek: it seems to have a wish for every occasion.  In our, in this case, impoverished tongue, we can only muster the following set responses for occasions of non-celebration:

Have a nice meal!
Have a nice trip!

And perhaps 'Have a nice walk!' and other wishy-washy combinations along the lines of:

'Have a _____!'

But in Greek one can, and indeed, at times, should, come up with one of the following on parting depending on the occasion:

Kali douleia! = Something like 'have a nice working day'.
Kalo dromo! = Something like 'have a nice trip' but for driving; or 'safe drive'
Kalo banio! = 'Have a nice swim'
Kali diaskedasi! = Literally 'good entertainment' but in my experience seems to be the kind of thing that is said when one needs all purpose, non-specific wish as is the case with
Kali sineheia! = which means something like 'keep on keeping on'!

As is so often the case with exclamations, one can feel a little strange using them if they have no equivalent in your language -- no doubt because they lack an emotional connotation for the non-native speaker and are thus too close to empty gestures.  In fact, although I have been speaking and living with Greeks for 8 years now, I still do not feel completely comfortable with them.  So it was that at the close of my conversation with the lost Greek couple, having shown them where they were on the map, I made them endure a pregnant pause as I, aware that a wish was required yet unsure which one would be appropriate, detained them a moment or two before releasing them with the utterance:

Kali Ekdromi! = 'Good excursion'

By the looks on their faces, it seemed that this would do and off they went, bound for the Steni Vala, as was I... but by an considerably more scenic route.

Alonissos Travelogue Part 14... OR The Pink Route: 3 Beaches, 2 Turkeys And A Bus Back Home

The onward route from the stable where one emerges out onto the Isomata plateau down to Steni Vala rivals that of the first leg of the red route for one of the most scenic of the island.  Not only is one high up on a plateau with ever more expansive views of the neighbouring islet of Peristera, the landscape of the plateau itself represents a stark contrast to most of the rest of the island with its red earth interposed between rutted grey rocks... not to mention its forest of cedar trees.  However, searching my photos of this part of the walk it was the sight of two turkeys which appeared out of nowhere to strut 'neath the shadow of pine tree that seems to have arrested my attention!

The cedar forest is worth another mention, which is not to say that the trees are tall; but rather that they are so thick and densely packed at times that with a little bit of imagination one might believe one was wandering in a maze!  No doubt for this reason, the descent down off the Isomata plateau through the cedar forest is one of the most well-marked of Alonissos' routes with yellow and black poles supplementing the familiar red splotches of paint upon rocks.  I should also add that half way down (or of course half way up) there is a beautifully situated picnic bench with great views of Peristera from amidst the cedars... just the thing for a nice evening picnic watching the exposed rocks composing the neighbouring islet taking on an ever more intense and firey hue.

On reaching the foot of the hill, a dirt road greeted me and led me after five minutes to Agios Petros beach, the beach neighbouring Steni Vala.  Although it was a little difficult to find the beach at first given the amount of residential buildings crammed into the land behind the beach (I took a few wrong turns here into the yard of a private house) I eventually found the unsigned way down to the water through a garden there to bathe a while and enjoy the tranquility of one the islands more sandy, if small, beaches.  However, soon curiosity go the better of me and, seeking shelter behind a low wall, I changed out of my swimming shorts and back into my walking trousers to take the path for the final five minutes or so round the headland to the next bay of Steni Vala.

As Alonissos goes, there isn't really much in the way of accommodation, facilities or indeed substantial habitation besides Patitiri and the Hora.  The notable exception to this is of course Steni Vala, a little anchorage catering for summer yachts with a couple of tavernas, cafes, a shop and even accommodation options which extend to a fairly large campsite.  It was this latter feature which had attracted my attention many months before when I was casting around for a summer holiday destination which would allow me a range of camping options.  In fact, I had at one point planned on heading straight for Steni Vala on arriving on the island for fear that the southern half of the island might be over-run with tourists given the time of year.  In the event, this was far from the case; I had settled in well at campsite Rocks and was very much enjoying my quiet little patch.  But still, I was curious to see what this other site had to offer.  Very seldom do you find an island the size of Alonissos with two campsites and I felt I might just be tempted to move here for my second week on the island, or at least have it as a viable option for a future visit to the island.  On approaching Steni Vala by the coastal path, I didn't have to wait long: the campsite enjoys prime position right behind the beach:

If you look closely in this photograph you can see a tent just overlooking the beach behind a boat which is pulled up on the pebbles -- a pitch which, if not always the most private, certainly affords a wonderful view!  Also impressive was the scale of the site, an important factor if you are to secure sufficient grounds around your tent to give you enough privacy.  Taking a walk around the perimeter fence I could see that it stretched back some ways from the beach end, getting quieter and quieter the further one chose to be from the sea.  Although I never entered the site and have no idea what the facilities are like, I would say that little Steni Vala's campsite is worth a visit especially if you value peace and quiet and the tranquil atmosphere of a little harbour.  However, it is probably an option to move on to after first having located to the south of the island or, like me, one to return to on a second visit.

Moving on round the bay, I enjoyed spotting which nationalities had moored in the bay by the flags adorning the yachts, and once more allowed myself the little fantasy of one day owning a yacht to carry me off for a whiles.  Then it was a quick visit to a cafe for a frappe, to stock up with water, make inquiries about bus times back to Patitiri and, seeing as I was in the mood to explore a little more, make inquiries about the onward path to Glyfa, the next beach to the north.  As it turned out, I had a good two hours or so until the last bus so I set off round the coast once more relaxed and unhurried.  As it turned out, Glyfa beach, situated some five minutes from Steni Vala was a real treat: a long, smooth white pebble beach with clear water and only minimal construction in the large area of olive groves behind.  The kind of place where you could spend an afternoon with a good book and hardly notice a soul around you.

Glyfa beach: quiet with clear water... but bring a pair of bathing shoes!

More than this, climbing the low hill at the far end of the beach takes you onto the main road again for all of 2 minutes where you can descend a little onto the patch of land heading down to the coast to find a little secluded cove all to your own.  However, one thing you must be very careful of on this stretch of coastline is sea urchins.  They seem to thrive on the combination of smooth pebbles and clear unpolluted waters, and are by no means always apparent from the shore... as I can testify.  I had plunged headlong into the water at Glyfa and was gaily splashing around when I suddenly noticed the bay beneath me was a mindfield of sea urchins!  Best to get yourself kitted out with a pair of hard soled bathing shoes, available in local shops, before getting into the water along this stretch.

As I still had the time and the energy, I thought I might as well push on further north on the asphalt for a while to see what sights lay in store after Glyfa.  However, when I reached nearby Kalamakia, another fishing harbour lined with tavernas, but nowhere near as cute as Steni Vala, I could see that there wasn't much more mileage I could get out of this stretch on foot and that it would be better to return to this stretch the following day... this time with some wheels.

So that's exactly what I did, on reaching Kalamakia, I took a walk out onto the little jetty to better see the lay of the coast line further north.  Tantalisingly, Agios Dimitrios with its triangular shaped beach could just be made out.  This would be on the cards for tomorrow, but first the gentler rhythms of the evening beckoned... as did my bus back to Patitiri.

Alonissos Travelogue Part 15... OR Four Wheels Or Nuthin' At All

I have never really had the most successful of relationships with motorcycles. I got my one and only motorcycle during the long and boring summer of 1995 when I was the tender age of 19.  It seemed a good idea at the time... along with purple shoes, lamb-chop sideburns and 32 inch flared levis.  I should have seen the omens coming... it absolutely poured it down the day I picked it up from the bike shop, so much so that I felt I should make my way back to my little village on the back roads on account of the fact that there would be less traffic for me to collide with.  When I finally got to the end of my street, soaking wet and very much in need of a hot bath, the local village idiot decided to cross the road between two parked cars without looking and wham!  That was my first accident.  To be fair, it wasn't my fault... my light was on and I was driving as cautiously as I could without actually getting off and pushing the thing home... but it was not a good omen.

My second spill came about a month later on the back roads near Loch Lomond.  It was the height of summer and I had just spent a thoroughly pleasant summer's afternoon by the Loch, alternately swimming and reading Lolita and was now driving home to meet up with some friends when wham!...  A car full of young guys out on a joyride sped round a corner giving me the fright of my life and causing me to make a sharp left turn into the kerb.  As the front wheel clipped the kerb I lost control and down I went, skinning my knees, denting the petrol tank and ruining my favourite pair of flared trousers.

But the last straw came one summer, years after, when I was travelling round Crete.  I had found myself in Matala and, tired of relying on buses and the limited number of coastal resorts that they could take me too, had hired a scooter to take me inland.  I had it for 3 days and the plan was to tour the interior in a huge circle, driving by day and sleeping out in some olive grove by night.  As it was only a scooter, I planned to travel light: just my sleeping bag, a hammock and a change of clothes for the evening.  Otherwise I would be driving in my sandals, swimming trunks, shades and bandana... note the lack of helmet.

... I didn't get very far.  I had only been driving for about fifteen minutes when I saw a sign for a beach.  Heading down a quiet asphalt road early in the morning, I opened up the engine a little more than I should and before I knew it was fast approaching a tight right hand bend.  Pulling on the brakes, I tried to swing the bike out to the left such I could drive into the bend at my higher speed, but at the moment I hit some gravel and the front wheel skidded out from underneath me, throwing me down hard onto the asphalt.  I hit the road with my head and skidded on my unprotected limbs for a while before finally coming to a bloody halt somewhere in the middle of the opposite lane.  I didn't feel any pain at first, just shock and the shame of being such a fool... again.  Jumping to my feet I walked unsteadily over to the scooter, it's engine still running, to survey the damage.  It was then that I noticed a lot of blood was gushing down over my eyes from an open wound in my head... but this seemed to matter less than getting the bike off the road.  It was as if hiding the evidence of my stupidity from passing cars would somehow undo the damage... I guess I was in shock.

Stemming the blood flow with my bandana, I wheeled the bike into an olive grove, then gingerly pulling back the bandana, checked my head wound in the broken mirror of the bike... there was a big hole in my head... there was no way I could just pop back on the bike again and carry on as if nothing had happened; from previous experience I knew that this needed to be cleaned and stitched.  Besides, the wounds on my limbs were pretty extensive too and they too were beginning to hurt.  I don't know how long I spent alone in that olive grove with only my conscience and and ever more keen sense of pain to keep me company, but I do know that I was eventually discovered by the driver of a rubbish truck who kindly informed the bike company and called me an ambulance.  But once again I had to wait alone in that olive grove, replaying the incident; dealing with it.  I swear I could have kicked myself with shame... if I had been able to find a part of me that wasn't bleeding already.

One X-ray, five stitches, a trip to the rental office and 100 euros later, I sat in my sleeping bag in a hammock strung between two trees on the campsite in Matala.  My wounds had been sprayed but not bandaged as they needed to breathe, which left them at the mercy of every insect that happened to be passing that corner of Crete.  They had also started to tighten to the extent that I did not have the necessary flexibility of movement to put up my tent in what was a stiffening breeze.  So that night, I slept out in a hammock, sweating in a sleeping bag that had to be zipped up tight to protect my wounds from flies.  I say slept, but closer to the truth would be agonised... both on account of the pain and over what might have been.  It was then or then-abouts that I made a promise to myself never to ride a motorcycle again, and to my credit it was a promise that I managed to keep... until I got married.

I got married in August of 2006 on the island of Anafi, a simple ceremony in the village mayor's office with only a handful of friends to witness it.  The day after the wedding the point was mooted that it might be a good idea to rent some bikes and head off on a tour of the island; or, to be more accurate, everyone apart from me was dead keen on the idea and I was beginning to look like a bit of a party pooper.  So bowing to pressure and participating in the spirit of the occasion, I broke that promise.  Needless to say that carrying my recently acquired wife on the back of the bike as pillion passenger was more than enough incentive to take it very easy indeed.  However, just because I was the very model of the careful driver didn't mean that I wasn't, at times, haunted by the prospect of... well... falling off.  Indeed, the very fact that I was responsible for my wife's welfare too only served to heighten my anxiety.

So in a nutshell and like I said, I have never really had the most successful of relationships with motorcycles.  That's why when I went to the bike rental office that morning in Alonissos I walked in asked them...

"Mipos ehete mia goyroyna?"

Strictly translated this means: "Do you happen to have a sow (as in a female pig)?"  But you will no doubt better understand my meaning when privy to the knowledge that this is the name that Greeks give to those sturdy, grunting off-road quadbikes.  Now that my responsibility had been halved since that last time I drove a motorcycle, I was taking no chances: it was four wheels or nuthin' at all.

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