Dave and Gerry's Alonissos Island Information Site

Andrew Kerrigan's Alonissos Travelogue - July 2007

Alonissos Travelogue Part 16... OR An Unexpected Surprise At Kokinnokastro

Pulling out of Patitiri on the back of my little goyroyna, I had a plan.  My travels to date had seen me take in a substantial swathe of the island's terrain; but I had yet to explore those worthy attractions in the more northern part of the island.  From both my pre-holiday research and my occasional meetings with Dave and Gerry, I knew that no visit to Alonissos would be complete without a trip to the beaches of Kokkinokastro and Agios Dimitrios.  I was also intrigued by the archaeological site of Garbitses and furthermore by the Kastanorema gorge... it was to be another full day.  My first stop was Kokkinokastro.  A short drive north on the main road, it was an opportunity to ease myself into the saddle of my little pig.  Arriving without event, I de-saddled, parked my little friend under a tree out of the fierce sunlight and headed down to the beach.

Consisting of a high triangular outcrop separating two picturesque and sheltered beaches, Kokkinokastro was bound to be busy on this, one of the last days of July.  Sure enough, as I reached the bottom of the lane, the beach was crowded with holiday-making families, umbrellas and the like.  However, it wasn't the opportunity to bathe that brought me here, but an interest in the arachaeology of this site.  From the few resources I could find about it, it seemed to be a site with a long history and one which some claim to have been the Ikos or ancient capital of Alonissos. Certainly from the topography of the area one can imagine that such a high outcrop would have attracted the attention of ancient peoples.  However, it is worthwhile noting that the present day coastline bares little comparison to that of the past.  Looking at Kokinnokastro today the sea licks its shores; but it is arguably the case that centuries of earthquakes and subsidence have served to raise the sea level in the area to its present position and that there is good reason to believe that the site would not have appeared so impressively well-defended in earlier times.

However the fact remains that it is extremely well defended today... so much so that I was unable to access the triangular outcrop no matter from which direction I approached! My apologies for using such a low quality image of the site, but it really only is with an aerial view (as is provided by this postcard) that one can appreciate just how impenetrable this site is today.

The beach I have described is the one that you can see here... even with such low resolution I am taken aback at how nice it looks!  But to get back to the point, as you can see, it is impossible to gain access to the raised triangular outcrop from the beach itself.  You either have to swim out and look for a way to clamber up the rocks on the seaward facing side, which is equally steep, or somehow get up to that little spine of earth that connects the outcrop to the island proper and walk across it.  This was my plan, so I found a way through the trees you can see here (actually someone's garden!) to the edge of the spine.  But when I arrived and took a good look at it, I knew that it would be impossible to cross: it was just too sheer.  Undaunted, I carried on through the trees to the other side of the outcrop to assess the situation here.  Perhaps here I could find a way to access the site?.. no dice... it was the same story on this side: steep rocky slopes.  However, I was compensated for my trouble with this:

With a picture like this, you don't really need words but me being me I have to say something and that is this: thank God that Greeks, on the whole, value sun-umbrellas, company and the proximity of a cantina over such isolation... for people like me (and, I suspect if you are still reading this, you) it is a perfect trade off.
Alonissos Travelogue Part 17... OR A Little Persuasion Goes A Long Way

Taking once more to my little pig, I left Kokkinokastro behind and continued my journey slowly north toward Agios Dimitrios.  Having travelled for about twenty minutes or so, I was by now familiar with the machine and all in all the drive was shaping up to be a very pleasant one -- not least of all for the sense of intimacy that I felt for the environment having tramped all around it for the past week.  But then the inevitable happened... Like I told you, I have never had the most successful of relationships with motorbikes and it seemed that it was now time for us to have our bi-annual falling out...

There I was driving up the hill before the descent to Steni Vala when suddenly, for no reason as far as I could tell, the engine stopped and I ground to a halt on a bend.  Once, twice and three times I tried the ignition but to no avail.  It was no good.  So, pushing her off the road I worked on the kick start, but even then the little pig refused to grunt for more than a couple of seconds.  It was useless, no matter what I did or how patient I was the little swine was not for moving... by conventional means at least.  But I wasn't going to let her have it all her own way.  No sir-ee.

Grabbing her by the handlebars, I marched her puffing and panting up to the crest of the hill before the descent to Steni Vala, which took some doing on account of considerable bulk.  Then, gently urging her forward over the crest, I hopped on her back and let gravity persuade her that maybe it would be best to cooperate with me after all.  Almost immediately, she began to see it my way and so coasting along quite smoothly, we reached Steni Vala in a matter of minutes.  On reaching the harbour, I made a quick phone call and me and my little pig were separated... which could only have been for the best... and I got myself a newer, more reliable model.  But unfortunately, someone had forgotten to inform the mechanic at the rental shop of my track record on two wheels as my replacement was not a quad-bike but a Vespa.

After everything that had happened I was in no position to argue, so simply took the keys, waited for him to get out of sight, took a deep breath and climbed on board.  Then it was off to Agios Dimtrios with my mantra ringing in my ears: "don't fall off... don't fall off... don't fall off... don't fall off..."

And, to my credit, I didn't.

In fact, it was a really nice drive, taking it easy along a quiet road north from where I had reached the previous day, with the sea lapping a thin strip of beach to the right beginning just where the asphalt finished. All too soon, I arrived.  Agios Dimitrios, of course, is famous for its shape: a triangle of pebbly beach pointing out to sea in the direction of Peristera.  As we will see later in the next post, it is best photographed from a position high up in the hills behind it, but I just couldn't help snapping the 'apex' if you will of the triangle up close:

If you look closely at this photograph you will probably be able to make out a dark blob on the beach to the left of the photograph.  Once more, this is a sea urchin and once more, great care needs to be taken while swimming in the waters here as the seabed was simply full of the little blighters.  (And once more I dived in without a care and was merrily splashing away quite the thing before I realised this was so... )  What else of Agios Dimitrios?  Well, it is exceedingly picturesque, with good swimming and enough beach space to cater for all those who, understandably, are attracted to one of the best beaches on the island.  However, if you are looking for a little more peace and quiet, can I suggest the little beach of Mourtitsa just a ten minute walk north?  You can see how to get to it from this map:

As you can see, the main road ends at Agios Dimitrios but a dirt road (here marked in yellow) continues as an access road to a villa for rent which overlooks Mourtitsa.  After taking a dip a Agios Dimitirios, I drove the short distance up here and was very impressed with what I found.  Basically, Mourtitsa consists of a single old style villa complete with balcony of flowers looking out over the strait to Peristera above what to all intents and purposes is a private beach.  To top it all, a picturesque rowing boat lies hauled up on the little shingle beach below, just picture perfect.  So much so that I spent another half an hour here on the beach just dozing and dipping... and no sea urchins!

This travelogue has been a long time in the writing, especially considering the fact that it originally started life as a hasty email to Dave and Gerry cobbling together the bullet pointed highlights of my trip to their island.  But we are almost at the end. It only remains for me to describe my fourth and last walk on the island, the walk depicted here on the map above by a broken line heading first north from Mourtitsa before looping inland and round the bulk of mount Strovili, to lead back once more to the coast -- the walk through the Kastanorema gorge.

Alonissos Travelogue Part 18... OR The Yellow Route: "I Just Did A Little Circle Hereabouts"

I didn't mean to walk the Kastanorema gorge... it just kinda happened.

You see, when I left Mourtitsa I was only curious to see what the gorge looked like.  Besides, it was a little late to be attempting an unaccompanied 4 and half hour walk up a gorge.  If I did choose to do it, I would get back to the campsite at something like 7 o'clock and that just wouldn't do.  You see, as is always the case when camping on the islands, I had gotten into this comfortable routine.  Morning and afternoon were for walking; but 6 o'clock and the softening colours of dusk were for showering, dressing for evening, reading the paper, listening to my little pocket radio, low key socialising round the communal fridges and, or course, libations.  So you see I really couldn't set out on this walk...

But it was a terribly nice path, heading north with the sea to my right and the mountains to my left.  In short, it was a coastal path and therefore just the kind of walk a like.  The landscape was just that little bit different.  Gone were the pines and olive trees, to be replaced with low lying strawberry-trees and hollyoaks.  Here in the northern half of the island was an unfamiliar seascape of scattered islands whose forms I hadn't yet encountered and there was this surprisingly appealing sense of isolation, made more intense with each step away from Mourtitsa.

In short, I wasn't focused on any goal and so time seemed simply to fly by until such a point when the landscape opened out in front of me to reveal an extensive area of flat pebble and boulder strewn land sandwiched between two low hills and the sea.  I had reached the mouth of the gorge.  It occurred to me that now that I knew just how pleasant a walk it was I could come back next year with my wife and walk the rest of the way together.  But I should probably find the onward path through this mass of pebbles and boulders to the start of the gorge proper, there had to be some way markers here somewhere.  Perhaps if I follow the thin depression of the river bed?

Heading inland on the dried up river bed, the slopes of the low hills on either side of me gradually began to close in and rise above me.  As they did so, the sound of the waves disappeared and the clicking-clacking of the bone dry pebbles displaced beneath each step I took got louder and louder.  If silence can have a sound, this was it.  There was no one, not a soul around.  Now this was beginning to feel a bit special, a bit like you feel while standing on a cliff top looking out to sea; a bit like being drawn inexorably into something wild yet totally alluring.  It got better.  Down in the gorge, things started hotting up as the walls closed in higher above me and the pebbles beneath my feet gave way to sheer rock face gouged and polished by heaven know how many years of flow, and it was round about when I took these two photographs that I decided to hang with the evening ritual; this was simply too special a walk to turn back on.

Stream channel, Kastanorema gorge

Overhanging gorge wall, Kastanorema gorge

So I ended up adding the Kastanorema gorge to my list of conquests upon the island, and it was quite fitting that this last walk should be the most dramatic.  Other than extol the drama and thoroughly romantic sense of isolation that the walk engenders, I should probably give the prospective walker a rundown of highlights and advice:

1. The walking guides are right: once you are in the gorge there is no way you can get lost.  Also, for the most part, the terrain is smooth rock or boulders.  I walked up the gorge in a pair of trekking sandals so it really isn't the most demanding of walks underfoot.

2. There are snakes in the gorge.  I disturbed a couple on my way up which slithered away as I clumsily came tramping through their domain.  They looked to be the same species and of a light turquoise colour.  I've just done a google image search to find out what species they are and if they are poisonous but to no avail.  Very beautiful though.

3. At about the half way point, the stream bed becomes quite shallow with scrub and shrubs to the sides which at some points meet overhead forming a little arboreal tunnel for you to walk through.  Further on, the stream bed becomes shallower still to the extent that you can see the landscape clearly on either side.  At this point you should look out for a daub of red paint on a rock to your left indicating that you should leave the stream bed.  It's quite obvious but best to be extra aware when the landscape starts to flatten out.

After this point, you walk through a little olive grove to emerge at a dirt road with a watering point for goats facing you.  At this point, there is a sign post directing you up onto a little path which gently ascends the hill in front of you.  Now at this point I had been walking for about 3 hours or so having made good time in the gorge.  I was, however, a little disorientated having been effectively blinkered by the high walls of the gorge such that I didn't know in which approximate direction the sea might be found.  It was far from a worry however as the path was obvious as well as being periodically signposted.  In fact, it made the scene that greeted me as I rounded the crest of the hill all that more impressive for being unexpected:

As the landscape flattened out at the crest of the hill, I was greeted by this field of wild thyme and the realisation of just where I was. Here in front of me I could see the familiar form of Peristera: I had reached the top of the hill behind Agios Dimitrios, which was spectacularly confirmed when I walked down this path and looked down:

Like I said, Agios Dimitrios is best viewed from above.

If ever you find yourself on Alonissos with your own transport at dusk in late June, you could do worse than drive up here (a dirt road off the island's main road north terminates just beyond this point).  If you do, I would heartily recommend a bottle of chilled white wine and the company of someone special to share the view and what must be a royal carpet of wild thyme in bloom.  The final leg, down off the hill and back to Mourtitsa where I had left the Vespa was accompanied by a song and the inquisitive looks of mountain goats.  Slowly, the triangle of land that was Agios Dimitiris grew bigger and closer until I was a matter of minutes from the coast.  Unfortunately it was at this point that the surrounding scrub grew tall and so thickly knit that the path was at some points virtually unpassable.  But passable it was, and jumping down onto the dirt road along which I had driven about 3 and 3 quarter hours before, I met a Greek couple out for a stroll.

"Apo poy pidixes?" = "Where did you spring from?"
"Molis ekana ligo kyklo edho gyro gyro" = "I just did a little circle hereabouts..."

With that they wished me kali ekdromi, took their leave, and left me to pick up the Vespa to drive back to Patitiri... by way of just one final distraction.

Alonissos Travelogue Part 19... OR A Quick Visit To Garbitses

Leaving Mourtitsa at about 6 o'clock, I was still more or less on schedule for my evening ritual of showering, dressing for the evening, and sipping an ouzo outside my tent.  But there was still one thing that I wanted to see now that I had the Vespa: the archaeological site of Garbitses.  I don't really know why: I knew and still know nothing about the site, despite numerous internet searches.  So if anyone can illuminate me as to the significance of the site, I'd be grateful.  But I think that I mostly wanted to see it because it was an archaeological site and my wife would be disappointed if I neglected to visit it.

Signed off the main road on the way back, I drove carefully up the dirt road on my trusty Vespa until I came to a sign by the side of the road directing me the last 100 meters or so through scrub and olive groves to the site itself.  I almost missed it. The fact of the matter is that there really isn't all that much to see, just these blocks:

And no matter how much I nosed around, overturing stones and parting the fronds of ferns, I just couldn't find anything else.  However, if the site wasn't exactly the most interesting that I have visited, I was compensated by the surroundings.  Standing next to any ancient stones in the early evening, high up on a hill side facing the sea is always an experience.  And so is an alfresco ouzo back at your tent after a long day's walking... so with this on my mind, I left Garbitses and headed back to the campsite.
Alonissos Travelogue Part 20... OR A Tale Of Two Dogs

And so we come to the last post in what has become something of an epic travelogue of my time on Alonissos.  Like I said a couple of posts ago, I never meant to write something as long as this.  In fact, this whole thing began life a post holiday email to Dave and Gerry describing a couple of photos that I had taken whilst walking around their island.  It only became a travelogue proper when they suggested including these comments as part of a 'visitor's travelogues' addition to their site, at which point I thought I should write something more befitting of the genre 'travelogue'.

In this, the last of my posts, I do not intend to describe a walk for the simple fact that there are no more to describe!  I only did four routes of the many that are described in the two guides that I have mentioned... perhaps next time I will add to this tally.  Instead, what I would like to do is tell you the story of how I left the island.  I had to leave the island suddenly and before I had planned on account of receiving some bad news.  However, the sadness of this time was offset by more than enough happiness... as is always the case provided we look hard enough.

As you may recall, my job, being that of an English teacher, allows me plenty of free time to escape Germany and live the simple life camping and trekking under the sunny skies of the Aegean.  However, not everyone can afford the luxury of 6 weeks summer holiday every year - especially if they are a doctoral student of archaeology in the middle of their Phd - and it was for this reason that I was holidaying alone on Alonissos without the company of my wife.  For Maria's part, she had decided four weeks was all she could spare from her studies and so would fly out two weeks after me when we planned to go on a kind of busman's holiday, touring the archaeological sites of Minoan Crete.

I completed the fourth walk, the walk through the Kastanorema gorge, some time early on in my second week on the island and although I had walked a lot, there was still a lot more walking to be done.  Leafing through my walking guide late that evening whilst sitting in a taverna in Patitiri finishing off the last of my retsina, I considered my next outing... I had still to explore the western and northern regions of the island.  Perhaps I could do a walk taking in the area around Megalo Horafi or Tourkoneri?  Perhaps I could rent a bike again and drive up to the northern tip of the island to walk round Yerakas?  Or perhaps I could take a boat to one of the satellite islands? I could easily spend another week here!

Rising from the taverna with a yawn, I started out on the walk back to the campsite stopping, as was my custom, at the phone box next to the ruined hotel Galaxy to give Maria a ring.  The minute she picked up the phone I could tell that something was wrong... I could hear from the sound of her voice that something very bad indeed had happened.

"What's the matter... what's happened?" I inquired.
"Lara died", the answer came back.

Lara was the family dog, a little tan coloured sausage dog who had lived with her at the family home in Athens since she was a child.  Now that she lived abroad, she only got to see her during summer vacations when typically she would spend the whole morning lavishing attention on her velvet belly.  Quite simply, she loved that little dog, as did the whole family and this was going to be difficult, especially given that she was all alone up there in Germany.  It was frustrating.  That it should have happened was bad enough; but for it to have happened when we were apart, just a matter of a weeks before we were due to visit the family home again was particularly cruel.  It was a helpless situation... so we did the only thing we could do to take back some measure of control.  She would change her ticket and we would meet in Athens in 2 days time.

This gave me one more full day on Alonissos and I knew exactly what to do with it.  Some days previously Dave and Gerry had asked me to get in touch with them before I left the island such that we could have a final lunch together.  So I called them to tell them the news and arrange to meet them the next day in a restaurant near Paleohorafina.  It was always a pleasure to spend time with Dave and Gerry, not least of all for the insights they afforded me into everyday island life.  But it was particularly nice to see them at this time.  Not only did I need someone to talk to about our little tragedy, it turned out that they had some news for me to put things into perspective... they had just 'acquired' a little dog of their own.

As the reader of their website will no doubt know, like many of the ex-pats living on Alonissos, Dave and Gerry are actively involved in the local animal charity ASAP.  More than this, if you get the chance to loiter in their yard, you might find yourself experiencing a little difficulty moving for the number of cats milling about!  It was no doubt in their capacity as animal caretakers that they had begun to look after a very young stray dog that they had found scrounging for food with the cats outside local tavernas.  It now seemed that they had finally taken her in as their own having assured themselves that she was indeed homeless and having just gotten her checked out by a vet.

And the name they had given to her? Zoe, a name which most readers will immediately recognise as the Greek for life.

It was a fitting end to my time on the island, to get a little boost just when it was required and under such poignant circumstances.  With that, I bring this travelogue to a close.

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