Friday, August 2, 2013

A Few More Lendas Photos - Sunset

Just some photos I took on a little hike I did the last evening I was in Lendas ...

Lendas at the beginning of sunset (from the east)

The east of Lendas at sunset

Coast east of Lendas looking west

More of the coast looking east of Lendas

Crumbling house at the east edge of the village

Sunset Rob

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lazy Lendas, Lazy Rob

Monday, July 30, 2013—Lendas, Crete, Greece
My little trip to Lendas has turned out to be an extended stay—I'll be leaving Wednesday, which will make it nearly a full week for me here. I'm feeling a little guilty about this. Shouldn't I be exploring new places, climbing mountains, engaging in new forms of cultural immersion? No—that's me turning my life into a job again. The truth is I am tired and I needed (need) a spot into which I could settle for a while, do little besides, swim, sun, read, and generally gather myself together a bit (my illness took much more out of me than I'd realized)—and I found that here. 
            One thing I haven't being doing here, though, is writing. This is only the second time I've sat down and put down anything for the blog. The truth is there's not really much to write about (which is of course a good thing—that's why I came here: to sequester myself from any drama). So what have I been doing? Like I said: swimming, lying in the sun (both at the beach to the west of town, which is much larger and nicer than the one in town), poking around at the various archaeological sites (the town and much of the surrounding area is one big site, with components going back to Minoan time up thru Roman, etc.), and reading, Thoreau's journals and the Gary Snyder Reader (I always know I'm coming to the end of a trip when I feel the urge to start picking up American writers). Since I know that I'm going to Gavdos next I haven't even been making plans. Again, all of this is good—I feel much better than when I came here, both physically and mentally: I feel I've re-established my center in both respects …

Lendas Notes:
This little sliver of Crete's southern coast, like Gavdos island to the south, is classified by geographers as being part of the North African climate zone, not the Mediterranean zone that the rest of Crete falls into. This makes perfect sense. It's hot here, but it's a different kind of hot than the rest of mainland Crete: it's drier, starker, more rough and tumble. The landscape also looks different, much more desert like.

The name Lendas comes from the Greek term for lion. I read something about the name being applied because the little inlet in which Lendas if found is supposed to look like a lion's mane or something. I don't see it. By that logic any crescent-shaped inlet, of which Greece has a great many, could be called Lendas—we'd be up to our eyes balls in lions. It explains the name of the Lions bar, though, which is found right in the village center …

Tanned, lazy, but also getting a little antsy to move on: that's me at the moment (I actually got bored at the beach today, which is a rarity).

Lendas from the east

Where 'm staying. Love the barbed wire in this shot - it makes the place look like a little prison. Actually it's quite comfortable and the woman who runs it is very sweet.

Part of a terracotta oil lamp I found on the surface of an archaeological site on the hill east of the village

Part of a floor mosaic at an archaeological site literally just above where I'm staying

History tumbled down ...

Less prison-like view of my Lendas home

Harsh beauty of the region - Looking east from high up on the hill that marks off the western limits of Lendas
 Lendas from that some hill

Beach to the west of Lendas

Fresh archaeological pits to the east of the village

Love the way wave action has shaped this rock - it's turned it into a wave itself

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Plakias Turnaround?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013—Plakias, Crete, Greece
Started moving west for the final push before I go home. I was planning on going to Lendas, a little village on the south coast of Iraklio province I like, for a few days. But even with leaving Myrtos on the 7:00 AM bus I didn't make it to Iralkio in time for that day's rare bus for Lendas. So I decided to maybe swing back around that place in my last days here, since otherwise I would have had to spend two nights in the hated city of Iraklio, which has got to be one of the least attractive urban areas in the whole Aegean. I'm beginning to think I made a mistake, though.
I ended up in Plakias, mainly because I was hoping to catch a bus from here to Frangokastello. I quickly found out, though, that bus route has been eliminated, apparently a long time ago (my Lonely Planet guide would seem to be way out of date on this one). There's a little tourist boat that heads that way, but it hasn't been going out because of the wind. Which brings me to one of the reasons I wish I hadn't come here. Plakias lies at the mouth a huge gorge, which runs a long way roughly north south thru the Rethymno province. This gorge funnels all the hot inland air towards the sea, which means that it can get really windy by the coast. Since I've been here (I arrived about thirty hours ago) the wind has been howling day and night non-stop. This makes doing pretty much anything here a drag: hiking means getting blown off ridgelines, the beach is a swirling mess of sand, and even sitting in a taverna with a drink can be challenging (yesterday while having a coffee in a place just off the main road thru town I watched a gust of wind knock over a nearly full glass of beer—my coffee was in my hand, luckily). Basically since arriving I've been hiding from the wind and trying to figure out what to do next. More on that in a second.
The other main reason Plakias doesn't thrill me is that it's frankly a kind of dull place. It looks nice and is certainly pleasant enough (the people who live and work here, as a group, are among the nicer people I've met in Crete), but it's basically characterless: it exists to serve the needs of tourists and therefore has little in the way of soul. It's of course also not particularly Greek—that's a big part of the blandness. It's another example of what I've taken to calling Beach Vacationland: the holiday spot that could be in any warm beachie place in the world for all it matters.
My next decision is whether or not I backtrack to Iralkio and hit Lendas (I can easily make it there in time for the Wednesday bus) or head forward to Paleohora and then Gavdos. I'm leaning towards to former. Though I hate to backtrack, I also hate to miss getting somewhere I want to be. Plus, there's something special about Lendas—it exudes a kind of healing energy—and I'm feeling the need for some of that. I'm also not quite feeling well enough to tackle camping on Gavdos, especially since I want to spend four or five days there. I have ticket for the 7:00 AM bus to Rethymno and I can go either direction from there. So I may end of making my decision on the fly …

Health Notes:
Feeling a lot better overall, though still not 100%. I'd say I'm hanging out somewhere in the 85% range. Feeling slightly feverish now and then and I have a bit of chest congestion, which is new. Still completely confused as to what it was that knocked me down. 

Windy Plakias - I love this shot. First off it's so windy they're not even bothering to open the umbrellas. Secondly, those are my footprints. Everybody gets to make a fresh set because the wind just blows the old ones away ...

Myrtos Love / Ierapretra Bashing - Feeling Better

Saturday, July 20, 2013—Myrtos, Crete, Greece
Feeling considerably better, to the point where I'm getting a bit bored: I'm forcing myself to lay low because I know I'm not full speed but I'm close enough that doing little has become a job. I did manage to make it to a new destination at least. I'm now in Myrtos on the southeast shore of the island. This place is almost exactly what I expected it to be. But more on that later. I want to say a bit about the bus ride down here first …
            It took a route that sliced thru nearly the center of the Lasithi province (which geographically amounts to roughly the eastern fourth of the island. The richness of the valleys and foothills I saw on Crete's eastern coast increased dramatically as we veered inland and south; I realized that I was seeing the edge of this part of the island's very productive agricultural zone. The olive trees were everywhere of course, as were all sorts of vegetable plots, plus some vineyards and other kinds of orchards; things were greener here that on any other part of the island I've been to, including the center of the Iraklio province, which was extremely productive, impressively so. 
            A we came out on the southern side of the mountains things became a bit less fertile, though there was still much more green than I've seen anywhere else on this island's southern shore. Soon, though, as were neared the city of Ierapetra, the greenhouses this area is famous for began appearing. One of the reason this city and the areas around it have such a bad rep is that these contraptions, frames covered exclusively it seems with stretched white plastic of some sort, as seen as being a major eyesore. I've seen these things in other parts of Crete but in nothing approaching the number they have around here. In small numbers they didn't bother me; I hardly noticed them, actually. Seeing them practically coating the coast here, though, I quickly came to the conclusion I agreed with their detractors: these things are pretty damn ugly. Still, the produce is almost uniformly good here and a lot of it is grown in these tents. Seeing that I've eaten and enjoyed my fair share of it I don't feel I have too much right to complain. That doesn't mean that I have to like looking at the things, though.  Nor does it mean that I have to keep entirely quiet on the subject …
            Ierapetra itself also has a pretty bad rep: the tour guides pan it en masse and I've never heard any traveler have a good thing to say about it—for most of them it was a place you had to get thru to get to somewhere more interesting. After the bus came out of the hills we hugged the coast for a while to the east of the city (this area was surprisingly touristy and built up, like a mini, far less intense version of the coastal tourist strips in the north). Finally we came around and down a bend and could see Ierapetra. After being on little island and Crete's relatively empty east coast it seemed shockingly large. Lonely Planet calls it a dusty agricultural hub, or something to that effect. Later, as the next bus I took moved thru it to its western outskirts where the number of greenhouses increased exponentially, I could see where this description comes from (my guess is that this become even more pronounced on its inland fringe, which I did not see). What I wasn't ready for was the ritzy, trendy, and frankly lame-ass fashion tourist atmosphere I also would encounter.
            I had to wait about two hours before the next bus left there to Myrtos, so I decided to wander the town a bit and track down something to eat. I couldn't really get too far, both because I had to stay relatively close to the bus station and because I had my full pack with me and I didn't really want to lug it around town (I was still feeling slightly feverish from the illness of a couple days past). I quickly found myself on a waterfront that was lined with trendy cafes that really could have been anywhere in Europe. Backing these were the same silly tourist shops one can find pretty much everywhere. The place was completely characterless: it reminded me of certain sections of Iraklio, which has got to be one of the ugliest cities in the entire Aegean. I was starving so I picked a cafĂ© (they all looked pretty much the same, so based my choice mostly on which one seemed to have the cutest servers working there). After eating a boring club sandwich I walked around some more and, yep, everywhere I went reminded me of a lower-key Iraklio. I got so annoyed that I went back to the bus station a half hour earlier than planned and waited things out there …
            Myrtos is far more pleasant. As I said, it looks pretty much exactly as I thought it would. It's a semi out-of-the way little beach village, moderately touristy, but with a bit of a Greek feel to it still. It reminds me of a bigger version of Lendas, the little beach enclave on the south shore of the Iraklio province where I more or less ended my trip last time thru. Houses climbing up fairly steep hills. A small flat coastal strip. Restaurants, shops, but real places too, like an actual Greek bakery and some shops where everything seems written in Greek only. A decent beach, not very crowded because this place it a touch off the beaten path. Little to do in town do besides swim and eat and decided when and where you next want to swim and eat. It looks like it will be a nice low-key place to wind away a couple of days, to finish healing from my illness. As of right now my impression of the place is that I've been to similar little beach towns I like a bit better (such as the aforementioned Lendas). Still, I do like this place a lot—it's got a really good vibe and is definitely pretty (it's also on a beautiful stretch of coast, now that most of the greenhouses have been left behind). I'm glad I've come here …
            I didn't get into town until about one this afternoon. By the time I got a place (a nice room with a kitchen nearly on top of one of the hills that backs the town—I have a fantastic view—for fifteen euros a night less than I was paying for basically the same thing in Kato Zagros) and explored the town a bit all I was really up for was a little beach time. There's a Minoan site I want to see here that's back up in the hills a ways and another hike thru this cool looking gorge I want to do, so that will be my day tomorrow (plus a little more beach time). And then I'll be off the next morning.
Suddenly feeling a little tired. Thinks I'll call it a night on this writing.

Myrtos from above

Myrtos from my Balcony

Myrtos waterfront

 Beach at Myrtos

Greenhouses on the shore

The steps up to where I was staying

Minoan site above Mytros

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Crash and Burn

Thursday, July 18, 2013—Kato Zagros, Crete, Greece
What a difference a few days makes. I don't feel like writing (again—you'll see) about what's been going on, so I've decided to just cut-and-paste from an email I wrote my sister and a few close friends.

I'm writing a joint email because I'm hoping one of you might have some useful info for me. Something truly scary happened to me starting yesterday morning and I'm still trying to piece it all together. Yesterday I woke up with a rash on a big chunk of my body. It was especially bad on pelvis and the back of my thighs. It looked just like the reaction I get when I've run into poison oak (though it wasn't as itchy—at first). I've never noticed any poison oak here and the day before I was just at the beach with some friends of mine I met here two years ago—I was no where near any plants that could have done this to me.

I noticed, though, that the lower sheet on the bed I'd been sleeping on had pulled up and about half the mattress was exposed. I concluded that there must have been something in the mattress that had produced this reaction. This seemed to make sense for two reasons. In the cheap places in which I usually stay the beds are old and have had God knows how many people sleep on them; they could harbor all sorts of things I could have reaction to. Also the rash, though worst where I previously stated, also was found on patches of my arms, hands, etc., as if only the parts of my body that had touched the mattress had been affected. Thinking I'd figured things out, I took a hot shower to get off whatever it was that was messing me up and went on with my day. A few hours later it appeared my guess was right—the rash seemed to be going away.

Later I got on a bus heading south. Other than the rash I felt fine (I was actually feeling a touch run down, but I'd been feeling that way for several days). Later that afternoon, though, I noticed that the rash seemed to be coming back, on other parts of my body. Then that evening, while I was sitting in the room I'd just gotten, I started feeling feverish. By the time I'd made it back from getting something to eat a few hours later the rash had spread to about 75% of my body, was incredibly itchy, and my fever was raging. Soon I couldn't stand up without feeling like I was going to both heave and fall down. I also couldn't eat or drink anything, even water—I knew it would come back up.

It's very hard for me to describe the rest of the night, mainly because I've never felt so bad before and I've never felt bad at all in this particular way. I don't know how high my fever was, but it had to be way up there. It was also a weird fever, in that it was dry as hell--I couldn't perspire at all. The only way I can think of to describe how I was feeling is to say it felt like my body was going explode into dust and blow away. Added to this was an exponential increase in how itchy I was. I know I can sometimes be a bit of a wus when I get sick, but this was of an entirely different order to anything I've ever experienced. For several hours straight last night I really thought I was going to die by myself in a little room in eastern Crete. I couldn't have even crawled for help if I'd had to ...

This morning at about five the fever finally broke (though it hasn't left me completely) and the rash has be slowly diminishing, though it still covers at least 40% of my body. By about nine I could finally walk short distances without feeling like was going to throw up or land on my face. I've slowly been feeling better since then, though I still feel l worse than I've ever felt in my life outside of last night.

The question I've been asking myself and now you folks is what the hell happened to me! My only symptoms were the high and very strange fever and the rash (the off stomach is probably just a byproduct of the fever), so I think this rules out any kind of virus or bacterial cause. The only thing I can think of that could cause this would be a severe allergic reaction, probably to something like a bug bite. I've been researching on-line, though, and Crete is very benign in this area--there are no spiders or insects I can track down that would likely to be able to do this, nor anything else I can find (there aren't even any poisonous snakes here—plus I think I’d  remember if I got bit by snake). Does any of this ring any bells with any of you? Any insight you can give me would be greatly appreciated. I need to do whatever I can to make sure this doesn't happen again: I honestly don't think I could make it thru a second night like last one.

My recovery turned out to not quite be as abrupt as this letter made it sound: the fever came back strong the next night and throughout the day the rash came back and spread, to many parts of my body untouched before, like my lips and face. Last night, though, was different than the previous one, in that I could feel myself healing. This morning I woke up and 98% of the rash was gone and so was most of the fever (though I still feel ferverish). I'm still week and I have the chills, but I know I’m moving passed it, whatever it was …

            What happened between my last entry and my illness? A lovely day and a half hanging out with my friends from Paris. But that seems hardly worth reporting at the moment: this illness has so scrambled me, so thrown me off stride that nothing else seems all that important. Going to stay here until the late morning bus to Sitia comes tomorrow. I've hardly seen any of this place and Xerokambos down the road will have to be skipped (it's a 10km hike there and that is not going to happen in my present condition). I'll probably head down to Myrtos and heal for a few days. Then I'll try and put the pieces back together and finish out the last couple of weeks of my trip at least somewhat as I'd planned …

Back on Crete - Pigadia Notes / Sitia Interlude

Sunday, July 14, 2013—Sitia, Crete, Greece
Sitting in the bus stop in Sitia. It's 2:40 PM and I'm waiting for the 4:00 PM bus south, to Palakasto; I just got off the ferry from Karpathos, hit the ATM, got a little bite to eat on the run, and then  headed over here on the chance that I could catch a bus without too much waiting. I was planning on spending a couple days in Sitia, checking out some things I've missed around here, but I got a message from some friends of mine from Paris that this is there last night in Crete before heading home and that they were just down the road. So I thought I'd hang out with them while I have the chance.
            I suppose I should backtrack a bit, as I haven't made an entry since I was in Diafani. After my time was up there I caught the tourist boat down to Pigadia in the south of Karpathos. Because of the times the ferries run I was stuck there for about two-and-a-half days. I wasn't in the mood for a little solitary time so I didn't do much beyond taking a couple of short local hikes and reading. This was just as well, given that there really isn't that much on that part of the island that really interests me that I haven't seen yet. Pigadia itself is a pleasant but fairly bland little tourist town (that seems to be getting more upscale—there are some fancy-ass hotels popping up just outside of the main part of town, along the beach). It's got pretty much all the same touristy stuff going on that other towns of its kind practice, but it's low-key about them and overall it was a nice little rest stop for me (though I wish it could have been just a day or so—I'm entering the last three weeks of my trip and time is starting to seem quite precious. 
            Pigadia does have a pretty decent little archaeology museum, which I checked out. As island museums go it's definitely not in the league of, say, Nisyros', but it does have a nice amount of Minoan and Mycenaean stuff, both of which really interest me. There explanations are pretty good too. The museum was just a bonus, though. Like I've said, I really just needed a little bit of down time (I seem to hit these walls about every three weeks). What made this work out especially well is that Pigadia is cheap: rooms there go for nearly half of comparable places in other part of the Dodecanese (I saved ten euros a night from what I was paying in Diafani for a bigger place with a kitchen, which my digs up north lacked). Now that I'm feeling refreshed, though, I'm glad to be out of there—I'm really itching to explore some new places in Crete, to be back on the road in a more proper sense.
            Speaking of which, my itinerary for the last few weeks suddenly took shape in my head while I was hanging out in Pigadia. I’m going to spend the next seven or eight days exploring some fairly far-flung places on the east coast, Kato Zagros (which also features a major Minoan archaeological site) and then Xerokambos a little out there beach area that I'm going to have to hike 10km from Kato Zagros (the busses don't run that far). My only goals in these place, besides checking out the Zagros archaeological site, is to swim and maybe to some light hiking (my ankle and knee really need some time off); I really just want to get very laid-back for this coming week. After these two spots I'll do one of two things. After hiking back to Kato Zagros I will catch the bus to Ierapetra a city on the southeast coast. If the busses don't run that way (and I don't think they do) I will head back to Sitia and get the bus to Ierapetra from there (if I do this I will probably hang out a day or so to check out the aforementioned places around there I still would like to see). I have no interest in Ierapetra itself, but I need to get there to catch a bus to Myrtos, a little village to the west of their that sounds really cool. I want to go there for the place itself, but it also sounds like it will make a good transition into the next part of my final Cretan dash, as it’s not back-of-beyond like Kato Zagros or Xerokambos, but it's still a relatively small settlement.
            After this things will get far more crowded, I'm sure. I plan on heading over to the region north a Matala (a very busy and touristy beach area) mainly because clustered there are several of the island's most important archaeological sites, none of which I want to miss. Not sure where I'm going to base myself there, probably inland a bit at a place called Kamilari, which sounds pretty nice and should be a lot mellower (and maybe cheaper) than the beach towns just to the west of there.
            Once I've had my fill of archaeological sites it will be back to the beach. I'm determined to make it to Frangokastello (the high-season south-coast busses are running now so I should be able to get there from either Hora Safakion to the west or Plakias to the east. After this time will be the biggest arbiter as to how I end things. If there's enough of it left I'll be heading down to Gavdos. The problem is I have to allow a few extra days if I do this, mainly because if the seas kick up I could get stuck out there; you can't plan on hanging out there till the last minute without taking a chance of missing your plane home. If I don't think I have the time for Gavdos I'll probably just camp on the beach in Sougia or something, until the day before I fly out, when I will head up to Hania. 
            Not a bad sounding three weeks, if I do say do myself.

The Road to Pigadia - The last time we saw Rob happy (see following post)

Weird "ranch" I found just outside of Pigadia

A Few More Northern Karpathos Photos

My beach (from the water)

Into the pines 2

La Gorgona Restaurant - My Diafani hangout

Northern Karpathos - A Darkness on the Edge of Town?

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 9/10-2013—Diafani, Karpathos, Greece
Back in Diafani. This is one of the odder places I've been to in Greece, which is part of the reason I made sure revisit this place this time around—even though it  disturbs me in certain ways I'd really like to figure this region out. I'm not sure overall how much I like it here, by which I mean northern Karpathos. A part of me is drawn to this place, while another part of me feels a bit trapped once I'm here; it feels like a place ruled by the past, a past that hasn't served it all that well then or now, and when I'm here I feel partially forced into this past. OK, I realize that what I've just said might seem more than a little bit cryptic (and tangled grammatically). Let me see if I can explain what I'm trying to get at …
            Karpathos is a pretty big island, but I think what determines certain aspects of it culturally is not its size but its shape: it's a long island, with a wide southern end that more or less tapers after a certain point as one gets farther north and then starts to widen again at the top; it's a bit like a vase with a fairly fat base and a bell top. The southern half has always been more open to the rest of the world, whereas the north has, until relatively recently, been cut off from, well, most things; the road that now runs north south has only been completely in the last several years, and I'm not sure if it is yet completely paved. The people up here are different from those I've met anywhere else in Greece. The local dialect is different (I'm told it still contains remnants of ancient Doric Greek, but I know nowhere near enough Greek to know if this is true, though the way people speak up here does seem to have a different flavor than in any places I've been in this country). People dress differently here as well, in that, with the older women at least, the old-fashioned country dress of black dresses and head scarfs accompanied by more colorful embroidery is still quite common. This is no quaint backwater, though, as the tourist guides say—there's a darkness here, which is connected to the people's past, as symbolized by these types of traditions. The trouble I have is putting my finger exactly on what this darkness is—it comes to me thru a vague, yet complex set of feelings that I can't quite account for materially.
            First off, northern Karpathos is a wild place: big rough pine-covered mountains meet the sea with coastlines of few beaches, let alone much in the way of substantial inlets or safe harbors: the mountains generally just disappear under the sea. Traditionally it's been a place for farmers and fishermen. Both are still here, but trips into the hills reveal how much of the land has been abandoned—miles of old field terraces dominate whole valleys, which are now home to little besides the inevitable goat flocks (wild goats too are found in the high hills, living a life that's so much more beautiful and I'd argue worthily than that of their domesticated lowland cousins). Now this describes a lot of Greece I've seen and even more that I've read about, and it alone cannot account for what I see and feel with the people here, the vibrations I've run into here and nowhere else in this country . There's a loneliness I've felt while hiking the mountains of this part of the island, a loneliness which seems to have seeped into the villages, like the mist that sweeps across the mountains even during the warmest months. It's more than loneliness, though. There's an undercurrent (at times slight, but always present) of hostility here, maybe even contempt. There are far fewer of the warm smiles here that I routinely encounter in other parts of Greece, the open-hearted curiosity that seems to be a general hallmark of being Greek seems to have been stunted and replaced with a suspicion that I hate to say seems to dovetail all too easily into a kind of dull meanness, into a stultified clannishness. What this all comes down to, I suppose, is that the people I meet here, the locals, as a group, seem very unhappy.
 I can't say why this is for sure, but it's as if their exposure to the outside world has left them in a cultural no-man's land. By this I mean, knowledge of what's out there, coming back here from people who have emigrated to America and other places and brought in by the relatively small numbers of travelers who find their way up here, has left the old ways exposed and vulnerable to the new ideas coming in. But the people have neither taken up the new ideas in force, integrated them into what's best of the traditional ways to create a vibrant hybrid (which is what I've run into in other formerly isolated places in Greece) nor have they rejected them to celebrate what they have always been …
I just read over what I've written. Intellectually I can tell that it's too harsh and sweeping; I know I haven't been here long enough and certainly don't have the information to make such big damning pronouncements. But on the other hand I feel no need or desire to take back anything I've said. What I'm working with are my feelings—everywhere here all I've said seems to come at me, thru the people's faces and actions, thru the general vibe that runs thru the culture, that seems to hang in the air even when there are no people around. Over my life I've learned to trust my feelings—I'm generally perceptive and I tend not to react to that which I don't at first understand. Because of this, I know that my what I'm feeling is fundamentally correct—there is a darkens here, something very unhealthy underpinning this place culturally. There's something going on here that just ain't right …
            That said (like I can just walk away from such statements) … Why am I here? I'm not sure. Like I've said, I feel drawn to this place: there is something fascinating about northern Karpathos, even if many aspects of the place trouble me. Since I've arrived I've most been getting into the backcountry; there's is some of the best hiking in Greece here (or at least the parts I've been to). I've also met a lot of people here, returning locals and travelers, I really like. Actually that's one of the weird things about this that fascinates me. Many of the people who come here, both outsiders and returning Greeks, seem to have an almost religious devotion to this place—I've met numerous people who have been coming here, sometimes for weeks at a time, for ten, fifteen, twenty straight years. 
And there really isn't all that much to do here, besides hike (like I've said, the hiking is great, but also very challenging—there's no one some of the older people who are so enamored with this place can participate to extensively in this activity). The beaches are small, stony, and windy (with one little exception, which, for reasons I haven't figured out, few people besides me seem to bother with) and there's nothing in the way of museums and the like. In Diafani itself there's really little to do besides sleep late and hang out in the tavernas. But again people keep coming back. I sense a little why this is, though I can't really explain it in any reasonable fashion. Basically, northern Karpathos exudes a kind of narcotic affect. What I mean by this is that there's something about this place that just captures and holds you, even when your experience here is troubling—you just can't break away. I've been feeling this. I know I need to get out, that I have other things I want and need to do more than hang out here. But a part of me is always manufacturing excuses as to why I can't yet leave.
OK, none of this is working: I know I'm not explaining anything about this place properly. Partially this is because I've left out its lighter side. I've met some wonderful people here. The beauty of the countryside is staggering. The dark feelings I get, which, as I've said, seem to come from the land itself, are definitely not shallow: whatever is going on here it definitely has meaning. What that meaning is, though, I have no idea. Maybe I will become one of those people who just keeps coming back. I feel the pull. I, as of yet, though, do not consider this necessarily to be good thing …

[Onto lighter things, stuff I've been doing …]
Yesterday I took a coastal trail high into the mountains heading north (I did it last time I was here and was so blown away by it that one of the reasons I came back was to it again). The trail actually is a huge loop heading inland and then across the island to its west coast. I did that one last time thru and it took me like thirteen hours or something. My ankle (though is it improving) won't let me do that kind of hike right now so I settled for about a six hour turnaround, which took me thru most of the coastal part of the trail. It was just as spectacular as I remembered. Being up there on that rugged (but surprisingly well-marked trail) so high above the ocean below is remarkable. So is the countryside. This island is so green and piney, which makes it a lot different from a lot of Greek island hiking. The only negative is that I went down hard on the trail when I was heading back. I went down a couple times on my first hikes this summer on Crete, but haven't had it happen since. This one was an odd one too, not really my fault, I'd say. All of a sudden the trail just vanished underneath me: a big chunk of it just crumbled away down into a deep drainage (I was lucky I didn't go at least part way down the drainage with it). Without warning my feet completely went out from underneath me and I went down hard on my right side, half into the stones and half into a thorn bush. Though I’m still pulling out thorns I was actually lucky I landed on them. Even with the half cushioning (if you can call an armful of little spikes “cushioning”) of the bush my arm hit the rocks hard and I ended up with a big welt that feels like it goes all the way to the bone. If I'd landed just on the rocks I might have broken my arm.
Today I went inland to the agricultural village of Avlona, which is a truly beautiful hike, thru surprisingly dense pine forests, which give way to rocky highlands half shrouded in mist that surround a surprisingly productive little high-altitude plain. I've been to Avlona before, so I didn't linger there (there's not much to do there anyway, besides hit one of its two littler tavernas and be stared at by the locals—few travelers make it up there besides those brought in on day trips by tourist company out of the south of the island and those who do are interesting enough to warrant eyes peaking out from behind curtains, etc.). But instead started back on a slightly different, more rugged trail that eventually linked back up with the one I'd taken in. The hike took about six hours and that was all I could handle for the day. It was definitely a good day on the trail, though …
Tomorrow I leave, head down on the tourist boat (the one that brings the day-trippers up). The boat doesn't head out until about four-thirty, though. So I think I'll beach it in the morning and hang out in a taverna in the afternoon. A part of me want to stay another day (there's that narcotic affect), but I know it's time to move on—I'm not going to be sucked any deeper into this place on this trip: I have too much more of Crete I want to see, too many places that make me feel lighter (if not better) than I do when I'm here …

Diafani (from the boat)

Trail heading south

Inland into the pines

East coast from the trail

My own private beach

Misty mountain hop

Friday, July 12, 2013

Some Halki Photos

Just thought I'd throw out a few Halki photos. I've actually been on Karpathos for 5 days but haven't felt much like writing. Expect a text post from here in the next day or so ...

House in Halki for sale that I was checking out

Inside my comfy house

Mr. Kanny Cornflakes - A weird (looking and tasting) Italian brand

Knights of St. John castle remains

Cool twin beaches below the castle I couldn't get to
Crumbling  Horio

Monday, July 8, 2013

Halki and Parting Halki

Friday, July 6, 2013—Emborios, Halki, Greece
A little after nine at night. I'm sitting on the balcony of my room. I've just watched the sun finally set (or the light from the sun slowly fade, to be more accurate—the sun actually sets behind me). It's hard to describe the peace of this vantage point at this time of day. The rugged hills of Halki and the uninhabited island that protects its little port look both unbelievably substantial and somehow unreal at the same time; they're like rock as mist and mist as rock. The wind has died down so even at the top of the hill (where I'm at) I can hear the water lapping against the dock and the boats. I can also hear the motors of the little fishing boats that head out each night. There are also the sounds coming from the restaurants and bars that line the waterfront: gentle sounds: people talking and laughing, not blaring music or anything even vaguely rushed. Earlier I got to watch Rhodes bathed in this vanishing light. The mountains in the area of Rhodes facing me are very green (especially by Greece standards), but the tops appear to be completely devoid of plant life; they are vaguely red crowns of dirt. When the sunset hits these bald tops this vague red becomes soft and luminous, which give them a strongly painterly feel … Turner meets Greece, something indescribable like that …

Hiked down the coast a bit today (my ankle hurt, but not as bad as I feared it might). I made it to this nearly deserted town called Horio, above which is yet another Knights of St. John castle. The town's fascinating because here and there people are restoring houses. Most, however, seem to have been crumbling for decades. I'm not sure of the dates, but this island was almost abandoned at one point. Apparently the water just ran out. A few people hung on. A lot bailed out, many to Florida (there are little plaques commemorating work done on the island as gifts from its Floridian offshoots and I keep hearing conversations between Greeks that go back and forth between Greek and American English—Greek Americans coming “home”). It wasn't till the tourist boom of the 70s this place came back to life. It's hard to believe that anyone would want to recolonize the interior here, though. It's some of the harshest, driest areas I've run into on any of the islands I've visited; it's amazing that the (many) goats here can even eke out a living. But a few people at least want their old homes back (or maybe to resurrect their ancestor's old homes). I wish them luck, even though I don't fully understand their motives …

Hiked up to the castle. It's in the process of being restored. Still, after scrambling up stone paths, temporary wooden walkways and some trails of my own making, I found a way to the top. It's pretty much like all the other Knights of St. John castles I've been to, but the views were spectacular. Especially interesting were these two really cool little beaches I could see, which existed back to back on a little neck of land that let out to a big round peninsula. I decided to try and get down to these for a swim, but I couldn't figure out how. I took a dirt road out of the town that looked promising but it just shunted me off down the coast. Heading down directly from the castle was a non-starter: it was perched on nearly sheer cliffs. I looked around in search of some trails with no luck. So instead I just hiked back towards Emborios and went for a swim at the touristy Potamos Beach, a great strip of shelving sand, but a touch too crowded for me (I went there the day before and felt kind of like I was in a place that was being slightly overrun).

Tomorrow (at four-thirty in the morning!) I'm catching the ferry south, to Karpathos. The person I was supposed to meet there, an Italian friend of who until recently lived in Istanbul, isn't going to make as it looked like she would (all the crazy shit going down in Turkey has thrown her life well off stride). So I'm not quite as eager to get their as I was before. Still, there are things there I missed last time thru and a few things I'd like to experience again. It's interesting, but this trip every time I'm getting ready to leave an island I feel sad (even if my experience there wasn't anything special). Each island in Greece is to some extent a world unto itself. So I really feel as if I'm leaving something important behind, something I can't experience anywhere else. There's also a feeling of … mortality … that comes over me at these partings. I'm beginning to realize (with my heart as well as my head) that I will never make it back to certain places in my life, which brings a finality to these partings that is a bit painful. These feelings largely go away as soon as I hit the next island: the hope of new discoveries takes over and the loss of the previous parting is converted into a pleasant memory, something from which I can draw strength. But that will come later for this Halki parting. As of right now I just feel like I'm losing something, something, as I've just said, I'll never get back …

Let's make this simpler: I need to remember that Greek ferries not only take from islands, but they bring me to islands as well …

My first morning here—some semi-poetic reportage …
I left the doors to the patio open and even the dawn sun was so hot that it woke me up. I stood up, walked naked out onto my balcony and saw the sun as a perfect orange-red ball coming up over the mountains of Rhodes. It was amazing. This blazing ball, the raw mountains, on Rhodes and especially here, and the light glinting off the blue-green waters around this island combined to be one of the most powerfully beautiful things I've ever seen. Then something weird happened. Suddenly I felt the craving for an ice cream cone—not just ice cream, but specifically an ice cream cone. I have no idea what this means (the Freudian implications are just too obvious to be any fun to explore in this case), but that's what happened. I don't even eat ice cream anymore and I couldn't say when the last time was I had it in cone form. But there is was …

Harsh interior Halki

Potamos Beach

Knights of St. John's Castle above Horio ("Is there anyone else up there we can talk to?")

A Little Niche Called Halki

Thursday, July 4, 2013—Emborios, Halki, Greece
Left Nisyros. The boat stopped at Tilos. The island was drier than I expected; it looked liked a differently-shaped Leros. I hate leaving an island unexplored (I'd probably stop at all of them if I had the time and the money). But as I've said, the main reason I would be going there would be for the hiking—and the mountains there looked very challenging. Given that the current state of my ankle makes stairs a challenge the gnarly ridgelines I saw from the boat are out of the question.

Now I'm in Halki, a little rock of an island off the west coast of Rhodes. What can I say about this place? Not much so far. All I've done is find a place to stay (more on that later), wander around the port, and find a place to eat dinner, which I'm doing now (in an Italian restaurant, for a change). 

OK, what I do know. This island is small, a big rock with a village. Emborios, the village, is picturesque to the point of being ridiculous.: it's like they created a postcard of it first and then built the town to match it. A crescent of brown, scrubby, desperately dry hills. A little port town clinging to their base. Boats of all sizes in the water, bobbing gently thru the perfect summer air, in the blue-green water, so striking against the brown hills that surround it … Rhodes, massive Rhodes looming in the distance …

Halki is a hip day-trip from Rhodes, but once the transport boats have gone home it's just a relative handful of travelers and the locals (fishermen and the people who work in the restaurants, guest-houses, etc.) Tomorrow I'm going to explore the island on foot (ankle willing)—there' really no other way to get from point A to point B on this little place …

I'd heard that getting accommodation here can be a bit difficult this time of year: there aren't that many places to stay and they tend to be booked in advance. Like I do everywhere, though, I just came in cold. Still I managed to quickly get a place, which has turned out to be a good deal (considering what I' getting for my money). I was wandering up the hill from the port with my pack on, looking slightly bewildered (which I've discovered is a great way to attract the pension owners) when a young Greek-Swedish guy (yes, such creatures exist) came up to me and offered me a room in his family guest-house. The deal I got is more evidence that tourism is really down here. Basically I'm renting a really nice two bedroom house(!) for only thirty five euros a night. Normally I'd guess they could get between seventy and a hundred for this place in good times. I'm spending more than I like to for a place, but like I've said, I'm getting more than my money's worth. Plus, with the kitchen its got I can eat in a bunch and make up a lot of the money there. So all in all things have worked out really cool in this regard …

Don't know how long I'm going to be here. Tomorrow will determine that—if I still believe there's more to see after that I'll hang around another day. The length of my time here also depends on the ferry schedule and my next destination, which is either back to Rhodes or down to Karpathos. Fate and the ferries might have more of a say in this than I do …

Emborios, the port at Halki

Emborios - View from my balcony

Research materials

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Nisyros - Simply Wonderful

Wednesday, July 3, 2012—Mandraki, Nisyros, Greece
Took the boat over from Kos to Nisyros two mornings ago. It was a good move: I had pretty much had my fill of Kos. Nisyros has turned out to be quite a nice stop. I came here, like most people do, to check out the semi-active volcano at the island's heart (which I did—it was interesting, if not mind blowing), but I'm glad I've stuck around. It's a truly beautiful place. Due to the the rich volcanic soils the island's very rich—its inland areas are teaming with plant life, both of the wild and the domestic variety; it's even more lush than Kos. It's also got a great climate. Due to it's small size (it's probably only around a quarter of the size of Kos) even inland you catch the coastal breezes, which are pretty strong, to the point where my first night here, when I was eating at a little restaurant right on the water, I felt the need to throw on a pullover because things were getting a bit chilly. It's also a very rugged island. I went hiking yesterday and found myself in an absolutely beautiful gorge, which, despite its rugged nature, was also one of the most fertile places I've been to in Greece. The hills there were lined with very productive terraces and on the way there I passed all sorts of different types of crops growing (plus of course many goats and sheep).

The town I'm staying in is the island's capitol, Mandraki. It's one of the cooler little towns I've run into in Greece. It clings to a very narrow, mostly rocky, coastal strip and climbs a fair way into the mountains. In regards to its layout it's your typical windy Greece village, but there's just something really nice about the place—it gives off a wonderful vibe. It's got its tourist shops, but not that many of them and the restaurants attract as many locals it seems as they do travelers. It's especially nice here in the evenings. Each morning/afternoon day-trip tourist boats come in from Kos so people can see the volcano. Once that's done they hang out in town for a few hours before they go back. For these hours Mandraki becomes a bit of a zoo, crowded with all the tourists who don't have the imagination to come here on their own, minus a tour company. When these uninteresting people bail out in the afternoon, though, the town becomes the laid-back, good vibe place I've been describing. I like it so much that I've been considering staying another day. But other destinations beckon. Besides, it's better to stay somewhere too short of a time than be there one day too long …

Nisyros Notes:
This island has THE best regional archaeological museum I've ever run into. Fantastic displays, well explained—I walked out of there (after two hours, even though it's not that big) really feeling that I had a pretty good handle on the prehistory/ancient history of the island (and to some extent the region). I'm thinking of going back again today while I'm waiting for the afternoon boat …Also, above the town, there are remains of the ancient wall surrounding ancient Nisyros, which goes back to classical times. It's reputed to be the best preserved city wall from that time in all the islands. Cool stuff …

Yesterday, for the first time on this trip, I had to abort a hike about halfway thru because my left ankle was hurting too much for me to continue. I have had problems with the ankle for years, but yesterday was one of the worst flareups ever. This concerns me because my next stop is supposed to be the island of Tilos, which I'm going to mainly because the hiking is supposed to be great. There. Hardly seems any point in heading that way if I can't hike, though …

Later in the day on Nisyros …
Bought a ticket for Halki. No point in going to Tilos if I can't hike. There's supposedly not much to do on Halki except relax—the island's so small there's little temptation for me to do much hiking. I'm a little bummed out at missing Tilos. But I wasn't planning on going to Halki and I've since decided that I'd like to see it. So I suppose everything in the end equals out …

Noticed that I'm going back and forth between islands/parts of islands that are crowded and those that are more tranquil and less visited. I guess this is healthy, that I need both experiences, in reasonable doses …

Trying to put my thoughts together as to why I like Nisyros so much, but the specifics are just not coming to me. There are just some places whose vibes meld with your vibes to great a special combo. Wish I could stay a bit longer here, but the way the boats run I'd have to wait till Tuesday to get a ride going where I'd like to be—and I can't stay here that long. That would ruin things. It would be like seriously over eating a dish you love. The old clichĂ© about leaving the table a little hungry is probably a good metaphor here …

Hard to believe that a laid-back place like Nisyros can exist just a short boat ride from the tourist craziness of Kos …

Kos is easily visible from the south coast of Nisyros, as is the coast of Turkey. There are also some small, uninhabited islands just off the coast here. Two feature massive mining operations. One is for obsidian and I forget what they're after on the other island. From here it looks like these islands are being dismantled piece by piece. It must be weird to live here and watch an island be carted a away. I wonder if it's noticeable or if it's such a slow process you loose track of what things used to be like without the aid of photographs. Mining of course goes on over the world. But when an island vanishes thru it it brings home how destructive the process is, the price we pay to live or burn-it-all-up-now lifestyle; it becomes so obvious how little respect we have for the land—we use it, we do not live with it. Shit, don't want to preach here. But this scene really bugs me. I wonder what I'll see in regards to these two islands if I come back ten or twenty years down the road …

Volcano Caldera

Here come the day trippers!

Volcano Rob

Mandraki Paths

Mandraki meets the sea

I just found this incredibly beautiful ...