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View Diary: Have You Been to Greece? (75 comments)

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  •  2007. Athens, Cyclades (3+ / 0-)

    The future wife and I went for a week in July 2007. Athens, island hopping, then back to Athens. We stayed on Serifos and Santorini, spent an afternoon in Mykonos. Absolutely loved the people, food, lifestyle, and could gush on and on about our time there, but being a fun diary, I'll pick out one silly story in particular.

    Serifos is one of the first stops on the Cyclades circuit, direction Santorini, but very few tourists disembark. We chose to spend a couple nights here purely due to convenience: we took the redeye into Athens and went straight to Pireaus to board a ferry. Having travelled nonstop for so long, we decided we'd stay at one of the first islands we reached.

    Serifos is very thinly populated. There's only one main port town, overlooked by the standard 'Hora' capital town. There used to be a big mine on the island, but it's long gone, along with its workers. There are roughly 1000 year-round residents on the whole island, IIRC. Most of the moderately large island is barren and unpopulated. It's also the birthplace of the legendary Perseus. After a relaxing first day spent in the port town, we decided to take a long walking tour of the island the following day.

    The future wife and I started off very early in the morning. It was a scorching July day, we had bathing suits under shorts and t-shirts, and some water. There's a small ring road that wraps the entire island with virtually no traffic, only the occasional car kicking up a long dust trail as its passengers head into or out of town. We went swimming just before noon, stopped in a sleepy hamlet for lunch along the Aegean, and spent the afternoon scrambling across the abandoned stone walls of an old mining ghost town. We gained altitude as the road turned inland, and even hitched a quick ride to top, recognizing that we were running low on time and were quite a distance back to the port town.

    Back on foot, we crested the island-top plateau, and were greeted by an otherworldly view of the large valley below, with our little port down at the far end, and the deep blue sea beyond. The sun was low in the sky, and the light was perfect. After standing there admiring the view in the gentle breeze, we began to make our descent, often venturing through stone enclosures and dug-out rocks that long-gone sheppards used to protect themselves and their herd from wind and inclement weather. cont...

    •  ...cont (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      allenjo, Carol in San Antonio

      I had taken a photo of a map of the island with my digital camera, and it had served us well the whole day. But as we descended into the valley, we realized the road we were on was not our intended route, shown on the digitized map. We plodded on, though, assuming all roads lead down, and ours would be no exception. Wrong assumption, as our road began to narrow and become overgrown. It ended in a fairly sharp drop. The sun had fallen below the top of the peak now, and I convinced myself and girlfriend NOT to turn back and look for the trail on the other side of the valley, but instead keep pressing forward.

      We stayed along the rim of the valley for a while, in the direction of the town. Without a path, it was slow going, as the entire landscape was covered with thick, prickly, knee-high brush. We were both getting scraped up pretty badly, with our legs exposed in our shorts. As we got closer to town, roads appeared in the valley, all leading to town. We decided we'd descend into the valley via a steep cull. This took a while, and the sunlight was virtually gone at the bottom.

      (Cont...sorry, on phone!)

      •  Final (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        allenjo, vernonbc

        The descent was at a 45 degree angle or higher, at times. At the bottom of this cull (or, 'gully'), there was a sudden drop off, into an endless patch of tall, snarled brush, so deep that I could not see to the bottom. My wife slid down into me, I grabbed hold of a branch to stop myself from falling. Perched over this thorny abyss, I looked at the branch, and in the darkness, spotted insects the size of one my fingers crawling all over the branch. Now, up to now, I had been the one staying positive, encouraging my wife, keeping hopes high. But at this moment, I belted out, as loud as I could, "HEELLLPPP!"

        We had one option. Back up. As it happened, were able to wrap around the bottom of the gully and scramble/climb up the other side, again at 45 degrees and higher at times. We made it back up to safe ground, on the slope above the valley. But it was now dark, and the stars and moon were out. We weighed our options. Go all the way back under the guidance of the moonlight to the road on the plateau at the top of the island. Or hunker down. Deciding it wasn't worth risking injury in the darkness and rough terrain, we chose option number two. We found a small depression in a boulder nearby, and tucked ourselves up tight.

        I never felt in danger that night, despite our lack of clothing and water, which was down to about 8 oz. at this point. We had a clear view of the port town and its lit buildings, and could even hear the revellers at the cafes lining the waterfront. That we could see and hear the town provided some psychological comfort. We each slept for perhaps 45 minutes out of the whole night. It was the wind that made it most difficult to fall or stay asleep. My wife was behind me in the depressed rock, eyes closed for the most part, fighting the good fight to catch some ZZZs.

        I spent most of the night watching the flickering lights of the town, and listening to the sounds of friends and family enjoying their mid-summer evening on a remote island in the middle of the sea, a place and people seemingly undisturbed by the passing of time and tourists. As I sat watching this scene, a speck of life on the moonlit hillside, I knew then, as I know now, that I would never experience such raw, visceral connection to a place and its past.

        As soon as the sun broke, we made our way down the hillside. It was a short and relatively easy final leg. By the time we had got back to our accommodation, the hotelier had driven herself sick with worry. Without a word of English, she was perfectly able to communicate her grief-induced anger with us. We showed her our cut legs, pointed at the hillside, and made the universal 'sleep' symbol. She allowed us to stay in the room for the afternoon, well past check out time.

        I often think of that night in Serifos when I read about Greece these days, and it makes me terribly sad. We love Serifos. We had grown attached to the island even before the events of that evening. It is a place detached from the rest of our Western world, where the human experience is free to experiment in ways we cannot comprehend unless we see it ourselves. Its people have simple yet healthy, happy, beautiful lives. It angers me to think this place, the home of the legendary Perseus, may have defied the odds, the ages, and the ferries full of tourists to remain a place unique to the human experience, but may yet succumb to the the tides of brutal modernity that have been befallen the mainland and its proud people.

        •  Sunrise across the valley, the next morning (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          allenjo

           photo image_zps00b7349b.jpg

        •  thanks for continuing the story. (2+ / 0-)
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          vernonbc, Moravan

          Moravan, pretty harrowing!

          What is happening is so very very sad. I think tourism will be up this year, last year was down because of all the elections and ensuring disorder. So all fingers crossed that the greeks have a better year, and a better future ahead!

          "Who are these men who really run this land? And why do they run it with such a thoughtless hand?" David Crosby

          by allenjo on Mon Mar 11, 2013 at 08:40:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Glad you enjoyed it, allenjo! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            allenjo

            Please forgive all my typos, word repetitions, verb tense inconsistency, etc! Typing on iPad while having a conversation over the phone makes for sloppy writing!

            How has the crisis effected the islands' tourist industry? Are they at all insulated against the crisis on the mainland?

            My wife and I would love to return to Serifos one day, but perhaps we'll avoid sleeping in a hollowed-out rock next time! We were only 26 and 28 years old at the time.

    •  View from Hora, overlooking the port (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      allenjo

       photo image_zps69eaaca5.jpg

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