A Walk in the Dark

It is early October, and we’re still sailing.  In the last several weeks, we’ve moved back and forth between Turkey and Greece. For the last three days, we’ve been on the island of Nisyros.

Nisyros is in the Aegean, just south of Kos, and not too far from the Turkish coast.

Nisyros was somewhat of a surprise destination.  We were supposed to go to Kos, and we had set sail for there.  But we made good time.  Sima kept Alexander company while Paul read some more about Kos and the surrounding islands.  Kos didn’t sound that appealing, being crowded and touristy.  But a little bit further down the road was Nisyros.  Paul read that Nisyros is a dormant volcano with a supposedly picturesque crater at its center.  “Where are we going,” asked Sima, peering out to see that we were bypassing Kos.  “Nisyros,” said Paul.  “Isn’t that the volcano?” asked Sima.  “Yup,” replied Paul.  “Yippeee!” cried Sima.

We Med-moored to a wall along the boardwalk in Pali, a small village on the island’s north coast. Soon after we were tied up, we walked down the waterfront to a car and moped rental shop called the “Eagle’s Nest.” Mike, the proprietor, has a good reputation.  He had lived in NYC for thirty years, before returning home to Nisyros several years ago. He spoke flawless English (well, as much as New Yorker can do so).

We talked to Mike about renting a car. The island was not terribly big, but there were four separate villages, a ton of monasteries, and some not so small mountains in between (topping out at 2,200 feet).   Mike was congenial and informative.  He spent a half hour with us and a map of the island, telling us what we should see.  We left, and told him that we’d probably come back for a car the next morning.

The next morning, however, we still hadn’t made up our minds about the car.  Paul wanted to hike.  Sima was somewhat less inclined to do so.  We didn’t really know the trails.  It would most likely be very hot. We would have to carry Alexander the whole way, in addition to our water and supplies.  On the other hand, we have loved the hikes that we’ve gone on, and tend to be able to see so much more along back roads and trails than we see flying about in a car.  And Alexander tends to like them.  OK, we finally decided.  We’ll hike.

We went back and saw Mike on the way out of town, and gave him a small tip, plus two banana muffins that Sima had baked.  He laughed and graciously accepted, and then gave us some more guidance about the island.

So, at about 10:30, off we went.

Mike had sent us out of town along a short cut, some stairs that led straight up a steep incline, and avoided the snaky main road.  We started climbing, and within minutes were both sucking wind.  Uh oh, Paul said to Sima.  What have we gotten ourselves into?

We got to the main road, and then walked about two kilometers to where, supposedly, there was a path that branched off the main road and lead up to a monastery.  We stopped at a gas station to ask for directions.  The woman at the counter stepped outside, and pointed us towards the next coastal town, but said that the monastery was “very, very far.”  No, we protested, we’re not going along the road.  There is supposed to be a path somewhere right around here, we said, gesturing with our hands.  Another fellow from the garage joined in, apparently understanding that we wanted the path, not the road.  “No, no, no!” said the woman. “They have a baby!  They can’t take that path!”  We’ll be just fine, we said. Where is it?  She walked to the road side, and pointed to a gap in a fence 100 yards down the road. “It’s there, “she said.  “But the baby! You shouldn’t go!”

So off we went!

The path was fine. It was steep and twisty, and led over and through a series of terraces up the hillside.  We sometimes lost its thread, and would find our own way up through the terraces. After about two hours of it, and having climbed over a couple of fences and walked along the border of a farm, we happened upon the monastery, about where we thought it should be according to the map.   We took the camera out of the backpack, and began a day of picture taking.

Nisyros from sea. We anchored in the town seen as white buildings on the lower right.

Paul and Alexander at rest on the roof of Evagelistra Monestary. The building fronted a small plaza, in the middle of which was a fresh water well.

Alexander was intrigued by the bell.

The scenery on the climb was wonderful. Here, you can see the island of Kos furthest left, and the Turkish coast in the distance. The island direct center, with the bleached white exposure, is Gyali, and is being mined for pumice. In the foreground, note all of the terraces on Nisyros. They were all over the island, and represented an enormous amount of work. The terraces are old, and probably ancient, and were no doubt built over many generations. But when were they built? What crops were grown? When were they abandoned? And why? We asked some of the locals, and found no reliable answers. We know that they were probably abandoned no more than a generation or so ago. We have read that it takes only 20-60 years after abandonment for the terraces to become overgrown with scrub and brush. Certainly, that hasn't yet happened here.

Sima and Alexander take a feeding break higher in the mountains, at another monastery, this one called Dlavatla. We've seen it written that some of these ruins are "neolithic", but the arches on these buildings are a giveaway that they are post-Roman. But maybe some parts are older.

There were villages and dwellings along the way. The arch above this house seems to say "NI 193," but maybe we're misreading the Greek. And maybe there is one more number after the "3?"

We didn't see anyone anywhere in this part of the mountains, and yet the church was in remarkably good condition and, obviously, still used.

A simple altar.

The houses look ancient, but from their condition one suspects that they were lived in only a generation or so ago.

Four and a half hours of hiking brought us to the center of the island and its volcanic crater. With the spewing gases, pungent smell of sulfur, and pools of boiling water, you wouldn't think that the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years. To provide a sense of scale, you could probably fit three or four professional sports stadiums in the crater.

Before the islanders went to work on building terraces, the landscape would have looked like what you see in the distance. Just imagine what they would have looked like in use, green with leafy vegetables or flush with olive trees.

Leaving the volcano, we started up one of the main roads, which ran behind the volcano around to the south side of the island. We had, at this point, six or so hours into the day, hiked up a mountain and down its back side. Our legs were starting to feel it. Now we are going back up again, this time headed to the village of Nikia.

Gaining elevation from the volcano.

From the paved road, we were trying to find a path up the mountain. Found it! Looking like something out of a fairy tale, it snaked up the hillside toward Nikia, a small village that we wanted to visit. But we couldn't figure out how it could possibly reach all the way up to the village, perched precariously high and seemingly separated from us by a couple of shear cliffs.

Looking down a well near the side of the path.

The road became even more magical as we hiked. It was a stone path! Oh the work it must have taken to build it!

Up we climbed through the terraces, gaining height once again.

We came to one corner, at the top of an incline, and wondered what would lay around the bend. We knew we had to get across the ledges, but wondered how the road was going to do it. Sima moves forward to see.

Ahh, this is how it goes! They built the road out from the side of the ledge! It was such a beautiful climb.

Wild goats were everywhere. We were warned not to hike on Wednesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays, "because those are hunting days." The two fellows are actually about a mile away from the ledge from which we took this picture.

Many of the houses had these circular structures on their roofs or in their yards, which were used for threshing grain.

All the dwellings and farms were abandoned. It must have been even more beautiful when the farms were working.

Yay -- we finally reached Nikia! It was beautiful.

The village playground.

Paul and Alexander go for a walk in the town square.

Alexander makes friends everywhere. Here, a new friend from Nikia.

A view of the volcano's crater from Nikia. In the foreground, the road on which we hiked before turning on to the path up into the hills.. Can you see the precipitous drop down to the crater, and how we wondered how we'd be able to climb to the town, which seemed to be straight up above us?

On one of the few flat places in town, the villagers built their basketball court.

This black cat has found a nice place in the fading sunlight to get some warmth. The sun WAS fading, and, after seven hours of hiking, we found ourselves seven miles from the boat through the hills. Should we hike back, or call a taxi? Paul was sure that Sima would vote for the latter, but she wanted to walk!

So off we set on the road back to Pali. Here, Sima works to keep Alexander entertained, who is being carried, forward facing, by Paul.

Looking back at Nikia, a blaze of white in the fading sun.

Due south, the island of Tilos.

We had seen dozens of these road side monuments on Leros, and we saw a handful of them on Nisyros too when we took to the roads. What are they? Each marks a traffic fatality. When you saw the helmetless young kids cutting the corners on the steep mountain in their speedy motorbikes, it was easy to understand why there are so many.

What would a Greek island be without a church or two set on the mountain tops? Here, Agios Theologos. Just try to pronounce that name without sounding Greek!

Sima pushes on.

The sun sets behind one of the island's peaks. (And Paul said, after he snapped the photo, "Darn those electric cables!")

No more daylight! But we have a flashlight, a half moon, and a good wide road. On we go.

Alexander asleep on Sima's feet.

Done! Just the last kilometer down hill to our berth at Pali!


4 responses to “A Walk in the Dark

  1. Hi, I’m Vicki Robertson’s cousin, the one who lives in Luxembourg and is married to a Greek. She’s sent me your website. Wow, what a trip. Interesting to see the photos, and to know that this island is relatively close to our island, Patmos. My son did his military service in the Greek army on the island of Tilos, so was amused to see it in our photos. Congratulations on your exploits and the strength to do all the hiking. Bravo. Happy cruising.


    • Wonderful to hear from you, Marijane. We’ve loved our time in Greece, and will continue sailing in the Greek islands next spring and summer. Will you be in Patmos then?


  2. Hi Guys! After watching the Superbowl this weekend and the NY Giants win. I was thinking of my friends from Boston and Istanbul. This time of year, it’s cold, windy and wet and I wish I had some of your banana muffins. It was so nice meeting you all and I was excited to read about your experience in Nisyros even though I knew all about it firsthand. It looks like Alexander had the best time in Nikia with that old lady, her name is Theodora. Have a great winter and we hope to see you again soon. Mike from Eagle’s Nest in Nisyros.


    • Mike!!! Wonderful to get your note, although we weren’t so very happy about the Giants! Thanks for taking such great care of us, and we look forward to our next encounter. Much warmth and affection from the four of us, now, Paul, Sima, Alexander, and Aylin.


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