A Walk in the Dark — Nisyros

Sima enjoys lunch on the roof of the monastery. There was no one around for miles.

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

Nisyros is in the Aegean, just south of Kos, and within view of the Turkish coast.

It was somewhat of a surprise destination.  We had set sail from Knidos, on mainland Turkey, with plans to go to Kos.  We were making very good time, and while Sima kept Alexander company down below, Paul sailed the boat and 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, like many of the “Greek” islands that hug the Turkish mainland, had a rich and interesting history that included it being passed back and forth between the Greeks and the Ottomans.  The Crusaders and the Italians had also been present, the latter having controlled the island until 1948, when, after the end of WWII, it was given to the Greeks.

Nisyros was also reported to be home to a sleeping, but not dormant, and sometimes bubbly, volcano, with a supposedly picturesque caldera at the center of a massive collapsed dome.

“Where are we going,” asked Sima, coming up from below to see that we had not entered the harbor at Kos.  “I thought to try Nisyros,” said Paul.  “Isn’t that the volcano?” asked Sima.  “Yup,” replied Paul.  “Yippeee!” cried Sima.

Nisyros from sea. We anchored in the town visible as the stretch of white buildings on the lower right.

You can see that the top of the island was blown away by one of the historical eruptions, giving rise to the large crater that makes up the center.  The lump to the right, in the midst of the crater is, probably, a lava dome.

We Med-moored against 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, had a good reputation, according to our guide book.  He was born in Nisyros, had lived in New York City for thirty years, and then returned home to the island several years ago. He spoke flawless English (well, as much as a 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 number of monasteries, and some not-so-small hills in between (topping out at 2,200 feet).   Mike was congenial and informative.  He spent a half hour with us and gave us a map of the island, suggesting to us what we should see.  We left, and told him that we’d probably come back for a car the next morning.

By the next morning, however, we were thinking about trying to hike the island.  Paul leaned yes, and Sima no.  Her arguments were strong and rational — we didn’t really know the trails; it was going to be very hot; we would have to carry Alexander, water, food, and other supplies; and we would not be able to see nearly as much as we would if we drove.  Paul conceded that she was right on all fronts, but pointed out that 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 moving quickly about in a car.  And Alexander tends to like hikes.  We tossed it back and forth, and finally decided to hike.

We went back and saw Mike on the way out of town, and told him that we would not need the car after all.  He was incredibly gracious and continued to offer us guidance about how to get around.  (If you find yourself here, we strongly recommend Mike and his partner, Marilyn.  (Tel No. +30 2242031364; Mob:  +30 693 2732906  or +30 6974931055; http://www.eaglesnestnisyros.com.))  We gave Mike a small tip, plus two banana muffins that Sima had baked.  He laughed and graciously accepted.

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

The paper map we’d been given was rudimentary, to be used for driving on the main roads.  Our plan was to hike due west along the main road toward Mandraki, find the trail up to the monastery at Evaggelistria, cut across the middle of island to the volcanic caldera at Stavros, climb from there up to the town of Nikia, and then walk back home along the main road past Emporios.  It wasn’t clear from our map how these parts would all fit together, but we were told that they would.

Mike suggested we short-circuit the snaking drive that led away from Pali to the main road high overhead, and sent us instead to a steep set of stairs that led straight up the hill.  We started climbing, and within minutes were both sucking wind.  Uh oh, we said to each other.  What have we gotten ourselves into?

We got to the main road, and took a right hand turn, heading due west past Loutra toward Mandraki.  Mike had told us to look for a path that branched off the main road and lead up to to Evaggelistria.  We were having trouble finding it.

After doubling back a couple of times, we stopped at a gas station to ask for directions.  We tried to make ourselves understood with hand gestures and references to the map.  The woman behind the counter stepped outside with us, and pointed toward Mandraki.  She indicated that the monastery was “very far” along the main road.

No, we insisted, we’re not looking to go along the road.  There is supposed to be a path right around here, we said, again gesturing with our hands and pointing to the map.

Another fellow came out from the garage and pointed us in the direction of a nearby field.

“No, no, no!” said the woman. “They have a baby!  They can’t take that path! Stay on the road.”

She finally relented, however, and walked us out onto the road itself.  From there, she pointed to a gap in a fence 100 yards away.  “It’s there,” she said, “but hire a taxi!”

We passed through the fence, and found the path. It was steep and twisty, and led over and through a series of terraces up the hillside.  We sometimes lost its thread, and would have to find our own way up through the terraces, trying to orient ourselves with the map.

After about two hours of it, and having climbed over a couple of fences and walking along the border of a farm, we found the monastery, about where we thought it should be.  We took the camera out of the backpack, and began a day of picture taking.

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, from which we drank.
Alexander liked ringing the bell.
The path became easier to follow as we moved to the middle of the island, walking through and atop terraced fields along the rim of the volcano.

The views soon became spectacular.  Here, the island of Kos juts up furthest left, with the Turkish coast in the distance.  Direct center is bleached-white Gyali, which is mined for pumice.

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the contour lines of the terraces that cover the island.  It must have taken a signficant amount of work to construct them.  They appeared to have been built and maintained over many generations, but not to be in current use. We couldn’t find ready information on when were they built, what crops were grown, or when and why they were abandoned.  We did note, however, that the Turkish name for the island is “Incirli,” or “with figs.”

Was it in 1948 when the Italians left that the farming stopped? Or was the pumice on nearby Gyali a better source of income?  We could find no ready answer.

Sima and Alexander take a feeding break at another monastery, this one called Dlavatla, higher in the hills.
We didn’t see anyone anywhere in these parts of the mountains, and yet the church was remarkably well-maintained.
The altar looked like it had been around for a while.

There was a simple altar in the church, which looked like it had been around for a while.

The dwellings are being used for some purpose, as was evidenced by the tools and implements seen here and there.
Four and a half hours of hiking brought us to the center of the island and its volcanic crater.  To provide a sense of scale, you could probably fit three or four professional sports stadiums in the middle.
The spewing gases, pungent smell of sulfur, and pools of boiling water let you know that the volcano is resting, and not sleeping.  It last erupted in 1888.
Gaining elevation from the volcano.
After lingering at the volcano for a bit, we resumed our tour, headed next for Nikia.  We could see it straight up and directly above us, atop a sheer cliff; what we could not visualize, however, was how we would get up there, though the map showed a path.
Sima carried Alexander for a good part of the afternoon, while Paul took pictures!  The hills were beginning to get to our legs, as the day moved into the late afternoon.
We looked and looked for the path up the back side of the cliff toward Nikia, and finally found it! The snaking brick wall marks the route.
Looking down a well.
We came across a deep well on the side of the path. We could not see to the bottom of it, but the flash on the camera illuminated its depths.

The path became even more magical as we wound up the mountain. The entire thing had been paved with stones. Oh, the work it must have taken to do this!

We climbed up through the terraces, gaining height and views of the ocean once again.
As we turned a corner onto what we knew would be the more steeply graded cliff face, we wondered how the path would manage to traverse it.
Ahh, this is how it goes! They built the road out from the side of the ledge!

Wild goats were everywhere. We were warned not to hike on Wednesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays, “because those are hunting days.”

We came upon numerous circular structures such as this. We were told that they were used for threshing grain.
Atop the cliff, we came to the fields outside of Nikia.
And then — finally — into the impossibly narrow streets of Nikia itself!
Paul and Alexander go for a walk in the town’s central plaza. Porto, as the plaza is known, is renowned for the mosaic design on which Paul and Alexander are standing.
Alexander makes friends everywhere.
Alexander makes a new friend, Theodora, inside of the church at Nikia.
A view of the crater from Nikia. In the foreground can be seen the road on which we hiked before turning on to the path up into the hills. You can see the precipitous drop straight down from the town.
On one of the few flat places other than the main square, the villagers built their basketball court.
This black cat has found a nice place of warmth in the fading sunlight.

The sun was, indeed, 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!

Looking back at Nikia, a blaze of white in the fading sun.
Nikia shines white as we walk out of town.
There is a distinct similarity between the Christian churches of the Greek islands and the Muslim mosques of Turkey.
A roadside fatality marker, with the island of Tilos in the background.

We had seen dozens of these monuments on Leros, and we saw a handful more on Nisyros.  Each marks a traffic fatality.  When you saw the helmet-less young kids cutting the corners on the steep mountain passes in their speedy motorbikes, one could understand why these happen.

Sima works to keep Alexander entertained.
Forward-facing Alexander, back in Paul’s arms, was beginning to fuss.  Sima works to entertain him while walking backward.
The light fades behind one of the island's peaks.
The sun sets behind the island’s walls.
We were now hiking in the darkness, but with a quarter moon and a flashlight, we were good to go.
Alexander asleep on Sima's  feet.
Alexander was now fast asleep.
Done, and just the last kilometer down hill to our berth at Pali is left!

We finally finished up in the early evening. The boat is another kilometer down the hill from this sign, at the Pali marina.It was, in the end, a great day.  We were absolutely beat, but we had seen a lot, and the hike was one of the better we had taken during our trip.

4 responses to “A Walk in the Dark — Nisyros

  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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