A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Elias’s Journal Today:

Need I say more?  I’m not sure if the excitement stems from the desire to see his grandmothers or from the desire to see how much “loot” he’s going to get!  They each are bringing a suitcase full of goodies for the kids!  No doubt we will all be spoiled the next few weeks!

No Football

I love this picture of the kids.  It captured a moment of fun that they were sharing together.  It was unplanned and genuine.  When I see them “like” each other and “have fun” together, I add a check to the positive outcomes column of this trip.  I love that they are creating sibling bonds that hopefully will never be broken.

I wanted to take a photo of them and they requested a jumping photo.  Right before the picture Rea said, “Hold on!”  They went into a huddle and decided to jump as “high as they could” when I said go.  They jumped a millimeter.  Then they re-huddled and I got a  “serious shot,” followed by a “cool shot,” and finally, I got the “jumping shot.”  You can see by the look on their faces how much fun they were having.  It was a perfect afternoon.

“Highest Jump Ever”

Serious Shot

Cool Shot

Jumping Shot–Love Zach’s tongue!

We were in the village of Monokambi–the village my paternal grandfather was from.  It’s higher up in the mountains, and it is an absolutely beautiful village.  We have only been there one other time this trip, and that was  September for a wonderful panagiri.  The village is a maze of paths that zigzag up and down the mountainside and lead to views of terraced gardens, beautiful churches, and views of the sea.   The kids had explored these paths when we were there the first time.  They discovered a school and a small cliff side church, and they met a woman who welcomed them into her kitchen and gave them cookies.  This afternoon we decided to drive 25 minutes up the mountain so they could share with me their discoveries.

I had an alternative plan as well.  I knew that a few of my father’s first cousins still live in Monokambi, and I needed to visit them.  Actually, I don’t know that I would have encouraged our trip today if I hadn’t been reminded recently that I should go.  My cousin, Petros, from Karavostamo owns a bakery.  He makes deliveries to a few of the upper villages and just this week he saw one of my father’s cousins, Vasili.  He was asked to pass on a message that I should visit, and so I considered.  Prior to this I was hesitant to drive up the mountain and look for relatives.  I had met Vasili in 1999 when I made my first trip to the island, and with my father, we visited him for an hour or two one afternoon.  I don’t know him well, and I was hesitant to visit now because of the language barrier.  Much to my dismay, I have been here for three months now, and my speaking abilities have not improved.  I didn’t feel comfortable knocking on the door of someone I barely knew, with whom I wouldn’t be able to successfully communicate.  At the same time, I felt a nag of guilt that I hadn’t made an effort to reach out to the other side of my father’s family, as I had with the relatives and cousins in Karavostamo.  I don’t know why I was so scared, because I have yet to meet anyone on the island who hasn’t opened their arms and welcomed us into their lives.

Cousins Vasili and Popi Calaboyias, Monokambi, Greece

Popi and Vasili were no exception.  They hugged us and kissed us and sat us down at their kitchen table.  Despite the fact that Popi was preparing to take the ferry to Athens at 10 pm that evening, she served us the traditional Greek sweets reserved for guests and shared with us a bit about her family.  Vasili was warm and genuine and took the kids out to see his chickens and turkeys.  The kids found both the resemblance of some of his features to my father and his warmth welcoming.  We didn’t stay long because Popi had things to do, but we vowed to return and spend more time getting to know them.  We left with a bag of fruit from their trees and fresh-cut flowers for our table.

Our day started out with church, a lunch of homemade chicken noodle soup, and a bit of school work.  We followed it up with a wonderful few hours in Monokambi and a DVD to end the day.  It was turning out to be a perfect Sunday, despite the fact that we weren’t watching football.  But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.  Ten minutes remained in the movie and two of the kids started to play around and wrestle.  The third one wasn’t interested and didn’t like the disruption.  This resulted in a fight, which ended with me raising me voice loud enough to raise the roof!  (Sometimes I am very glad that most of our neighbors live in Athens and aren’t here year round. )  The movie was turned off and the kids were sent to bed.  Elias said, “What a horrible ending to a perfect Sunday.”  I thought back to the photos I had just dropped onto the computer and figured it was time for a blog.  We may live 5000 miles from home, but that doesn’t matter.  Siblings are siblings and although life on an island is bringing my kids closer together,  unfortunately it doesn’t keep them from fighting.  Some things are the same no matter where you live!


Chris at the top of the ridge.

If you’ve been reading the blog, you saw that the last entry, View From the Top, was posted by my husband.  We received numerous comments about his post, giving him kudos for being so adventurous and hiking so high up into the mountains.  It is something that you don’t find many locals doing, unless of course, they have or had to do so.  I just wanted to write to you all know, that we (the kids and I) made it to the top with him this past Saturday.

The kids at the top of the ridge, a week later.

So many of you know Chris, and know him well.  For those of you who don’t, Chris is someone who sets lofty goals for himself, and for his family!  Last weekend he took us on a hike called The Round of Raches on Foot.  Raches is an area on the island that is in the mountains and is absolutely beautiful.  I mentioned the remoteness of the village of Raches in the post Olive Oil, and I shared how the villagers of Raches were fairly protected from the German/Italian occupation of the island during WWII because of its geographic location.  This “short” 18km hike (6 mile) is part of a larger trail system that covers the western part of the island.  Elias and Chris were unable to go on an overnight backpacking trip this visit, so Chris thought it would be great if, as a family, we hiked “Round Raches” the first weekend he was here.  The hike took us down into river beds, up high in the hills, past small churches and century old stone buildings, through villages, to an abandoned watermill and back to the small reservoir we had visited before school began.  We spent six hours on the trail that day, with a stop in the town of Christos Raches for a lunch of toasts and Fanta sodas.  The hike wasn’t too strenuous, but it was a bit ambitious.  I can pretty much assure you that if it weren’t for Chris to motivate us, it is something that I wouldn’t have done with the kids alone.

I suppose since the kids were such good sports hiking “Round Raches,” Chris thought it would be a great idea to hike them to the ridge of the mountain to see the view from above.   He cut us a break and allowed us to drive part way up the mountain to the town of Arethousa, which is situated above Karavostamo.   From there, we set off, again, following the “red dot” trail markers along the ground.  It took us the better part of two hours of hiking to reach the top.  We stopped twice–for a small snack and a chance to rest our legs.  I found a nice flat rock and laid down, soaking up the warmth of the sun and drifted away into my own little piece of paradise.  The kids had fun throwing rocks and having stick sword fights, and I believe Chris paced around, anxious to continue walking.  Chris did a fantastic job of describing the view, but he said our view was different.  When he reached the top, it was earlier in the morning and he was higher than the clouds, which were still low in the vallies below.   Our view consisted of nothing but clear blue skies, glorious landscapes, and the sea.  We could clearly see the neighboring islands of Samos, Fourni, and the country of Turkey.   We stayed at the top for over an hour, eating lunch and just enjoying.  Eventually we made or descent by the way of a road, instead of the trail.  Because of a wrong turn and the way that the road followed the ridges of the mountains, we didn’t get down any quicker than we went up.  It was another six-hour hiking day.

Chris leaves again on Thursday, and we’ll have to get use to the idea of being apart again.  When he is here he does so much more than take us on crazy hikes. He plays with the kids and makes their lunches.  He helps me cook and clean, and does odd jobs around the house for my father and my cousin.  He talks with us and makes us laugh.  And he makes us do things we would never have done otherwise.  His goals are lofty, and often times I think they are too ambitious, but he helps us reach them.  We saw more of the island in the past three weeks than most people who live here ever see.  That being said, I know what the kids and I will do this coming weekend, once he’s returned to America.  Nothing.

View From The Top– by Chris Fox

As a guest blogger on my wife’s blog, I want to show a different side of Ikaria.  Followers of the blog certainly can see how life in the seaside village of Karavostamo can be intoxicating.  Brilliant sunshine, sounds of the ocean lapping against the pebbled beaches, and friendly villagers (half of whom are related to my wife in one way or another) make just sitting by the water an easy choice.

But I am not one to sit around much.  From my first visit to Ikaria 13 years ago the mountainous ridge–which separates the north of the island, where Karavostamo is, and the south–has been calling to me.  With an old pair of trail running shoes I brought along, I was set to tackle this challenge.

Ikaria (as with all the Aegean islands) was, millions of years ago, once part of current mainland Greece.  As sea levels gradually rose over the years, only the peaks of the mountains and the higher elevations of the now mainland Greece remained.  Ikaria is the rugged top of one such mountain.  From sea level to the highest point (3438 ft) may not seem like that much of a mountain, but it has all the beauty with steep cliffs, rocky crags, and views down to the sea on either side.  This all proves a stark contrast to the crystal blue ocean waters which make the Greek islands famous.

I set my mind,  after my last visit to the island, to run right up to the top. But Ikaria has a funny way of slowing things down.  You learn to go with the flow a bit here.  As my wife is finding, and as Ikarians accept, things just don’t happen right away, like in America.  If you want gas, okay, but you might not get it today.  Or if you need your cable or TV fixed, the repairman (a local villager) may come somewhere between later in the afternoon or next week, or even maybe not at all until you call him again to remind him.  It is just part of the relaxed flow that seems natural here.

So I wasn’t too surprised that after consulting with a few Greeks, it still took several tries to find the path to the top of Ikaria from the village.  This path took me from Karavostamo up to the beautiful mountain village of Arethousa, and then up rough dirt roads used more by goats than any car or human.  The switch backs seemed never-ending and the ridge never seemed to get closer until finally I was at the top. The view is breath taking.  From the ridge you can look down the steep cliff sides of the south ridge and down the more gradual north slopes and see the Aegean Sea on both sides.

The run/hike to this point took almost two hours but was well worth the sweat and goat negotiations it took to get there.  From this point I followed a “trail” along the ridge heading east.  I’ve run and hiked some sketchy trails in my time, but this might be the winner of them all.  Kilometer after kilometer of rock and more rock.  And goats.  Lots of goats as well.  My goal was a castle marked on a map I bought of the island.  This castle is only accessible by the trail.  After nearly 4 hours from when I left my sleeping wife and kids, I came to the “castle.”  Now slightly dehydrated and hungry the castle was a bit of a let down.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am in awe of the Greeks who were rugged enough to live in this rough environment, as well as to be able to lay rock to build structures on hillsides that’s hard just to walk on.  However, I was dreaming a bit more of an old English type castle with high spirals and towers and hardy mugs of frothy ale, a pig roasting on a spit, and maybe the king’s court and a few fair maidens to rub my sore feet; but, as the picture shows, there was none of this.

The Greeks were clearly a little generous with the term “castle.”  None the less, I drank the last sips of the water I carried with me and finished my trip by heading down to the main road, where I met up with my wife who had been driving a friend to the airport, near the capital city of Agios Kirikos.

Two days later, I spoke with two older Ikarians who were raised in Karavostamo.  I was humbled when they told me that in the old days they went to high school in Agios Kirikos,–the other side of the island.  They would go to high school for a week to several weeks at a time, and since, at that time, there were no roads, they would often “walk” to school up and over the same mountainous rocky ridge that I had just struggled upand down.  Their only other option was to be taken in a row boat around the far eastern tip of the island, which could be just as rugged if the seas were rough!  I don’t think that it snows much here, but these two tough old Greeks probably would have (and could have) hiked through two feet of snow, even backwards, to get there!

I left from point A, and ended up at point B, but NOT by way of the blue line. I traveled up the mountain to the rocky ridge which you can see from this areal view. I followed the ridge east and descended on the south side to the road below. Directly south of point B is the capital city of Agios Kirikos.

Not in America

I went for a nice long walk the other morning, and when I was on the road above the village I decided to stop and buy some noodles and tomato sauce for dinner. I went to pay with the 20 euro bill I had in my pocket. The woman didn’t have change. She told me to take my food, and I could pay another day. The best part is that I continued on my walk and bought bread at the bakery. Since I now had change I decided to walk back up to the store to pay my debt. When I got there the woman basically reprimanded me for coming back too soon to pay. She asked me why I was there and that I could have just paid another day.

I stopped by the pharmacy in the next town over to pick up medicine for a cousin. Not only did they give me my cousins prescription, they gave me someone else’s that I don’t know. They told me to drop it off at the taverna in the platia. I guess there aren’t any privacy laws here.

Yesterday shortly after we sent the kids off to school I heard a lot of children. I went to the balcony and saw the entire school walking past the house with their lunch bags in hand. All the kids were smiling and waving as they marched by. Apparently the kids stated chanting “EKDROMIE! EKDROMIE! EKDROMIE!! “ They wrote it on the chalk boards and passed a paper around with ekdromie printed at the top for all of the kids to initial. By 9:15 the three teachers told the kids to get their lunch bags and they’d go to the church. I guess in Ikaria when the kids have had enough of school they can declare when they get a field trip!