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!