When people from the village find out that Chris and I (and the kids) have been to the top of the mountain, their reactions are all similar. They look at me and ask, “To the very top?” The majority of the people here don’t hike, walk or run for fun. They go to work and/or spend time in their gardens and vineyards. When they are done with their responsibilities they spend time with family and friends, relaxing, visiting and having a coffee. Many have said that Chris and I have seen more of the island than they have in the short time that we’ve been here, yet they have lived here their entire lives. Of course we have. We have the time. And that’s why we are here–to see and do as much as we can.
Roula, my cousin from England, is here for a short stay, and she asked if we would take her to the top, and Marina, my other cousin, had also told me that she’d like to hike up the mountain–neither had ever been. Roula grew up on the island and use to walk three hours to the town of Agyios Kyrikos to attend high-school. As you may remember from View From the Top, Chris explained that the only way to the capital town was by way of the trails that traversed the mountains or by boat. Despite the fact that she walked many hours and many miles of paths over the years, she had never climbed to the highest point. So, when Chris returned at the end of February, he gladly told them he’d lead the way. So, on a beautiful sunny morning, we met in the platia–snacks, cameras and extra layers packed in our backpacks–and drove to the trail head in the village of Arethousa, which is settled in the hills above Karavostamo.
As we climbed, Roula told us that her mother, my Pro-Thea Avgetta, had walked the paths we were walking when she was a teenager during WWII. With shoes that were worn thin and paper placed inside the shoes to cover the holes, she and two friends climbed up and over the mountain to reach the village of Xristostomo. Avgetta’s mother was a paid worker in the olive fields. As payment for her hours collecting and gathering olives she received olive oil, which, as you might remember from Olive Oil, was something that wasn’t available in Karavostamo. The three girls left in the morning and hiked all day without food or water to the eliwnes, or olive fields, where their mothers worked. It was Avgetta’s responsibility to take the oil back home to the family. The following morning she returned to Karavostamo, with the help of a man and his donkey. At the end of olive picking season, Avgetta’s mother was owed approximately 10 kilos of oil. A few months later, the oil was ready and needed to be picked up from the town of Christos Raches–at least a seven hour walk along the mountain side to the west of Karavostamo. Avgetta volunteered to make the trek. Again, she walked with no food and water, but this time with an older male cousin. The two reached Raches, collected what was owed to their families, and began the return trek across the rocky terrain, carrying the equivalent of 25 pounds of oil in a glass bottle in a sack on her back. Before they left, a shy and timid Avgetta mustered up enough courage to ask the maid of the family who had been keeping the oil if she could have a glass of water. She had really wanted to ask for a few grapes from the vines that hung above her head, but she was afraid she would be told no. A few hours into the trip home–with about 10 hours of walking in for the day–they had to stop in a town to sleep for the night. They knew no one, but a man gave them permission to sleep on the steps outside of his home. Amazingly, the man’s son came home shortly thereafter, and he and Avgetta’s cousin knew each other! He invited them into their home, offered them a place to sleep, and a meal. Thea claims she has never been able to make a meal as delicious as the one she had that night. The following morning they woke at 5 am, lifted their bottles of oil on their backs, and walked another 5 hours to their homes. She was 14 years.
Climbing 2000 feet, we reached the top of the mountain in about two hours. Walking leisurely, enjoying the spectacular views, we talked and told stories along the way. Marina and Roula were thrilled to reach the top and be able to look down either side of the mountain and view the Aegean . After a short rest and snack to celebrate the accomplishment, Chris said, “OK. Time to go!” The temperature was dropping and a cool front was approaching. There was no doubt that our descent would be a wet one. We chose to follow the road down to Arethrousa instead of the trail, in hopes of being able to walk a bit quicker. About halfway down clouds rolled in, the skies blackened and the rain started. We kept up the pace, managed to keep from getting too wet, and were only slowed down once by a herd of sheep who stopped and stared at us for a few minutes. Figuring we weren’t going to give them food, they soon got bored with the staring game and continued on their way.
As we sat in the car and drove the two miles back to Karavostamo, I thought about our five-mile hike with the our light packs filled with food and water, the extra layers of clothes, and the sturdy shoes we were all wearing. I remembered that Thea Avgetta walked over the same rocky path we did (as well as paths in other directions), in “almost” bare feet and on an empty stomach, while carrying tins or jugs full of oil. She didn’t do it because she had the time or the interest. She did it because she had to in order to survive. I was humbled by the strength, resolve, and fortitude of my relatives from a generation long before.