When we arrived last summer my cousin Sofia was here with her son, Antoni, who quickly became Zach’s best buddy. We did a lot of exploring with the two of them and took many trips out of the village to see more of the island with our kids. Sofia and Antoni made multiple appearances on the blog in such posts as Around the Island, Exploring Ikaria, and One Month. Well now they are back in Ikaria. They arrived the week before Easter and will be here throughout our stay. Although the kids are in school, we have managed a few excursions, equally as great as those last summer.
About a month ago, when Chris was still here, we all (including Stella) met up with some new friends we met while walking with the Ikarian Hiking Club (Thomas and Barbara) and headed to the western part of the island, to a region called Pezi. Pezi is a region found on the plateau of the mountain that overlooks the southern side of Ikaria. Its beauty is found in these massive rocks that have been tossed around like tumbleweeds on a ranch by winds that whip across the open space. The rocks are weathered and cracked and found resting on top of each other in ways that look like they were precariously placed there. We only explored the area for a brief amount of time before heading back to Raches, where we walked along a river, searching for cool water creatures and insects. We ended the afternoon’s adventures with a meal together and enjoyed the company of friends.
The day was such a success that last week Thomas and Barbara asked if we wanted to take another hike in the Randi Forest, which is said to have trees over 1000 years old. Impossible to resist the offer of a leisurely hike and their company, I told them we’d love to join them, but that there was a cave that Sophia and I were determined to find. I suggested that we might be able to do both Friday after the kids got home from school. Barbara and Thomas did a little research and found out that there was a cave in the village of Petropouli, which was at the edge of the Randi Forest. We would meet there, ask for more specific directions, explore the cave, hike a bit, and then head back to Karavostamo for souvlaki.
When we arrived in Petropouli Sofia asked for directions to cave. Then it all came flooding back….the multiple times I asked for directions over the year only to receive the location in terms of “house,” “tree,” “wall,” “minutes,” “curve in the road,” and the like. There are very few road markers to offer assistance–no street numbers, no stop lights, and no street names. And with abstract directions such as those, finding your destination usually takes multiple attempts–that is if you are even lucky enough to find it.
We were told to walk down the road to the “old stone house” and to go up the “old stairs” next to the house. From there follow the path like so (imagine a man waving his arm in the air, making the motion of a meandering stream–a little this way, a little that way) until we saw a hole in the ground. So, off we went, to the stone house and up the stairs. We found a “path” that split and it appeared that both ways lead to dead ends. So we turned around, walked further down the road, searching for another stone house with stairs next to it. We didn’t find another house but we did find two older women who we were able to ask for directions. Sadly, their directions were not any more enlightening. We were told to “go up the path, which had just been recently cleared, and walk ‘this way’ (more arm pointing) and look for the big, round, green tree.” The cave entrance is just a small hole in the ground. We would find it near the “big, round, green tree.” Thanking the women, we turned around, headed back to the path we started on and laughed at the completely “clear” directions we were just given. Remember, we were in a town that was on the edge of a forest….everywhere we looked we saw trees!
We attempted to find a the specific tree that guarded the entrance to the cave, but had no luck. We kept walking, splitting up, searching the base of any tree that looked like it could be the “big and round and green” one. We ended up fairly high up the mountain side and on the edge of the Randi forest. We were told by our original source that we would find yellow trail markers and trail signs, just like those that guided along the network of trails we’ve hiked all over the island. Unfortunately all we found was thick underbrush, scrubby trees, and no signs indicating we were walking amongst 1000 year old trees.
With a heavy sigh, we turned around and headed back down towards our car. We felt a bit defeated, having not found either of our destinations, but the sun would be setting soon, and we were all ready for our souvlaki. At the base of the hillside, where the path split into two, we came across a new man feeding his chickens and goats. Sofia said hello and told him we had tried to find the cave but had had no luck. He said, “It’s easy. Come back tomorrow and find it.” Again she said, “Well, we didn’t find it.” Then, with a heavy sigh and more arm pointing he mumbled “It’s right there, up that path.” So, we turned around and headed down the right fork of the path. Behind me Thomas was saying that maybe we should call it a night, and I said, no way…we were this close, we weren’t giving up…and honestly, the kids had really wanted to go exploring a cave (and Sophia and I had really wanted to find it). However, before we knew it, the man was behind us yelling at us…where were we going? That was the wrong path. He marched us up the path to the left and pointed. “There. It’s right there.” We all looked at the mountain side and thought, “What is he talking about?” Frustrated that we didn’t say, “Oh, yes, so easy. Don’t know how we missed it.” He took Sophia’s arm and pointed it towards the cave…”RIGHT THERE!” Then he did the same to Thomas, and then finally to me. I said, “I see a wall.” And that was it…he got excited and said, “Yes, it’s right by the stone wall!” Of course we wondered why none of the people we asked has mentioned this landmark before.
Once we saw the curved wall, we saw the big, round, green tree. It really was big and round, and different then the others. But in our defense, on a mountainside full of trees, it had been like looking for a needle in a haystack. The kids ran down the path and headed for our new target, and before we knew it, we had found a hole in the ground the size of a manhole. With no hesitation at all the kids grabbed their flashlights and jumped in the hole. We all followed and were amazed at what we found. An actual cave, with stalactites and stalagmites and rocks to climb over and around, all in a giant room. We were in awe. And no, we weren’t scared. It was apparently safe to explore, considering three people given us directions and none of them told us to be careful–which is something Ikarians do–tell you to be careful all of the time, even in situations that Americans don’t tend to find to be dangerous at all. And judging by the names etched in the rocks and the tea candles we found inside, it was obvious many had been inside the cave before. The kids were thrilled. Actually we were all thrilled and impressed. We were so glad we didn’t give up at the last minute and that we had found this hidden treasure that the island has to offer. Apparently there are half a dozen or so caves on the island that can be explored, although I imagine they are all just as difficult to find!
We ended the night back in Karavostamo, where we met up with another cousin from California, Mike, who joined us for dinner. We laughed at the directions we were given and talked about some of the other misadventures Sophia and I had met with last summer. Everyone here says it’s “easy” to find things, and I suppose they are, once you’ve been there and can tell the difference been trees and walls and stone houses. But it seems to me that it’s that first trip that is the most difficult.
At the end of the night we said a proper good-bye to Thomas and Barbara, with hopes that our paths will cross again. They are leaving Ikaria this week and plan to return in 6-9 months, after we will have long been in America. One of the best parts of this year has been the people we have met along the way. However, Elias duly noted last month that it is sad how many people have entered our lives this year that we will most likely never see again. Every time someone walks away he says, “There they go. Another one gone.”