Greek Islands Part I

Trip Start Mar 15, 2006
Trip End May 16, 2006

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Saturday, April 8, 2006

April 4 - 5, 2006 (Amorgos Island)

Amorgos is a rugged little thing in the East Cyclades group of islands. It doesn't draw much of a crowd, but that is starting to change as its reputation for being a good place for trekking grows. I caught a midnight ferry out of Pireaus (main port in Greece) and arrived 13 hours later in the town of Katapola. I was the only tourist. Got myself a nice room not 30 feet from the water for 25 Euros (80 Euros in high season). My bargaining prowess is finally coming back to me.

The next morning I decided to take the local bus to the other end of island and then hike back along the spine of the mountains that run down the middle of Amorgos. My guidebook says to purchase a trail map, but since most stores are closed during the off-season I set out without one. You can guess where this is going. The trek is supposed to take four hours. The first two were completely enjoyable - I had my iPod, my sun hat, a bottle water and some bread (both given to me free by people I chatted with before my hike). The wind picked up after that, and I had to hold on to my hat to prevent it from blowing away. Because the path is mostly loose rock, I started slipping and it occurred to me that this would not be a good place to sprain or break anything, as it was likely that nobody would find me (for Greeks, the idea of hiking around mountains for fun is crazy). I then came up on a large hill and after climbing halfway up the trail disappeared. The wind kept blowing harder and harder. There is a name, actually, for the powerful northern winds that regularly sweep across Greek waters - Meltemi. Sounds mildly romantic, but it can wreak havoc for boats, sunbathers and on this day a really hapless hiker. I'm a little freaked out at this point because I'm standing halfway up a mountain with no visible path in one direction and a rather steep descent down in the other - either way I can barely walk because the wind is so strong. I opt for latter and head for the only paved road on the island in hopes of flagging down a car. After 40 minutes or so I reached the main road. My legs were tired, my arms were sore from having been plastered to my head for an hour, my hair was a ratty, tangled mess, but at least I was back in civilization. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any cars. Thirty looooong minutes later I manage to flag one down and hitched a ride back to town.

My encounter with Meltemi aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Amorgos. Since there weren't any other tourists I was able to soak up local island culture. Over breakfast I had a nice conversation with Mohammud, the owner of the hotel I stayed at. He's an Egyptian who settled on Amorgos 15 years earlier after a long career as a seaman for international cargo ships. He's been all over Europe, Asia and the Americas. When I said I wanted to go to Egypt someday he insisted on giving me his phone number so that he could meet me there and show me around. It's one of those things that happen when you travel solo. The day before while I was waiting for my ferry out of Pireaus I chatted with a guy whose catamaran was docked for a few hours. I never figured out if he was the captain or a crew member, but he kept saying "my ship" so I imagine he had some kind of ownership. In any case, he tried to persuade me to go with him (heading for Paros Island) and when I declined he gave me his number so that the next time I was in Greece he could give me a free ride on his catamaran.

April 6 - 8 (Naxos Island)

Back in tourist land. The weather hasn't been very good, so I've been mainly doing the beach-front cafe thing and reading my book. It's a bit incongruous to be reading "The Death of Yugoslavia" on a beautiful Greek island. Excellent book, by the way, if you are interested in the history of the war.

Next stop: Santorini
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