I don’t expect this long article to become too popular. It’s just that several modern-day Ikarians show a lot of interest in knowing as much as they can about the more recent history of the island and they are usually very disappointed. Compared with other islands of the Aegean Sea, there is so little to say about Ikaria! No glorious battles, no illustrious rulers, no forts and fleets, no trading towns, no towers, cathedrals and famous monasteries; only mossy stonewalls and old thrifty houses scattered in the ravines, the valleys and the forests in the hills.
Neverthelss, there were some short descriptions of the life in the island during the Obscurity («Αφάνεια») as we like to call in Ikaria the first hard centuries of the Ottoman occupation. These were written by the very few European travelers who touched at our rough, inhospitable shores, often by chance or accident. In Pr A.J. Papalas’ book «Ancient Icaria» I found a reference to one of these documents, which, although brief and trivial, capticated my imagination. It is by Charles Perry, a wealthy medical doctor from England who travelled in the Levant from 1739 to 1742. After visiting Egypt, Perry sailed from Alexandria to Athens. On his way across the Aegean he visited and described the islands of Cos and Patmos. But after that island, as he was heading for Mykonos, his ship was caught in a storm and was forced to drop anchor in Ikaria.
I liked Perry’s account. Reading his one and a half page about his accidental visit to Ikaria, I felt the genuine puzzlement of a man of the Century of Lights for the unwelcoming, extremely mountainous environment of the island and his also genuine astonishment (and contempt) for the attitude and the way of life of its inhabitants. But, most of all, I liked his account for a more personal reason: through the eyes of the good old British doctor, I saw some places of western Ikaria which I know very well, such as Karkinagri, Agios Isidoros and Langada, looking as uncanny and wild, as if we were talking about a remote, unfriendly rock in the middle of the South Pacific!
«We spent three days in Patmos, not disagreeably; and the fourth in the morning we set sail for Myconos; but the wind, which was otherwise pretty favorable, grew slack, next to a calm; so that it was with much-ado, with what wind we had, and the help of our oars, that we reached the west end of Nicaria in two days. We much lamented our hard fate, that we should thus long want a wind at such a favourable (for it) crisis of the year, it being near the Autumnal Equinox.
However, that night, about an hour after sunset, even whilst we were reproaching the malice of our stars, a fine gale sprang up. We failed not to embrace it immediately, and we went driving on, Jehu-like, with our sails full of wind and our hearts full of joy: But alas! How frail and transitory are human hopes and happiness, especially upon the sea? Within an hour after, the wind turned against us, and blew a storm; so that we were forced to change our course, and to seek shelter under a rock at the west end of Nicaria, which we did not attain, however, without much difficulty and danger.»
«Here we lay wind-bound four nights, and above three days; during which irksome interval we amused ourselves in the best manner we could with fishing: But after we had spent two days without other recreation than fishing, that sport grew dull and tedious; and whilst we were looking out for some sport and divertissement, kind Providence (of its grace and favour) sent us the glad tidings that about a mile off, on the side of a high rocky mountain, there was a spring of excellent water, which was resorted to by great number of partridges. Upon this intelligence, (which we got the third day of our detention there) we immediately got ready arms and ammunition of all sorts, as well for the belly as the barrel -such as bread, butter, cheese, salt, pepper, wine, glasses, etc. We marched on directly, (flushed with the hopes of new game) with uncommon ardour, or rather avidity; and we were well recompensed our pains; for we passed that day very agreeably.
The mountain (though in general very steep) admits a sort of level in that place; and the spring of water issues out of a rock, in a very convenient and delightful spot, where nature or chance has formed a sort of grot, large enough to receive and accommodate a dozen or 15 persons. This natural grot (if we may so call it) is covered over, and secured against the weather, by a large flat stone of about 24 feet in diameter: This rests upon and is supported by other stones on all sides, except to the eastward; where, being open, it presents to view a sort of alcove. Here we passed the whole day (which but for that retreat would have been tedious) very agreeably -reclining upon the bed of our grot, with the water trilling along close by us, whilst our partisans upon the hunt for partridges, wild goats, and the like, of which they brought us in good store.»
«There are some few inhabitants on this island, but those almost naked and savage, seldom seeing or conversing with any of the human species, except those of their own isle. The second day after we put in there, we sent out some of the mariners a shooting for us, who pursuing their game to the north side of the mountain, met with some of the natives. These were so affrighted at sight of strangers, that they fled from them with precipitation; but our people calling after them, and telling them they had brought them bread and corn, they at last prevailed on them to stop, and come to a party with them. These poor wretches, being at length persuaded of our good intentions, came to see us aboard our vessel, and afterwards brought us good store of grapes and meat. We were really at a loss to guess where they found those things; for the whole island, so far as we could see of it, is the most miserable, barren rock that ever was seen.
The 4th day, towards noon, the wind changing in our favour, we set sail for Myconos, which is 40 miles distant from the westernmost point of Nicaria. This (as it is to be supposed) is a run of about 7 hours, with a good brisk gale…»
Pages 484-486 from Charles Perry’s book, «A View of the Levant», which I have arbitrarily named «Wind bound in Nicaria», can be found in Google books
Modern books about the history of Ikaria:
Comments on this article are very welcome!
Two days ago and I’m back in Ikaria and I am taking part in my own cleansing ritual as always early in the morning and after that I put something on and lie on the sand and I am tired and I drowse off and although it was cold earlier, now the sun rises higher and I wake up from the heat, and I think I’m dreaming ‘cause next to my waist, and my left thigh small black creatures emerge from the sand hot babes and they look as if made of rubber and they are six or seven (maybe there were more while I was asleep) and they crawl and paddle towards the sea – because they are newly born baby sea turtles!!!
And I jump on my feet and one more baby crawls out of the sand from the spot where I had laid my head and I’m trying to reach my camera while I’n also trying to keep my pareo around my waist and the camera drops on the sand and I am wasting time to clean it and I think that I’m screaming -from impatience, excitement and joy…
😖 😆 😄
And I open the lid of the lens and I finally take three good shots!!!
Bravo, baby sea-turtles!
Thanks for the short crazy moment
I felt you were my own little brats!!!
Now in case some of you thought I am some kind of animal enchanter ☺ – according to latest records, loggerhead sea turtles are not uncommon in the eastern Aegean islands, including Ikaria, and that in spite the fact that we don’t have many appropriate sandy beaches. Several friends have seen nests and even witnessed mothers laying eggs.
Happy Summer, my friends!
It’s not the right time of the year to post long accounts. In the summer people usually browse magazines and look at pictures. So this article is about pictures, pictures of a special kind, older or newer attachements to my friend Nana’s blog posts, that may have passed unnoticed. The same as her blog as a whole, these pictures are not touristic neither do they aim to giving information about the island. All I may say about them is that they are thrilling and they have provided inspiration to a lot of viewers, and if I may say, a bit of motivation as well, and that not only concerning Ikaria but for all similar places of the world gifted with an exciting outdoors and a culture of freedom. Before I write a full blog review, I’ll stop and just say: it’s not pictures from my beloved Flickr that I look at when I am homesick for Ikaria. I look at these pictures. And when I have time, I click on the links and I also read the articles some of which go back to several years ago.
I encourage you to take the ride. It’s a wild ride, as wild and natural as our island. Sometimes the concept does not make sense, sometimes it does, sometimes there’s humor or doubt, puzzlement, even bewilderment. There is art and fun and yes, in some of them a visitor can find some tourist information too.
But this is not the point. The point is a strong, desicive and creative girl living and rambling in Ikaria and what she thinks about it all. Take a look yourselves and say if I am wrong.
Someone just asked. Yes, of course there will be a second part and maybe more to come. Nana to agrimi’s media library from Ikaria is big!.
Seeing pictures of those new girls as they went around and posed proudly in the wild nature of Ikaria last summer, I said: «Hey, young ladies! We were there long before you!» Not that -goes without saying- we were the first. We don’t claim a title which righteously belongs to the hippies. But we were the first who took photos and shared them with the world. Retracting my memories, I had even made a drafty webpage in 2004 where I described the magic of one of those places -the best in my opinion in the whole island. «Hike Chalares, canyon of my heart», was the title, if I am not mistaken. I had received critisism for that page, critisism of the kind, «You shouldn’t give out secrets» and so on. But I was sure of my step. Wonders of nature shouldn’t be kept secret. The same goes for «pockets of freedom», they shouldn’t be kept secret either. But this is not the issue today. The issue today is that, twelve years after that day of September when we walked up bravely for almost the whole length of that river, today that I am not as young and posy as I was in 2003, I am sharing again with the world some of the material stored in the poor memory card of our obsolete Casio Exilim which could contain no more than 20 hi-res shots. But first let me review a few stories about the river – the scenery where these shots where taken.
♦ ♦ ♦ As I said, in 2003 we visited the canyon to survey the location and take photos. Besides sport and fun, our purpose was to a evaluate: «Was it as beautiful as they said? And if so, what kind of threats to the environment were there?».
♦ ♦ ♦ Having proven that Chalares was an amazing place, having shown that inspite it was September, there was plenty of water and the vegetation was lush, having warned that the sides of the hills were infested by disastrous free-grazing goats, I suggested that a hiking trail was created in order to put in value the beauty of the canyon and hopefully promote its protection.
♦ ♦ ♦ My appeal was heard and in 2005 a large trail network spread in the area. In addition, the large river pool which appears in the photos below was chosen for a very interesting experiment: the construction of a small environment-friendly semipermeable dam, meant to slow down the flow of the river and give new strengh to the vegetation.
♦ ♦ ♦ But though in the coming years the canyon got to be more and more known, visited and enjoyed, the main threat to its environment was not treated. Unfortunately the goats were always there. As a matter of fact, for reasons that don’t concern this review, there were even more! As a result, exactly five years ago, in October 18, 2010, when a torrential rainfall hit the western part of the island, the overgrazed, barren and unstable sides of the lower part of the canyon collapsed. Tons of earth and rocks were carried by the water smashing the trees and wiping out all vegetation, leveling the lakes, transforming what used to be a detailed natural handiwork into a flat highway of gravel and sand.
Today is the black anniversary of that disaster. For older girls like me it is a bitter reminder that it takes much more things than just good intentions for paradise to happen. For younger girls I hope it is a lesson to be learned, I am afraid, only through experience. I am spreading my winds (which have started to turn grey) over their pretty heads and I am dedicating to them seven pictures from that blissful day of 2003 in the river when it was rich, when it was green, when it was mine. For better or worse it’s their turn now.
The following photos were heavily processed using different methods in different periods of time. In this entry, as they always should, they appear their real «order taken», which is «in order of feelings»: curiosity, worry, happiness, pride, relaxed bliss, anxiety, humility. Their titles in Flickr are different but if you move your mouse over each picture, you will be able to know which is which.
That’s all. Let the old show begin again!
Copyright © Eleni Ikanou