⭐ ⭐ ⭐
(cropped from source)
You know, the last thing Ikaria is known for is church life and monasticism. The people are very religious in a natural, casual way, indifferent of formalities, nevertheless always showing a sincere and full respect of higher forces which control our destinies. Whether one believes in the salvation of the soul or not, religion provides consolation because, salvation taken apart, it does speak about the soul while economics do not. And believing in the soul, the existence of a soul, whether this soul is immortal or not, is something very important in the life of the island. Religion also provides occasions for celebration and community gatherings. It also offers an explanation for natural things as well as for «luck» : God’s will. And natural things and lucky or unlucky circumstances are also important elements in the consistence of Ikarian life. To cut this short, we have churches – a lot of big and small churches. They are, so to speak, our guardians, houses of God, houses of the spirit (soul) of the community: «be good and be good to each other» (be good to God).
But what about monasteries? Thereupon we are a failure. Although there are a few monasteries, there is no monastic tradition in Ikaria, at least none as strong as in some other islands. In my opinion, besides our natural dislike for discipline and formalities, the most important reason is that the island is poor and cannot sustain monastic communities. The rocky soil produces hardly enough for the population so the Ikarians, even though devout believers, could not afford, so to speak again, professionals in prayer, experts in salvation. Like everything else in Ikaria, the tending of the soul had to be done by the poeple themselves with the occasional help of an educated priest or solitary monk.
Yet, there are exeptions. If monasteries didn’t thrive, small hermitages were abundant in the slopes of Mt Atheras. But let’s not think that these retreats were inhabited by anchorites who pursued unification with God like in Mt Athos or Sinai. Though little is known about the lives of these people, it’s obvious to me that they were more or less ordinary men and women who either by some misfortune or simply because of taste, discarded the joys of the marital bed and the comforts of village and family life. They walked away from the world, seeking solitude, entrusting their fate to their labouring hands, to good God and to Mother nature. I am all respect for them. It’s hard to believe that in am island as virgin and wild as Ikaria and in a time when most settlements were of the kind of «lost villages» (see, entry), there were people who sought even more solitude and peace! Out-of-the-worldness must be some sort of second nature to us. The outer the better, the further the better, the remotest and most inaccessible is the best, ask my friend Nana & co about it!
Anyway, this entry was not meant to be a dissertation of the religious ethics of the Aegean. I have come to Ikaria for the winter and recently my friends, the explorers of OPS Ikarias, in the course of a project to create a long-distance trail from one side of the island to the other, have been in love with a wild area under the tops of Mt Atheras where according to local legends various groups of monks lived in different periods of time from the 15th century to the 1800s. I saw the photos and I found these landscapes absolutely enthralling.
What made men and women walk out of the world and settle in places like this? What kind of experiences were they after? Were they looking for God? Did they want be gods themselves? Was it because of a practical reason such as piracy, oppression, social disorder and percecutions? Or is it something inherent to the human nature? Escapism? Some people just drop everything and go?.. Is that it? 🙄
I have always been too committed to everything I do and to everybody I love to even think about escaping. But as I am growing older, sometimes I am tired of the world and this makes me wonder. Until I sort this out, you take a good look at those rocky wildernesses. Take a good look at those vast views to the mountains above, the sea straight ahead and the skies all over. I am inviting you to find your answer.
.No please don’t think that this is another tale ! On the contrary this going to be quite technical. We call this path «trail of the two monasteries». because it stretches between the monastery of Mounte.and the monastery of Theoktisti.I had known about it since autumn and I had even given a name : «the trail of the fairies» ! But then I wasn’t aware than that it was all one long path and that the elf was A. who had been trying to clean it (then he gave up at some point).
Accoring to AKK, ‘the trail of the two monasteries’ (or my ‘trail of the elves’) connects to the mule track I discovered. My mule track makes the last part of ‘the trail of the two monasteries’. It’s the ‘exit to the sea’ and the outer world. 🙂
Until we have the map, here is a photo taken from a spot in my mule track. It shows the elevation (about 250-300 m.) and the distance from the sea. The light was very bad so I’m not sure if I’m going to upload it in Flickr. Instead I will surely upload a good take of the conical mountain on the opposite side. By the way, if my memory doesn’t fail me, all of my Flickr photos tagged «trail of the elves» have been taken from that wonderful hillside..
Here is an extract of a map of Ikaria showing the middle northern side of the island. This map was in the small book «Tourist Guide of the Municipality of Rahes, Ikaria» (Touristikos Odigos Demou Rahon Ikarias), issued in 2004 and distributed for free by the Municipality of Rahes (name of the western part of the island). This booklet was very good if not for anything else, because of the maps it contained. Unfortunately the stock is exhausted and it isn’t likely that there will be a new edition.
This map is in Greek only. It includes too many (very specific and unneeded) place names, which create ‘noise’ and confusion to the reader of a map. On the other hand, there is a good side in this pedantic ‘localism’: this is the only general map of Ikaria which shows the footpaths!!!
Almost forgotten today, the «trail of the two monasteries» (Eleni’s «trail of the elves») used to be ‘the main road’ from Rahes to Evdilos until the late 1960s when a motor road was built between the two towns.
If ever this path was restored, I’d suggest that hikers take it from Rahes. On a long hike like this, it’s always better to head for the sea instead for the mountain.
From Christos in Rahes ((ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΡΑΧΕΣ) to the 1st monastery (Evangelistrias ‘Mounte’ monastery -Μονή Μουντέ), the area is inhabited. The ‘wild part’ of the hike starts after the lake ‘Μικρό Φράγμα’, across deep pine and oak forests, machia and bushlands, over hills and across mountain streams with pools and falls. There are many low tone ‘anonymous’ sights (‘lowlights’ to use one of Eleni’s own terms).
I wasn’t supposed to deal with this path. I’d rather have waited for the authorities to show some interest. Instead of looking for ‘trails of the elves’, I’d rather work to improve the solid paths included in the ‘Round of Rahes on Foot’. But curiosity took the better of me, as it always does.
A first long survey proved that the path was still there (of course many parts were altered, covered in growth, ‘eaten’ by roads- but most of it was there!). Then I took my cutter and cleaned some parts as far as the mountain stream «Chalikias» (Χαλικιάς). It was a comfort for me to find occasional marks in red paint made by hiking parties a long time ago. I added a few stonemarks too. I usually do this when scouting, so that I am able to find my way back !..
After Chalikias I got involved in a very deep forest and if the path was not so well made I would never have found it. Anyway, after quite long I somehow managed to reach Lidi («Λίδι»), where I came out in a narrow dirt road going the right direction -west!
*(They are about to build a small irrigation dam in Lidi right where the path comes out of the forest. When I made it there, covered in dust and sweat, I so much wished it was ready and I could take a dip !)
From Lidi I followed the road to the 2nd monastery (Theoktistis – Μονή Θεοκτίστης, see Eleni’s blog, entry: «highlights’), which is very near the village of Pigi (ΠΗΓΗ). From there I walked to the main road (Evdilos-Pigi) and I waited for a friend to pick me up. There are three small whitewashed old churches on the eastern side of that road. That’s where the path goes on from Pigi to Kampos (and then Evdilos). These three churches are important landmarks.
Though I didn’t walk any further and I don’t have first hand knowledge, I can assume that the area along the stone paved mule track from Pigi to Kampos is very beautiful. These hillsides under the villages of Pigi (ΠΗΓΗ), Maratho (ΜΑΡΑΘΟ), and Frantato (ΦΡΑΝΤΑΤΟ), have the privilege to face the east and there are many springs, good soil, limestone and … no goats! So I’m sure they would be covered with flowers in spring!
1) The green lines on the map are the ‘traditional‘ paths. Some of them have become roads; some have disappeared. The dark purple lines represent the paths of the system of the Round of Rahes of Foot which, unlike the green ‘theoretical’ or traditional paths, is a reliable and well marked network of hiking trails.
2) I’ve drawn the ‘trail of the 2 monasteries’ in pink, because this colour makes a good contrast with the colours of the map. If you are good at Photoshop, you can put my map as ‘layer’ on a scanned image of the Road map (which you should first make smaller to fit the scale). Then you can erase all other info from my map and leave only the pink lines. It would be interesting to see if and how they fit on the Road map.
3) Besides the «trail of the 2 monasteries» (west-east, I’ve also painted pink the path in Myrsonas (Μύρσωνας) river (south-north), though this path is not ‘elfish’ but a reliable hike already included in The Round of Rahes on Foot. I did this because the Trail in Myrsonas is very closely associated with the ‘trail of the 2 monasteries’. The western startpoint of the trail of the 2 monasteries is situated right in it (in a place called «Φυρή Άλωνα», marked with a pink arrow in the map).
4) The motor road between Rahes and Evdilos is exactly 17 km long. I estimate that the pink path from «Φυρή Άλωνα» to Kampos must be about 10 km long. Good news: a) there are no steep climbs up and downs. More good news: more than half of this hike is on secondary country roads (not shown in this map)!
5) the pink path ends (or begins) in the square of the village of Kampos, near the church of Agia Irini («Αγ. Ειρήνη»), which is marked in the map with a «church» symbol. For the time being, however, I don’t advise you to hike all the way down there on the trail, because the last part of it goes through the village and gets very confusing. Instead of this, head for the main roads above Kampos. So, as you hike down from Pigi, after «Καλανταρέ» you will meet a narrow dirt road; there leave the path and follow the road to the left; it will lead you to the main motor road to Pigi (I marked this spot with a pink arrow on the map) and then out on the main road Armenistis-Evdilos (I’ve marked that spot with a pink arrow too).
6) This is a sketch of a map and a sketch of a description. Do not expect from me to give you altitudes, exact distances, e.t.c. Even the pink line I’ve drawn, I’m not at all sure if it fits in a proper geographical map. This is something that I did because I like it and because I very much like to share it with you.
7) Inspite of the beauty of the land, there is no policy whatsoever for the environment or for ecotourism in Greece. My fellow country men are only just now starting to grow an awareness in these issues. So when you hike, do not take things for granted. Take the situation in your hands (or rather, ‘your feet’)and behave like explorers: a) never get sore if you are lost; there is fun in it! b) when you see piles of stones as marks in the paths, repair them if possible and maybe add on some more.
8) I may have made mistakes. Make your comments and ask your questions (preferably in English or Greek, though any language is good) in http://www.facebook.com/groups/hikingIkaria/
Angelos Kal -21/02/2006
Friday February 17, 2006 – 01:18pm (EET)