The plan today was to visit the nearby village of Tholária. There was a bus due at a quarter to eleven but having inherited my dad’s aversion to paying unnecessary bus fares and as it was only ten o’clock, I persuaded Kim to walk the couple of miles by road and footpath instead.
In the past this might have been a problem but Kim now has pedometer and has been transformed into a walking fundamentalist zealot and we set off at a cracking pace towards the village several hundred feet above us down at sea level.
The road zigzagged all the way up and we could see it looping away from us in front so I was glad when we came across a stony donkey track that was a more direct route and we left the road and tackled the steps instead disturbing the stones and scattering the basking lizards as we went. It was uneven and difficult in sandals even for someone like me who is in peak physical condition!
At every turn I hoped the village would get closer but around every turn was another expanse of steps and another receding view of the whitewashed houses and every plodding step seemed like a hundred. I decided that when we got home I would write to the local rambling association and tell them to disregard my application for membership.
As we climbed we passed through what might be loosely described as fields with rows of derelict terraces and dry stonewalls that separated the hillside into equally measured individual plots of land. Amorgos is mostly inhospitable rock that has been baked hard in the sun for thousands of years but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and removing the the stones to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables.
Each islander had a personal plot and would attend every day to manage and tend the land. They had to carry all of the water to the side of these plots and the only way to achieve this was by using a donkey. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a difficult twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun.
The terraces are all abandoned now to thistles and what other few hardy plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again. There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage, each year parts of the walls collapse and disappear and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day.
This man seemed happy enough however…
Although no one will ever see it again I like to imagine what this hillside might have looked like fifty years ago with farmers scratching away at the ground, donkeys occasionally braying and patiently waiting to return to the town and fishing boats slipping in and out of the harbour below on the silver water.
This arrangement was a feature of Greek islands, a port at sea level where the fishermen work and then a village high in the mountains, medieval refuge from pirates and invaders and where farmers worked the terraces. A good deal and as we sat and drank a cold beer I imagined the hard life and primitive economic arrangements of the past where farmers with calloused hands stained red from the colour of the earth exchanged fresh vegetables for sea food with the fishermen from the port, bronzed and salt streaked from time spent at open sea.
It sounds simplistically noble and idyllic, something Voltaire or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would approve of but my goodness I bet it was a hard life.
Another delivery of potatoes…
After walking around the village we set off back to Aegiali and came across a group of walkers who enthusiastically showed us a short cut but it was down a tricky path and they had stout leather walking shoes with knotted laces and we had inadequate sandals with synthetic soles so we ignored the advice and stuck to the road instead.
There were a lot of walkers here on Amorgos and I couldn’t help thinking that if I was going on a walking holiday then I might choose somewhere like the Black Forest in Germany or Snowdonia in Wales not (as much as I like them of course) a barren rock in the Cyclades where the relentless sun would surely force me into a very early submission and a dash to the bar.
Back at the port we stopped for a drink and then after half an hour or so Kim got carried away and suggested another climb to the village of Potamas not far from Aegiali but up a tough and demanding road and set of steps which I think, after we had reached the church at the top, she was seriously regretting the suggestion.
Descending through the mazy streets and alleys there was time for a drink in the main square where elderly locals were beginning to gather for an end of day chat. I wondered where all the young people were and I think I immediately answered my own question – Athens probably.
Back at the village we found a dusty mini-market because we wanted to buy some wine. It was surprisingly expensive and the information on the labels hard to interpret but at the back of the shop a French couple were passing judgement on an obviously home-made red poured directly from a plastic bottle.
They declared it to be entirely acceptable so we agreed that if it was good enough for them then it would be perfect for us so based on this Gallic recommendation we purchased a bottle for ourselves and took it back to the room and sat on the balcony for a couple of hours and waited patiently for the next inevitable sunset.