Greek Islands, Amorgos and a Walk Through History

Amorgos Chora

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.

Tholária Old Ways Amorgos

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…

Tholária Amorgos

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…

Tholária Door Amorgos

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.

Greek Taverna

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.

Sunset Playtime on Greek Island of Amorgos

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29 responses to “Greek Islands, Amorgos and a Walk Through History

  1. Some great experiences, Andrew

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have observed the tendency with these pedometer things, Andrew. 🙂 🙂 May I share this post on my motley collection of walks next week? Something of a deterrent, perhaps? 🙂

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  3. What fun! In my imagination I go on vacations like this, but even though he wears a Fitbit, I’m pretty sure my hubby would forego the trek up the hill. I’m afraid I’d be sitting on the bus!

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  4. This is so clearly Greece – the blue and white and feeling of space

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  5. Oh not the pedometer. It’s Dave who gets wild with competition at wearing the thing. On occasion at work there will be a challenge to do 10,000 steps a days and of course he will need to ensure his team wins. I have been dragged many an extra km for the sake of it all. Thankfully not in the blazing Greek sun. I too would be making a dash for the bar! Very well written Andrew. I really enjoyed the read. Cheers!

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    • Thanks Sue. The only way to get rid of that pedometer is to have it surgically removed. On the last day in Greece Kim was determined to beat the record and we walked over 10 miles backwards and forwards across Mykonos.

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  6. That last image is a beauty!!!

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  7. In many places the traditions of men sitting and chatting in evenings or during the day or women doing the same have slowly been dying away – what a pity for such strong community bonding…technology has much to answer for I think

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    • I think it is alive and well, especially in Southern Europe. In Spain the men always gather to discuss the big issues of the day.
      The best I experienced was in Bari in Italy where entire families came out in the evening just for a stroll and a chat.
      One time I remember a fish restaurant in Šukosan in Croatia where we found a quiet little table for dinner and within 15 minutes all of the men in the village were there for a stop off on their way home from work! Noisy but fun.

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      • So please to hear that, in many places/villages I visited in past five years in Croatia I found these gatherings thinning out and in places disappearing so am glad to hear they’re alive and well in other places – such a “Mediterranean” thing – beautiful tradition and custom – here Down Under in large shopping centres at cafes etc I still come across immigrants/men or women groups from the Mediterranean regions who are retired gathering and chatting for hours over a cup of coffee etc … love that

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  8. Looks a lovely unspoilt part of the world. Sad the young are moving away though inevitable I guess. Maybe they will move back when they are a bit older but guess that wouldn’t be practical.

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  9. So Andrew, I am beginning to realize what a romantic you are. But I am ever so pleased that you find places with an Old World flavor to them, where people can still gather in the evening with no more purpose than to chat and have a glass of wine or a pint of beer. When I was in high school, I read Lawrence Durrell’s “Alexandria Quartet,” which focused of course on Alexandria but began with the Greek Islands. The books did many things for me, including introducing me to a much wider world, but one thing was to make me forever romantic about the islands. –Curt

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  10. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : The Masmorra Trail | restlessjo

  11. It’s surprising what a pedometer can get somebody to do. Can’t say I would have enjoyed that walk in the baking sun, Andrew, but it sounds a delightful place to have visited.

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