Traveling Classroom Foundation
Wednesday April 26th 2017

Windy Island — Day 3: Here and Now

Shortly after breakfast, we walked up the street to an old stone well to meet our bus.  Pigadia is known for its wells and excellent water (in fact, Pigadia means “wells”). From there we traveled northward, climbing into forested hill country until the road veered towards the eastern coast. 

Our route to Mesohori and Lefkos is marked in green Our route to Mesohori and Lefkos is marked in green

Moving through the highlands, we could see beautiful sandy coves at the foot of high cliffs off to the right. Some of these beaches are accessible only by boat; others can be reached on steep roads that look barely passable.

There are hidden sandy coves all along the coast There are hidden sandy coves all along the coast

Turning away from the coast, we traveled westward through oak and pine forests. Many of the trees were bent and twisted in the same direction. They grew this way due to the nearly constant assault of winds that blow here.

Trees grow up bent by the strong winds here Pine trees are shaped by the Kapathian wind

The forest thinned near the west coast, and we were soon able to see Mesohori perched on a high cliff overlooking the sea. The view was fantastic! We turned down a side road towards Mesohori, but had to park at the edge. There are no regular roads into this traditional village. Everyone walks.

Mesohori is perched on a high cliff overlooking the sea Mesohori village has a fabulous view of the sea and coastal mountains

We descended into the village on stone stairs so steep that the doors of adjacent houses were on different levels. There were only a few elderly local women on the stairs. Perhaps most of the residents were tending the fields and orchards outside the village (they still live a traditional lifestyle).

The stone stairway into the village seems unending The stone stairway down into the village seems unending

Most of the antique homes we passed appeared to be in new condition, and surrounded by colorful arrays of flowers. There were only a few houses awaiting renovation.

Most of the old village houses were pretty and well-maintained Most of the old village houses were pretty and well-maintained

Eleni (our guide) took us to one house and knocked on the door. She had apparently called in advance to let the owner know we would be visiting. A lady and her adult son greeted us with smiles and invited us inside. The main living/sleeping room had a traditional sofas, decorated with weavings, hand-made linens and lace, and the panosoufi platform for sleeping.

A traditional home, complete with A traditional home, complete with panosuofi sleeping platform

There were wood carved shelves holding decorative hand painted plates and family portraits. Our hostess was happy to explain everything about this traditional home. The most appealing fact was that this was a real home — unlike the display house we had seen in Olimbos village. It even had a modern kitchen, where our hostess had prepared several plates of snacks to pass around.

On all the walls were shelves lined with family memorabilia On all the walls were shelves lined with family memorabilia

After our visit, the woman’s son motioned us to walk a few doors down the lane to his home. It was similar to his mother’s house, with a wooden sleeping platform, family photos, and other decorations. However, the absence of brightly colored weavings and lacework suggested that he was unmarried.

Continuing down the stairs, and down and down, we finally reached the level of the  stone-paved platia, where there are two small churches. One of them is on the edge of a cliff that plunges almost straight down to the sea. Since the village was built here as a defense against pirates, it is not farfetched to imagine a village priest ringing the church bell as a warning when suspicious ships appeared on the horizon.

Old church is perched on a vertical cliff above the sea The village platia and old church are on the edge of a cliff above the sea

Not far away, the church of Panagia Vrissiani (Nativity of the Virgin Mary) now serves as the main place of worship for villagers. Chairs and tables stacked under a pergola near the church indicated there had been a recent festival (there are many in this village).

Mesohori_church Panagia Vrissiani church is the center of village religious activity

The architecture of Panagia Vrissiani is appealing and the interior is filled with marvelous religious art and ornamentation. After exploring the church, one of our friends (Manolis), was inspired to sing a religious song with his wife and son. Manolis has a wonderful voice, which attracted others of our group to join in. Soon the church was filled with beautiful choral music.

The interior of (church) is an The interior of Panagia Vsissiani church is very impressive

Outside we found stairs leading to a grotto under the church. Panagia Vrissiani is actually built over a natural spring, the main source of water for the village and all surrounding farmlands. Folklore declares that a woman who drinks from this spring will be married with a Karpathian. I noticed a few women collecting water in bottles.

The spring beneath the church supplies the entire village Artesian spring beneath the church supplies the entire village

After our church visit it was time to hike up the daunting stairs to the top of the village. Up, up, and more up, until we were finally on the road. Catching our breath, we stopped at a quite taverna and ordered coffee frappes. We sat on the balcony and enjoyed the view of Mesohori.

It was a long climb back up the stairs to the road It was a long climb back up the stairs to the road

Our bus continued southward, into a rather desolate area. Much of the green forest south of the village was burned away because of the foolish act of one person. The island lost more than 30,000 acres of pine forests. We saw that pine seedlings were  beginning to take hold, but it will be many decades before the forest recovers.

A fire ravaged the green forests south of Mesohori A fire ravaged the green forests south of Mesohori

Nearing the seaside village of Lefkos, we reached the edge of the fire zone, and could see green forests saved by the firefighters. As in Mesohori, our bus had to part outside the village, and we hiked down to the shore. Below us was the shallow bay, encircled by Lefkos. It was much smaller than we expected, and now given over almost entirely to tourism.

Once a fishing village, Lefkos is now a tourist destination Once a small fishing village, Lefkos is now a tourist destination

Along the way, we saw a sign pointing the way to an archaeological site. Nearby was an underground cistern, which once served a Roman settlement in this area.

A cistern once provided water for the Roman settlement near here A cistern once provided water for the Roman settlement near here

Not far from the cistern is a strange community of stone-built houses and stables hidden in a cavern that locals call Kamara (“chamber”). It reminds one of ancient Indian cliff dwellings in the American Southwest. No one knows how many generations of people found shelter here. Considering the history of invasions and piracy suffered by Karpathians, such secrecy is quite rational.

Lefkos_cave dwellings Homes and stables built in a hidden cave above the sea shore

In the village, we found a pleasant taverna above the beach, where we could sit in the shade, enjoy the sea breeze, and have a relaxed lunch before returning to Pigadia. 

Lefkes_taverna

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