Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight,
for the greatest tragedy of them all,
is never to feel the burning light.
– Oscar Wilde
What better place to wrap up my three-month odyssey from Albania to Turkey through twenty-seven Greek islands than to be in Ikaria during Orthodox Easter. From Agios Kirykos, the capital and main port, I walk to the hot springs of Therma and Lefkada before taking a commuter ferry to Magganitis that feels like a five-star cruise. No bus is running during Easter week, so I hitch a ride up north to Evdilos and walk my way to Raches and the neighbouring villages. This is Ikarian tradition’s stronghold and I get to see locals milling around to prepare for Easter’s big feast of spit-roasting goats. Finally, I take a short ferry ride to neighbouring Samos and follow along the epitaphios procession in Pythagorio before taking one last bus ride to Vathi where I cross over to Turkey. Week-long Easter celebrations, loads of firecrackers, and unnamable special treats. What a trip of a lifetime!
An Ikarian Balance
I have come to Ikaria, one of the five longevity blue zones, intent on finding out her long held secrets of living well. On Easter Sunday, I take a catamaran in Patmos and arrive in Agios Kirykos on a balmy afternoon. The birds are chirping, buds sprouting, and locals sipping rounds of freddie cappuccino to while away another end of day. Time has little import here, I have been told, and somehow despite the world’s craze to grab a little piece of Greece, Ikaria seems to have resisted it all, striking a fine balance between development and tradition.
My first impression is Ikaria’s isolation despite her proximity to the Cyclades. Mykonos, within a short two-hour ferry ride, feels like worlds away. Coming from picture perfect Patmos, Agios Kirykos, the capital and main port, seems underwhelming at first with none of the usual white-blue Greek island aesthetics. What exudes instead is tradition and authenticity. From the main square lined with cafes and mulberry trees, I walk up a narrow path, watching locals knee deep in their annual whitewashing ritual. The road takes me to the Archaeological Museum that I imagine must be very rich, but since it is closed, I descend to the harbour and head to a bakery instead for a fresh loaf of semolina bread.
First things first, I follow a scenic coastal road to Therma, a well known ancient city famous for hot springs before being destroyed by an earthquake circa 205 BC. I cannot recall having a piping hot bath last, and having zero pressing agenda for the day, not on Ikaria anyway, I plan on staying all morning until rain starts falling – so poetic at first – before thunder roars. Though the springs come out conveniently under a natural cave and my risk of being lightning struck infinitesimal small, the sky looks so ominous that I keep wondering what Icarus, the fallen angel who flew too close to the sun, burned and fell, has in store…
There is no bus to Magganitis, a seaside village famous for rock houses, but a commuter ferry that feels like a cruise. What a perfect introduction to the spectacular rugged southern coast, passing through scenic beaches, bays, and towns. Unfortunately, I cannot linger, for I have to (hitch)hike back 30km to town. For 90 minutes, I keep walking east through a series of switchbacks, admiring the breathtaking landscape under an unpredictable Ikarian sky, with absolutely no one in sight until I reach a junction. Lo and behold, I hail a ride with none other than ferry captain Stamatis who greets me in German because he had spent sechs jahre in Stuggart bei Siemens. Polyglot Greeks are such a well traveled bunch!
Ikaria is famous for her traditional mountain villages. Through a succession of rides, I manage to reach Evdilos, the Northern port, Kampos, and the quaint villages around Raches before retracing my steps through the gorgeous beaches in Messakti and Kyparissi. Easter being the most important Greek occasion, there is a beehive of activity in town. So what’s your secret? I ask everyone who crosses my path. (S)he inevitably laughs. I won’t tell you! a young Dimitris says before finally yielding. Look at our mountains and sea. We have 2,600 herbs alone! he exclaims. Our clean air, good food, and blossoming gardens! We are always drinking coffee with our friends and family. And we love to learn, try new things… The answer seems so simple. Being grounded in nature and feeling connected, slow food, timeless living…
I conclude my journey in Samos, the birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras, philosopher Epicurus, and the astronomer Aristarchus who first said the Earth revolved around the sun. Arriving in the ancient port of Pythagoreion on Orthodox Good Friday, I tag along the evening epitaphios procession around town. The next morning, I make an hour-long trek to Chora before reaching the magnificent Heraion of Samos (8th century BC), a sanctuary dedicated to Hera, the wife of Zeus. Walking along the 3km-long Sacred Way linking the temple and the port, passing through empty beaches and WWII bunkers, I feel mixed emotions from great joy to have discovered so many hidden gems of amazing Greece to nostalgia that my once-in-a-lifetime island hopping adventure has finally come to an end. In bustling Vathi, I board a hydrofoil and cross over to Turkey where the next chapter of my travels unfolds…
Each new island frees me from the things I left and it helps me make them mine forever, writes the Greek writer Yiorgos Theotokas. For three months, I traverse Greece from North to South, West to East, passing through the vibrant capital, ancient towns and ruins, and twenty-seven spectacular islands. What lifelong memory of archipelagos of mythology and desire! Everywhere I go, I have been met with only kindness and generosity. Strangers open their homes, welcome me, and share a slice of their idyllic island life. I have learned so much about all things Greek – from their ancient sanctuaries, philosophy, and wisdom to their tightly knit family and irresistible gastronomy. As the saying goes, Come as a visitor, leave as a friend, and live as a Greek! None of these words and photos can even begin to convey my profound gratitude. Echfaristo poli!
Overlooking the blue Aegean waves,
I reach the front door of my awareness,
Against the ever-flowing streams of my thoughts.
– John Kyriazoglou, Aegean Sea
This concludes the six-blog series on my three-month journey through Greece and the Aegean Sea.
Part I: Northern Greece
Part II: Athens and the Saronic Islands
Part III: True Greek Blue: The Cyclades
Part IV: Crete
Part V: The Dodecanese
All Content © 2023 by Jennifer Chan