Beaches? But I Wanted the Monastery!

I have a vague notion that today I will walk to the Monastery of Annunciation. Google Maps tells me that it is 4km on foot. It sounds pretty doable but as I mentioned before – Oinousses is steep. It is almost impossible to stay on the flat. However, this characteristic although at times a challenge for the unfit and elderly (me), also provides moments of joy. A vista between alleyways down to the sea or as with my walk yesterday – the most magnificent view over the archipelago of islands to the East.

Today I will walk to the West. By the way I have no sense of direction but looking at the map it’s probably North West. I take a new route out of the village which leads me past a couple of smallholdings where chickens roam freely. There are pomegranate trees abundant with fruit. A variety of gourds hang from fences and regimented rows of grapevines stand to attention. I must try and seek out this local wine!

I forget Google Maps and accidentally end up on the harbour front. When you walk along the harbour it comes to an abrupt end at Glaros Cafe. I couldn’t figure out a way beyond here. However, after a half hearted attempt at following Google Maps again I take the road to the side of the Maritime Museum and past the post office. Here you can take the first or the second left. Both are steep and both will bring you up above the stadium. Yes there is a stadium and what a stadium it is. You can’t see it from the front and I had no idea it was here but obviously a prime location for sporting activities and an excellent training ground for the students of the naval academy.

To get to the monastery I’m being directed upwards again but at this point I have a change of mind (just because I can) and decide to just follow the coastal road around. The roads here are very good. A nice sturdy and well maintained concrete. And they are absolutely empty – not a car nor a motorbike pass me for the duration of this walk.

The first beach that I come to is Kakopetria Beach. Of course it is deserted. There is a line of straw umbrella’s standing to attention and nothing else. The beach is a grey sand with pebbles. I believe that this is the nature of the beaches on this side of the island. If you want golden sand you will find this on the side facing Turkey. However, these beaches are set in the most stunning of locations and are protected from the wind – unlike the Turkey side.

Oinousses has many deeply riven bays and the beaches, apart from a token gesture to the parasols are natural. Hence the island’s Natura 2000 award for nature protection. These beaches are the antithesis to the ones I experienced earlier on this year (Thinking Agios Prokopios Beach, Naxos in July). What a breath of fresh air these beaches are.

Now if you’re looking for the golden sand beaches of Plaka with sunbeds and a bar service – you won’t find it here. Thank God!

The road begins to snake around to the left past a hillside adorned in all of the colours of autumn, punctuated with grey silver where the scrub is dying off. The low growing scrub reminds me of a tapestry made from a velvet thread much too thick for the canvas. Think of chenille wool through binca and the big fat tuft or loop it would make.

I find myself above another beach called Bilali complete with deserted beach bar. OK so there is a bit of a concession to tourism but it’s very low key. I imagine that this is the place to be during peak season. The shoreline is sand and mainly pebbles with large stones and the water is crystal. I’ll have a closer look at this on the way back.

At this point I see that there is another steep bit to climb. I muster all my energy and go for it.

Towards the top of the hill there is a signpost to another beach called To Fasoli. Looking on the map it seems to be set in a deep bay. However, it is up an even steeper hill through a cluster of cedar trees. I need to push on in my chosen direction. Next to it is another beach called Apiganos (Kastro Beach). If I can I will take a look on my way back.

There are some abandoned derelict buildings along the roadside that is a hang out for the local goats of which there is evidence all over the road. When they see me they scatter up onto the hillside but not before throwing me an indignant look.

Looking back towards To Fasoli I can see the church of St Spiridon gleaming out of the landscape.

The road begins to drop again and I can see the odd modern villa located in prime position overlooking a beach. To my right there is a cluster of bee hives set behind more cedar trees with dried out pine cones that rattle in the breeze. A sign on the roadside says Owner K. N. Patera – I suspect from one of the island’s shipping dynasties.

At one point in the road I can see where the tip of Chios and the tip of Oinousses almost meet, both punctuated by the small uninhabited island of Strovili.

The next signposted beach I come to is To Fokia. It is overlooked by a modern looking church with a tall bell tower. So modern that it doesn’t appear on Google Maps. I get the feeling that this is a private family church and attached to the large white villa next to it. There is a small jetty for mooring small boats and again a row of straw parasols along the beach. Now who lives in a house like this!

I continue walking just a little bit further until I can see what I think is part of the monastery complex above me. It is a steep hike up the hill to it and I think that it is doable. However, that’s only if I could sprout wings and fly back. I know when to call it quits especially thinking of the hills to climb on the way back.

Above me I can see a truck driving along the ridge above the valley. This must be the road that I should have taken. Oh well – maybe another day.

On the way back I do walk up through the Cedar Trees to Agios Spiridon though don’t have the energy to walk down to the beaches on the other side – I believe these are called Kastro. I do however, walk down to the beach at Bilali and spend a little time walking along the beach and resting in the deserted beach bar.

Once on the road again I finally make it back to the harbour front. I notice in front of the statue of the Unknown Sailor there are chairs arranged in a large semi circle – posh chairs at the front and regular ones at the back. Something is going down tonight!

Back at the apartment Despoina is in her shop along with her husband who is a sea captain. He tells me that it is he who has been translating my Whatsapp messages to Despoina. I tell them both where I have walked today and that I didn’t quite make it to the monastery. Mr Tsouli tells me that it is a good job that I didn’t walk further because that becomes virgin territory and it is dangerous to walk! (though I don’t think that I went anywhere near this).

Later on that afternoon I hear a large crowd of of at least 30 people walking through the street below. They seem to be heading up to the church. This must be in connection with this evenings event whatever that may be. An hour or so later they walk back. The curiosity spurs me on to get ready to go down to the harbour to check out what’s happening. I’ve spent one evening too many listening to the frivolities from my balcony.

There are more people here than I have seen on the island so far. It is clear that these are visitors and not locals. The event begins with a few words from the Mayor of the island and this is followed by some dancing in the local costume. However, the event is short and as people head off to the taverna’s I do the same. I say taverna’s in the plural – it looks like there is only Taverna Pateronissos open.

Knowing that there is no menu (or rather I just haven’t been shown one) I decide to throw a few food words to the same guy that served me before. He looks back at me vacantly. I’d asked for Skordalia and Gemista but nothing registered. I say “Skordalia” again. He then repeats it back loudly putting the emphasis on the final ‘a’. Great we now have a starter. I just asked for chicken Souvlaki again just to keep it simple. When it doubt – the souvlaki will never let you down!

Whilst tucking into the Skordali’a’ I hear an Australian accent. A lady sits a few tables away whilst her friends walk on. I take the opportunity to go over to her and ask what the event is all about. She’s happy to oblige. The event she tells me is called Navigator. It’s where ships captains from all over the world come together to talk about green energy and technical developments in the industry – this happens every two years. As Oinousses is a famous ship owning island, they are having an event here. She tells me that the mayor is welcoming everyone and this is followed by the folk dancing and local music.

Later I find some further information online:

I thank the lady and go back to my meal. From her table she tells me that I’ve got a great camera and asks what I’m doing here. I tell her that I’m just on holiday and exploring a couple of islands.

I finish my meal and walk back to the front. Everyone seems to be heading for the Oinoussai III that is waiting in the harbour. I pass the lady that I’d spoken to earlier and she introduces me to her two companions as her ‘new friend’. I wish them safe journey and call it a night. As I begin the climb back up to the apartment I find a vantage point from which to watch the ship leave. The Oinoussai III gives the usual toot on her horn as she leaves the harbour.

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