Carnival Comes to Kastro – There’s a Goat on my Roof!

The thing about Carnival on Skyros is that there is a loose framework around what is going to happen and where it will take place. However, you really need to be ‘in the know’ to grasp what’s going on. It isn’t like the very commercialised and huge carnival in Patras which because of its size needs to be choreographed and timed to within an inch of its life. Today I will just have to turn up and just see what I can see.

Yesterday I saw a poster promoting Trata which is the event that I’m most excited about. Trata takes place on the final day of Carnival and the day before Clean Monday. The Trata, although is the name of a dance, in this context, it is a carnival boat made from a bamboo or a wooden framework. It is usually decorated with recycled objects and is the centre stage for what is quite a ribald performance. The event focuses on topical and usually political issues but at the heart of it pokes fun at everyone. And that means everyone. I’ve read that the mayor and priest usually get targeted more than others – but all in the name of good humour. The Geros and Korela costumes are swapped for outlandish fancy dress costumes and booze is a plenty! Anyway – that’s tomorrow. Today is anybody’s guess!

Today the wind has really picked up and the forecast is for some rain, though there is no sign of that yet. I start with a few housekeeping jobs such as clothes washing and replying to my work emails. Yes, I’m working whilst travelling but no other job would enable me to travel as much as I do. Oh long gone are the days when I have to carefully count up my annual leave days, bolting trips onto bank holiday weekends to get the most out of it. I wouldn’t go back to that for anything!

I take a punt that there may be some activity in Chora in the afternoon so call Frosini to ask her to take me up to the town. Whilst waiting for her by the edge of the beach I can see how much wind has been whipped up. The waves are well over a metre high and you can feel a sticky, salty dampness in the air. I hope that my washing is still on the line when I get back.

I must say that Frosini has been brilliant. She is always there when she says she will be and during the journey up she imparts some very important information to me. Later this afternoon about 5 – 5.30 the Carnival will go to the Kastro. Frosini tells me that the Geros walk all the way up from the town with the weighty goat bells around their midriffs. I’m sure this will be some feat, especially wearing the furry coats and a mask of goatskin. Heaving my body up there alone is a challenge!

There will be some hours to wait but I’ve brought my laptop so can continue to do a little bit of work whilst I wait. There is a cafe bar called Rodon right on the main street. It has always been very busy every time I’ve passed but right now the whole town is pretty quiet. All waiting in anticipation for later I guess. Rodon offers a wonderful selection of flavoured loose teas and has a nice little corner inside where I can park myself and get the laptop out for a while.

Later that afternoon I decide to scope out the Kastro ahead of the craziness that I know will ensue. I ask the man running Rodon which is the best way to get up there. He tells me that the quickest way is to follow the main street up and just keep taking any steps that lead in an upward direction. The alternative and easiest way up is to follow the steps from Brooke Square – the way I’d walked on my first day. I’m not sure which path I took – I suspect it was a combination of the two. After lots of twists and turns between the narrow alleyways, I make it to a small square that overlooks the bay towards Molos. I can clearly make out the landmarks of my walk yesterday – the windmill, the churches and Poria Beach.

I’m the only one here and I have the place to myself to explore. Just beyond the small square are steps leading up to the Monastery of St George and Kastro which are accessed through a stone archway with a vaulted roof. After the first set of steps, another small set to the left brings you into the Monastery courtyard. It has a small, well-tended garden with large clay pots along the tops of the wall – maybe a measure to deter people from loitering. The Monastery unfortunately is closed so I take a deep breath, mentally put on my big girl pants and head for the next set of steps up to the Kastro.

As soon as I reach the first level and out of the protection of the tall Monastery walls, the wind swoops up around me, making me feel unsteady on my feet. My issues with vertigo are well-documented. It’s always a case of my mind being strong and determined but this underlying condition is far stronger and always determined to scupper my plans. Besides the vertigo, the wind is so strong I don’t think being at the top of the Kastro is a good idea. I encourage myself to go a few steps further until the solid wall is replaced with flimsy look set of rails. You can see all the way through it down to the sheer drop that’s below which is the point at which I say “No way Jose!” What I actually said had swear words in it but you get the gist!

I about-turn and then decide to scope out my position to get the best vantage point. Already resigned to the fact that I won’t be able to make it up to the Kastro I may as well position myself to see them as they approach the Kastro. A little later a few people begin to arrive. I could see that there were others who were also unsure as to where to stand for a good view. As more people began to arrive I could see notice that a large contingent is taking the Monastery steps. Hmm, interesting. I’m going to have to play this one by ear. For now, I stand at the top of the first set of steps where I will see the Carnival participants approach through the stone archway.

Somewhere in the distance I can hear the ‘thrump, thrump’ of goat bells. They seem to be a long time coming but about half an hour later the first of the Geros and Korela appear. They bring with them a hoard of onlookers who must have walked with them from the town below. They don’t, as I’d expected head to Kastro at all. They are all making their way up onto the roof of the monastery! Within minutes there are hundreds of people squeezing their way up the narrow steps, Geros staking their position of priority over observers. Get in the way of a determined Geros and you’re likely to be knocked sideways by one of his massive goat bells! By now there are people hanging from the rafters. I wonder if a structural engineer has assessed the roof of the building for maximum weight capacity?

I adjust my location several times. There is no way I’ll be able to make it up the steps which are still full of people but I’m satisfied with the views that I have. The festivities culminate in a frenzied dance on top of the monastery roof. I take it that the monks went out for the evening? Maybe they don’t live there – I don’t know. Something pops into my head that reminds me of Santorini. Bear with me. One of the most touristic things to do on Santorini is what they call the Flying Dress Photoshoot. The package includes the hire of a floaty dress with long trains which appear to fly when caught by the breeze. Very popular with young Americans I believe. The tourist is strategically located on the roof of a white-washed building for a photo shoot – this is often the roof of a church building where a bit of wind may pick up the dress. Of course, this has created a bit of a furore from the keyboard warriors who are outraged that this should happen. It’s sacrilegious, it’s inappropriate, how dare they ……………………………… Well people, take a look at what’s taking place on Skyros! Men dressed as goats, men and women dressed as girls and others dressed as god knows what – and they’re dancing on the roof of a MONASTERY! This may be enough to tip some of the Karens into apoplexy! It’s just as well that I don’t have a wide readership!

The dancing doesn’t go on for long but what a spectacle this has been! I could live my life ten times over and still never discover a fraction of Greece’s wonderful little oddities such as this! Gradually everyone begins to make their way down from the roof. Some of the Geros take the weight from their bodies by resting on a walI or on the back of a bench. They lift the goat flaps from their faces and allow the breeze to cool their skin. For some, a little impromptu dancing takes place in the Monastery courtyard and from the terrace, I can also see some more ad-hoc dancing taking place in the small square overlooking the bay. The Skyriots just love to dance and are really embracing Carnival to the max.

I make my way to the square just to catch the tail end of something. I don’t know what’s going on but I’m transfixed. There is the small group of Geros, Korela and Frango and then there is a man in a leather jacket chanting. After a few minutes of the chanting, the Geros jump up and down on the spot sending the echoes of their goat bells to the top of the Kastro. The man chants again and then the jumping and the clanging is repeated. At a wild guess I’d say that the man (whoever he is) is giving a blessing of some kind, maybe giving thanks for the approach of lent and the Geros concur. If anyone reading this knows please tell me as I really want to know. The mantra that I live by is ‘Always be curious’ – and I’m always curious!❤️

I eventually follow the last few stragglers back down to the town, winding down yet another completely different set of narrow steps. The town is crazy! It takes a while to make my way down the main street to the Central Square, weaving myself in and out of a mass of bodies. Last night was very tame compared to this. The celebrating is going to go on for some time but for this old lady, it’s time to get a quick bite to eat before heading back to Molos. This has been such a great evening I almost forgot that I was ill!

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  1. Amazing documentation Stephanie! I’ve been to Skyros 3 times in September, so it was great to see your pictures and video and your description really brought it to life. I used to live on Naxos, where they celebrate in a different way – dressed in white with white faces and black eyes and mouths, carrying lit torches and chanting (Lampadifories) so this is very different.

    1. Wow that’s so interesting that you used to live on Naxos Karen. How did you end up there? I think Carnival is fascinating and would definitely love to see how other islands do it. Maybe another one next year. 🙂

  2. Hi Stephanie
    Wow what an experience that was for you. How many days do they do this for? Is it a yearly thing? That must be hard work with all those bells, dancing and climbing up those steps
    Wendy Smith

    1. It’s incredible isn’t it Wendy. I think the length of Carnival can depend on the island but usually the week leading up to Clean Monday is when you can see various impromptu events on Skyros. 😊

  3. “This may be enough to tip some of the Karens into apoplexy ” made me laugh out loud while eating my breakfast – great read !

Let me know what you think. ❤

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