On Chios there are two bus services. The Green Line that departs from Chios Bus Station close to the port and the Blue Line that is located next to the City Hall building just off the main square. So far I’ve only picked up a bus timetable for the Blue Green Line which serves the more far flung destinations on the island. Although the buses don’t run particularly regularly, if you are going to travel across the island to visit somewhere you may as well stay for a couple of hours.
For most of the routes there is a very early departure and another one from anywhere between 11.30 – 13.30 from the bus station. For a handful of euros you can travel quite far. Today I’m going to visit the mountain village of Anavatos. It costs 4€ for a return ticket – you really can’t complain at that!
The staff at the bus station are really helpful. She tells me that I can have a return ticket as it is the same driver who will drive there and back. Apparently it is bus number 17 which is just a small bus as the larger ones can’t make it round the right bends.
As I sit on the metal seats at the back of the bus station, I see bus number 17. It’s a bit of a cronky old thing. The driver lifts the bonnet and tops it up with water and then tops up the engine with oil. Ah – it’s going to be ‘that’ kind of journey is it!
Just four of us board. An elderly man who looks as though he has been into town for supplies, a young Greek man (I say young – probably in his thirties, and an older Greek man who is well dressed and looks like a visitor. The bus heads out of the town from the East and through several well populated villages. It isn’t long before the landscape begins to change as we make our ascent into the hills above Chios. Chios is rocky and yet pine forests are able to thrive in these conditions. Literally pine trees appear to be sprouting out of rock as opposed to soil and you can catch their scent on the breeze. Olive trees, grape vines and Italian Cyprus also seem the thrive here.
We pass the village of Avgonyma which is another one on my list to visit. The bus continues to climb up around hair pin bends and I’m thankful that I’m not on the cliffside of the bus. The two Greek men who are here as visitors ask the bus driver a series of questions as we pass various points along the way. At one point we pass on the road above the monastery and the bus driver is pointing down to it and talking away. I’d rather he kept his eyes on this very precarious road. We arrive at the top of the road where it is wide enough for the bus to turn and then once we leave the bus we continue walking up to the entrance of the village.
Although we don’t speak each others language very well, I’m told and I understand that there is an elderly lady who lives in the village on her own. The rest of the village was abandoned long ago. At the entrance to the village there is a small taverna and indeed, said lady sitting at one of the tables. She is clad in a woolly hat and coat. It’s not just that she’d elderly and the Greeks have already begun to feel the change in the weather, it’s that you can really feel the full force of the wind up here in the mountains. The air is pure and fresh. The three of us go off in our own directions initially. Around the church, then along a path above the taverna that overlooks a smallholding and then several stone houses that seem to have been newly built or newly renovated. After this there is only one direction – and that is up!
Up between the old stone houses, up alongside a construction conveyer belt used for carrying building materials up and down, and then up along a cliff edge. Part of the village is closed off due to the ongoing construction work. I feel that I can’t go much further. There is a house on the cliff edge that you can go into but the walk along the cliff edge is sending my vertigo into high alert. The older Greek man beckons to me to come and look. I just shake my head and try and mime that I have vertigo. He points to the younger Greek man to help me. I’m left with no choice but to be ushered along the cliff edge whilst I shield my eyes from the sheer drop to my left and reassuring words from the man. I practically leap into the house. I wonder if they had vertigo in medieval times. I suppose not a consideration if your life depended on protecting yourself from invaders.
This house I’m told has been renovated for the purpose of tourism. It is still a very simple home with a vaulted ceiling and not much else. A window open to the wind gives views all the way down to the bottom of the valley which I can tell you is a massive drop below. I can’t really get close enough to the window to take the photograph. I exit the way that I entered.
I can’t get back down the stone steps fast enough. Well actually much slower than I climbed – Getting back down is always harder and I have to stoop to hold the conveyor belt to ground myself. Once down I take another path which takes me alongside a small holding with chickens and some vegetables are grown. I look up and I see the older Greek man beckoning to me to take the next path up. He points out what is described as an art stage. There is a small stone house who’s exterior has been decorated with scenes of a miniature village. I tell him what a surprise to see something like this here. He stoically says “Not a surprise!”
There is no indication as to how or why it is here or even who created it. But here it is – a little art installation up in the mountain village of Anavatos! You know – as if having the Bejusus scared out of you from a cliff edge wasn’t enough!
After the three of us have exhausted the village we retire to the taverna where we have about an hour and a half to kill before the bus returns. We fall into conversation with a Greek American couple who have come up to the village by car. They tell us that they come to Chios every year as it is their home island. This is useful because they take on the role as interpreters for me and my two fellow bus travellers. The young Greek man is called Dimitris and the older Greek man Mr Papandreiou. I’d already discovered that Dimitris is from Alexandroupoli and that he works for the ambulance service on the island and has been here for several months. He is thrilled when I tell him that my daughter also used to work for the ambulance service and show him a photograph of her in her uniform. He tells me that their uniform is blue – and also that my daughter is very pretty!
Mr Papandreiou is originally from Leonidio in Arcadia but now lives in Pireaus. He tells me through our new interpreters that he was very sad to hear about the death of Queen Elizabeth. He told me that he was so moved by her passing that he went into Athens to sign the book of condolence. He tells me that he loved the queen and that she was a great lady.
We spend the next hour trying to put the world to rights – we joke that we are like the United Nations. Mr Papandreiou says that he is going to start walking down and will meet the bus as it comes back down the mountain.
After checking the time Dimitris and I walk to the turning circle and wait for the bus. We try to get photo’s of the village from below, dodging the glare of the oncoming sun. We figure out if we stand in the shade of a pine tree we may just be able to do it. Half an hour later and the sun would have dropped behind the mountain and it would have been perfect. Dimitris, points to the pine tree and talking in Greek he mentions the word retsina which of course I know is flavoured by pine. I also try to tell him that apart from loving retsina, I also love the pine honey. I’d seen several clusters of beehives amongst the pine forests as we drove up.
I’ve bought many jars of pine honey from Greece over the years and try to recall the name for the word pine. As Dimitris, points to the tree saying an unfamiliar word in Greek, I say “Pinus?” He looks at me blankly. I repeat it again “Pinus?” whilst pointing at the tree – still no look of recognition. Maybe I’m pronouncing it incorrectly or putting the emphasis in the wrong part of the word. “Peeeenus” I repeat again. After the third or fourth attempt I finally catch myself and close my mouth immediately. I just hope that his English doesn’t stretch as far to male body parts. I swear to God one of the last jars I bought was labelled Meli Pinus. I’ll have to Google this when I’m back on the bus.
Dimitris and I stand on the road conversing the best we can with our limited common language until we can see the bus climbing the hairpin bends through the pine forest. Just the two of us board. Mr Papandreiou must want to catch it further down. Sure enough we pick him up some ten minutes later – he’s a game old bird. I’m further surprised when the bus comes to a stop half way down the mountain and Mr Papandreiou, gets off telling us he is going to walk down to the monastery. All credit to him!
Back at the bus station Dimitris and I say our goodbye’s with a hand shake. I’ve had such a fantastic day. Yes Anavatos is amazing but more than anything it’s about the connection with other people. Three strangers on a bus, with a bit of a language barrier but that really wasn’t a problem. Not when you have the common language of curiosity and interest!
So impressed am I by the bus service today that I’m going to use it again tomorrow to visit the village of Mesta in the South of the island.
Later that evening I have another mooch around the Citadel and eat in the same square again at Kafenes. I honestly love this place. It is a complete haven from the hustle and bustle of the town and company is never far away!
NB: I wasn’t completely wrong about the word for pine. Pinus is the Latin name for pine! Pefko is the Greek name for pine. I won’t make that mistake again!