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Report 1204: Zig and Georgia's Trip of Gifts

By zig from Kentucky, USA, Fall 2006

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Page 14 of 18: 10/3/06-10/4/06 My Pilgrimage on Patmos

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Our Patmos Burro

We should have known that it wasn’t going to be a good dining experience when we couldn’t catch the waitress’s eye. We were out on the sidewalk and thought that perhaps we were just too far away from the action so we moved up onto the deck just outside the restaurant’s main doors. There seemed to be slightly less cigarette smoke outside. We picked one of the tables for four. The owner’s daughter still ignored us, no mistaking the family resemblance. She was tired and cranky and had had enough tourists to last her all of her roughly 17 years. But we were hungry. Under duress she took our order.

The lamb chop was tasty but overcooked. The stuffed baked potato was good too, but it came with rice and French fries (!?) and that was a bit too much starch for me. The house wine wasn’t any good either; Georgia said it seemed to be flavored with turpentine, the natural Retsina taste all alcohol has on the islands. And the daughter substituted a much larger carafe than we ordered. When we asked for an empty water bottle to carry away the extra she never returned. We finally borrowed an empty bottle from the next table. As we were leaving the owner brought us a complementary dessert of melon and we appreciated the effort but would never go there again.

The queen-sized bed felt wonderful and we slept with the French doors wide open. The soft pounding of the wine-dark sea put me right to sleep. The Retsina-flavored wine and Mythos Beer probably didn’t hurt either.

October 3, 2006, Wednesday: St John’s Monastery

Slept late, missed the early bus and decided to walk up the mountain to the Monastery. Georgia had walking directions from the web printed out. We were to start from the “iron monger’s” shop. Evidently he’s gone to that great forge in the sky so we couldn’t turn down the alley by his shop. We had to start where we thought his shop might have been. I said it seemed to me that we couldn’t go much wrong as long as we kept moving upward. Georgia didn’t agree. Whichever way I suggested she didn’t like it. When I sweetly suggested that she pick the direction she declined, but did reserve the right, nay, obligation, to cast aspersions on any choice I might make.

When our winding path emerged from the alleys into a construction site she mutinied: “We’re going back to the dock!” As you might expect that order didn’t really set well with me but I didn’t say anything. I just followed silently as she fulminated about how much she hated being lost (where have I heard that before?), how stupid it was for us to just take off walking up a mountain, and how I should have listened to her when she told me I was making a mistake. I believe that these were the three basic themes but they were connected in an infinite loop and kept playing over and over and over as we made our way back to the bus stop at the dock. I could feel my eyes bulging. I was pretty sure my head would explode if I had to hear the loop again on the bus so I decided I needed a nice quiet walk in the mountains, alone. I handed Georgia 10 euros and told her I would meet her at the top. The last thing I heard was “We’ll never find each other up there!” I was willing to take that risk.

There are two basic routes up the mountain from Skala. We’d started up the narrow central road last time so I started up the wider shore road this time. It quickly became pretty steep and the temperature was climbing as well. About 500 yards up I found a place where a path joined the road. I took it and cut inland. It was haphazardly paved with those large volcanic stones and bordered by chest-high dry stone walls of the same material. Eventually the path just petered out into what appeared to be a concrete water run-off. I scrambled up this chute and popped out puffing and sweating at that same construction site that had overcome Georgia an hour before. I was pretty sure that this must be the path but construction traffic had evidently obliterated the track. Remembering my best childhood Tonto and Lone Ranger training I looked around for signs of a trail. I thought I could see where the grass was trampled right through the center of the site so pressed on.

Another couple of hundred yards of climbing and sweating and I wasn’t so sure. There wasn’t any wall bordering me and though I could see that people had been walking here and there I couldn’t see a “path,” just dry grass and scrub-brush in all directions. I ended up in what was clearly the overgrown and gone-to-seed backyard of a dilapidated stone house. Oh boy. I channeled Tonto again and noticed a locked gate with a low wall on either side. What does a gate signify? A PATH! I walked over, expecting to hop over the low wall and be back on my way, but when I arrived I saw that the wall wasn’t low at all. It was about six feet tall, only about 18 inches showed because the path on the other side was sunken! Either my side had built up over the centuries or the path on the other side had been carved down to the bedrock over the centuries. In either case I had to swing my leg out over the top of the wall and climb down to the path. Volcanic rock is very sharp. But that’s okay; I didn’t cut or scrape myself too badly. But I was very grateful my sweetie wasn’t with me. I don’t even want to think about trying to help her over and down that wall.

I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and started back up the mountain, very slowly, but it was clear I was going to arrive at the monastery. I could see the path winding back and forth above me as I was traveling along the ascending rim of a huge bowl. To my right the valley opened up all the way to our little apartment by the bay. To my left the main bay at Skala opened onto the broad Aegean. There was a beautiful four-masted sailing ship at anchor and I could see a string of tourist boats arriving and departing in a steady stream.

The path was clearly ancient but didn’t look as heavily traveled as I had expected. There were truly wicked-looking nettles and weeds sprouting up from between the rocks. Even with the heat I was glad to be wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.

“Clop, clop, clop.” I looked up in surprise through the stinging mist of sweat to see a little donkey coming down the mountain picking his way over the rough stones and nettles. A tiny little leathery man in a Greek baseball cap was perched placidly on his back. “Kalei Miera,” I said, surprised at the apparition. “Kal’ Me’ra” he replied with a toothless grin. I motioned a question whether or not I could take his picture. He nodded vigorously and brushed off his shirt-front to spruce himself up. The donkey didn’t say anything, but didn’t seem especially happy to be just standing there. I only managed one sun-drenched photo when the donkey decided that the photo op was over and brushed past me on the narrow path and clopped around the corner.

Ahead, rising out of the barren rock and dried vegetation was a beautiful little sparkling white chapel. I knew there was a church built over the cleft in the rock where John heard the voice of God and dictated to his disciples standing nearby but this little building, about 10’ x 12, just didn’t seem big enough so I trudged on for another 20 minutes or so, eventually popping up on the road again, this time just outside the parking area for the monastery where the tour buses would park. MORE steps and winding streets through the little town of Hora and I stood, dripping sweat, outside the monastery door. The second person I saw was Georgia, who looked very relieved to see me. I think she was dreading trying to organize a Greek search party, though I’m sure she would have been up to the task.

What fun it was walking through the monastery taking photos of the lovely walls, amazing views of the sea all around, and cats. They were everywhere. They obviously had the run of the place and virtually owned the streets of Hora. The iconography we saw was stunning but I didn’t understand why it didn’t translate into painted glass windows. Virtually every inch of each Orthodox Church was covered in glass or stone mosaics but we saw maybe five colored-glass windows and they were boring! Just pieces of colored glass installed in place of clear glass in some small standard window. The sacred spaces were always so dark, maybe that’s why clear glass was always preferred. It’s too bad; the icons show that the artistic talent was certainly there.

A young postulant from New York City showed us around and expressed pleasure that I’d actually walked up from Skala: “A real pilgrim,” he said. We asked where the church housing the cleft was located. He lead us around a knot of tourists to the edge of the precipice and pointed it out, way inland from my path. I pointed out my route up the mountain and he said incredulously, “You walked up that way?” As always, I screwed up, but it came out okay.

As we walked the streets we found a very nice bakery and bought a cheese and tomato sandwich made from a long baguette. Georgia got a spinach pastry and we shared another Mythos beer with feet swung over the wall. No wonder pilgrims had come here for millennia. Except for the occasional wave of tourists disgorged from the boats and buses the whole scene was full of peace. We saw a young German couple wrestling a baby carriage up and down the stairs trying not to waken their little charge. We felt very grateful to have our children grown and flown.

On the way down, just above the parking lot, we found two stone masons repairing a part of the pathway torn up to lay a pipe of some sort. The man in charge was carefully rolling jagged stones the size of basketballs around looking for flat areas, and measuring with a practiced eye how deeply the ground would have to be dug out to “plant” each. Both men worked very slowly about the speed I walked up the mountain, “but their work is also going to last for a very long time,” I said. They didn’t mind having their picture taken and in broken English wanted to know where we were from. They seemed genuinely pleased to think of their picture in Lex-ing-tong Ken-took-kay.

We crossed the parking lot and started down the path in earnest. Ahead of us making very slow progress was the German couple with the baby stroller. The father was trying to roll over basketball-sized stones some other workman had buried a millennium or so ago. Given that he was at the edge of the precipice it didn’t look safe to me.

(to be continued)

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