tl/dr: 4 hours (2 hours one way, 2 hours back); rough total of 8 miles round trip of steep incline and decline over rocks/boulders
The wifi in Ikaria during the high season is notoriously terrible. Think dial-up. It was difficult to find information, even with good wifi, on hiking from Nas — the seaside village on the northwest coast of Ikaria — to Raches, the mountain village, where a huge panagiri (festival) happens next Saturday. We wanted to find a hiking route both to save money on taxis and out of curiosity.
Unfortunately, when I began finding droplets of intel on the advisability of the hike, it was at first something like this: “It’s dangerous! You need mountain gear, walking sticks, and hiking shoes to do it. I’ve never done it.” This from one of the cleaning women at our place. The hosts said “We have no information, and have never tried it.” Others we asked similarly said, “It’s dangerous. And far!” So when I found this on a (very helpful and informative) blog, as someone who is quite opposite of a thrill-seeker and also afraid of heights enough so that I have often turned around even on stairs too precipitous, I realized with sadness we probably couldn’t do it:
“The trail, which climbs along the steep slope of the Chalaris Canyon, promises to shred shoes and weaken knees, and is not recommended for those who are scared of heights.”Ikarian Winter blog
The same blog advised, “The needles cover uneven ground, which makes for an unpredictable hiking situation.”
Another blog on ecotourism did not blink a blogged eye at the challenging nature of the hike, of which it is categorized on other hiking sites. Yet it had vague instructions such as “turn left at the stand of pines.”
Fortunately for us, there were plenty of signs. Even if some of them, including this one at the entrance, reinforced my fear that I would have to turn around.
As we clambered over boulders hanging from steep ravines, I soon felt more confident since there was sloping ground to the side rather than a steep cliff, thus ‘fooling’ my fear of heights and not rendering my knees to jello. Maybe others with this fear would also not be triggered by this hike, so I am sharing my experience for them.
I’ve found throughout my five decades that often others’ reports are unreliable for my use. What people call long walks, or ‘too far’ (sometimes only a couple miles) is nothing when you walk 5-10 miles a day. Yet, I take them into account — especially local accounts — since it’s wise to listen to those with more experience of the area. The best approach I’ve found is putting one foot in front of the other. Even if that foot is climbing up boulders.
That said, I left a “hello” in my laptop journal to whomever might find it presuming we’d perish from today’s hike.
Though we lost our way once on the way there and once on the way back, it was difficult to do so. The kind volunteers in Ikaria made sure to mark the path with red dots and signs and arrows throughout. I wanted to kiss them all on both cheeks, I was so relieved. Rarely have I seen a trail so well marked in the US. Usually the trail markings stop or at times are confusing as to the direction.
“In 2005, a native Ikarian advocated for the development of hiking paths throughout this area, in an effort not only to bring awareness to the natural beauty of the gorge, but also to promote future protection of Chalaris Canyon in the face of environmental concerns such as overgrazing.
A network of trails was subsequently etched into the landscape here – a labor of love on the part of local volunteers from groups such as SCI Hellas volunteers and the Citizens’ Movement of Raches.”Ikarian Winter blog
We walked through Agios Dimitrios where they were setting up for a Panagiri tonight, and finally made it up the hill to the village of Xristos Raches. We were surprised to find a grocery store that had vegan meatballs, soy kima (hamburger meat), and many other treats. We also stopped at the Women’s Cooperative and bought some local fruit liquor and marmalade. They support the local organic economy and Ikarian artisans and farmers. Amazing group of women. The cashier told me that this year they did not have honey due to climate change and the bees dying off — she said the weather did not help (I’m assuming – hot).
Walking around the village, we came upon a square packed with both locals and tourists. We stopped at a cafe and ordered potato salad (it’s mostly made with olive oil in Greece instead of mayo, but it varies so I ask), zucchini ‘meat’ balls, and fried zucchini. While we were eating, Rob noticed a sign that was unexpected music to our vegan tastebuds:
Needless to say we stopped for the best coffee we’ve had in Greece – an iced Freddo cappuccino with vegan whipped cream.
This is one of the many things I love about Greece. Small towns, rather than being surrounded by strip malls, are like cities unto themselves, containing possibilities beyond their supposed smallness.
Lately we’ve been listening to a Buddhist monk in Thailand who runs a Youtube channel to share lessons from his practice. One of his lessons (which I’ve heard elsewhere too) is on having a morning routine that includes making your bed. There is some psychological lift you receive from this small but start-of-the-day accomplishment. Taking a hike you are slightly afraid of gave me a similar feeling, a slight boost in my own feeling of self worth and ability. I recommend it, even if you do need a hand from Rob every so often on the way down for security.
The trip there took two hours door to Raches, and about the same back. We plan to hike on Saturday to go to the big Panagiri.
Before Raches, we stayed a week in the village of Magganitis with hosts that felt more like our friends by the end of our stay, Maria and Michales.
Michaeles is a musician who plays traditional Greek songs on his violin. In the olden days he used to play the all-night panagiris. He also has a bouzouki he let us play, and we shared music together a couple of nights. I really enjoyed speaking with he and Maria (and translating for Rob) and learning about their lives both in Ikaria and Athens. They both grew up on the island. Maria’s mother was obligated to house the communist exiles during the Greek Civil war, but said they all became good friends afterward, even though they were not supposed to interact. Maria remembers them fondly. She said most of the exiles were well educated and had good jobs back in Athens. They stayed a few years during the war, and Ikaria became known as the “red rock” due to the influence of the 13,000+ left leaning and communists who were exiled on its rocky shores (including the famous composer Mikis Theordorakis!) from roughly 1945-1949.
We also enjoyed Maria’s cooking, sharing a meal and snacks, and Michaeles’ homemade wine. He showed us the huge barrel and stored in his shed.
The starscape in Magginitis was one I could only find in a dark sky sanctuary in the US. It was stunning — even our milky white Milky Way galaxy could be seen (galaxy – Greek word! From “gala” meaning milk). Admittedly, I didn’t believe I was actually seeing our galaxy — a Google search for “how can you see the Milky Way when you’re in it” quickly helped me understand by supplying the answer “how can you see your car when you’re in it?”