First impressions: this Port is on the opposite side of the island to the main town of Chios, in a small village called Limenas. I thought it beautiful- turquoise sea, bobbing fishing boats, faded and peeling paint benches lining a waterfront sbaded by twisty trunked pine trees. There were no huge developments like I saw on Lesbos this morning (though there probably are in main town Chios). There was a solitary turreted tower adorning the scrubby hillside opposite. There were few people about – but (as someone mentioned later) it’s coming to the end of the short tourist season, when children go back to school.
I stopped in a café to replenish my waterbottles, and have a quick sarnie and a coffee. I also uploaded a map of the island and got some great advice about the most picturesque route to Chios from the young girl serving. “Don’t you mind the sun?”, she said as I went to cycle off. Oh, yes, I’d forgotten about that, but there’s a pleasant breeze.
Further inland, the hills are all terraced with stone walls. There are rows of olive trees and figs. The buildings are blocky with flat rooves for sleeping under the stars. I’m going to enjoy my stay here, I think
I was shocked the closer I got to the first village, called Mesta. A HUGE fire has obviously devastated this valley. The earth is scorched, naked, ashes scattered, trees like dead, broken armed. When I’m nearly into the village itself, there are some signs of life – shoots of green thrusting up through the soil and green leaves mingling with the crispy brown leaves. I’ve just found a reference to this fire online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Chios_forest_fire
Mesta is fascinating: maze-like, narrow alleyways wind between tall, stone, blocky houses. Sometimes arches overhead extend to become tunnels. Mesta (and other villages around) was built like this in medieval times to repel and confuse invaders and pirates. There are still great metal portcullis type gates set in the walls to make the village a sprawling fortress. Although some houses lie empty, most are refurbished and decorated with terracotta urns spilling bright geraniums or busily flowering bougainvillea tumbling over walls.
Mesta is part of the Mastochohoria - or one of the villages which produces ‘mastic’ - of which I’ll speak more later.
As I popped out of one of the cobbled alleyways I come to a restaurant and stop for tea. I ask the proprieters about the fire – the man is the only one who can speak enough English and he explains – there was a terrible fire about 4 years ago – it happened at 3 or 4 in the morning, and they had to evacuate the village – get all the older and vulnerable people to move out –because the flames were lapping at the village walls. Since then there have been several smaller fires – though none as huge or terrifying as the one 4yrs ago.
Just after leaving this place, I ride past a ‘ceramic art studio’ and reverse so I can park up and have a nose. There is a very greek looking man – a big grizzly bear of a man - and a woman about my age, with large clear eyes, sat at the entrance to the intriguing looking place. The man immediately welcomes me and offers me a drink but I decline as I’m full to the brim after leaving the restaurant. The studio is like a garage overrun with plants and kittens and dusty shards of pots and old rope. Displayed in amongst this are pots and ornaments glazed with interesting metallic blues and greys. I particularly love the large flat dishes – but, as I explain, being on a bicycle means I can’t buy or carry very much. In the back there is a large table for working on – with half finished clay ornaments drying – and shelves of glazes and interesting looking tools.
There are lots of small ceramic pendants and I spot one that looks a little like an alien’s head with a hole in it for the leather lace. It’s Seth’s birthday coming up, so I decide to buy him this because he “needs it like he needs a hole in the head”. Besides the joke, I like it too and think it will look good on Seth. It’s small enough to post home easily, with one of my wee paintings as a card. Nikos (for that is the potter’s name) wraps it beautifully, in tissue paper with some thyme in a tiny paper carrier bag and a hand drawn butterfly card – for butterflies are representatives of the soul.
In the meantime, Nikos’ girlfriend, who is Dutch, has introduced herself as Lidewij and is asking about my trip. We settle down for a natter and Nikos invites me to help myself to the grapes growing from the vines that hang down over the entrance. They are sweet and melting – apart from the seeds, which I practise spitting out like a pistol (I’m not very good at this).
They ask me where I’m going, and I explain that I’m heading for Chios – but hoping to camp on a beach on the way. Why not sleep on the balcony next door? Well- I had every intention of going a bit further – at least down to the coast but why not? Lidewij has to leave at that point – goes off for the evening with friends leaving Nikos to shut up shop. Nikos asks the owner (in Greek), an older woman in the traditional black garb of a widower – who says she can do better than that, and opens up a little apartment underneath – a small living/dining room, a kitchen, three bedrooms and two bathrooms – tiny, primitive but perfectly adequate. She makes up a bed in one of the rooms (the one with Disney pictures on the wall) and makes sure the electricity is on. There is air conditioning – but I don’t bother with that. The shower doesn’t work either because I can’t swop the flow from the tap to the shower head, but beggars can’t be choosers and I’m awed by the generosity. She doesn’t want rent although I offer to pay.
I stay for a while and we watch two kittens play – they are not from the same litter but about the same age (5 months) – one of them is meltingly friendly, draping herself across ones arms or knees purring loudly at every opportunity. The other black and white cat is much more cautious of humans and spends more time batting flies and chasing around. Nikos is evidently a complete softy and spends much time petting and playing with the kittens. There are toys dangling invitingly from various places and rugs placed strategically so the cats can make themselves comfortable wherever.
Three beautiful young girls, probably about 8 or 9yrs of age, come to say hello to Nikos – he obviously knows them well as they make themselves completely at home, flopping into the chairs – one of them falls out with the other two and she sits on Nikos’ lap and is comforted while she sobs – he saying sensible sounding words in Greek and her nodding. I think that that wouldn’t be allowed in today’s Britain with paranoia about paedophilia and it’s a shame, because it seems very innocent and caring. The girls go home and I take the opportunity to leave too. I settle in to the little place next door and get to bed early to try and catch up on the sleep I didn’t get on the ferry.