The Greek Islands: Mykonos, Icaria, Chios

Monday morning 06.30, first of March, we ran out the house with all our packages on the bikes and little energy of the fasting days. To discover in the subway that Sara-May forgot her phone on the table. But who cares if you are heading off to some amazing islands where they have post offices. Thereby, we were happy to start our second breakfast after six days of not eating.

We broke off our fasting period one day sooner, because Sara-May had little energy left. This in the perspective of a bike trip to India made her a bit worried. Also the craving for any kind of food grew very strong.

So imagine eating an apple after six days of fasting: you are in heaven. What a fabolous apple. What an amazing kind of flavours, so juicy, so fresh, so nice to clinge your teeth in. Then the best thing for dinner: a cracker with cottage cheese. This was even more delicious. Wauw wauw wi wa. We were back. Back on earth or in heaven, we did not know. Only that it was goooood.

SAMSUNG CSCWe slowly became ready to leave Athens. After a month preparing it felt really good to pack our bags, say goodbye to our roommate Roos to go direction East.

The real start: hilly Mykonos

Energy is slowly flowing back into our bodies and we are taking the ferry from Athens to Mykonos. The choice for this island was made pretty randomly: it was on our way to Turkey and we both were not here before. We found a place to stay through couchsurfing and we had some hours to spend before we could meet our host. Because it was so windy, we decided it was a good idea to turn left, so that we had the wind in our back. Only on an island this lasts for a few minutes, because there are turns. Many turns and hills. Very big windy hills. Mountains, they are also called in the Netherlands.

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Sara could definitely notice that her muscles had become weaker due to the fasting and she had to get the energy out of her toes.

SAMSUNG CSCThe thing that was cheering her a up though, was seeing Chris his butt because his pants broke so she could not cycle anymore. Not because of the wind, but because of laughter.

After a couple of thousands of turns and steep hills later, we arrived on top of the mountain and we drove down to arrive in the pittoresque island village for our first coffee since one month. And also the most expensive one we ever paid for. It was delicious.

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After the cycling we did feel fresh and full of energy again. We met Singh, our Indian host which turned out to be a very cheerful person. He gave a little Mykonos tour and told us about the life on the island. At one point he became a real hero and took our bags in the car. We could leave the bikes in a house nearby and then hopped into his car. We stayed at Singh’s house till our next ferry to Icaria on Friday, so four nights we had a nice warm bed to sleep in. His bed, because he insisted. Thereby, Singh told us his impressive lifestory which can be red here.

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Sun, sea, party Mykonos vs. rebellious Icaria.
Mykonos is beautiful in wintertime. In summertime also, however it is hard to see because of lots of tourists that will ruin the view with a selfiestick. It is very rocky, but still very green and the beaches are great.

SAMSUNG CSCWe took some pretty chilly fresh little dives and made ourselves some tea to get warm. In four days we managed to see a lot of the island by bike, including the hills. On top we were treated with some spectacular views.

The nice thing of cycling around the island is that you can escape the touristy roads and continue the small paths. In the evening we played some cards, drank some tea and made some nice food. Mykonos has a very touristy identity and prices though, so we were also happy to move the 4th of March forward to our second island: Icaria.

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Wild & stormy Icaria

Icaria turned out to be a whole different story. However the island is almost next to Mykonos it has a different climate and is therefore very foresty and has a lot of variety in the landscape. We could pick the food of the ground, and picked herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, a camomille variety, malve, and vegetables like wild carrot for our dishes. But it is not only the climate that makes Icaria special. It is also the course of history that gave Icaria a special identity.

Icarian people did not had it easy in the course of history due to famines, the wars in the 1940s and constant piracy and Turkish occupation. These circumstances made them also innovative, brave and authentic. For example they destroyed their ports to protect themselves against pirates.

SAMSUNG CSCConsequently this made them one of the best boat engineers in the Cyclades, because they needed to develop special trics to come on shore.

In 1912 they also had their own revolution against the Turkish and declared independence for five months. These months they also had their own flag, national anthem, own stemps etc. However, they were occupied by Turkey again while the rest of Greece became a united country. During the Greek civil war (1946-1949) the exiled communists were send to the island which gave Icaria the nickname ‘the Red rock”.

Anthony J. Papalas wrote an interesting book titled, the history of rebels and radicals. And somehow you can feel this identity when you wonder around the island.

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An island that for a long time did not had a lot of connections with the outside world, except for some trade with the neighbouring islands. In the 1970s the Greek government started to invest in the island to boost touristy industry. And however summer can be busy, Icaria remained under the radar of many tourists.

Icarian communities

The night we arrived it was rainy and stormy. We found a beach recommended by an Icarian we found through couchsurfing. Camping life started here, so we discovered that we had only a few tent pins and that our old tent was not waterproof. The tent got blown away almost two times, until we found an old building we could hide under. The nest day was full of sunshine so we could dry our stuff and call our first contact: Lefteris from couchsurfing.

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Lefteris responded that we were welcome to stay at his house. We were very lucky to meet him and his girlfriend Irini and not only because we were save from story nights. After cycling some pretty challenging mountain Lefteris picked us up to bring us to a music jam session at his friends house. We arrived in a beautiful little cottage house. Niko the owner transformed four old walls into a cousy house filled with soul. We were lucky to arrive this weekend because there were several fiestas before the Greek fasting period of 40 days. Friends gather together make delicious food, bring their own wine and their music instruments for some cousy evenings. We were offered some great food, wine and company. Thereby the music jam sessions with typical Greek instruments was amazing to experience.

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The night after we visited the second house where many people gathered and the table was filled with fava, the meat of their own pig, bulgur salads, rice, roasted bread, potatoes and of course local strong red wines. These fiesta gatherings were really amazing and we met many great people.

We could stay three nights at Lefteris place. He showed us the area and Irini showed us her little soap factory. Which can be red here. We said goodbye and started our cycling journey around the island. We camped at some amazing places. Also at the famous Seychelles beach with water so blue, you have to wear sunglasses.

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However at this beach we endured a very stormy night again where Sara was afraid we would get caught between the sea and the rocks. However everything turned out to be fine and we woke up at one of the most beautiful beaches of the islands.

SAMSUNG CSCDuring camping we built campfires and cook our vegetables with rice and bouillon: a delicious meal. We have breakfast with three different kind of fruits and oats. We need to stay healthy for the mountains we have to climb. When we ask people to fill up our water we often get many treats. In ten days we cycled form north Icaria to south, to north again to pick up the forgotten phone at the post office and to south again where our ferry would leave. In the south we discovered the amazing hot springs: for free, nobody there, where you can chill in a hot bath in the sea.

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Near Agios Kerykos, the capital we met the 76-year old Helene in a dark street. A lonely lady who speaks English fluently because she lived and married in America for a while. She could not walk well but that did not keep her from giving us a tour and telling about her growing up on the island. A tough time. According to Helen the second world war was not such a bad period compared to the Greek civil war. And also the conservative climate and strict education made it hard for her, especially because she was an orphan. Her bad marriage with the American tha did not want to have children with an orthodox christian woman did not made it a lot easier afterwards.

She was so happy to meet us that she insisted to treat us ” the best pizza in Icaria”. We exchanged phone numbers and the next day we met Helene at restaurant Feloti. Where she told us she is a joker. She wants to make jokes all the time, but at night she cries in her bed she says. Being strucked by all kind of diseases like artritos. We enjoyed her stories so much and are very happy to meet this chatty and lively old lady in the dark streets of Icaria.

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In two days we managed to go from south to north to pick up our phone. It started to rain pretty bad and the way was longer than we imagined. However we did manage to see the Icarian carnaval parade in Evdilos. We contacted Yannis, a friend of Lefteris who saved us and took us on our last night to another fiesta with again great food, wine and people. A perfect goodbye to this special island. We could spend the night at a french guy we met a the party and after some nice breakfast we left for our way back to the other side of the island where we would leave by ferry to our third island:

Chios

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Base at Karraktis

Compared with our biking adventures in Icaria we did not see that much of Chios. The morning we arrived, the temperature was around 2 degrees and with only 4 hours of sleep at the ferry, we decided to cycle south: the less hilly part with lots of ancient villages around. After some breakfast and a nap in a windsafe stop at the beach, we ended up at Katarraktis, a little fishers town where we set up our base for five nights.

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Here we could relax, make some fabolous meals with seafruits Chris collected out of the sea, have our morning showers in the sea and wash our clothes. We could see Turkey already on the opposite of the sea. Which also meant that the rocks of the beach were covered with life jackets, clothes, shoes, food and medicine.

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The art of giving

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Traveler’s life

One morning we ran into Yanoula. A Greek 70 year old lady. She could not speak English, but Chris managed to have a talk through body language while Sara was washing her hair with sea water. A day later we got suprised by her and her husband Costa. They brought a bag FULL of food. To name a few treats: bread, cheese, three bars of chocolate, cookies, juice, water, 10 boiled eggs, 2 bags of chips, a cake, and so on. Only to come back the next day with Another bag of food. The orthodox fasting time began, so they decided to give these two travelers all the food they could not eat. But it was not only about the food, they definitely mastered the art of giving. Yanoula thereby spread the love by giving us many hugs and kisses.

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We got invited at their home later that day, to get more cheese, olives, fish and tea herbs. Yanoula loves to stroll the island and collect herbs. The day we were leaving we went to their house were we met her son and wife and again our bellies were stuffed with food. Our fasting days were over. Instead of trying to gain weight, we were back at square 1: try to eat conscious and not too much. Dammit. We get an appetite of an overweight horse on the bike.

We were happy to meet these two amazing sweet generous people and we did not had to buy food for the next week.

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We cycled around the south and visited the beautiful medieval cities Pyrgi, Olympi and Mesta. The cities were built in order to produce and protect the famous mastic tree. These trees are only growing at Chios and mastic is for example being used for cooking, gum and pharmaceutical means. In Olympi we met Christina who was cleaning the rough mastic. For one kilo she got 76 euro’s. According to her this was nothing compared to what the endsellers get for it.

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Cleaning the mastic
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Chatting in Pyrgi

The refugees, so close but locked up 

Wednesday we were supposed to leave by ferry to our next destination: Turkey. So tuesday we slowly cycled our way to the capital Chios. On our way, as usual many dogs barked at us, but now also a tall man on bare foot was running after us. This was a new thing. It turned out to be Peter, a German volunteer A friend of his was at Chios since October to help refugees by giving them food and he decided to help him for two weeks. Everyday an official catering gives the refugees little food at 13.00. The volunteers had to wait until 14.00 when they left, so they could give the rest.

We told him however we saw many life jackets at the beach we did not see refugees at all. He told us this was because since the weekend the new EU policies were implemented. This policy sends the refugees that are newly arriving back to Turkey. At Chios and many other island this means that the refugees are being locked up which is against the law. Sara saw on her way a fence with a watchtower and had found it a pretty odd sight in the middle of a peaceful town Chalkio. It looked very dodgy. We saw many army people, but almost no refugees. A few days after we arrived in Turkey we heard there had been fights in the camps of Chios because of rising tensions. It is against humanitarian laws to lock up refugees, so we hope Europe will find a better solution that this panic almost xenophobic response by closing the borders and send people back to Turkey. When also recently is discovered that Turkey sends people back to northern Syria, because they claim its safe. Europe should stay calm, open the borders and help people that are fleeing from war.

Peter invited us for a beer later in a cafe all the volunteers gather called ‘Soli’ short for solidarity. And we were planning to do so until we met Etienne and Marion. Two cyclers who cycle from Singapore back to their home countries Belgium and France. These were the first cyclers we met and we were really excited to hear their stories. However there was little time for this, because in twenty minutes they would catch the ferry to Turkey. After a short talk we said goodbye and were left alone. To realise ten minutes later that it is actually much better to go today to Turkey than tomorrow, because the weather was going to be really shitty tomorrow.

SAMSUNG CSCAlthough we would miss an evening to talk with all kinds of volunteers, we had our time at Chios. It was enough, Turkey was calling us. So Chris ran to the ticket office, Sara ran to get a bottle of ouzo, a gift for our Turkish friends and five minutes later we cycled as fast as we could to the ferry. We almost skipped pasport control, because we were in such a rush. So exactly at 17.00 we entered the boat where Etienne was waiting to help us on board because he had seen us running.

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And then that was it. In ten minutes it was decided: after seven (Sara) and five months (Chris) we were leaving Greece. However it felt longer, because it had felt like home. But it was good to move on, move eastwards, to be a little step closer to India. We were excited to enter unknown territory for us both: Turkey. We couldn’t wait.

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