The Rambling Writer Explores More Greek Islands, Part 4: Rugged Karpathos

Fleeing ahead of Cyclone Zorba before it hit Athens, Thor and I landed on this sparsely populated island of steep cliffs, gemlike coves, quaint villages… and inquisitive goats!

NOTE: Since our trip last fall to Greece to research more settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT, Thor and I knew we had to return to this magical region. My first entry in this new blog series posted here on Saturday, 10/20/2018. It gives an overview of our rambles from Athens to seven islands in the Dodecanese and Cyclades groups, ending our ferry-hopping pilgrimage on the anciently sacred island of Delos.

When we were planning this return trip together, Thor wanted to spend time on an island that wasn’t as developed for tourism as others we’d visited. He chose Karpathos for its traditional villages and, of course, its beautiful beaches. We both wanted to experience a slower island pace and perhaps interact with residents outside of the service industry. Once we picked up our rental car at the airport and set out for our hotel, the first locals to greet us were these curious goats, only the first of many we would see wandering freely around the island. As I had learned during my early backpacking trip in the 1980s, the Greeks love their goats. Who could resist these  mischievous companions of Dionysos?

Karpathos is the second largest Dodecanese island, the group in the southeast Aegean, sometimes called the Carpathian Sea. It’s only a short ferry ride from the largest of the group, Rhodes. Karpathos is 125 square miles of rugged peaks and valleys, its highest mountain at 4000 feet. With a permanent population of only 6200, it does experience some summer swelling of tourists and expatriate islanders returning on vacation. Beautiful coves and beaches lie below steep, rocky cliffs, those on the west side pebbly, and those on the east side sandy but more likely to be stirred up by the North African meltemi winds. Last year on Rhodes, Thor and I discovered that we preferred the beaches of polished marble pebbles for snorkeling, so we chose the west side of Karpathos and Hotel Alkioni in the tiny hamlet of Finiki. Quite a change from the bustle of Athens!

Below our room’s balcony, a typical island cluster of a few tavernas, a chapel, and painted fishing boats at the small harbor — this one protected by a breakwater:

The weather was unsettled, with a cool wind, but we checked into our room in time to walk down to the cove and snorkel along the submerged boulders. We can never get enough of the clear blue Aegean waters.

After a quick shower, it was time to check out one of the three tavernas for dinner.

We were reminded that dinner for the Greeks is a leisurely affair, accompanied by a lot of conversation and laughter. A fun group of local ladies commandeered a long table next to us and filled the patio with their zestful energy.  Our own dinner involved a slow progression of appetizer, drinks, delicious tiny local olives, bread and salad, and finally a broiled fresh fish brought in that day by one of the boats now tied at the wharf.

We never learned the name of the taverna dog who patrolled the wharf and begged for treats, but we called him Zorba for his whirlwind energy as he chased any car pulling onto the wharf. He was very sweet, and accompanied us up the path to our hotel gate after dinner.

After a painful night on yet another Greek bed with all the softness of a slab of marble, we set out for the island’s east side and main town of Pigadia/Karpathos, which had one department store beneath a grocery store. There we dug around and found two patio cushions we could use under the bed sheets for a bit of padding. (After returning home, I would finally learn that my chronic hip pain is partially due to a previously-misdiagnosed deep muscle tear, so after an upcoming repair job, future trips should be smoother. We’re also going to experiment with bringing along our inflatable backpacking pads on our trips, so I’ll update fellow arthritis sufferers in future posts.)

This was the harvest season, so the island was looking pretty bare and dry. We saw several areas where hillsides were terraced for olive trees.

After a torrential downpour that had anyone on the town roads scurrying for cover, we headed up into the mountains to check out local villages. Wind and rain, possibly from the fringes of Cyclone Zorba, were keeping most people inside, but we had our raincoats and took a wander around Aperi. We learned that it’s considered one of the wealthiest of Greek island villages. Following a common pattern in the islands since World War II, when the economy started really suffering, many islanders fled to Athens or to the eastern United States to live and work. Loyal to their ancestral homes, many sent money home to relatives, and later returned with enough money to spruce up their villages and live comfortably. Aperi, with its typical boxy, whitewashed tile-roofed houses tightly packed on the steep hillside, certainly did live up to its prosperous reputation.

Narrow, twisty roads manage to accommodate cars, though it can be dicey when you encounter another one coming at you. Once more, I’m grateful for my loyal driver husband Thor!

I noticed that many doorways were decorated with foliage and dried pomegranates. The fruit, of course, is important in Greek mythology from the story of Demeter’s daughter Persephone being lured to remain in the underworld when her captor Hades enticed her to eat six pomegranate seeds. Ever after, she remains below for six months of the year, accounting for dreary winter. The fruit has been important symbolically in many cultures and religions, and still is considered good luck for the Christmas season and for weddings, to ensure fertility.  I haven’t yet gotten the full story of the door decorations (perhaps retained from the previous Christmas season??), so if anyone knows more, please comment below!

This doorway decoration incorporated the pomegranate with the ubiquitous symbol of protection from the “evil eye.”

The blue-glass version of the protective beads are seen everywhere in Greece, like this one decorating a candle holder that reproduces an ancient Minoan image of the original Ariadne. Thor bought these for me to inspire my novel-in-progress about a near-future Ariadne, may the blue bead bring luck!

The houses on the edge of the ravines had steep stone and concrete stairways beside them, outlined with the traditional whitewashing, leading down into plantings of cactus, herbs, shrubs, and olive and pomegranate trees.

After more twisting, narrow mountain roads led us over the crest of the island to look over the west side again, we came upon this roadside cemetery with a view. I couldn’t help wondering how many traffic fatalities had contributed to the “residents” here. One of the Greeks who rented us a car during our island-hopping confided that we needed to watch out, since “Greek drivers are crazy.” They certainly seem fearless, as they tear around at high speed and apparently regard blind curves as challenges. I made sure we always had our protective blue bead in the car.

As we headed back down the west coast, late afternoon sunlight broke through the clouds, shining over the rocky hillsides.

And back to our hotel for a peaceful sunset.

Next week: The traditional village of Olympos, and a perfect beach!


You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection.  It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?”  The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from another research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter

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