I write this from the island of Patmos. I am staying in Skala but the view from my balcony is the historical white walled city village of Chora crowned by the Monastery of St John the Theologian. As pretty as it is here with its Tamerisk lined beaches, something beckons me towards this Christian mecca. With limited time on the island, I get up and out early to seek the old cobbled street that takes me up from the port of Skala to the old city and its fortress walls. I begin the climb in the warm morning sunshine.
The beautiful and elegant Eleanora’s falcons sweep around the bay. I enjoy their lazy, graceful flight and wonder who Eleanora was. (I later find out that Eleanora of Arborea (c1350-1404) was the warrior-princess national heroine of Sardinia who passed enlightened legislation to protect birds of prey. She was therefore probably the first person to practice conservation).
It is very quiet on the cobbles except for a smily lady coming my way. She rushes over to ask my my name. She tells me she is Helena and shakes my hand wishing me the love of God to accompany me. Patmos is mentioned in the Book of Revelation and is renowned as a holy pilgrimage. This cobbled road is therefore well trod and is steeped in history.
On route, I find the Cave of the Apocalypse in which John the Apostle heard the voice of God. This mystical encounter drove him to write the book of revelations in the Monastery named after him, high on top of the hill, or so the story goes. It is because of its biblical significance that Chora, and its surrounds, are a World Heritage Site.
The tree-lined route is bursting with bird song, chiff chaffs, willow warblers and birds I cannot name. As I turn a corner there is a cacophony of warning calls emanating from the tiniest birds you can imagine. At first I think it is me that was causing them so much disquiet but then I saw him, I saw the subject of their distress. A little owl standing bold and upright on a small pine branch. I stay and watch the drama for a while. Olive coloured warblers and a Sardinian warbler flit in the background. The owl closes his eyes and the warning calls reside. I leave them to it and carry on.
As I come out into a clearing, I spot a snake skimming effortlessly over the stones. I feel annoyed with myself for not stepping more lightly and seeing it sooner; he would have been basking in the morning sun. I wait around for a while hoping it may resume its sunbathing. Alas, it didn’t, but in my wait, something unusual caught my peripheral; a lizard the colour of the rock; perfectly camouflaged, barely visible.
Feeling fortunate for this bounty of sightings, I make my way past the line of old windmills that grace the hilltop and from there head into the labyrinth of white streets that make up this olden village sitting precariously on the top of this volcanic rock. It is all carefully painted with white. The pink, purple and white bougainvillea soften the starkness of it all. Tiny passageways and tunnels disorient the visitor. You get lost, you get found and you get lost again.
I see noone in these streets except a laden and tired middle-aged man carrying his shopping up the countless steps towards his small house. Inside the monastery, it is a secluded world. Monks go about their daily business, and one or two tourists mingle around the small chambers looking up at the ceilings painted with the biblical stories. The monastery is made up of passageways and courtyards, tastefully adorned with terracotta pots, flowers and herbs. Although not religious, I found it deeply comforting that there were people in the world who prayed for us all especially in these uncertain times.
Satiated with history and now on my way down, an Italian man in a very eccentric suit offered me a seat on his scooter. Politely I declined. My walk down to the town culminated in my snorkelling in an isolated bay. The water was boisterous and the entry was treacherous, but I figured I had been blessed and therefore no harm would come to me as I skimmed bare legged over the countless pink tipped sea anemones and the vicious black sea urchins. The water was so blue in comparison to Samos and the visibility astounding. Different types of fish and a tropical crab were the highlight followed by a very fortunate safe exit onto the rocks.
The evening was spent listening to Greek musicians in the company of some locals I had met on my walk. If someone had asked me whether I liked Greek music, I may have been cautious with my reply but these young musicians were incredible and it was a joy to watch the community dance together; their steps in time, their lives in tune. I realized how much we miss by not sharing our cultural dances.
My ferry journey back to Samos was rough and windy but the wildlife didn’t disappoint. I saw two Scopoli’s shearwater and three common dolphins. I was still smiling as I entered my grubby little apartment.