Monday, 2 November 2009

Day 7 - Preparing for Athos

We had originally planned for a rest day in Pyrgos (Ouranopolis), but at the last minute decided to split the last day. Tired feet and all that. Our 'rest day' therefore was to begin with following your footsteps on the short walk from Ierissos to Pyrgos.

Our hotel was run by a Romanian lady, and so our pidgin Greek didn't quite work. It was quite an old place, full of pictures of the monasteries and maps showing the distances you had walked.
From our discussions with the locals, we had discovered that the old Ierissos had been destroyed in an earthquake in the mid 1930s, and had been rebuilt nearer the sea. Many of the old, square houses survive - built on a raised platform with steps up to the door, and with elegant colonial shutters in greens and blues. Without Dino (our Greek friend) we found it jolly difficult to find out anything about Mayor Salos or Lazarus. We were also unable to raise the incumbent village mayor, which was a disappointment.

Our route took us east along the top of the main square, until we reached the main road. We followed the road past a boatyard, and on a winding route upwards over the hill that separates Ierisos from the next village - Nea Redestos. This village was created in the 1920s, when the great flood of Greeks arrived from Turkey. The village is clustered around the shore side of the Xerxes canal. It is likely that the village was here when you passed through in 1941, although it may have been smaller.

We were rather disappointed by the canal. Some of us had visions of a deep canyon, but in fact the northern side of the canal is an area of flat ground between gentle slopes. A small ditch meanders through this flat area, the remains of the once impressive route across the peninsular. We leapt the ditch to get across to a track on the other side - we can all now say we have jumped across Xerxes canal! The cutting got more impressive further south, and to avoid the road we branched off the track to the south-east, sliding about on tracks cut through the heavy clay soil.
We eventually reached the beach a little way beyond the exit point of the Xerxes canal. We weren't entirely certain of Sandy's route, but the beach seemed a pretty safe bet. We darted from cove to cove, all the while willing the tower of Pyrgos to get nearer. it was a clear day, and we had splendid views of Pyrgos, with a background of Athos shrouded in cloud.

It took us about 2 hours to get to Pyrgos. We weren't able to go the whole way on the beach as occasional headlands blocked our route. Pyrgos itself has become a bit of a tourist town - loud signs proclaim "Athos Hotel", "Pilgrims Hotel" and even a "3D Monastery Experience". Most people arrive here by coach, take a boat trip around the nearest Athos monasteries, and then head back to their hotels. We got a few odd looks as we tramped down the main street, our feet caked in clay and sand!

Tomorrow we head on to Athos - first we have to negotiate our permissions, and try and get confirmation that we can cross the border on foot.

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