Our last update had us holed up in Zographou monastery. It was a fascinating place, but we didn't feel particularly welcome at first. Bit by bit they warmed to us, and we slept well.
We were not particularly sure about the timings of the morning service, and hung around outside the refectory waiting for breakfast. In fact it was quite a long wait, and we got to know the many cats milling around the kitchens. Eventually the church doors opened, and the monks streamed out, streaming incense in their wake. We were invited to sit at our 'heretics' table, where we had a good view of the refectory.
Through a glass door on the left we could catch glimpses of the priests eating in the separate room. Every now and again they would stop eating and cross themselves. Ahead of us was a long table of the workers - mostly Bulgarian and dressed in various shades of grey or fawn. On the right hand side was a separate long table, where a monk sat and glowered at the room - his enormous moustache giving him a quite threatening air. Every few mouth-fulls he would stop, stroke his moustache and stare around the room. We avoided eye contact.
Breakfast was a delicious combination of fish and potatos, served with a strong red wine. I had heard that mealtimes were governed by the time it took to read a lesson, so I shovelled it in like there was no tomorrow. In fact, there was plenty of time and I need not have worried (and I suffered from indigestion all day)!
Our route from Zographou took us on old paths up and over a number of ridges, and then down to the sea. The paths varied in quality, in places the ancient cobbled path took us through the woods, but were washed away and overgrown in sections, making the going quite slow. Now and again modern life would interfere, and we would emerge from the wood to the shocking devastation of a modern bulldozed road pushed through the ancient landscape. Progress reaps a sad harvest on Athos, and it is a shame to see such wonderful paths lost forever.
We soon reached another monastery, and paused by the main gate to replenish our water supply - although John managed to accidently brim his rucksack due to a faulty tap! We continued on past the ruins of a large monastery outbuilding, following the main path to the next port along from Zopgraphou, and hugging the shoreline to our destination - Xenefontos.
We arrived at Xenefontos just as the sun was sliding down onto the horizon - the deep yellow light bathing the outer walls and balconies. It couldn't have been a greater contrast with Zographou (particularly the terrible storm that had raged while we had been there). All was quiet as we walked up the slight slope and through the great archway. The heavy doors are a work of art in themselves - thick oak armoured with overlapping plates of iron, and dotted with heavy studs. We were glad that we had not missed the curfew!
Once inside all was quiet. We couldn't find anyone, and decided to set up our camp in a shaded corner of the courtyard, next to the guesthouse. Eventually a monk emerged from a nearby door, and was quite suprised to see us. We were quickly hustled into the refectory for a meal, as we had almost missed it. They couldn't have been more kind and interested in us, and we felt real warmth in the place.
Tomorrow we properly get onto Sandy's path again. We continue along the coast to Dafni (where Sandy hid with the Greek major), and then try and find the difficult path to Simonos Petra and Dionysiou.
Foul weather is expected, which may make things more challenging...