March 18 The Blue Star Ferry leaves Pireaus port at 7:30 a.m. and takes 5 hours to reach Naxos. The ride is steady and the boat full of people on a Wednesday. It’s too cold to be on deck, too much cigarette smoke in the outdoor areas protected from the wind, and too noisy in the common and reserved areas due to the f.ing tv that runs nonstop. Ugh. I try to listen to music via headphones and answer some emails, keeping my eye on the passing waves. When Naxos appears, it is every bit as dramatic as I hoped for. It took a couple evenings of research and homework to find an island that had the combination I thought would serve me well at this point of the trip: ocean views, country trails, some historical sites, and rural villages with character. As it turned out, Naxos had all of these features, each of high and enduring quality. The photo taken from the ferry as it approached the harbor of Naxos’ main town called “Chora/Hora,” shows the northern edge of town where my wonderful hotel, the Grotta, turned out to be. It’s the gold-colored building in the lower right corner. The doorway to an ancient 5th c. BCE temple to Apollo is in the lower foreground. On the mountain slope behind the hotel is a large Greek Orthodox monastery, as well as a smaller chapel built into a natural crevice in the rock. Gabriela Alvarez and Carlos Martinez also got off the ferry at Naxos and into taxis picking up Hotel Grotta guests. At breakfast the next morning, I overheard them discussing a car rental and so offered to join in and share costs. From 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., we end up seeing much of the central and north part of the island, and find we are compatible in many ways. I was a little unsure of my social skills after so much time alone in Turkey, but they put up with me in a very compassionate way. There is too much to write about each place we visited, so the photos will guide the recollection:
• temple to Demeter, the same female deity of agriculture and grains whose temple ruins were so compelling at Priene (Turkey); here they look out on a vast fertile valley ringed by high mountains (1000 m.) to the east and north, and smaller ones to the west. Gorgeous. • Zeus cave reached by 20 min. walk up rocky stream valley, with Mt. Zeus towering overhead at 1001 m. Given all there is to see, I realize I won’t make it up there on this trip but hope to return again in the spring. • centrally-located village of Halki walked thru, around, and enjoyed for a Greek coffee at a central plaza
• we did a long drive to an east side port and the possibility of lunch by the shore, but all is shut and poor Carlos is beyond hungry; we share a number of items pilfered from the breakfast buffet, but these hardly substitute for a freshly-caught fish cooked up right
• we drive to Appolonas in the far north, which relieves me of the idea of staying there; nothing would be open and it’s too hemmed-in; might return for a hike to a fort overlooking the town
• head back to Hora along northern coastal road and find a nice spot for the sunset, seen from a small chapel built above the beach; I try to scramble to a scenic overlook and could have made it were it not for a thicket of spiky bushes I’m smart enough to avoid. • end the day with the 3 of us having a big fish dinner at a port side restaurant recommended by Nicoletta at the hotel. 3 types of fish, big salads, /2 L. of wine; a fitting finalé to a memorable day shared with lovely people.
Carlos is a general practice physician, and Gabriela a social mediator dealing with immigrants and refugees trying to enter Spain through the sovereign Spanish state of Melilla, located along the central Moroccan Mediterranean coast. It’s a tiny strip of land but they have friends, things to do, and seem to be happy there for now. They head to Santorini and then Crete after two days on Naxos. (For more on the immigrant situation, and the storming of fences by hundreds of people determined to get to Spain, see http://www.euronews.com/2014/03/28/hundreds-of-migrants-scale-barrier-between-morocco-and-melilla-/)