Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Six days on Panayia

Evening at Dhiaporos island in northern Greece (Halkidiki)
We dropped down from northern Greece in a very fresh north-easterly breeze 10 days ago and made the mental adjustment for fewer monasteries and more bikini-clad babes on the bow. Skiathos and Skopelos are popular places to charter yachts from and it is July, after all. You can't hold the summer holidaymakers at bay forever, can you?

Sea Cloud in O.Tzorti on Alonissos
But in psyching ourselves up for more crowded anchorages in the northern Sporades we hadn't factored in the lesser known  island of Alonissos. Pretty, quiet Alonissos holds onto "Mamma Mia" Skopelos with one hand and barren Panayia with the other. Her waters are reputedly the cleanest in the Aegean. We're back in those waters at the moment, in Ormos Tzorti, one of the lovely  bays on the lee side of Alonissos.

It was in O. Tzorti where we first pulled up after the long fast trip down to the northern Sporades group from Nea Marmares on the Sithonian peninsula. The north-easterly we'd ridden (along with a wild and lumpy swell) could still be felt even in the island's lee though the water in O. Tzorti was more or less flat, thanks be to the sea gods.  Sea Cloud had led us to O. Tzorti, and it was a delight to literally catch up again with Ian and Cathy. You wouldn't read about it, as my dad used to say.

We'd all but given up hope of sharing another bottle of bubbly with them, but you shouldn't do that, should you? Once again, we got out the cameras, like proud parents snapping identical twins. Beautiful boats, we agreed.

The Twins - Enki (left) and Sea Cloud

Cathy Cook

Ian Cook

Looking towards Panayia from  Alonissos' old village (chora) 
After Sea Cloud left for Skopelos and beyond that the Evia channel, we geared ourselves up to head back a few miles to Panayia, which we'd passed by in an awful hurry. Panayia is in the 'A' zone of the Alonissos national marine park, something not to be sneezed at since Greece has only two marine parks. The star turn in these protected waters is the Mediterranean monk seal, supposedly named for the shape of its head which looks like monk wearing a hat. Monk seals look very cute when they're carved out of wood and fit in the cup of your hand - the old village (chora) of Alonissos is spilling over with such souvenirs - but since these beasties grow up to be 3 metres long and weigh 300 kg, my guess is they're probably not so loveable up close.

Window shopping in the chora
Not that we expected we'd get close to any seals when we went out to Panayia. It's not just that we are pretty slack naturalists - more than excited to see the occasional pod of dolphins, really - but the eager young volunteers at the bare-boned marine park info centre in Patitiri on Alonissos hadn't exactly raised our hopes. Neither of them had ever seen a monk seal (the total population in the Med is apparently 400 or 500 animals, of which two-thirds are in Greece). And so it came to pass. We didn't see a seal, or even a dolphin for that matter, in the marine park though we trained our binoculars on the many deep dark caves in the sea cliffs in which seals apparently like to hang out.

We dropped anchor in Kira Panayia, in the south-west corner of the island, in behind an even smaller island. The anchorage is sublime, the bottom all sandy and the water all turquoise. After dark, a lone fisherman brought his boat in between us and the shore, and sat untangling his nets under a harsh light -  a hard way to earn a crust. The bay turned out to be a favourite with fishermen taking shelter, one of only two "approved" overnight anchorages on Panayia - and reasonably well-protected from the prevailing northerly winds.

Enki's track on the anchor alarm - all over the shop

Enki seen from a taverna in Rousoumi bay on Alonissos
There were strong winds forecast on Saturday but we planned to be back on Alonissos by then. Two nights on Panayia would be enough, we thought. We rather fancied going to a rock'n'roll gig up in the old village on Monday night. We'd been given the lowdown by a band of "retired"musicians playing 70s covers in a taverna at Rousoum bay. That'd been a good evening, shared with new friends, Chris and Desire, from Skylark II, who told us in terrifying detail about bringing their boat from Asia to the Med in 2011  -  "you made the right decision", they said when we first met and we told them we'd sold our boat in Sydney in 2011 rather than risk the perils of Somali pirates.

We weren't back in Alonissos on Saturday though, nor on Monday for that matter. We spent six days on Panayia.

Enki's progress through Greece this season has been halting, to say the least. This time the cause of the hold-up was a familiar one - Alex's back crumpled into a painful heap on Saturday morning, and when that happens, life as we know it stops until he can stand up straight again. He's the key man, the pivot around which everything turns on Enki.

Alex with a straight back in Nea Marmares, wrangling with Cosmote

Do the monks on Athos skype?
My new definition of "wilderness" is a landscape where there's no phone tower visible on the skyline. (I didn't see a phone tower along the coast of the Mt Athos peninsula, though Alex says he saw one - frankly I prefer to think of the monks doing without, otherwise, why bother with the whole monk/retreat-from-normal-life thing?).

On this score, Panayia is a top-notch wilderness. Absolutely no signal of any kind is to be had. It is the oddest thing being "out of touch". It's not that we haven't had that experience before - but we have grown soft. It was unsettling being set aside from the connected world.

Alex rested and reached for the pills, and I - well, I waited. As the days flicked over, yachts arrived with a hiss and a roar into the anchorage and, with few exceptions, left the next morning. Enki stayed put. In the late afternoon, working fishing boats tied up to the shore, seemingly oblivious to the plastic pleasure vessels taking up the space around them. The wind blew and kept blowing day after day. We listened to the howling wind generator, and to the bleating of feral goats trit-trotting across the rocky foreshore. Big black birds circled above us, and floated over the vivid green scrub and olive trees. "Crows", said Alex, but I rather hoped they were Eleonora's falcons as described in the brochure we'd taken from the marine park info officers. Otherwise the marine park was a bit of a dead loss, to be honest.

Mysterious men and their donkeys on Panayia

On our second morning in the anchorage in Panayia, I heard voices, and tracked them to three men leading donkeys, laden with indistinguishable goods, and moving west along an invisible footpath. They disappeared into a gully and then over the brow of the hill. A few hours later, the men came back the other way, riding the donkeys. The next morning, and each morning after that, the same thing happened. Our only explanation was that they were from the monastery on the east coast of Panayia - there seemed to be no other habitation on the island.  But what they were taking where on their donkeys, who knows. In the end, it didn't seem important. They were a feature of our landscape. A Greek landscape.

Beast of burden - this donkey had a lot of water to move 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Enki crew, Looks like you "found" Panayia. We loved it too and no monk seals for us either!
    Sandy and Paul