Flashback Friday: Mountain Climbing in Greece
I picked up a copy of Norah Loft’s Stars of Fortune novel the other day. I recognized St. Spyridon church on the front cover. And unable to resist a story set in my little Greek island of Corfu, I bought it. Upon reading it, I was reminded of the sleepy west coast village of Ermones, the place of legends and folklore, and my own adventure: Mountain Climbing in Greece. I hope you enjoy this Flashback Friday tale!
‘The smell of a good Indian curry wafted around us as we made our way down a narrow dirt track towards the rocky coast.
“It’s from the flowers,” my mountain guide, Aleko told me, pointing his wooden walking stick at the yellow flowers that dotted the surrounding landscape. “They smell like curry.”
Then he proceeded to tap the ground of the path ahead of him with the stick as we walked.
“What are you doing that for?” I asked, tentatively, looking around for signs of civilization (there was none).We were the sole travelers on what was probably a goat track on this chilly winter weekend morning. Had I just wandered out into the wild with a madman?
“Ah, for snakes. The vibration scares them off. They have no ears, you see.” He continued to tap the path as we walked.
I shot him a sideways glance, not sure if he was pulling my leg or not. His expression remained deadpan.
We were on the west coast of the beautiful Greek island of Corfu- Kerkyra. Near the beach of the secluded village of Ermones, to be exact, the location that Homer’s Odysseus from The Odyssey was supposedly shipwrecked during his journey home. But we were not out hunting Greek legends, looking for fabled shipwrecks, or exploring sleepy coastal villages for that matter. No, we were tackling other giants- a sheer wall of rock that rose from the icy sea. I was out on my first mountain climbing experience.
Normally, you’d start mountain climbing by using those rock walls in the gyms. My kids have already successfully tackled those intro-to-rock climbing experiences. But I was living abroad. I was young. It was Greece. (Are there any more perfect reasons than those?) Besides, I don’t think rock climbing walls even existed then. And my mountain guide had tackled this particular challenge on numerous occasions, and much more arduous climbs. So I was game for a challenge.
The long hike behind us, we reached our mountain target. Aleko carefully explained the harnesses and ropes and safety, as good guides do. And eventually I found myself climbing this rock wall. On retrospect, when we approached the mountainside, it looked like one sheer piece of rock, but up close and personal- uh, hugging the face of it, I could see the little cracks, the tiny niches, the indents, all places that would serve as footholds and handholds on the path to the top. It took enormous amounts of concentration- not like my easy-peasy tree climbing experiences of childhood. Where to put your hand, your foot and not end up dangling off the rock face. My heart was pounding in my ears- or was that the waves over the jagged rocks below? Jagged rocks? Oh no- don’t look down! Mustn’t look down. Dang. I looked down!
“Rock climbing is like playing chess,” my guide said,” you must think two moves ahead before you make your move.”
He was right. I had to consider where my next handhold and foothold would be before I actually made a move, or else I might find myself stranded with no where else to go. It was harrowing. My puny arm muscles were sore, my legs shaky, and I sweated bullets. The worst moment came when I tackled a ledge, but to get to it, I had to go under it- or essentially, upside down. Yeah, I know what gravity is, and I did not desire to become an ill-fated gravity-check moment, but I managed, working through the fear, to reach the ledge, and the view of Kerkyra’s west coast was ooh so worth it! Wow. What I view. I had no camera at the time, but the sight of the rough waves and rocky coast for as far as the eye could see was enough.
I don’t think I could have climbed any further that day and we rappelled back down. I forgot to slow myself down until the last moment- when I nearly ran out of rope, giving both my guide and myself a little scare.
Then with wobbly legs, aching arms and lungs filled with fresh mountain air, I headed back from my first real mountain climbing adventure in Greece to the 19th Hole, the ex-pat flavor-of-the-month weekend hangout in the Ropa Valley for some much needed brew. Brown bottle, please!’
It has been many years since my Greek mountain climbing experience. I must admit, that even now on my own hiking treks, I carry my own walking stick and tap the ground to hopefully warn away any snakes. Thanks, mountain man!
Have a great weekend!
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