When You Think You've Planned for Everything

Trip Start Jun 01, 2008
1
5
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Trip End Jun 30, 2008


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Where I stayed
Hotel Yannakis

Flag of Greece  ,
Saturday, June 7, 2008

You'll find the one thing you did not plan for.  For me, that was a really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cold.  Of course, as Elka pointed out, there are worse places to have a cold than in a sunny, warm climate.  But it did mean that I had to take some time off today to just sleep as the "girls" went to Paradise Beach, a taxi drive away.  I lounged and dozed by the hotel pool all day and am feeling a bit better (unless the people around me light up their cigarettes--this is a country that smokes a lot).  Now Elka seems to be coming down with it.

Yesterday, the four of us took the ferry to Delos (DHEE-los), an island to the west of Mykonos, the largest outdoor museum in Europe and the famous Sacred Island of the Aegean, known as the birthplace of the god Apollo and his twin sister Artemis.  Having visited the island two years ago with a guide, I suggested we set out on our own this time.  While I may have forgotten a detail or two, what I know was quite satisfactory to the girls.  I'm amused that the same daughters were not interested in any of this until it lay on the ground before them; now, of course, it's "real."

We intended to set out on the 9am ferry, but we are on holiday and the Yannaki Hotel puts out a magnificent breakfast and the irresistable head waiter Paniotis insisted we try a bit of almost everything.  So we wound up catching the 10am ferry (still a bargain at 12.50 Euros).  Once on the ferry, we felt the first drops of rain.  And although we had thought to bring rain gear to Greece, we'd neglected to pack it for the ferry.  We decided to stick it out; after all, the Greek weather service had promised scattered clouds, not rain.  Our determination was rewarded when the sky cleared soon after we debarked on the island.  Once we'd paid our admission (5 Euros), we headed for the path leading from the museum to Mt. Kynthos, the highest elevation on the island (and only "mountain").  Shedding layers as we went, we applied sunscreen instead and kept going.  The first bit of the trail crosses unexcavated areas of the site and the most incredibly thorny plants scratched at our legs. Eventually, after a gentle but steady uphill trek, the path merged with the ancient "road" to Mt. Kynthos. "Road" in late Hellenic and early Roman times does not mean what "road" means today.  I suspect even those little three-wheeled cars zipping through the narrow and meandering alleys of Mykonos town would be thwarted by the ancient city of Delos.  For one thing, the "roads" have stairs in places and right-angle turns.  The road up the mountain has a steep incline as well, made more exciting for modern hikers by the loss of stabilizing matrix in many places and loose or missing stones in others.  I concluded that sections of the "road" will simply collapse down the mountain side in another decade or two if not fortified in some way.  To ascend this "road" requires fortitude and frequent rest stops, but the view from the top is reward enough. 

Before going up, though, we visited the Cave of Heracles about half-way up.  This "cave" isn't a cave any more than the "road" is a road.  It's a man-made cavern, created in ancient times.  The guide book says it was a site of Hellenic cult, even though Heracles is not associated with Delos in any ancient literature.  In fact, the stone construction of the roof of the cavern looks megalithic to me, which means it would date back to the Bronze Age.  Myceneans are known to have had a settlement on the island, so it's possible that they constructed the cavern originally.  What purpose it served for them is unknown, but something about it may have contributed to the island's eventual reputation as the Sacred Island, a sign that the very ancient people found the presence of the gods there.

An oracle existed at Delos but where it was situated on the island is unknown.  The geology of the island and the Cave of Heracles is not like that of Delphi, so it's unlikely that the oracle of Delos would have been in the cave, making use of gases such as those that caused the altered state at Delphoi.  But it's not surprising that Apollo's island of birth would have also had an oracle, since Apollo is the god most often associated with oracles.  Our visit satisfied my curiosity about the cave's construction and geology, so we moved on.

We continued our ascent up the ancient "road" and soon reached the top, where a broad marble stair case invited us up to the temple level.  Here, the ancient Delians had erected temples to Zeus and Athena, constructing the temples around the granite outcropping.  How magnificent these temples must have seemed to the islanders gazing from below and to visitors arriving on ships, lifting their eyes to the highest point on the island.  There brilliant white structures gleamed in the sun, reminding all humans of the power of the gods.  Today, Greeks have built churches in similar locations, retaining the ancient tradition and spiritual sense.  But there is no church here on Delos--no one lives here.  What we did find was a large number of marble blocks and fragments from the temples, some piled neatly, others scattered and tumbling down the mountain.  But the mountain retains the spiritual presence.  Numberless visitors have created piles of stones--Buddhist prayer stacks, I have been told--placed thoughtfully on top of outcrops and exposed antiquities.  Everywhere, the eye finds these piles--wishes, prayers, hopes for friends, families and more.  I spy both natural stones and chips from antiquities in the mix.  The temples are gone, but reverence continues.  Respectful, we stroll about the site, admiring the stones, the foundations in situ, the magnificent view, then break for a quick lunch of crackers and gigantes (Greek giant beans), which Reyla had assembled for us the day before.

Below us, the land slopes away in every direction.  Most of the island is now quite bleak, even in late spring; there are no olive or fruit trees.  Most of the vegetation consists of prickly, drought-resistant scrub and herbs that even the sheep and goats must find hard to eat.  But the animals do survive here, bleating inside the rock fences that criss-cross the island.  I imagine such fences existed in ancient times as well.  But on the west coast of the island lies a magnificent spread of antiquities, the remains of the ancient "free port" of Delos, granted its freedom by the Romans.  Stone foundations of buildings can be seen to line the coast and extend up the slope to the mountain.  Although the French excavators have been working since 1892, there are hundreds of buildings that have never been uncovered, never studied.  But many have and some of these are rich and elaborate.  Their mosaic floors have been restored and their white columns re-erected.  The remnants of precincts of ancient temples and religious buildings are visible all over the hill and rolling landscape.  An amphitheatre and several agoras are visible, and a hippodrome, stadium and harbor.  Yet one of the most distinctive sights is the green circle of the Sacred Lake and a towering Sacred Palm, by which Apollo and Artemis were born.  Sadly, the lake was drained in 1926 because of a malaria scare--surely a regretable decision today.  The palm still stands and we marvel: is it the same palm that existed millenia ago?  Is that even possible?  A closer inspection later on revealed that this is indeed a very old palm tree, though how old isn't obvious.  Another unanswered question, but if someone replanted it in recent times, I'm still pleased to see it: a tangible symbol of the ancient myth.

Eventually, we descended and visited other parts of the island.  Fascinated, we rushed to the last ferry, which leaves at 3pm sharp, and fell asleep on the way back to Mykonos, exhausted by sun and hiking.  We turned into the first taverna we came to in Mykonos town (also known as Chora) and rested over cool drinks.  Once re-energized the girls began to explore the alleys and stores of Chora.  We stop only because we want to watch the sunset from the hills near the windmills.  Then we head to dinner at the Alefkandra restaurant nearby.  We're all tired and not even the girls are interested in checking out the city's famous night life.  Instead, they buy some beer to enjoy on the balcomy of their room.  And I head to bed, hoping to heal this cold overnight.

No such speedy recovery occurred, so today I lounged around the pool while the girls headed over to Paradise Beach, on Mykonos.  Such a tough life.  I would be happier if my cell phone worked.  I didn't foresee a defective battery; the thing won't take or hold a charge.  It won't even work when plugged into the wall.  I've requested a new one that might arrive at home in time for Karen to bring it when she comes.  Meanwhile, though aggravated, I remind myself that "all is well", no matter what little unforeseen circumstances arise.  Tomorrow it will again be sunny, warm and relaxing.
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