Thursday, December 27, 2012

Motor scooter ride to Cape Faraklo, Limnos

If there's only one place on Limnos that you should risk riding a motor scooter to, it's the unsigned, unmapped but spectacular volcanic location of Cape Faraklo. The area is also sometimes known as Falakros, meaning "bald", a name given to describe the large, barren hills of the area. Be aware though, the only way to reach the rugged coast of the northern parts of the island is by luck.

Your first challenge is to get through the village of Propouli, the last village before the roads turn to gravel. Propouli may be the smallest village of the island, but it has been cleverly designed to prevent visitors from leaving. The main square of the village is a lovely shaded area to sit and sip on frappes before heading back out into the sun to ride to Cape Faraklo. But it's not dragging yourself away from the frappes that's the hard part. Trying to ride out of the village without getting caught in a loop that takes you back to the square is nothing short of an embarrassing nightmare – the locals laughing at you every time you go past ... for the seventeenth time.

And this was just the beginning of our guessing-game adventure. Once you finally make your way out of Propouli, several gravel roads beckon you to veer off the main track with hopeful expectations that they will take you due north, only to branch off into several more gravel roads in every direction except north. Some will take you to Falakros, others won't. Your only real option at this point is to refer to eenie meenie mynie moe technology.

Glimpses of the ocean beyond the sand dunes are an encouraging sign and as long as you keep taking the tracks that lead to the sea, you just might reach the final golden fork in the road where the one and only landmark that will take you to Cape Faraklo lies. Lying on the ground in the dead grass is an old wooden sign that has fallen off its rusty post. The sign has "ηφαιστειακοί βράχοι" hand-painted on it, which is Greek for "volcanic rocks". This is the only indication available anywhere on these gravel roads that gives you hope you are heading in the right direction.

If you're four-wheel driving, this rocky adventure will be a lot of fun for you, but on a 50cc motor scooter fitted with bicycle tyres in searing 37-degree heat the destination really needs to be magnificent to make the ride bearable, let alone fun. And magnificent it was.

Much of the area is made up of rugged coastlines carved by wild, swirly surf crashing against the rocks. The rock surface is flat enough to walk along and, as long as you're not taken out by an unexpected tsunami-sized wave, you will eventually reach the beautiful geological marvel of the volcanic rock formations of the cape.

Evidence of an extinct volcano remains in the form of petrified lava around the coast of this magical area. Large bubble formations, lava rivers and a huge "wave" of solidified volcanic matter has been frozen in time in the most amazing colours and textures. I've never seen anything like it. Such a beautiful, naturally sculptured landscape of colour and movement that truly takes your breath away.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Venetian Castle of Limnos, "Castro"

It was another excruciatingly hot day in Limnos, and Tony and I were not in the best of moods, having just been kicked off the Anemos touring boat that morning.

I wish I could entertain you with a sordid story of us rolling around drunk at 8 o'clock in the morning and causing all sorts of havoc on the boat with behaviour that was simply not tolerated by the lovely owners of Anemos, Litsa and George. But I'm sorry to say that (on this day) no such debauchery was to be had.

It was just a double-booking with a Greek wedding party, and we, along with another 15 tourists, came off second best. These things happen in Greece. There's no need for the tourists to contribute to making chaos. The Greeks make their own chaos. But we love it.

Or should I rephrase – in hindsight we love it. At that moment of being told we all had to get off the boat, we didn't love it.

And we still didn't love it when we were sweltering with heat exhaustion dragging our feet up the rocky path to the spectacular site of Limnos' Venetian fortress, Castro. It was so hot I was creating mud in my sandals with the combination of sweat and dirt. It was so hot you could have fried eggs on Tony's head. It was so hot we had no hope whatsoever of climbing to the top of the Castro.

The photos here are not the most spectacular. On previous trips to Limnos the weather was more forgiving and there were no double-booked wedding parties to get us off side. In the past we have made it to the pinnacle of Castro several times where the views over Myrina are beautiful and far-reaching. You can read about our previous climbs and a bit about the history of Castro by clicking here and here.

You can also see a wobbly but fairly representative video I filmed last year of the view from the top of Castro by clicking here.

On this brain-sizzling day we turned back at the half-way point, just before our heads exploded. Upon our descent, to our delight we came across a small herd of young deer. Around 30 or 40 deer occupy the Castro mountain. It is believed that a pair of them were brought over from Rhodes as a gift to Limnos to rid the island of snakes.

We quietly approached them as they grazed on piles of dry grass left for them by the locals under the shade of some trees. They weren't phased by our presence and thankfully all of our spontaneous human combustion symptoms had subsided as there would have been one mighty explosion with all that hay.

The walk down Castro is both relieving after a strenuous climb, and rewarding with many photo opportunities. A gorgeous little white-washed church nestled amongst the rocks and overlooking Romaikos Yiallos beach is one of our favourite spots to sit and catch our breath. You will also come across Nefeli Cafe on the way down the hill, serving ice cold frappes and biscotti with panoramic panels of glass offering sweeping views over Myrina.