Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Day in Ithaka - May 19

Murray and I arose early to catch the 8:30 ferry from Kefalonia to Ithaka. From our villa, we could see the small island and the steep mountainous road. Now that our legs had recovered from a day of rest, we thought we'd challenge ourselves by tackling the Ithaka climbs.

The ferry ride took only a half hours. On the way we saw some dark skinned children, we assumed to be gypsies. They wanted us to take photos of them, presumably for compensation. One boy stuck out his hand and said, "money." This was annoying - especially considering that they were accompanied by a man, their father, perhaps. One of the ferry crew spoke to them in Greek, telling them to leave us I alone, I guessed. They didn't bother us after that. This family brought a truck with them filled with plastic chairs, benches and terracotta pots. We had heard them - or someone peddling similar wares, shouting in Greek through a loud speaker as they drove down the road in their truck.

I imagined something like: "Chairs for sale. Come quickly. Good prices."
The strange part is that they would go by businesses and through neighborhoods. Why not just put out some leaflets or stop and ask the business owner if he is interested? I thought I could help with their marketing efforts if they wanted to hire me as a consultant. Perhaps I should say, "money" and put my hand out to them.

But I didn't have time for the "Chairmen." I had cycling to do.
We arrived at the port of Pisaetos. There wasn't much there except the ferry stop. Once we arrived, we had a steep climb up to the main road. It wasn't so bad on fresh legs. We rode on the northwestern coast. The terrain was similar to Kefalonia, with steep cliffs and shrubby landsccape dropping down to coves and pretty beaches.

Ithaka was much less populated than Kefalonia and so the roads were quieter. It seemed more tranquil on the long slow climb toward Stavros.

When we arrived at Stavros, it seemed like we stepped back in time. Gone was the resort feel and in its place a village square with people dressed in traditional garb. We saw three men sitting by a monestary, two villagers and a Greek Orthodox priest. They posed for photos and we took a look inside the monestary. It was small, ornate with three chandeliers, colorful religious paintings and carved wooden benches.

It took us no time to travel the 13 miles, which we figured was more than a third of our journey. So we took our time in Stavros, snapping photos of interesting looking people and snapped and relaxing at a cafe before heading down the road.

We stopped at the Musuem of Homer, which was rather pathetic. A few fragments of tools and some reassembled pottery. But it was free, although up a trecherous hill that was so steep I started doing wheelies. Near the museum we saw an damaged building, presumably from the 1953 earthquake. The old structure was quite picturesque, and we stopped to take more photos.

Leaving Stavros, we diverted from our circular loop toward Frikes. This presented a steep climb, but we were glad that we traveled this way to see the small fishing village. Onward along the north coast we rode. The course flattened out and then presented another steep climb to Kioni. This village was equally picturesque. We saw a woman looking out a second-floor window. She waved to us and told us that there were three beautiful beaches nearby, down a near-vertical road. We knew a big climb was to come, so we bypassed the beaches and backtracked to Stavros where we would rejoin our circular course.

Our road south cut across the inside part of northern Ithaka. Even less traffic traveled on this road. We traveled alone up the steep climb up the mountains. The mountains rise from the sea to more than 2600 feet. We climbed on the road seven or eight miles, near the summit. Every time I thought I had neared the top, the road would switch to another mountain, and the climb would begin again. This was an extremely challenging ride. I was relieved when I saw the road down.

The descent gave us new challenges. It was steep, winding and had spots of gravel and sand. Plus, it snaked along cliffs with a flimsy guard rail and steep drop beyond. Murray rode faster, and I took my time down. After a few miles, we rejoined the main road and followed it from the northern to the southern part of the twin hilled island. We followed the coastal road, cycling fast to Vathi. The village was nestled in a long turquoise inlet, lined with yachts. As the main island-hoppig port, it seemed more touristy than the other places we visited on the northern part of the island. I wasn't interested in exploring - too tired from the climb and starving. For lunch, we had our typical Greek salads, Murray ordered an omelet, and I ate a pastry stuffed with ham and cheese and a glass of wine.

After lunch, we returned to Pisoaetos to catch the ferry. We took our cycling shoes off and sat on a big rock letting our feet dangle into the sea.

Total miles: 40

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