Sunday, 27 January 2008

Following Sappho

Last week we enjoyed the warm Alkionides days, but for tomorrow they say snow is coming. On one of these warm days we travelled with friends to the west, to Eressos, where we would visit a waterfall.

Besides its hot springs Lesvos also has a number of waterfalls that could appear in the tourist guides, were they not so difficult to reach. The Pessa waterfall near Achladeri is the easiest to reach. Taking the road from Kaloni to Polichnitos, past Achladeri, there is a walking path that disappears deep into the pine woods. After about half an hour of walking you will reach this elegant waterfall. Opposite is a wooden platform that offers a beautiful view of the running water. When you go there in the summer, you could have the bad luck that there is no more water running. When the dry season is here, the water can disappear. Best time to visit the Pessa waterfall is in spring (after a wet winter!) or in the autumn, after the first rains.

There should be another waterfall near Asomatos (close to Agiassos), and one in the neighbourhood of Mandamados. The fourth big waterfall, close to Eressos, we visited last week. It was a nice and big surprise.

When you drive through the barren wild mountains of the west, you get the feeling that only thorny scrubs can grow there. The green valley of Eressos shows that in places where there is water, the area can be very fertile. So your conclusion is that the rest of the west is as dry as a desert. But it's the infertile volcanic rocks, that millions of years ago, after the eruptions of the volcanos, covered the west in thick layers, that made this desert-like sight of the mountains of the west, which once was a land full of trees, amongst others sequoias.

The waterfalls of Krinelou prove that these mountains don't lack water: a natural spring provides so much water that it causes these beautiful waterfalls. Deep between the faults of the mountain slopes it meanders downwards. Big plane trees are flourishing by little pools full of clear water. In the summer you can only dream of these places. But in this place your dreams come true: the source provides as much water in the summer as in the winter. During the heat waves this must be a hidden paradise.

And it's well hidden. It's a three hour walk from Eressos, or a little hours walking distance from the main road, or a fifteen minute very difficult drive with a good jeep (4WD). There you will find the watermill of Panayotis Krinelou, bordering these waterfalls.

Panayottis, once a ship's captain, has retired to the place where his grandfather long ago ground corn. In the summer Panayotis lives at the mill, in the winter he lives in Eressos, from where he transports the materials to rebuild the mill and to transform the place around it into an ecological Valhalla. There are seats cut out of tree trunks, he cut through rocks in order to make paths with wooden rails, he made a wooden platform in front of the waterfall with some seats so that you can gaze for hours into the falling water. He made a little stream going to a fish pond, his neighbour, a sheep farmer, has water pipes going to the feeding places of his sheep and Panayotis made pipe lines to his newly planted fruit trees, which in the future will add to the shadows already provided by the big plane trees.

Panayotis told us that these waterfalls were a favourite place of the poetress Sappho. From Eressos she traveled by donkey to bathe in the cooling water. When he was young Panayotis visited the falls daily. Barefoot he walked in the morning the three hours to go there, he then herded the sheep (which means up mountain, down mountain), and in the evening it took him another three hours to come home.

The old mill with its huge millstones and its shabby appearances, makes you reflect upon the past. It's not that long ago that the island was very poor and didn't know anything about the rapid modernisation of the world around it. There are even Greeks who say that Lesvos never has been poor: even during the war there was plenty of food because everybody had some cattle, a vegetable garden and ate chorta from the mountains. But how many times do you hear Lesvorians tell that when they were young they had no shoes? Bette Roland says in her book 'Lesvos, the pagan island' what an expedition it was in the Sixties to travel from Mytilini to Eressos. It took her a whole day!

Nowadays you drive comfortably over tarmac roads and every village, which took days to reach in the old times, is now within two hours reach. Although the way to the door of the mill of Krinelou is still not paved. That may be good, because you wouldn't want to think about all the many bus excursions going to the Petrified Forest making a stop at the waterfalls, so that masses of tourists can refresh themselves in the clear water, so that you'd have to queue in order to swim under the falling water.

In March we will return to the watermill and Panayotis will then show us the paths where once Sappho drove her donkey. Then maybe I'll tell you how to reach this paradise.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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