Sunday, 13 July 2008
What do I see?
Some tourists think Lesvos is very very big. When you show them Turkey on the other side, some say: Well, I thought that was part of Lesvos. I must admit that it can be confusing because Turkey is a big presence in the view from Lesvos. You see Asia Minor from the east, north and south of the island. If you look at a map, you'll see that Turkey kind of embraces Lesvos.
When you get off the plane at the airport near Mytilini, you immediately see Turkey looming in the distance. Opposite to Mytilini is the busy region around Ayvalik and Dikili. It would be romantic to think that the horizon is white because of white chalk cliffs. But they are white chalked houses and other structures that are filling Turkey at a great speed. When you go north in the direction of Edremit, around the Gulf of Edremit, there are also many houses, resorts and hotels. Following this Gulf to the west, towards the north of Lesvos, you will see the little town of Assos, an old city that looks a lot like Molyvos. This region is not so popular with Turkish holidaymakers and it looks much less populous.
When Lesvos was part of the Ottoman Empire, there was a lot of trade between the Turkish mainland and Lesvos. Today they still trade fish. But nothing more than that. If you visit Ayvalik, you will be impressed walking round the market, seeing all the different fruits and vegetables piled high in colourful pyramids. However you are not allowed to bring any fresh food to Greece, due to European regulations to stop diseases. So the Lesvorians buy wedding dresses, furniture, tapestry and whatever is much cheaper than in Greece (and that is everything). When you return to Lesovs on the daily ferry that goes between Mytilini and Ayvalik, there won't be a single Greek with less than 10 packages.
I have to admit that I've never crossed the sea to visit Ayvalik. For about five years now I've look over at Turkey in the direction of Assos and I've always thought I saw an olive press with its chimney pointing at the sky, but if you visit the shore on the other side with Google Earth, you will see that it's a little whitewashed lighthouse.
Although it's not the same as travelling there yourself, Google Earth can give you a good first impression of the regions where you've never been. If you count the houses and umbrellas on the beach, you can make a good guess at how busy the region will be, in case you want to book a holiday there.
Geologically Lesvos belongs to Asia Minor. Once upon a time it was part of the mainland of present day Turkey. At that time there were sequoias on the island (you will find them now only petrified in the Petrified Forest near Sigri) and there were 'deinotheredes' wandering around, a kind of prehistoric elephant. A few years ago near Gavathas they found bones of these huge animals, with the beautiful name 'Prodeinotherium bavaricum'. For scientists this discovery proves that these mammoth-like animals also lived in Europe. Before, remains of these deinotheredes were only found in Africa. Some scientists even go so far as to say this is proof that once the continents of Europe, Africa and Asia were attached to each other.
Nowadays there is no big game left on Lesvos, no elephants to be seen (I won't count the wild boars that has been released around Agiasos for hunting). For the bigger game you have to go to Turkey, where they still have bears and wolves. When you Google Earth the Turkish region opposite Molyvos, you will see mountains covered with large forests (you don't even need Google Earth to see this). That is where they still live, where on a walk you can still run into one of those woolly brown bears. Last week in Australia they found a shark in a coastal swimming pool. The shark probably surfed a big wave into the pool. So everything is possible and who knows, one day there might be a brown bear standing on our front porch, knocking on the door, because bears know how to swim. But I'm sure that then I won't open my door!
From the west of the island, like Sigri, you don't see any land on the other side. You will only see big ships because there it is a shipping lane.
And it isn't only Turkey that you see from Lesvos. From the South, like from Plomari and Eressos, you can very clearly see the neighbouring island of Chios. To the right the island of Psara and at the left the small island Inousses, where two weeks ago the ferry Theofilos lost its job on the rocks (the ferry has been replaced now). To the left of Inousses you will see reappear the mountains of Turkey.
Molyvos has a smashing view over the northern coastline of the island towards the west, but over the sea it just looks towards Turkey. However when you climb higher, in the direction of Vafios and Lepetimnos, when the weather is clear you can se as far as 200 kilometres. Last week we went for dinner at Petrinos in Vafios and the sun was ready to plunge into the sea. Right under the orange ball was a pyramid-like mountain sticking out on the horizon: Mount Athos, a peninsula full of monasteries where only men are allowed. To the right of Mount Athos was Limnos, another neighbour of Lesvos, about halfway to Mount Athos. Because it doesn't have such high mountains you don't see it that often. It was so clear that to the left of Mount Athos you could even see the islet Agias Efstratios. I'm sure that if those mountains with bears on in Turkey were lower, we could even have seen Troy and Istanbul!
Copyright © Smitaki 2008