Thursday, 26 April 2012

The bee and bird dance

Summer is coming! Nature is in uproar: not only are the plants shooting up to the sky, the dogs also feel spring in the air, the bitches are on heat, and the cats are meowing everywhere. After some showers lots of snails are crawling around and you see plenty of beetles, amongst them a funny striped one I have never seen before. And then there are the birds who all seem to be into dancing.

In the evenings we enjoy sitting in the twilight that throws a red glow over the mountains and gives the rare little passing clouds an edge of gold. And under those clouds are other clouds: swarms of birds which nosedive in formation into a treetop. They twitter loudly as if participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. And then suddenly another swarm appears, moving in frivolous patterns, also nosediving into that same treetop, adding its numbers to the overpopulated tree. Branches are moving heavily, not disturbing the birds who are apparently partying. And when everybody has found his place in the tree, some lonely birds are left flying above. Could they be the directors who twitter excitedly and announce what is next to happen? Because suddenly a swarm of hundreds of birds shoots out of the tree, taking to the air in elegant movements, looking for the next treetop. A little later another swarm follows, and then another, until the tree is emptied and silence is restored. More swarms come from quite another direction, join the group and they twitter and twitter, like they are the main choir of Lesvos in rehearsal. Only when darkness really settles in Eftalou, do they fall silent and peace is restored in the trees and the air.

Those thousands of birds, performing dances in the air, formed an amazing spectacle. Although I had no idea which birds they were. They were flying too high or too fast to get a good look at them. Even when passing under a tree with hundreds of birds singing in it, they are so well covered by the greenery that still you cannot get a good look at them. I thought they were sparrows.

This morning I encountered another loud swarm, but this one gave me the creeps: it was no swarm of birds but rather a swarm of small and fast moving missiles, buzzing loudly and barring my path: wasps! Not for a million euro would I step nearer to them. I am not afraid of a wasp, but I am when there are thousands of them. I was happy that I met them on my way to the sea and not the other way around, otherwise I would never have dared go home.

A little later I went looking to see what had became of them: they were now huddled together around a tree branch in a huge knot. I called for a friend because I was now too afraid to pass that tree along the path to my home. My friend Jan van Lent armed himself with his camera and took pictures of this buzzing ball of creeps. But when I sent a picture to Joris at the Wildlife Hospital of Lesvos, he accused me of being a city girl: it was a swarm of bees!

Bees might be less threatening than wasps and Joris might say: ‘They will not hurt you as long as you don’t threaten them’, but my reasoning is that when I panic they will panic and I don’t want to run for my life. And I will never be as courageous as the person who understands bees and encourage them to cloth him in a lively bee coat like the man in this movie.

On the internet I learned that this must have been a spring swarm where they all (40,000 to 80,000) attach themselves to their queen (called a beard of bees). And yes, I am originally a city girl: I have never encountered this amazing phenomenon in the cities in which I have lived, not in Paris, not in Amsterdam.

With the help of a hazy photograph Joris also identified the partying birds: starlings, birds that I do know from the city. Because of their massive performance and their sing-songing I didn’t recognize them, and I still doubt it, because up-close they more resembled a bunch of sparrows celebrating a Dutch Queensday.

I then had to wait to see what the swarm of bees was going to do. Would they stay, I had to call in a sturdy beekeeper to take them away. I first enjoyed a lovely lunch at the seaside with friends and when coming home I found that the bees had fled. Danger was gone and the next day it was back to a normal life and enjoying beautiful Lesvos.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Discover unknown Lesvos

In April and May there is an explosion of flowers on the island. Right now bright yellow broom bushes and pink and white clouds of blossoms give colourful accents to the mainly green landscape. Red anemones and poppies, white marguerites and many kinds of yellow flowers colour the fields under the olive trees. Small jewels of orchids hide between tall grasses and along the foot paths and crest hyacinths and lupins provide the blue accents.

The best way to enjoy this natural beauty is to go walking. Big hiking organizations don’t offer hikes on Lesvos but believe me — this North Aegean island is a secret Valhalla for walkers. Englishman Mike Maunder has known this for years. He published the first hikers guide for Lesvos in 2000: Mithimna walks, with walks around Molyvos (Mythimna). The edition of 200 was stencilled and sold out in one morning. Since that year new editions with new walks and titles have been published. Last year On Foot in North Lesvo,s describing 25 walks around Molyvos and Petra, was published in co-operation with the Dutch Sigrid van der Zee,.

In the mean time the English couple Brian and Eileen Anderson have also been pretty active with publishing their Sunflower guides, describing not only walks but also car tours: Lesvos, car tours and walks was published first in 2004. The Andersons not only write about walks and tours on Lesvos, but have also published books about other Greek islands like Rhodes, Kefalonia, Zakinthos, Corfu, some Spanish islands and even books about food in North Cyprus, orchids on Lesvos and how to publish travel books.

Knowing how much time Mike Maunder spends to keep his walks up-to-date I am wondering how the Andersons manage with so many books. Their latest book is an e-book (Kindle edition): Lesvos: a Visitors Guide.

I do not have a Kindle, so I haven’t seen the book. But yesterday I was presented with the newest book by Mike Maunder and Sigrid: On Foot. Circular Walks on Lesvos.

Mike and Sigrid have been preparing this book for years by finding walks all over the island and believe me, that was not always easy, because although there are many roads on the island, lots of them just finish abruptly at a farm or in a meadow, or are so in decline that they are unsafe to walk. As they say in their foreword: “This is a lively landscape in progress”. Roads seem to come and go, dependent on what the farmers – the main users of the country of Lesvos – do with their land, like fencing or neglecting it. Often Sigrid and Mike took up the challenge to find a way from point A to B, which cost them days of walking, not always with success. But finely they managed: in the book 27 circular walks are described, going to the furthest corners of the island, passing through beautiful landscapes, along breath taking views and witnesses of the rich past of Lesvos.

I myself have only recently discovered Avlonas, where the Gulf of Yera starts, in the region where walk number 15 passes. I have seen with my own eyes magnificent views over the capricious coast, that has many capes, beaches and an azure blue sea which keeps on inviting for a swim. Because of these wonderful views it does not feel like being on Lesvos, which elsewhere has rather straight coastlines. The walk goes along idyllic places and (Greek) holiday houses where you immediately want to go and live.

But you can also choose to retrace the footsteps of pilgrims, a walk going along very old stone foot paths connecting the different monasteries built around the Limonos monastery nearby Kalloni. There are walks that take you along the hot water springs of Lisvori and Polichnitos (walks 11 and 12), through the age-old forests above the airport (2) and the pine-scented woods nearby Vatoussa (22) and Achladeri (10). The last one brings you along the famous Pessos waterfall. Walks starting in Lafionas (24) and close to Mandamados (27) will bring you to other waterfalls. The walk around Eresos goes along the monastery at the reservoir, while the walk starting in Melinda will take you to the little church of the Hidden Maria (Panayia Krifti) at the foot of a steep mountain, which can only be reached by boat or by a steep foot path.

It is not only nature that you will discover, taking these walks. Picturesque and traditional villages like Vatoussa, Vrisa, Lafionas and Liota are the starting point for the walks 22, 13, 24 and 20, while number 7 passes through the mountain villages of Agiasos and Asomatos.

Even the city has not escaped a walk: number 5 goes straight through the old part of Mytilini, a tour that helps you discover the treasures of the capital of Lesvos — like old mosques, churches and the castle.

So if you want to get to know Lesvos, you’d better take your hiking shoes with you, because this walking book guides you all over the island and shows you the most beautiful sides of the island. Even sitting lazily in a comfortable armchair, reading the book makes you want to start immediately. For more information, see: Lesvoswalks.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012